Category Archives: Africa

Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development

recict4dIt is always exciting to have finished the page proofs and done the index of a book, especially when this has to be completed between Christmas and the New Year as it was with Reclaiming ICT4D at the end of 2016! However, when the cover has been agreed and it appears on the publisher’s  website, then one knows that it is actually going to appear in several months time!

This is  OUP’s overview of the book:

  • Combines understanding of both theoretical and practical aspects of ICT for development (ICT4D)
  • Challenges existing orthodoxy and offers alternatives that can make a practical difference in the field
  • Addresses the interests underlying the use of technology in development
  • Wide ranging in coverage, including discussion of regulation, partnership, technological innovation, and the darker side of ICTs

I like being involved in the design of different aspects of my books, and I am so grateful to OUP for agreeing to publish Reclaiming ICT4D in two fonts, one to represent theory and the other practice.  I am also immensely happy that they were willing to use one of my pictures on the cover to represent much of what the book is about.  In case it is not immediately obvious, this picture taken a year ago in Murree (Pakistan) represents many things: a hope for the future, with the young boy vigorously hitting the ball way over his friends’ heads; cricket itself acknowledges the complex heritage of colonialism and imperialism; in the background is a telecommunications mast, providing the connectivity that has the potential to be used to reduce inequalities, but all too often increases them; the electricity so essential for powering ICTs is very visible;  and women are absent, representing another dimension of inequality that is addressed in the book.  It is also much more than this.  My father visited Murree 71 years ago, and may have walked along this street; I went there with friends, and the book is very much a personal story of how I have learnt from them and the many people who have shared their wisdom and experiences with me over the years; it is above all about how people like these boys, playing on the street, can use ICTs to transform their lives for the better, rather than becoming the cyborg cannon-fodder that global capitalism seeks to devour for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

A little more formally, this is how OUP describe the contents of the book on their website:

“The development of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has transformed the world over the last two decades. These technologies are often seen as being inherently ‘good’, with the ability to make the world better, and in particular to reduce poverty. However, their darker side is frequently ignored in such accounts.

ICTs undoubtedly have the potential to reduce poverty, for example by enhancing education, health delivery, rural development and entrepreneurship across Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, all too often, projects designed to do so fail to go to scale, and are unsustainable when donor funding ceases. Indeed, ICTs have actually dramatically increased inequality across the world. The central purpose of this book is to account for why this is so, and it does so primarily by laying bare the interests that have underlain the dramatic expansion of ICTs in recent years. Unless these are fully understood, it will not be possible to reclaim the use of these technologies to empower the world’s poorest and most marginalised.”

Its seven chapters are entitled as follows:

1: A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’
2: Understanding the Technologies
3: The International Policy Arena: ICTs and Internet Governance
4: Partnerships in ICT4D: Rhetoric and Reality
5: From Regulation to Facilitation: The role of ICT and Telecommunication Regulators in a Converging World
6: Reflections on the Dark Side of ICT4D
7: …in the Interests of the Poorest and Most Marginalized.

It is also being made available as an Ebook, and publication date is estimated as 25th May 2017.

To request a review copy, do contact OUP directly using their request form.


Filed under Africa, Asia, Books, Development, ICT4D, Photographs, Uncategorized

“Reclaiming ICT4D” – in the beginning

It is always exciting submitting a book manuscript to a publisher, and today is no exception!  I have at last finished with my editing and revisions, and sent the manuscript of Reclaiming ICT4D off to Oxford University Press.  I just hope that they like it as much as I do!  It is by no means perfect, but it is what I have been wanting to write for almost a decade now.

This is how it begins – I hope you like it:

“Chapter 1

A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’

This book is about the ways through which Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become entwined with both the theory and the practice of ‘development’.  Its central argument is that although the design and introduction of such technologies has immense potential to do good, all too often this potential has had negative outcomes for poor and marginalized people, sometime intended but more often than not unintended.  Over the last twenty years, rather than reducing poverty, ICTs have actually increased inequality, and if ‘development’ is seen as being about the relative differences between people and between communities, then it has had an overwhelming negative impact on development.  Despite the evidence to the contrary, I nevertheless retain a deep belief in the potential for ICTs to be used to transform the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalized for the better.  The challenge is that this requires a fundamental change in the ways that all stakeholders think about and implement ICT policies and practices.  This book is intended to convince these stakeholders of the need to change their approaches.

