About me

Tim Unwin (born 1955) is a British academic and public figure, specialising in the uses of digital technology by the world’s poorest and most marginalised peoples.  Trained as a geographer, he believes in crossing boundaries between disciplines and sectors, as well as in the importance of international understanding between peoples and governments.


He was educated at Marlborough College (1969-72), and then studied Geography at St. John’s College, Cambridge (1973-76) where he also learnt to program in Fortran, before undertaking his PhD at Durham University (1976-79) on Patterns and hierarchies of rural settlement in Nottinghamshire before 1700.  While completing his PhD he also undertook field research in rural areas of India in what was then South Bihar (now Jharkhand), which provided his first introduction to rural development issues in South Asia.


His first job in 1972 was on a production line making parts of switches for Castelco, and he also worked for the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate during his university vacations.  On completing his PhD his first academic post in 1979 was as a research assistant in the Geography of the Middle East at the University of Durham, and in 1981 he was appointed as a Historical Geographer at Bedford College, University of London.  When the College merged with Royal Holloway College in 1985 he moved to the Egham campus where he rose through the ranks of Senior Lecturer (1992) and Reader (1993) to Professor and Head of Department in 1999.  In 2001 he went on secondment to the UK’s Department of International Development, returning in 2004 until 2007 when he went part-time to combine his academic career with a post as a Programme Director at the World Economic Forum.  In 2007 he also became founding Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) at the then named Royal Holloway, University of London, a post he held until 2023.  He took early retirement in 2011 (and was granted the title of Emeritus Professor) to enable him to do the research he really cared about and to teach bright students in other parts of the world, but was asked instead to become CEO and then Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, a post that he held until 2015.

Academic honours, awards and prizes

2011   Honorary Professor, Research School of Arid Environment and Climate Change, Lanzhou University

2011   Apple for the Teacher Award, from the Student Union at Royal Holloway, University of London, for ‘Excellence and positive contribution to life’ at the College.

2006 Royal Holloway, University of London Teaching Prize

2002   Research prize of the Asociación Internacional de Historia y Civilización de la Vid y el Vino (2002)

2002    Honorary Member of the Estonian Geographical Society

1992 Royal Geographical Society, Cuthbert Peek Award for studies of the Third World and the geography of viticulture

Research Interests

Tim’s research over the last 50 years has focused on four main areas, all of which are underlain by his enthusiasm for the discipline of Geography.  He has written or edited 17 books and more than 250 other academic papers and book chapters.

  • Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D).  Tim is internationally recognised as one of the founders of the multidisciplinary field of ICT4D, within which he has focused very much on ways through which some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people might benefit from these technologies despite their use more frequently giving rise to increased global inequalities.  His wide-ranging interests in this field include: the use of digital tech by people with disabilities, street children and women in patriarchal societies; the role of multi-sector partnerships; and also its use in education.  He co-founded TEQtogether in 2018 with Liz Quaglia to develop resources and training activities to help change men’s attitudes to women and technology, and in 2021 he launched the Digital-Environment System Coalition (DESC) to create new approaches to understanding the interactions between digital technologies and the physical environment.  He is the author of two of the most important books in the field of ICT4D: Unwin, T. (ed.) (2009) ICT4D, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, and Unwin, T. (2017) Reclaiming ICT4D, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Philosophy and Geography.  Tim has always been fascinated by the intersections between philosophy and geography, and these found expression in one of his earliest books: Unwin, T. (1992) The Place of Geography, Harlow: Longman (translated into Spanish).  His interests in philosophy and social theory, especially the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and the work of Jürgen Habermas in particular, but also that of Plato and Wittgenstein, as well as recent work in environmental ethics and moral philosophy, have always underlain his research and practice.  In 1998 he co-founded the multidisciplinary journal Ethics, Place and Environment, which later merged with Philosophy and Geography.  His interests in philosophy have also found their expression in his commitment to teaching, and his writing on pedagogical practice.
  • Wine.  Until the 2000s, Tim was best known for his research and teaching on wine, which found its culmination in his classic book: Unwin, T. (1991) Wine and the Vine: an Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade, London: Routledge (translated into Spanish, Italian and Greek).  He also co-founded the Journal of Wine Research, and was academic advisor and external examiner for the Institute of Master’s of Wine (2004-11).  He has served as Chair of the UK and Ireland Panel of the World’s Best Vineyards awards since 2019, and most recently, he was one of the editors of the Routledge Handbook of Wine and Culture published in 2022, He continues to write an entertaining monthly wine column for a local magazine.  He is particularly also known for his research on the 17th century philosopher John Locke’s interests in wine.
  • European rural society.  This combines Tim’s interests in rural development and European cultural history, and includes a wide range of his research publications on subjects as diverse as rural change in the Baltic states following their independence from the Soviet Union, banknotes and national identity, as well as medieval taxation documents.  Some of this is captured in three of his edited books: Owen, L. and Unwin, T. (eds) (1997) Environmental Management: Readings and Case Studies, Oxford: Blackwell; Unwin, T. (ed.) (1998 ) A European Geography, London: Addison Wesley Longman, and Spek, T. and Unwin, T. (eds) (2003) European Landscapes: from Mountain to Sea, Tartu: Huma.    He was elected and served as Secretary General of the Permanent European Conference for the Study of the Rural Landscape from 1990-2000.

