SDG Stories: reflections on sustainability of ICT systems


E_Logo_No UN Emblem-01In the run-up to this year’s UN General Assembly, the Office of the DG of the UN Office in Geneva has launched a novel initiative on big conversations driving the big goals of the SDGs as part of their Perception Change Project.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is delighted to have been invited to participate in this initiative, alongside other leading figures in the ICT4D world including Houlin Zhao (SG of the ITU, and one of our Honorary Patrons), Kathy Calvin (President and CEIO, UN Foundation), and Nicholas Negroponte (Founder MIT Media Lab).

Our stories are about the question “What are the biggest hopes and challenges we face in providing reliable ICT access to communities as we work towards improved sustainable development?

This was my response:

Seeing the eyes of a group of street children in Ethiopia light up when I let them play with my laptop in February 2002 convinced me in an instant of the potential of technology to be used effectively for learning by some of the poorest people in the world.  However, the plethora of global initiatives that have been designed to use ICTs to contribute to reducing poverty through economic growth over the last 15 years have had the consequence of dramatically increasing inequality at the same time.  The poorest and most marginalised have not benefited sufficiently from the promise of ICTs.

Few people pay appropriate attention to the dark side of technology, and yet we must understand this, and change it, if this potential is fully to be realised for all.  In the context of the SDGs, there is a fundamental challenge.  To be sure ICTs can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, but few people sufficiently highlight their unsustainability: ICTs have seriously negative environmental impacts, and their usual business model is built on a fundamentally unsustainable logic.  In terms of environmental impact, for example, they have contributed to substantially increased electricity demand, and the amount of waste in space is now presenting very serious threats to future satellite deployment.  The business model, whereby people are encouraged to replace their mobile phones every couple of years, and new hardware often requires the next generation of software, which in turn then requires new hardware, is good for business, but not for sustainability.

If we are serious about using ICTs for sustainable development, we must do much more to address negative aspects such as these, so that the poorest individuals, communities and countries can indeed benefit.

Follow the stories at: http://www.sdgstories.com, or on Twitter using #sdgstories.E_Logo_No UN Emblem-01

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On the Geography of Wine


MeursaultIt is many years since I wrote substantively about the historical geography of viticulture, but I have nevertheless retained a keen theoretical and practical interest in wine and the vine ever since.  It was therefore with very great pleasure that I  accepted an invitation from an old friend, Barney Warf (well-known for his paper on the historical geography of cannabis) to contribute an annotated bibliography on the geography of wine to the series of geographical bibliographies that he is editing for Oxford University Press.

I hope that this annotated bibliography will be of use to all those with an interest in the geography of wine.  This is how the introduction begins:

“Wine has fascinated geographers since Antiquity. Greek and Roman geographers wrote extensively about wine and grape growing, drawing on earlier texts, most of which have not survived. In the early 20th century, geographers in wine-making regions of the world, especially France, began to develop a distinctive style of wine writing that placed viticulture as a central element of many European landscapes and geographies. However, it was not until the 1980s that professional geographers in the English-speaking world turned in any numbers to research and publication about wine. Geography is central to understanding grape growing and wine making, regardless of how the discipline is defined: wine is one of the most sensitive of agricultural products to variations in the physical environment; landscapes of the vine and wine reflect deep cultural resonances about the relationships between humans and the places in which they live; and the spatial distribution of wine production and wine styles vary significantly across the globe. This centrality of geography to wine means that there are few books about viticulture and wine making that do not contain some mention of geography, which makes it challenging to compile a comprehensive annotated bibliography on the subject. Almost every descriptive account of a wine region refers to its geography, usually focusing on its physical environment, and the influence that this has on the character of the wines. Moreover, important publications by archaeologists, historians, and economists, alongside many others, frequently refer to aspects of geography in their understandings of wine, often in terms of its role in international trade, its spatial variability, or the significance of the environment in shaping the distribution of grape growing and wine production. This article focuses primarily on the works of writers who call themselves geographers, or who write in geographical publications, but it also includes important publications written by those from other disciplines where they contribute significantly to what might be called a “geographical understanding” of wine. Attention concentrates on more recent geographical material published on wine, but classic texts and important earlier research and writing that shaped the field are also included, where of particular significance. The bibliography seeks to illustrate the breadth of geographical work primarily in the English language, and where authors have written several papers on a similar subject, only the most detailed, or accessible, are usually cited. It also seeks to provide examples of the research by geographers in many different parts of the world, drawing on evidence from Europe, Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and both North and South America.”

