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ICTs taught, lessons learned…

In 2013 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) published a report on the potential and challenges of ICTs in advancing the rights of girls and facilitating their engagement and participation for social transformation. The report highlighted many advantages such as access to knowledge and information, connection, efforts to overcome violence, exploitation and abuse.

One of the projects included “Map Kibera” which enabled awareness about surroundings via digital mapping. Girls were equipped with Geolocation devices to map and identify safe and unsafe places in Kibera, a large slum area outside of Nairobi, Kenya. Even though there exists a printed version of the map, critiques pointed out that the project is heavily driven by technology and the “work on the ground” could not keep up.

Source: Voice of Kibera

The Jokko initiative was launched by Tostan in partnership with UNICEF, which aimed to combat illiteracy while initiating social mobilization and exchanging ideas through text messages. According to the report there was no special focus on girls, although a large number of adolescent girls took part. One of the project managers at Tostan, Guillaume Debarin commented “you can’t just parachute technology into a village and think that it’s going to fix things”.

Source: SMS Africa

Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM) is an initiative by Nokia, Plan International, and local partners that seek to give youth the skills and tools to communicate at local, national, and global level about issues impacting on their lives through technology, arts and media. A prerequisite for participation was literacy.  The project has been implemented in 2008 by 6 African countries and even though both girls and boys were included, a key outcome of the project was that girls assumed the role of group leaders, developing the confidence and skills to use technology and speak out publicly. Limitations to the project included lack of technology as “the Internet could be really slow” and schools also had a limited amount of computers (UNICEF, 2013). Additionally language and illiteracy, parental attitudes and tradition were hard to overcome and in rural areas physical distance proved to be a barrier for some girls.

According to a report by Spratt and Baker the risk is that inequalities are increased by the application of big data, with those that can afford the improved interventions benefiting accordingly. Bringing education to those that previously did not have access is a good thing of course, but if the quality of the education received by the relatively wealthy also increases, educational inequalities will remain pronounced (Spratt & Baker, 2015).

“People need access to internet-enabled devices, a good quality internet connection and a reliable source of power. Very large numbers of people in developing countries have none of these things, and could not afford them even if they were available. “

What happens when the digital world of 2.0 meets the 1.5 world of development policy? Sure there is unprecedented potential in the advances of technology, but it has to be relevant and applicable to the audience as well. Digital data protection is not yet a concern for a majority of governments in low and middle-income countries (Greenleaf, 2012) and I had a hard time finding any comments or findings about this particular aspect in the UNICEF report.



Greenleaf, G. (2012). Global data privacy laws: 89 countries, and accelerating. School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 98 .


UNICEF. (2013). Integrating Information and Communication Technologies into Communication for Development Strategies to Support and Empower Marginalized Adolescent Girls.

Hope falls flat?


Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, for example signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on social media (Oxford University Press, 2017).

The ultimate measure of success is the outcome. How does online versus offline activism result in social change?

There is scarce but an increasing number of research done on the actual effect of slacktivism or online activism and what possibilities the Internet can have when it comes to recruitment and fundraising. The Internet has provided us with an unprecedented opportunity for information flow (Sparrow, Liu, & Wegner, 2011), social influence (Bond, 2012) and democratic revolution (Allagui & Kuebler, 2011).

A study published in the Sociological Science showed an inverse relationship between broad online social movement mobilization and deep participation (Lewis, Gray, & Meierhenrich, 2014). The data presented results from a period of almost 3 years looking at the Facebook application of Causes with an empirical focus on the conflict in Darfur. The study quoted Donovan and Henley stating Facebook is less useful a mobilizing than a marketing tool, which proved to be the case here as well. Although 1 million people registered for the cause in the aforementioned period, the total amount of donations barely reached $100.000, supporting the notion of “fast growing support and diffusion of protest through the Internet is followed by an even faster decline in commitment” (Laer, 2010). Otherwise socially minded participants have little incentive to contribute because they assume that the millions of other members will (Oliver 1984).