Public life

Tim has always believed that academics should also be engaged in public life, serving citizens in his own country but also particularly in the Commonwealth and more widely across the world.  This commitment builds in part on his reading of Habermas’s Theorie und Praxis, but also on his Christian commitment to serving others.  Having been Head of the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, he was invited to lead the UK Prime Minister’s Imfundo initiative based within the Department for International Development (2001-2004) where his team created a partnership network of more than 40 companies and civil society organisations working in eight African countries to use digital technologies to improve education for the most marginalised.  In 2004 he was appointed to the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, the non-departmental public body responsible for allocating scholarships to the brightest young people from across the Commonwealth, and he served as Chair of the Commission from 2009 until 2014.  Meanwhile, he had also been appointed part-time as Programme Director of the World Economic Forum’s Partnerships for Education Initiative with UNESCO from 2007-8, and continued as senior advisor until 2011.  From 2011-2015 he also served as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, the membership body of governments and companies across the Commonwealth implementing telecommunications and digital tech policies and practices.  He has served on numerous international advisory boards, particularly within the UN system and relating to the use of digital tech for development.  In recognition of his services to the Commonwealth he was appointed a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St George in the Queen’s Birthday Honours, 2016.  He was also Elected an Elder, with the title Shujaa, by Commonwealth Scholarship Commission alumni in Kenya in 2014. He regular leads services and is an occasional preacher at Christ Church, Virginia Water.


Tim is married with three children and two grandchildren.  His wider interests include walking, photography, mountain landscapes, music, gardening, and most recently repairing pottery.  In his younger years he was a keen athlete and rugby player.  He continues to write poetry when inspired.  He has worked in more than 50 countries, undertaking research, implementing development activities, teaching and convening events and workshops.

Selected journal articles and other publications

In addition to his 17 single authored and edited books, Tim has more than 250 publications in journals, book chapters and monographs since 1980, with the following being a representative sample of the range of his interests. Much of his most interesting new writing is now made available through his blog.

