UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s response to the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation call for contributions

We share below in full our response to the recent call for contributions by the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Whilst we have sought to respond to these questions in good faith, we have serious concerns about the process and its likely impact.  Some of these are summarised in Section IV below.  Unfortunately the consultation seems very flawed in design, and we do not believe that it will have any significant positive impact on the use of digital technologies by poor and marginalised people and communities.

However, should you also hold any of the views and opinions below, do please also reflect these in your submissions to the Panel.

The headings in bold (and italics) below are those provided by the Panel – our responses are listed in normal font below.

I. Values & Principles:

a) What are the key values that individuals, organizations, and countries should support, protect, foster, or prioritize when working together to address digital issues?

1) The most important value is that of RESPONSIBILITY – at every scale from the UN, through governments and companies, down to individuals.  Scientists are responsible for the technologies that they develop; countries are responsible for the regulatory environments they create; the UN is responsible for the examples of good practice and advice that agencies share with governments; companies are responsible for the harm that their technologies do.  For too long, the UN focus has been on rights, but rights without responsibilities are problematic.

2) RESPECT for the OTHER.  All too often, digital technologies are imposed (through marketing, sales, government action etc.) without sufficient recognition of the real needs of others.  Clearly, the private sector is interested in being able to sell the same product to as many people as possible, even though this might not be in the best interests of many of those people.  However, it is very important that technologies are designed with the interests of users at heart, and users have diverse interests.

3) TRANSPARENCY.  This value is problematic, because it can be seen as being in conflict with privacy (below).  However, transparency is crucially important in contexts such as regulatory decisions pertaining to spectrum auctions, the use made of personal data by social media corporations and others, and the monitoring of citizens by governments.

4) PRIVACY (see also Transparency above).  The notion of privacy varies in meaning and understanding across the world, although a “Western” conceptualisation of the privacy of the individual has come to dominate much global discourse on this matter.  Accordingly, information and data that are deemed to be “private” should not be accessible in the public domain.

5) SECURITY.  When designing digital services and technologies, it is important to understand how these have the potential to impact the security of different stakeholders.  Whatever approach is used, critical security questions need to be addressed at each stage of the digital design: Who or what is being secured? Who or what is doing the securing? Why is the subject being secured? Who or what is the subject being secured from?

6) THE GOLDEN RULE.  In essence, this can be summarised as doing to others as you would have done to yourself; it can also be considered as doing no harm.  Despite considerable discussion by philosophers about “universalism” this is probably the only universally accepted value across most of the world’s cultures and societies.  It has important implications with respect to digital technologies.  The behaviour of senior executives in global corporations who send their children to be educated in “digitally-free” schools, and yet make and sell technologies for use in schools would seem to run counter to this value.

7) TRUST is important at many levels when working together on digital issues.  All too often digital partnerships fail because insufficient emphasis is placed on trust in their initial creation.  Trust is also absolutely essential in global negotiations around such issues as Internet governance and digital security.

b) What principles should guide stakeholders as they cooperate with each-other to address issues brought about by digital technology?

The principles essentially derive from the values noted in 1(a)

1) Above all else, the principle of “INCLUSION” should be at the forefront when we are “working together to address digital issues”.  The needs of the poorest and most marginalised should be prioritised, especially in UN, civil society and government agendas.   Digital technologies marginalise individuals and communities unless they are designed to be inclusive.  Specific attention should be paid to working with people with disabilities, out of school youth, women and girls (especially in patriarchal societies), and refugees.

2) Closely allied to the value of inclusion, is the need to prioritise a REDUCTION IN INEQUALITIES rather than an increase in economic growth.  For too long, the UN, governments, private sector companies and civil society have all worked in the belief that economic growth is the main way to reduce poverty.  Such policies and practices have failed to recognise that in most instances economic growth fueled by digital technology has actually increased inequalities at a range of scales.  This is not only morally wrong, but it has important implications for peace, prosperity and social cohesion.

3) WITH THE POOR.  In the past, far too much effort has been placed on using digital technologies “for” the poor and marginalised.  Technologies are designed and developed usually in the richer countries of the world, and then promoted as being useful in the reduction of poverty.  This approach is fundamentally flawed.  Instead digital technologies should be designed WITH the poor.  Indeed, the poorest and most marginalised should be at the heart of determining the needs that these technologies should serve, the sorts of technologies that are developed, and how they are used.

4)  DRAWING ON EXPERIENCE.  Far too many uses of technology in development practice reinvent the wheel.  Insufficient attention and understanding is placed on understanding the successes and failures of the past; this is costly and all too often replicates failure.

5) True PARTNERSHIP.  Many technology initiatives claim to work in partnership, but all too often such partnerships fail to deliver in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.  This is frequently because those involved do not fully understand the complexities and principles of delivering successful partnerships.  Much more effort is required in ensuring that when partnerships are used they are indeed effective

6) MITIGATING HARM.  Much global attention, especially by UN agencies, not least through the WSIS process, is focused on showing how ICTs can be used positively to deliver the SDGs.  However, this is only part of the story.  ICTs can equally be used to do harm.  Therefore, all initiatives using digital technologies for “development” should pay as much attention to mitigating harm as they do to doing good.

7) LANGUAGE matters.  The words we use not only reveal the way we think, but they can also shape the thinking of others.  They therefore need to be used carefully.  Much focus in the tech sector is on connecting the “next” billion; but this will only increase inequality because the poorest and most marginalised will be left behind.  However, we should not aim to connect the “bottom” billion because this is pejorative; instead we should call them the “first” billion because they are most important.  Hence our focus should always be on the “first billion” when we think about and deliver initiatives designed to support the poorest and most marginalised.

8) A shift from the INDIVIDUAL TO COMMUNAL interests.  For too long, the emphasis of tech companies, governments and indeed the UN (as in INDIVIDUAL human rights) has been on the individual.  However, there are strong arguments that shifting the emphasis to communal interests would create a fairer and more equal society.  The working out of this principle can be seen in the tensions, for example, between the USA (more individualistic) and the EU (more communal) in negotiations relating to digital technologies.

9) Widespread and informed PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT about the kind of digital future that our societies want.  This is particularly important with respect to debates over AI and cyborgs.  Some fear that it is already too late to prevent “pure” human beings from becoming extinct as they are replaced by machine-humans or human-machines; others argue that this does not matter, and that humans have always used machines for their own advantage.