Kony 2012 was published on YouTube 5 years ago and up to this date has been watched more than a 100 million times. Joseph Kony was accused for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court  in The Hague, Netherlands in 2005. He is still on the run.

Another analysis on Twitter also established the fact that even though social media is a powerful communication tool, it is less prevalent as a mobilization tool (Guo & Saxton, 2014)

I think it is fair to say that the initial hope to set off social change combined with the possibilities of the Internet is questionable. Did we have too high expectations to what the online sphere could deliver? What is considered a success when engaging in protest for a particular cause? Raising awareness? Recruiting members to a community? Hard cash? The ultimate measure of success is the outcome… Success in my mind is when the will of the majority is represented in changing the direction of course for a social cause.



Allagui, I., & Kuebler, J. (2011). The Arab Spring and the Role of ICTs. International Journal of Communication , 1435-1442.

Bond, R. M. (2012). A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature , 295-298.

Guo, C., & Saxton, G. D. (2014). Tweeting Social Change: How Social Media are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly , 57-59.

Laer, J. V. (2010). Activists Online and Offline: The Internet as an Information Channel for Protest Demonstrations. Mobilization: An International Quarterly , Vol. 15, 347-366.

Lewis, K., Gray, K., & Meierhenrich, J. (2014). The Structure of Online Activism. sociological science , 1-9.

Oxford University Press. (2017). Oxford English Dictionary. Forrás:

Sparrow, B., Liu, J., & Wegner, D. M. (2011). Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips. Science , 776-778.


Open Data, Bigly

Niklas Morberg on Flicr. CC by A

More and more data is being made available for the public. It is also an important tool for international development. But as we create more and more impressions – location, searches, likes – how do make sure privacy is protected? Especially in emerging markets where digital education, privacy laws have not been tested until more recently?

Meikle* (2016) breaks down the concept of social media into five key words in order to make it more understandable. They are networked, database, platform, public and personal communication. It has become a catch-all term but the digital processes and social behaviours behind it are nonetheless complex, and can be leveraged in different ways. As Meikle puts it, ‘Not all contemporary internet phenomena are social media’. Wikipedia, Uber, Netflix etc are not necessarily social, but what is interesting is that many of these Web 2.0 services, if not all, are reliant on databases. 

This final blog post will touch on how databases can be used for international development and how opening up the data contained within to developers can have rather positive effects.

A lot of work is currently being to create an open data community. One example such as the the Code4Kenya project ‘an outreach initiative, supporting intermediaries to work with datasets and to develop applications and services which make data more accessible’. It has 430 Government data sets that are open to the public.

Another example being the recent Open Data Festival held in Myanmar. Much of the work is centred around opening up ministerial data sets, or that of international development projects. ‘Open data also offers opportunities to better evaluate, monitor, and respond to the initiatives of other development partners, including private sector’ says the Mekong region open data Wikipage.

But where I think a lot of potential lies is in the practical application of open databases from other sources. In a previous post I touched on how Uber shares its trip data publically. Whilst that may have not yielded the results people were hoping, the experiment serves as a model for the future.

Once the private sector takes seriously the promise of the ‘innovation and business growth potential open data can unlock’, then resources will be funnelled towards it. Yes there will be fears over security, privacy and the for-profit agenda of private businesses, but these can be overcome once trust is built.

Source: Deloitte LLP Open Data Ecosystem Via

I think that purely relying on the SDG process and Government involvement will mean that open data will not see the speed of change that is required. Of course, leveraging the private sector is already happening, and that will make these championed open data ‘ecosystems’ a lot more green. The there also need to be checks and balances, which is why creating a healthy culture of sharing databases, make it social will really make it a success.

*Meikle, G. 2016: Social Media: Communication, Sharing and Visibility. Abingdon: Routledge.