  • Unwin, T., Naseem, A., Pawluczuk, A., Shareef, M., Spiesberger, P., West, P. and Yoo, C. (2020) Education for the Most Marginalised post-COVID-19: Guidance for Governments on the Use of Digital Technologies in Education, London: UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and EdTech Hub, 200 pp.
  • Hassan, B. Unwin, T. and Gardezi, A. (2018) Understanding the darker side of ICTs: gender, harassment and mobile technologies in Pakistan, Information Technologies and International Development, 14, 1-17.
  • Unwin, T., Weber, M., Bruga, M. and Hollow, D. (2017) The Future of Learning and Technology in Deprived Contexts, London: Save the Children International, 51 pp.
  • Unwin, T. (2017) ICTs, sustainability and development: critical elements, in Sharafat, A. and Lehr, W. (eds) ICT-Centric Economic Growth, Innovation and Job Creation, Geneva: ITU, 37-71.
  • Hassan, B. and Unwin, T (2017) Mobile identity construction by male and female students in Pakistan: on, in and through the ‘phone, Information Technologies and International Development, 13, 87-102.
  • Unwin, T. (2015) Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships in Information and Communication for Development Interventions, in International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, Chichester:Wiley,1-10
  • Unwin, T. (2015) ICTs and the dialectics of development, in Cantoni, L. and Danowski, J.A. (eds) Communication and Technology, Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton, 193-214
  • Unwin, T. (2013) The Internet and Development: a critical perspective, in Dutton, W. (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 531-54.
  • Unwin, T. and Wong, A. (2012) Global Education Initiative: Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, Geneva: World Economic Forum
  • Unwin, T. (2007) No end to poverty, Journal of Development Studies, 45(3), 929-953. 
  • Unwin, T. (2005) Towards a framework for the use of ICT in teacher training in Africa, Open Learning: The Journal of Open and Distance Education, 20(2), 113-129 ISSN 0268-0513
  • Unwin, T. (2005) Partnerships in Development Practice: Evidence from Multi-Stakeholder ICT4D Partnership Practice in Africa, Paris: UNESCO for the World Summit on the Information Society
  • Unwin, T.  (2004) Beyond budgetary support: pro-poor development agendas for Africa, Third World Quarterly, 25(8), 1501-1523 
  • Unwin, T. and Saeidi, Al. (2004) Wine in the poetry of Hafiz, Journal of Wine Research, 15(2), 97-114. 
  • Unwin, T. and Hewitt, V. (2001) Banknotes and national identity in central and eastern Europe, Political Geography, 20, 1005-1028.
  • Unwin, T. (2000) A waste of space?, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, new series 25(1), 11-29
  • Unwin, T. (1999) The contested reconstruction of national identities in eastern Europe: landscape implications, Norsk Geografisk Tidsskrift, 53, 113-120.
  • Unwin, T. (1999) The end of the Enlightenment?  Moral philosophy and geographical practice, in: Proctor, J.D. and Smith, D.M. (eds) Geography and Ethics: essays in a moral terrain, London: Routledge, 263-274
  • Unwin, T. (1998) Locke’s interest in wine, The Locke Newsletter 29, 119-151
  • Unwin, T. (1997) Agricultural restructuring and integrated rural development in Estonia, Journal of Rural Studies, 13(1), 93-112
  • Unwin, T. (1995) Agrarian change in Estonia: historical context and contemporary restructuring, Eastern European Countryside, 1, 37-51
  • Unwin, T. (1987) Household characteristics and agrarian innovation adoption in north-west Portugal, Transactions, Institute of British Geographers new series 12(2), 131-46
  • Unwin, T. (1982) The Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian occupation of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, Journal of the English Place-Name Society 14, 1-31
  • Unwin, T. (1981) Rural marketing in medieval Nottinghamshire, Journal of Historical Geography, 7(3), 231-5

Further information is available as follows:

26 responses to “About me

  1. hello, i´m student of geography at Universidad Nacional de La Plata, in Argentina, this is my first year here and the teacher gave us for read your book “The geography place”. (1995), it´s a very good book, very interesting and dinamic, I really enjoy this, congrats for your job!

  2. brookekania

    Hi Tim Unwin! I was just wondering, what are you looking for in students who are coming out of IDEV or ICT4D programs – what do you think the field needs from academic training? What advice would you give to aspiring ICT4D professionals?

  3. Pingback: ICT4D Professional Profile: Tim Unwin « ICT4D @ Tulane

  4. Hi
    we are planning a conference on Private sector engagement in Education in an effort to improve skills in Rwanda. Please get in touch with us

  5. asif

    Can i become ICT4D professional at the age of 57? If yes, how to proceed?