10) DESIGN AT SCALE.  The model of private sector companies and civil society organisations funding and delivering small pilot scale projects in the expectation that they can then be rolled out globally is fundamentally flawed.  All too often, those promoting these pilots bemoan that governments will not fund them to go to scale and be sustainable.  The fundamental problem here is that most were never in the first place designed at scale, and it is therefore scarcely surprising that no-one can find the necessary budgets for them to be rolled out more widely.

11) FOCUS ON WHAT WORKS WELL and not just on innovation.  Innovation is important, but most innovations fail.  It is therefore at least as important for donors and governments to fund what is known to work quite well, and then make it even better and more widespread, rather than focusing only on innovations (many of which will fail, and thus reflect a waste of money).

c) How can these values and principles be better embedded into existing private and/or public activities in the digital space?

There is a huge literature on this.  Section 5 below highlights some of the more valuable work that the panel should read.  If there is only one book you have time for, you should read Tim Unwin’s (2017) Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for development (OUP).

1) The role of  PRIVATE sector companies.  The private sector cannot be expected to deliver on the needs of those who cannot pay for its goods and services.  The role of companies is to make profits for their owners and shareholders.  Many governments and UN agencies see companies primarily as sources of additional revenue, often through their Corporate and Social Responsibility (CSR) budgets.  However, more often than not, the real benefits of involving private sector companies in technology for development initiatives are in their ability to deliver on the ground, their focus on ensuring ‘profit’, and thus on ensuring sustainability.

2) The role of the PUBLIC SECTOR.  The public sector (governments) is theoretically the only sector (of the three: public, private and civil society) that should have the interests of all of their citizens at heart.  Hence, they must play a crucial role in serving the interests of their most marginalised citizens.  A real challenge here is that many of those in governments are seen as being self-serving, and in such circumstances citizens often say that they trust companies more than they do their governments.  Given the absolutely crucial role of governments, much more needs to be done to help train politicians and civil society (and indeed UN agencies) about digital technologies, so that they can take wise decisions in the interests of all.

3) REGULATION.  In balancing the interests of the private sector and governments, good regulation has a key role to play.  All too often, though, ICT and Telecommunication regulators have erred on the side of the private sector rather than their poorest citizens.  This balance needs carefully to be changed, so that more affordable and more extensive access can be made available to digital technologies.  As is well known, access by itself is not enough to ensure that the poor can empower themselves through ICTs, but without access they are unable even to begin to use technologies in their own interests

4) OPEN and PROPRIETARY solutions and INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS (IPR).  The balance between open and proprietary solutions is complex and varies in different contexts.  There are strong arguments that anything that is funded by governments should be open and accessible to all.  However, IPR can act as an incentive for people to create new solutions from which then can benefit.  This can in turn motivate them to gain digital literacy and information security skills that they need to be self sufficient.  For the sake of collaboration and development, it may also be useful to make more intellectual property available for free to them, and at the same time not take and register their cultural symbols, traditions, designs, unique products and services to patent and copyright them in some developed country system.

5) A focus on the POOREST AND MOST MARGINALISED.  Above all, if we wish to use digital technologies for all, we must always ensure that they are designed in a way that is inclusive and does not further marginalise the most marginalised.  The evidence of the past, however, suggests that this is unlikely to happen.  It is the rich and powerful who have always used technologies primarily to serve their interests and remain in power.

II. Methods & Mechanisms

a) How do the stakeholders you are familiar with address their social, economic, and legal issues related to digital technologies? How effective or successful are these mechanisms for digital cooperation? What are their gaps, weaknesses, or constraints? How can these be addressed?

This question is ridiculously broad, and relates closely to other questions, so there is a danger of simply repeating what we have already stated.  Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D work with governments, the private sector, civil society and academia, and some of us have >40 years of experience in using digital technologies in these sectors However, in brief, we would make the following observations on mechanisms for digital co-operation.

1) On EFFECTIVENESS.  Most attempts to build partnerships to deliver effective digital technological solutions in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised have failed.  There are many reasons for this (see literature noted in V below), but among the more importance are:

  • a failure to apply basic well-known principles of partnership and cooperation;
  • a failure of trust;
  • a failure of appropriate planning;
  • a failure to deliver on commitments;
  • self-interest rather than an interest in the well-being of the poor; and
  • a failure of leadership.

To stimulate co-operation, it is important to ask critical questions about what benefits digital service and technology provide people with (see literature in V below), and it is also essential to understand the many barriers (access, skills, knowledge, affordability, relevance) to accessing those benefits and how different barriers shape access for different communities.

2) GAPS, WEAKNESSES AND CONSTRAINTS.  In part these relate directly to the first part of this question.  However, gaps, weaknesses and constraints include:

  • competitive rather than collaborative interests;
  • lack of knowledge about effective partnership delivery;
  • lack of trust-building;
  • lack of cultural understanding and awareness;
  • excessive arrogance, and lack of humility;
  • poor leadership;
  • failure to establish what stakeholder interests really are;
  • lack of transparency and openness; and
  • focus on economic growth rather than reducing inequalities.

It should be emphasised that a lack of funding is NOT usually a barrier or constraint.  A good well-designed and appropriate initiative can always find ways of being funded.  Indeed, it is not usually the funding, but rather the will of those involved actually to deliver, that is the biggest problem!

3) How can these be ADDRESSED.  At the danger of repeating answers given elsewhere, the following would provide some solutions:

  • enhanced education about digital technologies;
  • improved training of government officials and politicians;
  • widespread public debate and involvement in decisions over digital futures;
  • specific training in partnership building and cooperation, and involving experienced partnership brokers in delivering partnerships sustainably;
  • ensuring a joined-up UN approach (what, for example, does the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation really actually add to the many UN-wide initiatives ongoing in the field of digital technologies?).  The CEB and HLCP are, for example, doing valuable work in trying to develop such UN-system-wide strategies;
  • greater involvement of poor and marginalised people and communities at all stages from the design to the use of digital technologies;
  • giving greater power (and respect) to Regulators; and
  • focusing more on the impact that digital technologies have on inequality than on economic growth.

b) Who are the forgotten stakeholders in these mechanisms? How can we strengthen the voices of women, the youth, small enterprises, small island states and others who are often missing?

