Three days before Christmas, the page proofs of Reclaiming ICT4D have arrived. At one level, this is an amazing Christmas present, but at another I am not sure I am looking forward to the arduous task of going through them and checking for any errors over the holiday season!
On reading the beginning of the Preface again, I hope that the book does indeed fulfill the task I set myself. It does, though, seem a fitting commentary on the tasks that still need to be done in the field of ICT4D, especially this Christmas time:
“This book is about the reasons why poor and marginalized people have not yet benefited sufficiently from the widespread and pervasive expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into most aspects of human life over the last quarter century. It is about the inequalities that the use of these technologies have enhanced, and the risks to us all that these are creating. However, it remains a book of hope; hope that by better understanding the interests underlying these increasing inequalities, wise people of good will may be able to work collectively together to help the poorest and most marginalized use ICTs to enhance and improve their lives.
Much has changed in the use of ICTs for ‘development’ (ICT4D) since my last edited book on the subject was published in 2009 (Unwin, 2009). In that book I laid out the case for why the focus of ICT4D should be on reducing inequalities as well as increasing economic growth, and this remains a core theme of this new book. However, I was much more optimistic a decade ago that ICTs would indeed be used effectively to enhance the lives of poor people. My previous book thus included chapters by leading authorities in their fields about the many ways through which ICTs were indeed being used to improve the quality and quantity of education, to transform health delivery, to enhance rural and agricultural incomes, and to enable better government. Most of those examples remain valid, and there is indeed much good work being done by civil society, governments and the private sector through which the poor can indeed benefit. This has been widely reported in the many books and papers that have been published over the last decade on the subject. However, as the present book argues, in this time the rich have got very much richer through the use of ICTs, and the poor have become relatively poorer. I am impatient and frustrated by this increasing inequality, and so rather than emphasising all of the oft-cited examples of the benefits of ICTs, I concentrate here on the interests underlying why ICTs are being used in this way. Yet, I still retain a belief that these technologies can indeed help empower poor people and this must never be forgotten through the darker sections of the book“.
It is so good to read this at last again in the final stages of production!
I am so delighted to have been asked by the ITU and Child Helpline International to moderate their important session on “Partnering to protect children and youth” at the ITU’s Telecom World gathering in Bangkok on 15th November. The abuse of children online is without question one of the darkest aspects of the use of ICTs, and it is great to see the work that so many child helplines are doing globally to counter and respond to this.
The main objective of the session is to highlight the work done by a range of ICT stakeholders to initiate and support child helplines in various parts of the world. The session will begin with introductory remarks from Houlin Zhao (the Secretary General of the ITU) and Professor Jaap Doek (Chair of the Board of Child Helpline international). This will be followed by a short video entitled No child should be left behind, and then Jenny Jones (Director Public Policy, GMSA) will launch new child online protection guidelines for child helplines. Following this, Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership, ITU) will provide a short overview of the joint campaign being run by the ITU and Child Helpline International to protect children and youth. She will also outline the process whereby case studies submitted to an online consultation organised by the ITU were selected by a specialist Jury.
I will then moderate what I hope will be a lively and useful panel discussion that brings together the following people and initiatives that were selected through the above process:
- Anthony Fitzgerald, Kids Helpline Manager, representing Optus from Australia;
- Ola-jo Tandre, Director and Head of Social Responsibility, Telenor Group;
- Mofya Chisala, Strategic Analyst, Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority; and
- Enkhbat Tserendoo from the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia, Mobicom
As moderator, I hope to be drawing out general conclusions about what works, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, from the experiences of these examples of good practice from many different parts of the world. I very much hope that this will help those in other countries who are thinking about setting up child helplines, and that these experiences will also help those already running such helplines to improve the services that they offer children and young people.
Working together in partnership, we must do much more to counter the abuse of children online, and child helplines are an important element of the overall package of initiatives that must be implemented to achieve this.
Together with Dr. Bushra Hassan, and building on my research earlier this year on how people in Pakistan use mobile devices to express their identities, we have developed a survey on people’s perceptions and experiences of sexual harassment through mobile devices in the country. This is a sensitive and difficult subject, and we are eager to have responses from as many people as possible. I do hope that readers of this post will share the details through their networks, and if they are Pakistani will complete it themselves. The survey is available until the end of November 2016 at https://rhul.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/sexual-harassment-through-mobile-devices-in-pakistan.
Thanks so much in anticipation.