The bibliography then covers the following main topics:

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Texts on the Geography of Wine
    • French Wine Geographies
    • Wine Geographies in the English language
  • Geography, Environment and Terroir
    • Wine and Climate
  • Geography and Wine in Antiquity
  • Geography in the History of Wine
  • Geography of Wine Appellations and Demarcation
  • The Economic Geography of Wine
    • Wine Tourism
  • Spatial Distribution of Wine and Geographical Accounts of Wine Regions

Do please suggest additions or alterations that I can make to enhance the value of this resource

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Reclaiming ICT4D – output from workshop at WSIS 2017


Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to our workshop this morning at WSIS Forum 2017 in Geneva on what we need to do to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.

Reclaiming small

Our co-created mindmap is available here in .pdf format and by clicking on the image below:

Reclaiming small

A special thank you to our panel:

  • Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum) on The power of partnership
  • Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex) on The wisdom of marginalised women
  • Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development, UK) on The delivery of donors
  • Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society) on The trust in technology
  • Nigel Hickson (VP IGO Engagement, ICANN) on The design of the domain name system
  • Torbjörn Fredriksson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) on The energy of entrepreneurship

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Reclaiming ICT4D at the WSIS Forum 2017


BookTo coincide with the recent publication of my new book entitled Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development (Oxford University Press, 2017), the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is convening a workshop on Friday 16th June from 11.00-12.45 in ITU Room Popov 1 at the 2017 WSIS Forum being held in Geneva.  The key premise of the workshop is that the global spread of ICTs has increased inequality, and that the poorest and most marginalised have therefore failed sufficiently to benefit.  The workshop will explore whether the continued focus on the ways through which ICTs can contribute to economic growth will inevitably lead to ever increasing, and dangerous, inequality, and will make recommendations as to how different stakeholders can best ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed benefit from their use.

It will begin with short (5 minute) perspectives from some amazing people (listed in alphabetical order of first names):

  • Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum) on The power of partnership
  • Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex) on The wisdom of marginalised women
  • Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development, UK) on The delivery of donors
  • Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society) on The trust in technology
  • Nigel Hickson (VP IGO Engagement, ICANN) on The design of the domain name system
  • Torbjörn Fredriksson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) on The energy of entrepreneurship

Following these short, and undoubtedly provocative, presentations there will be an open discussion focusing on participants’ thoughts as to what are the most important priorities for action that different stakeholders must take so that the poorest and most marginalised people and communities can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.

The workshop is open to everyone with interests in ways through which ICTs can indeed benefit poor people, and there will also be an opportunity after the workshop for participants to purchase copies of Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development at a 40% reduction from list price.

I very much look forward to seeing you there!

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Swimming with Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa


Anyone visiting New Zealand who is interested in wildlife and conservation – as well as having amazing experiences – should most definitely make their way to the Akaroa peninsula, just 90 minutes drive from Christchurch.  Not only is the peninsula very beautiful, with stunning bays and views, but Akaroa itself is set in a magnificent natural harbour, teaming with wildlife.  It is also one of the few places where it is possible to go swimming with Hector’s dolphins.

I chose to go out with ecoseaker, the smaller of the two companies offering the opportunity to go swimming with the Hector’s dolphins – and was very pleased I did!  The firm is locally run, and uses a powerful small boat that takes between four and twelve people on the swimming trip which departs at 10.30 in the morning and lasts for about three-and-a-half hours.  Steve Hamilton, the skipper, is a 5th generation local and descendant of early French and Scottish settlers.  He grew up on a sheep farm alongside Akaroa Harbour and throughout the trip he shared his detailed knowledge of its environment and the geology of the surrounding area, as well as the importance of conserving  its wildlife.  He and his assistant, Adam, made the trip humorous and very enjoyable, as well as being educational and informative.  As well as the dolphins, we saw many New Zealand fur seals, pied cormorants and a couple of little blue penguins.  It was far from easy photographing the dolphins, especially when in the water with them, but I hope that the following sequence captures something of the excitement of the trip:

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Exploring Central Otago’s wines


One of the challenges in trying to buy wines in New Zealand is the dearth of good wine shops across most of the country.  Yes, it is possible to buy many New Zealand wines in supermarkets, such as Countdown or New World, but they do not have the range of quality wines that are made in New Zealand.  Indeed, many of the cheaper wines sold in such supermarkets are actually from Australia,  or even France.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I visited the old mining town of Arrowtown, to discover the Arrowtown Wine Store.  This has an amazing selection of New Zealand wines, especially from Central Otago, and particularly their Pinot Noirs.

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There are so many impressive things about this shop: the range of wines that they stock, especially from Central Otago; the wonderful comments written by the staff about each of the wines, which perfectly capture their characteristics; the knowledge and hospitality of the store manager Tracy Grigor; and the fact that many of the wines are on sale at prices that are usually equivalent to the cellar door prices of the local wineries.  Anyone interested in wine, and especially the wines of New Zealand, who is visiting central South Island should make their way straight to Arrowtown and look out this great little shop!  The only rather bizarre thing, at least for visitors from the UK, is that currently it remains cheaper to buy these wines in the UK than it is in New Zealand, despite the collapse in the value of the pound post-Brexit!