1) The list of implied forgotten stakeholders in the question (women, the youth, small enterprises, small island states) is itself revealing, because it reflects a very top-down approach to these issues and ignores the most marginalised people and communities.  We would add:

  • people with disabilities (we hope His Excellency Mohammad Al Gergawi will champion this on the panel);
  • refugees;
  • indigenous and isolated communities;
  • out of school youth and “street children”;
  • the LGBTIQ community; and
  • the elderly

2) How to STRENGTHEN THE VOICES.  This is indeed a really important but difficult question.  The usual arguments are that: democratic processes can involve them; the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is a mechanism through which their voices are expressed; social media platforms can be used; and we should draw on the experience of those who have deep working knowledge of their needs and wishes, such as civil society organisations.  But none of these have really yet worked effectively (see Unwin, 2017 – in Section V –  for a discussion of these issues of voice, and further references cited therein).  There is also no one-size-fits all solution.

Some suggestions:

  • on “women” – we need to change men’s attitudes and behaviours to woman in/and technology, thereby enabling women to have greater voice (see TEQtogether, Section V)
  • on small island states – very intractable – not only because of small size and isolation, but also because they usually have few people with the skills and expertise and they cannot spend all their time out of the country “giving voice”.  Solutions include: dramatic cut-back on the number of events relating to digital technologies (there is already far too much duplication and overlap in conferences and summits); dramatic improvement in virtual meeting technology; substantial efforts at capacity development…
  • on youth – again there are real problems in identifying “representative youth”.  All too often youth representatives replicate existing power structures in the countries from which they come.  Furthermore, they are often also often treated very patronisingly – their voices should not only be listened to, but also really acted upon.  We also need more interaction between the elderly and the young.  Reverse/360 degree mentoring can be valuable in this context.

c) What new or innovative mechanisms might be devised for multi-stakeholder cooperation in the digital space?

Why always look for the new, when the old could work if better delivered?  There is a huge literature on technology partnerships and cooperation, but few people take the time to read it.  The lessons are very well known.  The trouble is that many people actually want to reinvent the wheel, often because they want to claim something for themselves as being new, but also often because they think they do not have time to learn how to deliver what they want.

There is also a problem with terminology.  Most people now use the term “multi-stakeholder”, when what they actually mean is “multi-sector”.  Multi-stakholder only means having many stakeholders, which could all be from, for example, the private sector!  In general usage, though, the term is usually now used to organisations, cooperation or processes that involve the private sector, the public sector and civil society – and so in such instances should properly be called “multi-sector”.  As noted above, language is very important.

Some existing partnership and cooperation good practices are noted below.  Geldof et al (2011) noted five broad factors as being important in successful ICT4D partnerships, and these also apply for any kind of cooperation in the digital space:

  • “Success is increased when detailed attention is paid to the local context and the involvement of the local community in partnership implementation.
  • It is important for such partnerships to have clear and agreed intended development outcomes, even where constituent partners may themselves have different reasons for being involved in the partnership.
  • Sustainability and scalability of the intended development intervention need to be built into partnership design at the very beginning.
  • Successful partnerships are built on trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect.
  • A supportive wider ICT environment needs to be in place, both in terms of policy and infrastructure, if such partnerships are to flourish and deliver effective development outcomes”.

In general eight key principles are important for effective multi-sector cooperation or partnerships in the field of digital technologies:

  1. A political and infrastructural environment that is conducive to the implementation of partnerships and cooperation. Without this, there is little point in starting.
  2. Engagement of all relevant stakeholders as early as possible in the initiative.
  3. The involvement of a high level champion, as well as leaders of all of the entities involved.
  4. The identification of clear and mutually agreed objectives for the partnership or cooperation at the very start.
  5. Consistent monitoring and evaluation of the partnership or cooperative process and its intended outcomes. Again, this must be done from the beginning by ensuring a baseline study exists to enable impact and outcomes to be measured effectively.
  6. A clear and realistic resourcing framework, whereby each partner is explicit about the resources that they are willing to make available to the partnership or cooperation, as well as their expectations of the benefits of being involved in the partnership. Mechanisms must also exist for the inclusion of additional partners at stages during the process where new needs are identified.
  7. An ethical framework that emphasises a focus on transparency, and helps build trust within the partnership or cooperation.
  8. A management office and/or partnership broker to ensure the day-to-day and effective management and delivery of the partnership or cooperation.

This is not new, but is rarely undertaken in practice.  Perhaps it would be new to change our approaches away from the “fetishisation” of innovation and focus instead on what we know works.

III. Illustrative Action Areas

The Panel plans to explore, among others, the following areas where greater digital cooperation is required:

  • inclusive development and closing the digital gap
  • inclusive participation in the digital economy
  • data
  • protection of human rights online, particularly of children, women and marginalized communities
  • human agency and voice/participation in shaping technological choices and architecture
  • digital trust and security
  • building the capacity of individuals, institutions and governments for the digital transformation.

a) What are the challenges faced by stakeholders (e.g. individuals, Governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities) in these areas?

Again there is a wealth of good research and practice in these areas.  The panel would be advised to read some of this literature.  The values and principles noted above in our responses to Section 1 are also highly pertinent here.

It is interesting that you do not ask WHY the many challenges exist.  Only by asking this question can you hope to consider mechanisms to deal with the many ones that exist.  So, we offer just a few of the more important inter-related reasons:

  • individual interests and greed
  • competition for market share
  • competition between and within organisations and especially UN agencies
  • arrogance
  • failure to trust
  • failure to listen to the needs of “the other” and especially the poorest and most marginalised
  • failure of governments to serve the interests of all of their citizens
  • lack of transparency
  • inadequate leaders and champions

b) What are successful examples of cooperation among stakeholders in these areas? Where is further cooperation needed?

There are remarkably few really good examples of successful cooperation and partnership in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.  Much depends on how success is defined.  Some famous initiatives (such as the NePAD e-Schools Project in Africa a decade ago) have often been described as successes (from the perspective of individual stakeholders), when they were actually complete failures with respect to enhancing education of children systemically across Africa.

