ICT4D: mainstreaming the marginalised in Pakistan

Workshop 2It was great to be back in Islamabad to participate in the second two-day workshop organised by the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology with the assistance of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and held on 5th and 6th October.  It was fascinating to see the progress that has been made in Pakistan since the first such workshop that we convened in January 2016,  particularly in terms of policy making, awareness, and entrepreneurial activity.  It was also very good to see such a diverse group of participants, including academics, entrepreneurs, civil society activities, government officials, and representatives of bilateral donors engaging in lively discussions throughout both days about how best we can turn rhetoric into reality.

Following the official opening ceremony, there were seven main sessions spread over two days:

  • shahUnderstanding the ICT4D landscape, in which the main speaker was Dr. Ismail Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority
  • The road to facilitation: financial technologies for the marginalised, with a plenary given by Qasif Shahid (FINJA) about making payments frictionless, free and real time.
  • Addressing the digital gender gap, at which the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about why this is a pressing concern, and it gave a chance for him to tdiscusst the new UN-led EQUALS initiative for gender equality in a digital age, as well as some of the challenges that face women in using ICTs (slide deck).
  • No tech to low tech to high tech: an entrepreneur’s tale, with a plenary by Muhammad Nasrulla (CEO INTEGRY).
  • disability panelServing the most marginalised: accessibility and disability, with a plenary by David Banes on access and inclusion using ICTs, which included a very useful framework for considering digital accessibility issues.
  • Developing technologies for the rural/urban slum needs, during which Muhammad Mustafa spoke about his vision of enabling all 700 million illiterate adults in the world to go online through his Mauqa Online initiative.
  • Educating the marginalised, where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about educating marginalised children (slide deck) and Shaista Kazmi from Vision 21 described their Speed Literacy Program.

Each session combined enthusiastic discussion around the themes addressed by the plenary speakers, and it was excellent to learn from all those involved  about using ICTs in very practical ways to deliver on the needs of poor and marginalised people and communities in Pakistan.

Atiq and AlberFull details of the event can be found on the INIT site, where copies of the slide decks from each main presentation will also be available.  Very many thanks go to all of the organisers, especially Tahir Naeem, Akber Gardezi and Muhammad Atiq from COMSATS IIT and INIT for all of the hard work that they put into making the event a success.  We look forward to convening the next such workshop in about a year’s time, once again bringing together people from all backgrounds intent on using ICTs to support Pakistan’s most marginalised communities.

Digital Crowdsourcing and Inclusion in Global Food Markets

Volume 2      Issue 10      October 2017

The OECD suggests that regulations and the industrialisation of agriculture have contributed to both economic growth and poverty reduction. However, with time, regardless of the higher connectivity and spread of ICTs, many people have become more detached from the land and from the farmers who cannot yet be replaced by machines. Many such farmers are still living in poverty in the Equatorial belt, although some of their exotic products such as coffee and cocoa are sold at premium prices in supermarkets in the richer countries.  A rethinking of digital platforms and ICTs could help to re-establish the relationship between consumers and farmers in global food markets.

The idea of using ICTs in agriculture for development is not new. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) has always had a keen interest on ICT Uses for Inclusive Agricultural Value Chains.  e-Agriculture also undertakes valuable research and policy work on ICT for sustainable agriculture and rural development. Kiva Labs has identified three problems where crowdsourcing can help: flexible credit, access to market infrastructure, and training. However, for a better understanding of ICTs for inclusive innovation in global food markets the focus needs to shift away from countries and regions, and towards entrepreneurs, the farmers and their interests.

Crowdsourcing is often presented as a mean for entrepreneurs to access resources from the many, the crowd. In agriculture it can help farmers to access capital for growth, innovation and better access to global food markets, and also improve collaboration with customers, suppliers and partners. Patch of Land, a real estate crowdsourcing platform promotes projects like Athena Organic Farm + Eco-Retreat in Canada as setting the stage by businesses offering a farm-based experience rather than only products, expanding into the digital space through crowd social entrepreneurship and innovation. But can farmers from developing countries harness the power of digital crowdsourcing to come closer to global food markets and consumers?

In developing countries such as Indonesia, the idea of crowdsourcing has been seen particularly positively. While several international crowdsourcing platforms offer global mutual programs, Indonesia has various local platforms in the Bahasa language. Some of them focus on a particular issue such as health (WeCare.id) and  culture (GerakanSejutaBudaya), while others focus on important general social issues supporting personal or social creative issues (GandengTangan, KitaBisa). Some of the crowdsourcing platforms are even available in applications from smartphones, making them more reachable.

In a pilot study conducted for this Briefing we decided to focus on two initiatives in Indonesia. First we examined BigTreeFarms a sustainable agriculture U.S. company sourcing organic cocoa, coconut and other ingredients for their products sold in global markets. Talking with their Head of Corporate Quality, Food Safety and Management, it was clear that one of their key challenges is educating their 10,000+ local farmer partners about organic food producing standards and ensuring that such practices are followed. Second, we spoke with GandengTangan (meaning ‘Hand-in-Hand’). This is a relatively new crowdsourcing platform designed to help individuals and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia to secure funding for growth and better access to local and global markets. Testimonials from successfully-funded projects on the platform show that the scheme has provided new hope to expand businesses in a different way. The two case studies lead us to ask whether the micro-crowdsourcing model and the large sustainable farming investment model can be combined together for a more integrated system.

Regardless of the many crowdsourcing initiatives and inclusive innovations in developing countries, few farmers use and leverage ICTs to expand their skills and gain better access to funding and global food markets. The challenge for crowdsourcing platforms in developing countries is not only to link the global crowd to fundraisers, but also to educate and mentor both parties to collaborate better in the international market arena. Further consideration of important aspects such as local culture, contexts, and trust, as well as useful training or mentoring that might help support them including language, global marketing, farming entrepreneurshis, information and financial literacy is necessry. There is much that ICTs can do, but further research is needed in this direction.