Over the past few years increasingly practitioners, researchers, social entrepreneurs, technologists and others have been buzzing with the concept of ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development). Although many initiatives, projects and programmes have claimed to be ICT4D/M4D/SM4D etc. the true impact of these technologies on development of people are yet to be seen. A number of projects such as InfoDev managed by the World Bank and other developing agencies have published lessons they’ve learn through the analysis of some of their programmes. These lessons include:
- Lesson 1: Involve target groups in project design and monitoring.
- Lesson 2: When choosing the technology for a poverty intervention project, pay particular attention to infrastructure requirements, local availability, training requirements, and technical challenges. Simpler technology often produces better results.
- Lesson 3: Make use of appropriate technologies (mobile phones etc.).
- Lesson 4: ICT projects that reach out to rural areas might contribute more to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) than projects based in urban areas.
- Lesson 5: Sustainable models for ICT4D programmes are lacking.
-Lesson 6: Projects that focus on ICT training should include a job placement component.
Although the above are valuable lessons what remains to be seen is how many of such development initiatives actually are sustained and fulfilling the MDGs in the long-term. We are also seeing more Innovations emerging in collaboration with developing markets where many of the target audiences are become co-creators and co-designers instead of just being the target for delivery of the solutions. However, the question that remains to be asked is “how many of these target audiences have ownership or stewardship of their shared innovations?” It is clear that the future of ICT4D should perhaps be turned on its head and that we should instead of just seeing applications of ICTs in the developing world, actually begin to see more of the Developing World innovating in ICT (D4ICT or ICT4D 3.0) to meet their local needs that can be replicated in other emerging economies or even developed economies.
We do find that our “developing economies” have many characteristics that makes it ideal spaces for ICT4D Innovation Hubs. Some of these could be:
- People know how to survive. Many have endured extreme social issues and have the ability to make things happen in the midst of not having much.
- Who best knows the problem than the people in that developing situation. Being able to define their problems based on their collective experiences are useful.
- Most developing communities have their local champions who could drive and manage the innovation process.
- They know how to take such solutions to their target market because they know their communities.
As practitioners working in the field of ICT4D, M4D, SM4D etc. we still have a long way to go before we truly see the bigger impact on the ground where our target groups can become self-sustainable with technology and innovation just being the enabler.