It is interesting that the question posed here is “Where is further cooperation needed?”.  If existing cooperation is poor, then it is clear that we should not have further such cooperation, but instead need to change the nature of such cooperation, as suggested in IIIa above.

c) What form might cooperation among stakeholders in these areas take? What values and principles should underpin it?

This question has largely been answered by responses to Section I on values and principles.  There are very many guides to good cooperation and partnership that the Panel should read if they are not already aware of their content.  The references included in the material cited in Section V will provide plenty of food for thought.

In addition, though, it should be emphasised that we have specifically outlined above some of these points in relation to digital security and trust. Another aspect to consider is the starting point for the design of digital technology and services. Some principles for engendering trust in digital design are again outlined in the references in Section V under “Security”.

IV. Do you have any other ideas you would like to share with the Panel?

Unfortunately the questions in this consultation are somewhat broad and repetitive.  Most have already been answered in the very extensive literature that exists, some of which we list below in Section V.  We wonder how much time panel members actually have to read some of the most important texts on the subject?  The answers to most of the questions herein are well-known; the challenge is to act upon this knowledge.  It is a challenge of “will”.

We also noted above our concerns about the role of the High-Level Panel on Digital Co-operation, and remain unconvinced that it is the appropriate vehicle through which real change can be delivered.  There are already UN bodies and structures that could readily have fulfilled this role.  Why was there the need to create yet another high-level  body?  The structure of the Panel is also problematic if it intends to understand and deliver on the key issues noted above.  Whilst efforts have clearly been made to get reasonable gender and regional balances, the panel is heavily made up of elite people, and has a strong private sector emphasis.  Few members are from very poor or marginalised backgrounds, and although many might claim to know about poverty and marginalisation, few have really experienced it.

Moreover, the poor design of this “consultation/survey” generates concern whether the analysis will make a significant difference to global policy or practice.  We have nevertheless responded in good faith, and hope that our concerns over the likely impact are misplaced.

V. Please provide your numbered references or links to additional reports/documents here.

On ICTs FOR DEVELOPMENT

  • The work of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D https://ict4d.org.uk
  • Unwin, T (2017) Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development, OUP
  • Unwin, T. (ed.) (2009) Information and Communication Technologies for Development, CUP
  • Sharafat, A. and Lehr, W. (eds) (2017) ICT-Centric Economic Growth, Innovation and Job Creation, Geneva: ITU

On ICT PARTNERSHIPS

  • Geldof, M., Grimshaw, D., Kleine, D. and Unwin, T.  2011.  What are the key lessons of ICT4D partnerships for poverty reduction?  London: Department for International Development.
  • Unwin, T. (2015) MultiStakeholder Partnerships in Information and Communication for Development Interventions, in International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society, Chichester: Wiley, 634-44.
  • Unwin, T. (with Alex Wong) Global Education Initiative: Retrospective on Partnerships for Education Development 2003-2011, Geneva: World Economic Forum, http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GEI_PartnershipsEducationDevelopment_Report_2012.pdf

On SECURITY:

On CHANGING MEN’S ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOURS TO WOMEN AND TECHNOLOGY

Digital technologies and the FUTURE OF EDUCATION AND LEARNING IN DEPRIVED CONTEXTS

Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are part of new GCRF Hub on South-South Migration led by Coventry University

AirtelA group of leading international migration experts – including from the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London – has won backing from the UK government’s science and research funding agency to explore how South-South migration is affecting inequality and development in less developed regions.

The South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub won funding for the five-year project under the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) call to establish interdisciplinary research Hubs addressing complex global challenges. The recipients of the awards were announced on 10th December 2018.

Dr G. Hari Harindranath (School of Management, and member of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) and Professor Tim Unwin (Department of Geography and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) from Royal Holloway are among the experts who, as part of the Hub, will investigate how South-South migration – or the movement of people between less developed countries in the Global South (for example between African countries) – contributes to the delivery of UN Sustainable Development Goals such as ending poverty and reducing inequality.

They will work alongside academics, artists, community leaders, international organisations and policymakers from 12 countries across South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Middle East better to understand international migration patterns and consequences, and to support and influence global migration policy development.

South-South migration is estimated to account for nearly half of all international migration (up to 70% in some places), but its potential benefits have been undermined by limited and unequal access to rights and the economic and social opportunities that migration can bring.

Using a wide range of research methods and creative approaches, the Hub will map, record and draw attention to the experiences of those who move, generating a better understanding of – and encouraging a greater range of policy responses to address – the challenges associated with international migration. It is hoped that the work will re-balance academic and political debates, currently driven largely by the perspectives and priorities of countries in the Global North.

The GCRF South-South Migration Inequality and Development Hub will be led by Heaven Crawley, Professor of International Migration at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, and delivered in partnership with:

  • 20 leading universities, as well as the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and PositiveNegatives;
  • Six international organisations – the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development (UNRISD); and
  • Numerous local organisations in the 12 countries in which the hub will work: Burkina Faso, Brazil, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal and South Africa.

Dr Harindranath and Professor Unwin’s work package on ‘Leveraging ICTs to address inequality’ focuses on understanding the extent and ways through which the application of ICTs has alleviated or exacerbated existing inequalities in the context of South-South migration, as well as successes and challenges facing the use of ICT for migrant-related development outcomes. It also considers how the potential benefits of ICT can be leveraged to ensure that the developmental benefits of migration are harnessed and increased, particularly through reducing inequalities in ICT access and use.

Chairholder on Teledifusão de Macau talk show discussing ICT4D

KelseyTim Unwin, our Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D,  was recently in Macau and Shenzhen, China, in his role as a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations University Computing and Society Institute.  During this visit, colleagues at the Institute had arranged for him to participate in Teledifusão de Macau (TDM)’s prime time Talk Show with Kelsey Wilhelm.  This was a great opportunity to share some of his current thinking about the interface between digital technologies and humans!

The show is now available on YouTube, and begins with an overview of the current state of ICT for development, before going on to discuss

  • ways through which people with disabilities can be empowered through the use of technology,
  • the importance of new technologies being inclusive, because otherwise they lead to new inequalities,
  • working “with” the poorest and most marginalised rather than for them,
  • the role of new technologies such as AI and blockchain in serving the interests of the rich rather than the poor,
  • cyborgs and the creation of machine-humans and human-machines, and finally
  • some of the ethical issues that need to be discussed if we are to balance the benefits of new technologies whilst limiting their harm.