  6. unwin

    Hi Asif. It is never too late! Difficult to advise without knowing something more about your background. Perhaps you could send me an e-mail and tell me more about yourself, and what you want to do! Best wishes, Tim

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  9. Sarang

    Hello Sir, I am Sarang Shaikh- Telecommunication Professional from Karachi, Pakistan. I am really much interested in working/volunteering for Commonwealth Telecommunication Organization, is there any available opportunity for me. Hope to hear you soon. Thanks

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  11. Ellen Alpsten

    Hi Tim, I hope you are well. We met last week on a train when I told you about my Georgian novel in the making. It would be nice to get your input on the wonders of Georgia! Warm regards Ellen

    • Tim Unwin

      Just replied by e-mail – hope you get it

      • khalipha

        Good Day,

        I am a 1st year PhD student from Brunel University London, researching on ICT4D & the use of ICT in higher education in developing countries.

        I came across the MONITORING AND EVALUATION OF ICT IN EDUCATION PROJECTS: A Handbook for Developing Countries, which you were among the authors. i Have been going through the conceptual framework in the publication, and i find it really interesting, as i am considering using it as a framework in my research.

        Please i would like your assistance on more information about the framework, like its critiques, where it has been used for research and if there is any updated version of it, anything useful about it.

        thank you very much, as i look forward to hearing from you.

      • Tim Unwin

        Thanks for getting in touch – it is always good to hear from people working in this field. I have to say that monitoring and evaluation has developed quite extensively since we wrote that framework, but there is still not enough good work in this area. I actually have not read of any critiques of our handbook – but also, I am not sure where it has been used. I think we were laying out some rather general principles, many of which have indeed been used. I am sure that a search on a bibliographical database would show up some answers on this.

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    Hello Tim,

    I am trying to reach out folks like you who have significant contacts in telecom industry and who can assist me in monetization of my telecom patent portfolio (either license or sell it); Of course, they will be paid a handsome commission for a successful outcome.

    I have own a portfolio of very sophisticated telecom/tech U.S. patents with very solid claims. My patent describes lot more innovation than currently claimed & additional patents are in “Continuation” status. Thus, potential buyer can continue to protect this intellectual property & reap billions of dollars in benefit.

    One of the features of the patent is that it allows cell phone users choose & link multiple user names to their phone number thus avoiding the need to carry multiple cell phones. Another feature allows user to navigate phone extensions thru screen (like MS Windows folders) instead of annoying voice menus (i.e. dial 1 for sales, 2 for accounting etc).

    Please let me know, if you or someone you know would be interested in this initiative. You can call my phone number in U.S. is +1.732.309.5108 or reach me via email at MAQSOODTHANGE@HOTMAIL.COM.

    Kind Regards,
    Maqsood Thange
    US Patent 8,913,734
    US Patent 8,918,086
    US Patent 9,197,748
    US Patent 9,800,725
    Additional Patents Pending

    • Tim Unwin

      Thanks for getting in touch – afraid that monetization is not really my scene. I bguess you have already tried speaking with the mobile operators and handset companies – that’s where I would begin, but it will be a long, slow process!


      Hi Tim,

      Thank you for your reply. I will definitely try that option. I thought one right contact inside the industry is better than months of slow & bureaucratic process which often do not go anywhere.

      Once again, thank you for the reply.

      Best regards,

  14. Robin van Koert

    Dear Tim,

    Many thanks for your talk at Columbia University this afternoon (Friday 20 September). I would have liked to talk a little bit more about using ICT to facilitate information exchanges in existing rural networks (a little bit my hobby horse), but had to leave to meet up with my daughter.

    Your talk was interesting, but at the same time depressing as it does not seem like much has changed in the years since I completed my PhD. At the time, I had some peripheral involvement with the Multipurpose Community Telecenter movement, mainly to voice my dislike of the initiative. Johan Ernberg at the ITU was my contact.

    I had left the field behind for quite a while, but have been pondering whether to pick up the ball I (deliberately) dropped all those years ago. Today gave me some good food for thought.

    Kind regards,

    Robin van Koert

    • Tim Unwin

      Thanks for getting in touch Robin – let’s follow up via e-mail tim(dot)unwin(at)rhul.ac.uk – we should talk about the telecentre movement – I actuallt hnk thatb in certain circumstances multipurpose community centrres still have a role to play!

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  16. Naftali

    Thankew,just to know more,need some input from you to help NGOs in sub sahara Africa to translate from aid to trade.
    NAftali mutahi

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