It has its origins in the mid-1970s, when I learnt to program in Fortran, and also had the privilege of undertaking field research in rural India.  The conjuncture of these two experiences laid the foundations for my later career, which over the last twenty years has become increasingly focused on the interface between Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) on the one hand, and the idea of ‘development’ on the other.  The book tells personal stories and anecdotes (shown in a separate font).  It draws on large empirical data sets, but also on the personal qualitative accounts of others.  It tries to make the complex theoretical arguments upon which it is based easy to understand.  Above all, it has a practical intent in reversing the inequalities that the transformative impacts of ICTs have led to across the world.

I still remember the enjoyment, but also the frustrations, of using punch cards, with 80 columns, each of which had 12 punch locations, to write my simple programs in Fortran.  The frustration was obvious.  If you made just one tiny mistake in punching a card, the program would not run, and you would have to take your deck of cards away, make the changes, and then submit the revised deck for processing the next day.  However, there was also something exciting about doing this.  We were using machines to generate new knowledge.  They were modern.  They were the future, and we dreamt that they might be able to change the world, to make it a better place.  Furthermore, there was something very pleasing in the purity and accuracy that they required.  It was my fault if I made a mistake; the machine would always be precise and correct.  These self-same comments also apply to the use of ICTs today.  Yes, they can be frustrating, as when one’s immensely powerful laptop or mobile ‘phone crashes, or the tedium of receiving unwanted e-mails extends the working day far into time better spent doing other things, but at the same time the interface between machines and modernity conjures up a belief that we can use them to do great things – such as reducing poverty.

Figure 1.1 Modernity and the machine: Cambridge University Computer Laboratory in the early 1970s.


Source: University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory (1999)

In 1976 and 1977 I had the immense privilege of undertaking field research in the Singbhum District of what was then South Bihar, now Jharkhand, with an amazing Indian scholar, Sudhir Wanmali, who was undertaking his PhD about the ‘hats’, or periodic markets, where rural trade and exchange occurred in different places on each day of the week (Figure 1.2).  Being ‘in the field’ with him taught me so much: the haze and smell of the woodsmoke in the evenings; the intense colours of rural India; the rice beer served in leaf cups at the edges of the markets towards the end of the day; the palpable tensions caused by the ongoing Naxalite rising (Singh, 1995); the profits made by mainly Muslim traders from the labour of Adivasi, tribal villagers, in the beautiful forests and fields of Singbhum; the creaking oxcarts; and the wonderful names of the towns and villages such as Hat Gamharia, Chakradharpur, Jagannathpur, and Sonua.  Most of all, though, it taught me that ‘development’ had something powerful to do with inequality.  I still vividly recall seeing rich people picnicking in the lush green gardens of the steel town of Jamshedpur nearby, coming in their smart cars from their plush houses, and then a short distance away watching and smelling blind beggars shuffling along the streets in the hope of receiving some pittance to appease their hunger.  The ever so smart, neatly pressed, clothes of the urban elite at the weekends contrasted markedly with the mainly white saris, trimmed with bright colours, that scarcely covered the frail bodies of the old rural women in the villages where we worked during the week.  Any development that would take place here had to be about reducing the inequalities that existed between these two different worlds within the world of South Bihar.  This made me look at my own country, at the rich countries of Europe, and it made me all the more aware of two things: not only that inequality and poverty were also in the midst of our rich societies; but also that the connections between different countries in the world had something to do with the depth of poverty, however defined, in places such as the village of Sonua, or the town of Ranchi in South Bihar.

Figure 1.2: hat, or rural periodic market at Hat Gamharia, in what was then South Bihar, 1977 1.2 Source: Author