We need much wider public debate on these issues!

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s contributions to UNESCO’s first Partners’ Forum

SindiIt was great to be able to participate as a UNESCO Chairholder in UNESCO’s first Partners’ Forum on 11th-12th September in Paris, and to contribute as a panellist in the session arranged by Indrajit Banerjee and his team on Responding to Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital Age.  Much of the Forum focused on the successes of existing UNESCO partnerships, but our panel yesterday instead addressed practical issues where UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division could make a difference.

AudienceOur panel also consisted of:

  • Moderator: Indrajit Banerjee (Director, Knowledge Societies Division, UNESCO)
  • Marcus Goddard (Netexplo Observatory)
  • Marie-Helene Parizeau (Chair of World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology)
  • Dr. Davina Frau-Meigs (Professor of Media Sociology at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, and Chairholder of UNESCO Chair for “savoir-devenir le développement numérique durable: maîtriser les cultures de l’information”)
  • Octavio Kulesz (Teseo, Argentina).

Our multilingual session had five themes, and there was a great audience who contributed hugely through their smiles!  I note below some of the contributions that I sought to make:

Introductory comments

I focused on two main issues:

  • We must avoid an instrumental view of the world. AI, the Internet of Things,  5G… do not have any power to change anything themselves.  They are created by global corporations – be they failing USAn ones, or rising Chinese ones – and by individuals in them who have particular interests.  AI, for example, will not change the world of work.  Those who are creating AI are doing so for a very particular set of reasons…  We are responsible for the things we create.
  • Use of the term 4th Industrial Revolution is highly problematic. I guess there are two kinds of people – those who see the world as being revolutionary, and those who see it as evolutionary.  The “revolutionary” people like to see the world as shaped by heroes (perhaps they want to be heroes themselves) – elite people such as Turnip Townsend or Thomas Coke of Holkham in the “agricultural revolution”, or Richard Arkwright who invented the water-powered spinning mill, Jean Baptiste Colbert here in France, or George Stephenson – people who led the so-called industrial revolution. However, the reality is that these changes evolved through the labour of countless millions of poor people across the world, and their lives were shaped by fundamental structural forces, most notably the driving forces and interests of capitalism – money bent on the accretion of money – that sought to reduce labour costs and increase market size.  These forces still shape today’s world.  There is no 4th Industrial Revolution

How can UNESCO leverage digital technologies to achieve SDGs?

I sought to raise challenging questions about the relationship between digital technologies and the SDGs, particularly around notions of sustainability:

  • First, most ICTs and digital technologies are based on fundamentally unsustainable business models – and there are therefore real challenges claiming that they can contribute positively to “sustainable development”. Just thinking about it.  How often do you replace your mobile phone, or have to get new software because you have bought some new hardware with which it is incompatible, or instead need new hardware to run the latest memory and processor demanding software.  Such obsolescence is a deliberate ploy of the major technology companies.
  • Second, the use of most such technologies is damaging to the environment – this is hardly sustainable – think about the satellite “waste” in outer space, or the electricity demands of server farms, or take blockchain; do you realise that Bitcoin mining consumes more electricity a year than does the whole of Ireland?
  • And then, the SDGs have failed already – most countries have not set their targets, and for many the baseline data simply do not exist. It is therefore not going to be possible to say whether many targets have been met or not. Take UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics date on SDG 4.  In most parts of the world less than a third of countries have data for the educational indicators and targets. [http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/sdg4-data-book-2018-en.pdf].  Indeed, it is often said that the SDGs purely exist to give UN agencies something to do!
  • But being positive, the answer is simple – we need to concentrate our efforts first on the poorest and most marginalised. These new technologies have rapidly been used to make the world a more unequal place.  It is good that we now have SDG 10 focusing on inequality, but few people ever mention it in the context of digital technologies. No-one else has mentioned it in any of the sessions at which I have yet been during this Forum. We should not always be talking about connecting the next billion – but instead of connecting the first billion – yes, the first and most important – those who are poorest and most marginalised – people with disabilities, street children, refugees, and women in patriarchal societies.  We need to work with them, to craft new technologies that will help them achieve their empowerment.

How can we de-risk digital interactions and counter online challenges to privacy, human rights and freedom of expression?

I responded briefly, since other speakers addressed this at greater length and with more sophistication:

  • Ethics is incredibly important – Most people tend to think that new technology is necessarily good. But it is not.  Technology is neither good nor bad – it simply “is”.  But technologies can be made, and used, for good or bad purposes.
  • Two examples on which I have recently been working are:
    • Sexual harassment through mobile devices – Pakistan, India and Caribbean
    • Is it too late for “pure humans” to survive – or will we, are we already, all cyborgs?
  • How might we respond to these challenges
    • We need to focus as much on the negatives as on the positives of technologies in our education systems and media.
    • We need more open public debate and discussion on the ethics of digital technologies – governments tend not to trust their citizens to engage in these very difficult issues.

What forms of multi-stakeholder mechanisms/government frameworks will foster global dialogue around the use of advanced ICTs?

Again, towards the end of the session, there was little time to discuss this, but I noted:

  • Everyone talks about partnerships, but few actually succeed
  • Back in 2005 I actually wrote about multi-sector partnerships as part of UNESCO’s contribution to WSIS – and most of what I wrote then still applies!
  • We must stop competing and instead work together creatively and collaboratively in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised. This applies particularly both within and between UN agencies!

Concluding remarks

This is what I think I said:

I have huge admiration for many of the staff in UNESCO; the organisation has the most important mandate of any UN agency – focusing as it does on Education, Science and Culture.  There are three simple, and easy things that UNESCO could do, but they require a fundamental change of mentality:

  • Focus on understanding the needs of the poorest and most marginalised
  • Work with, not for, the poorest and marginalised
  • Develop digital solutions that will serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.

And of course, UNESCO could take much more advantage of the expertise of the many Chairholders in its UNITWIN and UNESCO Chairs networks!

Thanks again to all those in UNESCO who made the Forum such an interesting event.