It is difficult to make definitive choices about the best Pinot Noir wines made in Central Otago, but those from the following producers are definitely worth getting to know better:

Some of my pictures from these wineries are shown below:

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Reclaiming ICT4D: the Conclusion


recict4dEarly last week I had a good meeting with OUP about the marketing of Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development – and hopefully copies will be ready in time for the WSIS Forum in Geneva in June! Then, at the end of the week, the final version of the revised page proofs appeared.  I’ve never had to read so many versions of one of my manuscripts before, and am so grateful to the work of all those who have helped in the production process!

Having shared the cover, preface, index and contents page, as well as the introduction before, I thought it was timely also to share the final few paragraphs. I very much hope that people will enjoy, and indeed be challenged by, them.  I hope too that those who consider these to be overly extreme, will indeed read the book and be convinced of the truth that lies within them.  Although some will remain unconvinced, I hope that the book will encourage everyone working at the interface between technology and development to reflect on what they are doing and change their practices in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.

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“The design of ICTs and their rapid deployment have been one of the main causes of increasing inequality in the world.  One of the underlying themes of this book is that this has become exacerbated by the linkage between ICTs and development defined as economic growth.  Indeed, advocacy that ICTs can contribute positively to economic growth, and that this will reduce or eliminate poverty, has actually served to increase inequality and thus further marginalize the poor.  The idea of ‘development’ itself has become a vehicle through which the technological interests of the private sector in particular, but also those of governments and civil society, can be further propagated.  Expansion in the use of ICTs has thus become the primary focus of attention (D4ICT), rather than the development outcomes that might be facilitated by ICTs in the interests of the poor and marginalized (ICT4D).  This is scarcely surprising, given the long history of the use of technologies to serve and maintain the interests of the rich and powerful.

Many factors have influenced this state of affairs.  In particular, the increasing power of the private sector in global governance, the dominance of an instrumental view of ICTs that sees them necessarily as being a force for good, the diminution in the role of governments in serving the interests of all their citizens, the symbolic power of modernity embodied in ICTs, and an emphasis on enhancing economic growth rather than reducing inequality, have all been very significant in shaping the current intersection between ICTs and development.  To be sure, there are many instances where ICTs have been used to enhance the lives of groups of poor and marginalized people, but the overwhelming balance of evidence is that most such initiatives fail to go to scale or be sustainable.  Moreover, there is also a growing body of evidence that the dark side of ICTs is seriously harming many poor people, and especially women and girls.

Paradoxically, the main ways through which the use of ICTs can be reclaimed for development that might empower poor and marginalized people have rather little to do with the technologies, but much more to do with attitudes and approaches adopted by all those engaged in serving the interests of the poor.  First, the idea that ICTs in general, or the rollout of mobile broadband in particular, is some kind of panacea, or silver bullet, that can reduce poverty must be abandoned.  This must be combined with a realization that policies designed purely to increase economic growth through the use of ICTs will necessarily continue to increase inequality.  There needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking by governments, civil society and those who fund development interventions away from the economic growth agenda and instead toward the explicit use of ICTs to support the poor and the marginalized.  The private sector will continue to serve as the engine of growth, and thereby drive the use of ICTs by the majority of people, but its profit-taking voracity needs to be tempered by a realisation that the technological Jinn that it releases may well eventually do more harm than good.  This requires a fundamental reorientation of much research to focus primarily on the development of ICTs through which the very poorest might be empowered.  This needs to begin with a humble realization that academics interested in ICT4D should become the servants of the poor and marginalized, learning from them, and using their skills and expertise to serve the interests of the poor rather than their own careers, or the interests of global ICT corporations.  Research and practice should be with the poor rather than merely for the poor.  Governments and regulators have a central role in facilitating such a shift, but it would be naïve to suggest that all governments are indeed benign and without self-interest.  Politicians of all hues therefore need to be convinced that increasing inequality is ultimately a greater threat to stability and their own political futures than would be any reduction in economic growth.  Likewise, private sector companies have much to contribute to this renewed vision of ICT4D.  Those that can develop innovative new technologies and business models to deliver affordable services to the poorest ‘first billion’, for example, will necessarily be able to undercut companies still focusing on the ‘next billion’, and thereby make considerable gains in market share.

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            Above all, those who share my passion for technology, and the ways through which it can indeed be used to help empower the poorest and the most marginalized, the limbless beggars in Sierra Leone, the blind musicians playing on street corners in China, or the young women in Pakistan at threat of being murdered because of the images they post on social media, must begin by reflecting on their own practices.  We need to change from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.  Once we have begun to be enlightened ourselves about the role of technology in development, we may in turn be able to help empower others through crafting new ICTs and the strategies through which they can be implemented in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized.

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