I am delighted to have been asked to moderate the session on “Making money from meeting the SDGs?” at ITU Telecom World in Bangkok on Monday 14th November (4:45 PM – 6:00 PM, Jupiter 10), although I wonder a little why I have been chosen for this task given my past criticisms of the SDGs! Perhaps the “?” in the session title will give me a little freedom to explore some of the many challenges and complexities in this theme. Following in the footsteps of the Millennium Development Goals (2000), the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) still generally focus on the idea that economic growth will eliminate poverty; indeed, they assert that poverty can truly be ended. This is a myth, and a dangerous one. For those who define poverty in a relative sense, poverty will always be with us. It can certainly be reduced, but never ended. It is therefore good to see the SDGs also focusing on social inclusion, with SDG 10 explicitly addressing inequality. We need to pay much more attention to ways through which ICTs can thus reduce inequality, rather than primarily focusing on their contribution to economic growth, which has often actually led to increasing inequality.
This session will explore the implications of such tensions specifically for the role of ICT businesses in delivering the SDGs. Key questions to be examined include:
- How can the ICT sector contribute to accelerating the achievement of the SDGs by providing ICT-enabled solutions and building feasible business models?
- Is the SDG agenda relevant for the ICT industry?
- What roles should the ICT industry, and its corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments in particular, play in working towards the SDGs?
- Can the SDG framework provide an opportunity to accelerate transformative ICT-enabled solutions around new solutions like big data or IoT?
Underlying these are difficult issues about the ethics of making money from development, and the extent to which the ICT sector is indeed sustainable. All too often, the private sector, governments and even civil society are now using the idea of “development” to build their ICT interests, rather than actually using ICTs to contribute to development understood as reducing inequalities; we increasingly have “development for ICTs” (D4ICT) rather than “ICTs for development” (ICT4D). To be sure, businesses have a fundamentally important role in contributing to economic growth, but there is still little agreement, for example, on how best to deliver connectivity to the poorest and most marginalized, so that inequality can be reduced. As my forthcoming book argues, we need to reclaim ICTs truly for development in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized.
We have a great panel with whom to explore these difficult questions. Following opening remarks by Chaesub Lee (Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU), we will dive straight into addressing the above questions with the following panelists (listed in alphabetical order of first names):
- Astrid Tuminez (Senior Director, Government Affairs. Microsoft)
- Lawrence Yanovitch (President of GSMA Foundation)
- Luis Neves (Chairman Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), and Climate Change and Sustainability Officer, Executive Vice President, at Deutsche Telekom Group)
- Ola Jo Tandre (Director and Head of Social Responsibility, Telenor ASA, Norway)
- Tomas Lamanauskas (Group Director Public Policy, VimpelCom).
Magic happens when people from different backgrounds are brought together to discuss challenging issues. This session will therefore not have any formal presentations, but will instead seek to engage the panelists in discussion amongst themselves and with the audience. We will generate new ideas that participants will be able to take away and apply in their everyday practices. Looking forward to seeing you on the Monday afternoon of Telecom World in Bangkok!
It was great to be invited to give a lecture in the Societat Catalana de Geografia in Barcelona on the subject of “Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities?” on Tuesday 4th October in the Ciclo de Conferencias Programa Jean Monnet convened by my great friend Prof. Jordi Marti Henneberg on the theme of Los Desafîos de lintegración Europea. This was such an honour, especially since I had the privilege of following the former President of the European Union Josep Borrell’s excellent lecture earlier in the day on El Brexit y sus consequencias en la goberabilidad de la Unión Europea.
This was an opportunity for me to explore the relevance to the European context of some of my ideas about ICTs and inequality gleaned from research and practice in Africa and Asia. In essence, my argument was that we need to balance the economic growth agenda with much greater focus on using ICTs to reduce inequalities if we are truly to use ICTs to support greater European integration. To do this, I concluded by suggesting that we need to concentrate on seven key actions:
- working with the poor rather than for the poor
- pro-poor technological innovation – not the “next billion” but the “first” billion
- governments have a key role to play through the use of regulation as facilitation in the interests of the poor and marginalised
- crafting of appropriate multi-sector partnerships
- managing security and resilience against the dark side
- enhancing learning and understanding, both within governments and by individuals
- working with the most disadvantaged, people with disabilities, street children, and women in patriarchal societies
It was so good to return today to one of my favourite restaurants – Pitarra in Barcelona (on Carrer d’Avinyó) – for lunch. It is full of atmosphere (of the theatre), the food is really excellent, it is typically Catalan, the wines are great, and the service is very friendly and helpful. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for a lovely restaurant in a quiet, rather hidden away part of Barcelona, just on the south-east edge of the Gothic Quarter.