IFIP WG 9.4 2018 European Regional Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

     

2018 IFIP WG 9.4 European Regional Conference on the Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries

Organised by IFIP WG 9.4, the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway University of London, The European University of Tirana and the University of Tirana.

22nd to 24th June 2018, Tirana, Albania

By clicking the REGISTER NOW button above you will be directed to https://www.tickettailor.com/events/ifipwg94euro2018/156030 where you can pay securely for your conference ticket.

Key Dates

Abstract Submission Deadline: 20 March 2018 extended until 26 March 2018

Acceptance Notification: before 10 April 2018

Early Bird Registration Deadline: 30 April 2018

Camera-ready Version (the revised extended abstract) Due: 20 May 2018

Venue: Hotel Tirana International, Tirana, Albania

Theme: Digital Innovation for Sustainable Development

Information technologies in general are great drivers of change that can create opportunities for new and improved models of sustainable international development. Digital innovation, when adapted to specific needs, could have the ability to solve social challenges, but concerns about amplifying inequality, access to benefits and diverting resources away from more pressing development priorities remain.

We are particularly interested in submissions related to innovation agility, indigenous innovation in developing countries and digital innovation for sustainable development. However, we are soliciting submissions across the full range of topics of interest to IFIP Working Group 9.4 in the broad areas of technology and sustainable international development, focusing but not limited to the following areas:

  1. Digital innovations for poverty and inequality reduction
  2. Education for Development – New Approaches Tools and Models
  3. Equality and human rights
  4. Digital technologies and forced international migration
  5. Technology, automation and decent work
  6. International business and economic growth
  7. Sustainable and innovative cities and communities
  8. Responsible consumption and production
  9. Digital governance, peace and justice
  10. ICT4D in South-East Europe

Extended abstract submissions for research papers (2 pages long excluding references) or work-in-progress abstract submissions (1 page long excluding references) should be submitted by the 20th of March 2018. They will be peer-reviewed and collated into an eBook which will be published online with an ISBN.

The aim of the Regional Conference is to provide an engaging space for researchers and practitioners to share their work and participate in a number of additional workshops around the following areas:

  • Working in multidisciplinary research projects
  • Getting published in leading international journals
  • Impacting policy and practice

Confirmed Speakers

Robert Davison is a Professor of Information Systems at the City University of Hong Kong, currently researching on Knowledge Management and Collaboration in Chinese firms, and the Chair of the IFIP WG 9.4.  He has published over 200 articles in a variety of journals and conferences, and his work has been cited in excess of 6500 times (H=41).

In a Guide to Publishing in International Journals and Paper Development Workshop Robert will open up the black box of publishing from the perspective of an Editor in Chief of two very different journals: the AIS Basket of 8 “Information Systems Journal” and the niche “Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries”.

Call for Submissions

We seek proposals for panel or workshop sessions (1 page long excluding references) on topical issues bridging across multidisciplinary theory and practice, and professional development training workshop sessions on research impact, methods, fieldwork or publishing.

We are also seeking extended abstract submissions for research papers (2 pages long excluding references) for presentation at the conference.

Work-in-progress abstract submissions (1 page long excluding references) can be submitted for presentation as posters or demo installations. They will be displayed at the conference.

Submissions

Abstracts, panel and workshop proposals should be sent in PDF format, by email to ifip94euro2018@gmail.com

The decisions of acceptance will be made based on the extended abstracts that will be included in the final proceedings. The aim is to have a balanced programme and experience, welcoming paper presentations on research, theory and practice, but also creating a space for professional development and networking. Therefore we will not ask for full papers.

Submissions should follow the formatting guidelines for the IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology (IFIP AICT). Submissions should include: Title, Author names, Address, Email/URL, Keywords, the main body of the extended abstract and references, if required. It is not necessary to include an abstract section in the extended abstract. A submission template is available HERE, and detailed information is available from:

http://www.springer.com/gb/computer-science/lncs/conference-proceedings-guidelines

Registration fees

Early bird

Before 30 Apr 2018

EUROS

Full price

From 1 May 2018

EUROS

Academics and professionals: Developed countries 290 330
Academics and professionals: Developing countries* 200 230
PhD students: Developed countries** 150 170
PhD students: Developing countries*,** 100 120
Distance participation: All*** 50 60
Gala dinner 40 40

The full registration tickets include the conference participation fee, a reception on the 22nd of June 2018, coffee breaks and lunches on the 23rd and 24th of June 2018. These fees include a discount of at least 10% for participants from all IFIP member societies. The gala and networking dinner on the 23rd or June 2018 has to be paid separately.

*Developing countries are considered those in the OECD DAC List of ODA Recipients: http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/daclist.htm Participants from developing countries can apply for a bursary by sending a cover letter along with their submission. Decision will be made based on merit and need.

** PhD Students willing to volunteer for facilitating the event can apply for a bursary by sending a cover letter along with their submission. Decision will be made based on merit and need. Priority will be given to local PhD students.

*** Online participation is for those who want to submit an extended abstract, but who cannot participate in person in the conference. They will have a chance to interact with the participants at the session when their presentation is scheduled and their contribution will be included in the proceedings.

 Accommodation, Visa and Transfers

The conference will be hosted at Hotel Tirana International located in the Main Square of Tirana, combining a truly strategic location and breath-taking view of the capital city.

Any visitor who holds a valid, multiple entry and previously used visa issued by a Schengen area country, United States, or the United Kingdom, or a residence permit in these countries can enter Albania without a visa for 90 days. Detailed information about the visa policy of Albania for foreign nationals can be accessed here.

Tirana International Airport Mother Teresa is about 30 min drive from the hotel.

Call for Participation and Bursaries

We plan to offer a number of bursaries to attract Graduate Students from universities in developing countries in Europe or outside, researching on topics of interest for the conference that may have difficulty obtaining support from their host institution to attend the conference.

Bursaries will be allocated on a merit and need basis. If you wish to apply for a bursary, with your submission, please include a cover letter (1 page) demonstrating your need for financial support.