            Between the mid-1970s and the mid-2010s my interests in ICTs, on the one hand, and ‘development’ on the other, have increasingly fascinated and preoccupied me.  This book is about that fascination.  It shares stories about how they are connected, how they impinge on and shape each other.  I have been fortunate to have been involved in many initiatives that have sought to involve ICTs in various aspects of ‘development’.  In the first instance, my love of computing and engineering, even though I am a geographer, has always led me to explore the latest technological developments, from electronic typewriters that could store a limited number of words, through the first Apple computers, to the Acorn BBC micro school and home computer launched in 1981, using its Basic BASIC programming language, and now more recently to the use of mobile ‘phones for development.  I was fascinated by the potential for computers to be used in schools and universities, and I learnt much from being involved with the innovative Computers in Teaching initiative Centre for Geography in the 1990s (see Unwin and Maguire, 1990).  During the 2000s, I then had the privilege of leading two challenging international initiatives that built on these experiences.  First, between 2001 and 2004 I led the UK Prime Minister’s Imfundo: Partnership for IT in Education initiative, based within the Department for International Development (UK Government Web Archive 2007), which created a partnership of some 40 governments, private sector and civil society organisations committed to using ICTs to enhance the quality and quantity of education in Africa, particularly in Kenya, South Africa and Ghana.  Then in the latter 2000s, I led the World Economic Forum’s Partnerships for Education initiative with UNESCO, which sought to draw out and extend the experiences gained through the Forum’s Global Education Initiative’s work on creating ICT-based educational partnerships in Jordan, Egypt, Rajasthan and Palestine (Unwin and Wong, 2012).  Meanwhile, between these I created the ICT4D (ICT for Development) Collective, based primarily at Royal Holloway, University of London, which was specifically designed to encourage the highest possible quality of research in support of the poorest and most marginalized.  Typical of the work we encouraged was another partnership-based initiative, this time to develop collaborative research and teaching in European and African universities both on and through the use of ICTs.  More recently, between 2011 and 2015 I had the privilege of being Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation, which is the membership organisation of governments and people in the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, enhancing the use of ICTs for development.

Two things have been central to all of these initiatives: first a passionate belief in the practical role of academics and universities in the societies of which they are a part, at all scales from the local to the international; and second, recognition of the need for governments, the private sector and civil society to work collaboratively together in partnerships to help deliver effective development impacts.  The first of these builds fundamentally on the notion of Critical Theory developed by the Frankfurt School (Held, 1980), and particularly the work of Jürgen Habermas (1974, 1978) concerning the notion of knowledge constitutive interests and the complex inter-relationships between theory and practice.  The next section therefore explores why this book explicitly draws on Critical Theory in seeking to understand the complex role and potential of ICTs in and for development.  Section 1.2 thereafter then draws on the account above about rural life in India in the 1970s to explore in further detail some of the many ways in which the term ‘development’ has been, and indeed still is, used in association with technology.”


Filed under 'phones, Accessibility, Africa, Caribbean, Commonwealth, Communication, Ethics, ICT4D, ICT4D general, India, Radio, Story-telling, Uncategorized

On the representation of the poor in international ICT4D forums

I found myself writing today about the ways through which the poor and marginalised are represented in major global ICT4D forums.  What I wrote, shocked me, and I fear that when published it will shock most of the readers of my new book as well! I am therefore sharing it here to try to garner some feedback beforehand that can help me recraft and improve the chapter.  This short piece is only the beginning of the section, and it does go on to suggest ways through which the voices of poor people can indeed be articulated and listened to,  not least through innovative uses of ICTs.  However, I would be fascinated to receive any feedback, preferably polite, on my thoughts below:

WSIS+10 HL Panorama small

“… the voices of the poorest and most marginalised are rarely if ever directly present in international ICT4D forums.  There is therefore a very real challenge of representation in such meetings.  Few participants have anything other than a relatively shallow understanding of what poverty is really like, or have ever engaged deeply trying to understand the needs of the poor, and how these might be delivered through ICTs.  To be sure, much research has been undertaken on ICTs and poverty, and some policy makers may have read a little of this literature, but global ICT4D forums remain forums of the elite and the powerful.  Some civil society representatives, with their supposedly strong involvement with community groups, are most likely to be closest to understanding the needs of the poorest and the most marginalised, but even then their senior representatives at international meetings are often far removed from the grounded reality of poverty.  Theoretically, government officials, with their responsibility for all of their citizens, should be mindful of the needs of their poorest and most marginalised citizens, but all too often government representatives are drawn from ruling elites, in both rich and poor countries alike, and again do not necessarily understand how ICTs might be able to empower poor people.  Their interests are often primarily in being re-elected. Moreover, the increasingly close relationship between governments and the private sector mean that all too often governments favour the interests of the private sector over those of the most marginalised, in the mistaken belief that economic growth will necessarily eliminate poverty.  Additionally, many of the most capable young ICT Ministers in poor countries are themselves drawn from the private sector, thereby reinforcing this private sector view of how to reduce poverty through the use of ICTs.   The private sector itself, including the supposedly munificent founders of Foundations, is primarily interested in driving economic growth and profits, and tends to see the poor and the marginalised largely as customers or an enhanced market. Few representative of the private sector at international ICT4D forums can lay claim to being poor.  To be sure, it is inevitable that international forums are populated by elites, and many people who attend them do like to think that they have the interests of the marginalised at heart.  Nevertheless, it is important that further consideration is given to this issue, and innovative ways are indeed sought through which the balance of conversation and debate is changed.  This short section highlights challenges with three particular areas: the involvement of young people, the highly sexist male-dominated character of the ICT sector itself, and the voices of those with disabilities.”