Digital Divide: Examining Infrastructure

Last week, the Aid & International Development Forum issued a release on global infrastructure, stating that it is a pressing issue, with “$26 trillion required by 2030 to resolve Asia’s infrastructure funding gap. Another $800 billion is necessary to provide 1.5 billion people in the region with access to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

“To keep pace with the rapid growth of economies, population and urbanisation, Southeast Asia needs to invest $16 trillion in transport, energy, telecommunications, water and sanitation. This is more than 60 per cent share of the global investment required.”

The global gaps in telelcommunications, connectivity, and access to technology makes involving beneficiaries in communications that leverage technology a challenge. If access is not widely and uniformly available, segments of the population are left behind in this conversation and are unequally able to participate.

The Forum cites that Myanmar was the “3rd least penetrated mobile market in the world in 2012, yet a low cost SIM card was introduced to make mobile communication more accessible.” Still as of 2016, it states that one third of Burmese hadn’t ever used a mobile phone. Without financial access to this technology, mobile phone use is limited to employed workers and women are left largely “expelled from the mobile revolution.”

Across Southeast Asia, access varies greatly. In Thailand, where I live, more than half of the population is found to be using the internet. Cambodia leads the pack with 133.6 phones per one hundred people. Apart from limited access to this technology, it is cited that in Myanmar, internet penetration is as low as nine percent – but many don’t want to use the internet because of a negative perception of it.

 “Data service users have limited digital skills and, as a result, a limited understanding of what the ‘internet’ is”, states the report. Their usage is often limited to mainly social media and calling apps. There is also a lack of cultural relevance encouraging people to access the internet, as many still do not use it.

As development professionals, as we are called upon to utilize new media and engage our audiences in new ways that appeal to our funders, we must be reminded to listen to our stakeholders, and speak to them where they can be reached.


Infrastructure resilience & ICT development in Southeast Asia. Aid and International Development Forum. 16 March 2017.

How do Beneficiaries want to be Engaged?

In my last blog post, I focused on urban listening, a way to use social media to monitor and aggregate conversations, gauge audience sentiment, and ultimately measure developmental impact in ways not being captured by traditional monitoring and evaluation methods. In that vein, I became more interested in the topic and found myself searching for:

Examples of development campaigns engaging beneficiaries

I googled, “best social media campaigns international development”

I wanted others’ takes on beneficiary engagement that had been done really well.

What I found were a lot of articles on how the United Nations is utilizing social media around International Day (they’re teaming up with the Smurfs to promote Sustainable Development Goals), and one article that I found particularly interesting (although almost a year old) which was one of the only resources that I could find talking about what beneficiaries wanted out of communications.

The article, posted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, presented several views of activists and development professionals speaking about how social media can engage more deeply with “beneficiaries.”

Aya Chebbi, a Tunisian activist and youth leader spoke during the opening session and implored the NGO members of Bond, “Speak to us, not about us.” This idea continued in the breakout sessions on campaigns and media. The speakers who led these sessions on social media, online activism and the role of global processes repeated this idea that people are not recipients of aid, but they are the agents of their own development if only the development industry would see them as such.

Danny Sriskandarajah of the CIVICUS Alliance, global network of civil society organizations and activists. Right now social media is mostly a fundraising and reporting tool of development NGOs and aid agencies. It’s just another way to “demonstrate results” and make appeals for financial support. But the power of social media remains in its ability to make the marginalized heard in their own voices.

It has been the in-country human rights defenders that NGOs introduced to me that have told the most compelling stories of rights abuse in Bahrain, Myanmar, Pakistan and Egypt. Instead of Human Rights First simply telling me about the civil rights abuses in Bahrain, the organization directed me to Bahraini rights defender Maryam Alkhawaja by elevating her social media feed. This allowed other human rights defenders to track her return to Manama from exile—the world was watching the regime as her flight landed, as she passed through immigration, walked through the airport and into the arms of her family.

Each presenter spoke about ways that the communications can be more participatory. Not just sending messages to stakeholders, but allowing them a chance to speak and deliver the messages themselves.


“Speak to us, not about us”: social media and international development. London School of Economics and Political Science. 11 March 2016.