Conference Committee

Conference Chair:          Endrit Kromidha, University of Birmingham

Programme Co-Chairs:

Kozeta Sevrani, University of Tirana

Tim Unwin, Royal Holloway University of London

Agim Kasaj, European University of Tirana

Programme Committee

Jyoti Choudrie University of Hertfordshire, UK
Betim Cico South East European University, Macedonia
Jose-Rodrigo Cordoba-Pachon Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Robert Davison City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Gentian Elezi Agenda Institute, Albania
Neki Frasheri Polytechnic University of Tirana, Albania
G Hari Harindranath Royal Holloway, University of London, UK
Richard Heeks University of Manchester, UK
Ravishankar Mayasandra-Nagaraja Loughborough University, UK
Irena Malolli Ministry of Infrastructure and Energy, Albania
Silvia Masiero Loughborough University, UK
Petter Neilsen University of Oslo, Norway
Devinder Thapa University of Agder, Norway

Cashless India: A new digital divide?

Volume 3        Issue 2        February 2018

On November 8, 2016, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation in a televised announcement, stating that “the 500 rupee and 1000 rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight”. The move, quickly popularised as “demonetisation” and affecting around 86% of the currency in circulation, was justified by the goal to “break the grip of corruption and black money” in the cash-intensive Indian economy.

Just over a year after demonetisation, its effectiveness for the stated corruption-reducing purposes is widely debated. A related debate, directly relevant for ICT4D, is on the Government’s statement that the poor and unbanked, who conduct most of their transactions in cash, would be able to cope with demonetisation through ICT adoption. In this view, quick diffusion of mobiles and rise of ICT education among the poor would enable a smooth transition to a cashless economy. Has the “demonetisation through digitalisation” proposition proven true?

Pro-poor ICT infrastructure was developed before demonetisation. It consists of the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, a program providing zero-balance bank accounts to low-income households; the Unique Identity Project (Aadhaar) conferring residents a unique identification number and biometric credentials; and mobile phones being linked to national anti-poverty schemes. The combination of Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobiles, known as “JAM trinity”, acts as the Government’s main enabler of an ICT-based agenda for financial inclusion.

With the sudden need to deposit the old notes into bank accounts, relevance of Jan Dhan has increased, and Aadhaar has become an enabler of digital transactions. With the uptake of digital wallets, informal sellers were enabled to continue business through mobiles. This suggests that each element of the JAM trinity has acquired a new meaning post-demonetisation, enabling financial inclusion of the poor.

Yet, fieldwork conducted in the aftermath of demonetisation raises issues with this argument. As observation in street markets revealed, transacting in a cashless economy requires technologies that support digital systems, in a country where smarthpone penetration is estimated at just 17%. This raises problems regarding the integration of rural, tribal, and urban poor communities  in a system predicated on access to advanced forms of ICT.

 

My fieldwork has also revealed asymmetric distribution of information on how to navigate the new digital economy. Sudden cashlessness forced

 

poorer people to interface with banks and credit institutions, exposing them to confusing and often contradictory information on what to do. While volunteers have helped the poor adopt ICTs, an institutionalised system of support has been lacking, weakening the ability of vulnerable groups to interact with credit institutes and cope with the new system.

In a nation where an estimated 24% of the population lives without electricity, infrastructural problems make the picture more complex. India ranks 134 out of 176 countries in the ICT development index calculated by ITU, with only a minimum variation over time. Internally, inequality of ICT access puts isolated areas at risk when envisaging a digital transaction system, rooted on well-functioning ICTs. Fragilities in the accountability of payment systems have emerged even in well-connected urban areas.

As a cashless economy ensues in India, the real danger is that of widening the extant divide between those who own digital means of transaction, and those who are structurally unable to access them. While the former experience limited constraints in a digital economy, the latter risk to remain locked outside the network and experience economic isolation. As I have argued elsewhere, this may lead to determining a type of economic exclusion that did not exist before, inducting the quasi-coactive adoption of digital tools for the traceability of transactions.

Demonetisation was originally presented as a fix to an economy framed as cash-intensive and therefore ridden with corruption. As the move towards a cashless economy takes shape, guaranteeing access to the system and preventing the lock-out of vulnerable communities is paramount. ICT4D research and practice need cautioning against an emerging new form of digital divide, framed in terms of access to digital means of transaction. Bridging this new divide is of crucial importance to enable marginalised communities to sustain their livelihoods in the new cashless system.

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at EQUALS Research Group meeting in Macau

EQUALS is a global initiative committed to achieving gender equality in the digital age.  5Its founding partners are the ITU, UN Women, UNU Computing and Society (UNU-CS) institute, the International Trade Centre, and the GSMA, and Royal Holloway, University of London, is one of the first group of 25 partners for the initiative.  We were delighted that the Principal of Royal Holloway, Professor Paul Layzell, was able to attend the first Principal’s meeting in New York during the UNGA in September 2017 (image to the right).  There are three Coalitions within EQUALS, for Skills (led by GIZ and UNESCO), Access (led by the GSMA) and Leadership (led by the ITC), and these are supported by a Research Group, led by the UNU-CS.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has been very active across all areas of EQUALS’ work since its original conception during the discussions held at the WSIS Forum in May 2016, and has been particularly involved in contributing to the work of the Skills Coalition.

The first face-to-face physical (rather than virtual) meeting of the Research Group was convened by the UNU-CS in Macau from 5th-6th December (official press release), and it was great that the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D could be represented by both Liz Quaglia and Tim Unwin at this meeting.  This week’s gathering brought together researchers and policymakers from 21 organizations around the world. It established the group’s research agenda, drafted its work plan for 2018, and finalized the content and schedule of its inaugural report due to be published in mid-2018.  In particular, it provided a good opportunity for researchers to help shape the Coalitions’ thinking around gender and equality in the three areas of skills, access and leadership, and also to identify ways through which they could contribute new research to enable the coalitions to be evidence-led in their activities.

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Huge thanks are due to Araba Sey, who convened the meeting with amazing enthusiasm, insight and professionalism, and all of the other staff at UNU-CS who contributed so much to the meeting.  It was a great occasion when some of the world’s leading researchers in gender and ICTs could meet together, not only to discuss EQUALS, but also to explore other areas of related research, and to build the trust and openness necessary to increase gender equality both in the field of ICTs, and also through the ways that ICTs influence every aspect of people’s lives.

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.

SDG Stories: UNESCO Chair contributing on sustainability of ICT systems

e_sdg-goals_icons-individual-rgb-09In 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.