Filed under Africa, Commonwealth, Development, ICT4D, Story-telling, Uncategorized

Animals at Nakuru National Park, Kenya

Thanks to the generosity of friends, I had an amazing opportunity to drive up to Nakuru National Park from Nairobi for a few hours, circumnavigating the lake and seeing some wonderful wildlife. I hope that the pictures below capture something of the beauty of the place.  It was interesting to see, in particular, how the lake has increased in size in recent years, leading to many acacia trees being flooded and consequently dying.  The decrease in alkalinity of the lake has also been blamed for a reduction in the number of flamingoes, and so we were especially fortunate to see them, as well as a group of lionesses!

The park has been hit heavily by tourist concerns over potential terrorist activity, as have all of Kenya’s tourist destinations.  This is so sad for the Kenyan economy, and all those people who earn a living from tourism.  However, it did mean that there were very few people there, and so we were able to get some excellent views of the wildlife.

Thanks Juma, Peter, Mika and Robert for a great – albeit tiring – day!  Peter – you were a fantastic driver – thanks so much for being behind the wheel for so long!

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Filed under Africa, Photographs, Wildlife

Thanks to Teta Diana – a Rwandan star in the making

One of the very best things about my role as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) is that I have the privilege to meet some extraordinary people from all across the Commonwealth, from Ministers and CEOs to street children, farmers and musicians.  It is truly amazing to have the opportunity for my life to be touched by their energy, passion and enthusiasm.  To be able to help bring incredible people together, and encourage them to work collaboratively to use ICTs to make the world a better place, is just fantastic.

I have always believed in working hard and playing hard!  The CTO’s conferences are therefore very much about having great discussions, but also getting to know each other in ways that one simply cannot (yet) do over the Internet! A valuable lesson that I have learnt in my time at the CTO has most definitely been the importance of the politics of the dance floor – and there are far too many embarrassing photos around to show this!

singers 3Our recent Commonwealth e-Governance Forum in Rwanda was just such an occasion, and shows above all the importance of friendship in international relations.  Back in 2013 I had the privilege of attending the Transform Africa conference held in Kigali.  As with so many international events (but sadly all too often not in my own country!) the government hosted some spectacular networking events in the evenings, none more so than a festival of dance and music held one evening in the Milles Collines hotel that showcased the very best of musical talent in Rwanda.  It was there that I first saw Teta Diana perform, and was captivated by her talent and personality.  So, when we were discussing our own Commonwealth e-Governance Forum I mentioned to a very special Rwandan friend that it would be amazing if he could arrange for her to perform at our event.

Incredibly, he did, and the photos below try to capture something of the very special evening event that he ensured was laid on for delegates (and thanks very much too to Rwanda Online who sponsored the evening):

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The star of the event, though, was absolutely Teta!  She has risen already to be one of the real stars of the Rwandan music scene, combining magical performances of traditional Rwandan music with more mainstream jazz, RnB and reggae.  She is an amazing ambassador for Rwanda, performing at various official events, and is now eager to take her passion for the way in which music can bring people together to a much wider audience internationally. She is definitely someone to look out for – and I really hope that fellow musicians and promoters in Europe will find ways through which she can bring her talent and personality to a much wider audience.  The links below provide an introduction to her music and her life:

Teta Diana is a very special person, determined to do very special things for Rwandans and for the spirit of the music that lives within her.


Filed under Africa, Music, Photographs

On deciding to leave after one term of office as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

The advertisement for my replacement as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) has precipitated numerous questions as to why I am leaving.  So, I thought it might be helpful – not least to applicants – if I briefly tried to explain my decision here.  In so doing, I should stress right at the beginning that many members of the CTO’s Council and our Executive Committee were rather surprised by my decision, and did their best to try to persuade me to stay on.  I am immensely grateful to them for their support.  It is a huge privilege to be Secretary General of the CTO, and I have learnt a phenomenal amount doing the job.  I have also met some absolutely outstanding people – and to be sure, some less outstanding ones! The chance to lead an international organisation, committed to using ICTs to support people across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth is absolutely amazing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges that this has involved. However, there are two fundamental reasons why I have decided  to serve only one four-year term. These are what I have shared with members of our Council:

  • First, it is very important for there to be clarity and certainty over any transition in leadership of an organisation.  Changes of Chief Executives – or Secretary Generals – must be handled with very great care so that there is a smooth hand-over, and that confidence and trust in the organisation remains high.  I am going to be 60 this year (the truth is now out!), and I would like to have the opportunity to be considered for other jobs before I retire!  Sadly, some international organisations still have relatively low upper-age limits, with the UN, for example, having a mandatory age limit of 62!  Hence, I took the view that I should not stand for a second term as Secretary General of the CTO.  I simply felt that it would have been destabilising and damaging to the CTO if I had indeed been appointed for a second term, and then people had heard that I might be applying for various other jobs a year later, whether or not I actually got them.
  • Second, I think that eight years is too long for a single person to head an international organisation such as the CTO.  With such a long term of office, there becomes a real danger that the incumbent can begin to treat the organisation as his or her personal fiefdom, and I do not think that this is a particularly healthy situation.  Having just completed a three-year plus three-year stint as Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, I am all the more convinced that six years (in a three plus three format) should be the maximum term of office for heads of organisations.  Fresh ideas, and new ways of doing things are definitely needed after this length of time!  I also think that any organisation should be bigger than its leader.  After a long period at the helm, there is a very real tendency for a leader and ‘their’ organisation to be seen as being very closely associated if not one-and-the-same, and I simply do not think that this is particularly healthy for the organisation.

I know that not everyone agrees with these views, but two of the things that I have sought to bring to the CTO have been trust and transparency, and it seems to me that both of these are absolutely central to the decision I have made. Of course there are other reasons as well.  The strategic plan that we created back in 2012 had at its heart an expansion in membership.  The aim was to bring back countries and organisations that had previously left the CTO, such as India, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.  Without them, the CTO is but a fraction of what it could be!  Not least, the additional membership fees would enable the CTO to expand its staffing and thereby deliver more and better services to all of its members.  Furthermore, since people can only be employed at the CTO if they are nationals of Full Member Countries, the absence of these countries means that the organisation is more restricted in its employment potential than need be the case – and membership is only £20,000 a year! Despite encouraging words, and indeed promises from some countries to rejoin, these have not yet materialised. Having banged my head against a brick wall on this, and one or two other matters, for nearly four years, I think it is time that I moved on and let someone else build on the foundations we have laid. As I began, let me conclude by stressing once again that the post is an amazing one.  It provides an opportunity to work with some fantastic people, to deliver real on-the-ground solutions that can help poor and marginalised communities use ICTs effectively for their development aspirations.  When eventually I leave in September this year, I know that I will have many regrets.  I have done my best to lead the CTO forward, so that it will be in a better position than when I started.  It is now time for someone else to take the CTO forward so that it can indeed achieve its full potential. Oh yes, and the deadline for applications is 26th January!

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Filed under Africa, Caribbean, Commonwealth, Development, ICT4D

On the contribution of ICTs to overcoming the impact of Ebola

I am regularly updating and revising this post (current update 21st December 2014; originally posted 12th October 2014), so that it brings together some of the most important work being done on ICTs and Ebola.  In recent weeks there have been a plethora of new initiatives, but there is now a very real danger of affected regions and people becoming swamped with far too much digital information, and over-eager digital enthusiasts actually impeding the delivery of effective interventions.

I remember a conversation with a dear friend from Sierra Leone back in May about the growing impact of Ebola in his country.  I remember him saying that it was already far more widespread than was being reported.  I remember sharing this information with many people that I met at that time.  I regret that I only started Tweeting about the seriousness of what was happening in West Africa on June 27th.  However, I have been Tweeting ever since, and have become increasingly appalled about the tardiness of the international response.  If appropriate action had been taken in May and June, if appropriate support had been given to the affected countries at that time, and if appropriate care had been given to communities and individuals affected, then I have absolutely no doubt that thousands of lives could have been saved across the world.

It is simply not good enough to say that we should be concentrating on practical action now rather than laying blame and being critical of the response to date – although there are some really very bizarre things currently being said in the mainstream and social media.  The most important outcome of the current crisis has to be an investigation of why so many organisations and individuals failed to take notice of all of the early signs, and failed to act to prevent the spread of the virus.  I also feel very angry that attention is only really being directed to dealing with the disease now that people are dying of it in Europe and North America. Undoubtedly, in the longer term, it is also essential that we all help build capacity in the health systems of poor countries so as to enable them to respond more effectively and swiftly to the outbreak of such diseases in the future.