Identification for Development: Benefits and Challenges

Volume 2    Issue 7    July 2017

Over the past nine months, we have been listening to the experiences of lower income individuals with identity systems in India, together with the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (as a research partner), Storythings and the Langtons (as communication experts), and funded by Omidyar Network. We have conducted 150 interviews across rural and urban sites in Karnataka, New Delhi and surrounding Uttar Pradesh, and Assam.  We observed identity-based transactions (such as getting an Aadhaar card, buying a SIM card, being tested for a disability certificate), had a heated radio discussion, and great workshops in Delhi, Bengaluru, Washington DC and Stockholm (at SIF) for input. Our aim was to understand user experiences of identity in a digital world  – what do individuals experience, what are the pain points, how can we move towards more inclusive systems which respect privacy, agency and dignity? All these are particularly relevant in India, where Aadhaar is currently a contentious topic.

Many of our interviewees spoke of the benefit of ID systems – an Aadhaar card which enabled benefits and services; a ration card which allowed subsidized food, kerosene and medicine. On the other hand, at a time when Aadhaar memes are being shared on how it is effectively compulsory, we asked questions on privacy, exclusion, bias and repercussions for groups such as senior citizens dependent on Aadhaar verification for pensions. These concerns are not unique to Aadhaar or the Indian context of course. There have been quite a few reports on identification exclusion in the United States, including immigrants, those homeless and out of prison in Ohio, the story of Alice Faith Pennington in Texas, and the intermediaries who are trying to help those in a catch 22 situation without IDs.

We heard many concerns around all the above.

  • Several women spoke of feeling uncomfortable in “male spaces” and sluggish bureaucracy impacting more on them because of impact on time needed for family care. Men often acted on behalf of women.
  • Non-formal migrants were particularly affected by requirements such as a permanent address, not knowing local networks for help etc.
  • A visually challenged teacher told us about the long process of getting both a blind and disability certificate and that in addition, when he went to get an Aadhaar card, he was pushed about and there was no help.
  • An HIV/AIDS activist laid out his concerns around Aadhaar being necessary to obtain anti-retroviral [ART] drugs: “now what has happened in HIV-positive communities, in all the ART centres, only if we have Aadhaar cards, the ART box is given. They are making it compulsory. Due to this, our identity of HIV positive is being shown. Now that Aadhaar is compulsory, few people don’t even have Aadhaar and even if they do, and because it is linked to everything, their fear has increased. It is already a stigmatised condition. Who have they asked before doing this? Have they asked our opinion?”
  • A transgender activist was highly critical of invasive identification for “screening committees” for transgender certificates.

Identification processes are not new. But the introduction of networked systems has introduced two major challenges: the huge impact if there are any mistakes; and secondly data is more easily accessible to many more people. Again, this is not unique to India, but the burden of proving you are lies heavily on individuals and impacts even more on those who don’t have time or resources to do so.

While we agree with the above World Bank Principles (and we are cautious of generalizing from 150 interviews), we still saw confusion around processes, and what individuals perceived as an opaque state, leading to the rise of intermediaries – some helpful, others exploitative. We need more evidence on “user” needs and concerns; stronger citizen’s rights with regards to identification processes, and more efficient and effective grievance redressal. In the words of the transgender activist: “when there is an identity card, it has to be beneficial for the people of the community. We do not want cards which create problems for the community.”

http://www.identitiesproject.com

Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development

Volume 2    Issue 6    June 2017

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have immense potential.  However, they are created by people for specific purposes; they reflect the interests of individuals and the companies, or organisations, for which they work.  They can be used to do good, or to do evil.  They usually have unintended consequences.

In the context of debates over “development”, ICTs can thus be used for enhancing economic growth, or for reducing inequality.  However, can they be used to do both at the same time?  Much evidence exists to suggest that with the emphasis over the last 20 years on economic growth as the mantra of “development”, embedded in the MDGs and now the SDGs, ICTs have played an important role in enhancing development (Unwin, 2009).  At the same time, though, their design, implementation and use have led to significantly increased inequalities in the world: between the rich and the poor, between men and women, between those with fewer “disabilities” and those with more “disabilities”, between richer countries and poorer countries, between those living in rural and urban areas …  Despite their potential to be used anarchically and disruptively, ICTs therefore seem to have been used primarily to reinforce existing power differences and inequalities – both by design and by accident.  At its simplest, ICTs usually act primarily as accelerators, both of growth and of inequality.

What we mean by “ICT for Development” (ICT4D) depends fundamentally on what we consider “development” should be.  If reducing inequality does not matter, and economic growth is indeed the aim of “development”, then ICT4D has been successful.  However, for those who are concerned about the implications of an ever more unequal world, as reflected in part in the commitments made towards SDG 10 (Reducing inequality within and among countries), then ICT4D has largely failed.

Based on my practice and research over the last 20 years, I have therefore crafted a different kind of book about ICT4D, intended to encourage everyone to reflect on their own roles in ICT4D, and to reclaim the moral agenda about using ICTs to enable poor and marginalised people to empower themselves.  It is called simply Reclaiming ICT4D (OUP, 2017).  In concept, it draws heavily on Jürgen Habermas’s Critical Theory focusing on interests, on empowerment and emancipation, on the complex intertwining of theory and practice, and on the power of self-reflection.

Reclaiming ICT4D calls for a radical rethinking of ICT4D and advocates the need for six transformations:

  • Designing and implementing technical solutions that prioritise the poorest and most marginalised people and communities
  • Reshaping the role of government and regulation
  • Crafting effective multi-stakeholder partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society
  • Ensuring that digital systems are resilient in the face of security threats
  • Paying greater attention to effective learning and understanding at all levels and in all sectors
  • Placing the poor at the centre of all that we do – working with the poor, and not just for them.

For those attending the 2017 WSIS Forum in Geneva, the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is convening a workshop on Reclaiming ICT4D at 11.00 on Friday 16th June (Room Popov 1).  Do join us to discuss these issues, and to develop an agenda that will enable the poorest and most marginalised to be empowered through the appropriate use of ICTs.  Outputs will be reported on the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D platform.

Above all, ICT4D is a moral agenda.  It is about what is right and what is wrong.  It is about what each of us does to make a difference.