In an effort to bring together some of the disparate information about ways through which ICTs can be used effectively to counter the spread of Ebola, I raised this issue among members of the ICT4D group on Facebook in early October 2014.  Surprisingly, there was not an overwhelmoing response.  Hence, I have tried to pull together some of the most interesting ongoing work, in the hope that it can be used as swiftly as possible to make a difference to the lives of people who are already affected and those who will become affected in the weeks and months ahead.  It is great to see that some other organisations such as and TechChange have also started to do this.  Many, many poor people will die of Ebola before we get it under control collectively.  We must never make the same mistakes again.

Communicating accurate and relevant materials to affected individuals and communities
It is critically important that people know how to respond swiftly and appropriately when a case of Ebola is identified in their communities.  In the absence of an appropriate vaccine or cure, it is absolutely essential that early diagnosis and quarantine takes place.  Changing cultural behaviours, especially surrounding the  emotionally very distressing experience of death from Ebola, is extremely difficult, but if the rapid increase in cases is to be reduced, then this is absolutely essential.  The use of ICTs, in the form of radio broadcasts, television messages, videos and text information in local languages through the Internet and on mobile ‘phones can therefore play a very helpful role.  People can also use mobile devices to report where and when outbreaks occur, so that medical staff can respond more quickly.   An interesting recent development has been the way through which the Sierra Leone government has been providing a hotline through which worried people can contact officials for advice, but as ever there are many challenges with such a service, not least prank calls and the quality of advice given.  At last, though, some useful resources are being developed, and the following is a list of the ones that I have found to be of particular interest, value and importance:

A real challenge now, though, is that so many initiatives are trying to develop digital resources to support the response to Ebola that there is a danger of massive duplication of effort, overlap, and simply overload on the already stretched infrastructure, and indeed people, in the affected countries.  As Wayan Vota has noted in a useful overview at the end of October 2014, there are now more than 200 initiatives that are seeking to provide information relating to Ebola to communities.  Many of these are being developed with little if any real understanding of the practical realities on the ground in west Africa!  What, to me, is even worse, is the way in which many organisations and companies are now using this opportunity to generate income so that they can provide yet further Ebola resources.  The following examples are typical of this:

  • Afrelib’s Ebola Education Campaign – seeking $100,000 to fund Medikidz to develop a digital comic on Ebola for “kids”
  • Ebola Grand Challenge – USAID  partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Department of Defense to launch open innovation platform, challenge competition and partnerships

These may indeed be ‘worthy’ initiatives, but my fundamental point is that too many people are now using Ebola as an excuse to get funding for their own initiatives and ideas, and this is leading to massive duplication, replication and overlap.  Moreover, by the time most of these initiatives might come on stream, the Ebola outbreak will either have been contained or will have become so out of control that none of these little projects will actually be able to make any difference at all!  We know how to deal with Ebola.  Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo have learnt how to manage and control Ebola.  If the world had acted back in May and June, using some of the lessons already learnt, we would not be in the situation we now are.

Communicating with sick relatives without touching them
Mobile ‘phones are excellent devices for communicating at a distance.  Whilst being very afraid of Ebola, family members want to communicate with their sick relatives – at a distance, without touching them.  Hence, the use of mobile devices can provide a really valuable and reassuring mechanism through which family members can communicate, when one or more of them are in isolation wards or quarantine locations.  Very simply, if sick people could be given mobile devices to communicate with their loved ones, then some of the pain and anguish could be alleviated.

Mapping the spread of the disease
ICTs can be used very effectively to map the spread of Ebola, so that medical administrators can respond more quickly.  As noted above, mobile devices can also be used to inform medical staff when a new case is identified.  Crowd-sourcing (such as Ushahidi) could be used effectively to develop such response maps, although we must recognise that many people are very afraid of reporting that a friend or relative may have Ebola. There has also been some reporting on the potential use of call data records – although I retain concerns here about the ethics of such usage.

Information networks for professionals and others dealing with Ebola
A growing amount of information is now available for professionals and those dealing with Ebola and so only a limited amount is noted below:

Funding and crowd-sourcing for resourcing support for Ebola victims and research on the disease
There is an enormous need for funding to support health workers in affected countries, not least by providing enough protective clothing.  Much work could be done on this, but there are few examples available.

Overall, this page is just a starting point.  PLEASE respond and add information to it so that we can all use ICTs more effectively for tackling this outbreak of Ebola which could easily have been curtailed if only we had acted together sooner.


Filed under Africa, ICT4D