Embracing Rapid Advances In Technology To Empower Communities Worldwide

By Jacqui Deelstra

April 30, 2012   |   0 comments

Jacqui Deelstra (Washington, DC)

In 2005 I spent Thanksgiving in the rural community of Kouthiaba in central Senegal.

I used the one pay phone available in the community’s commercial center, the village of Kouthiaba Wolof, (which was also the only phone available in the whole community which includes dozens of villages) to call my family.

At that time Kouthiaba Wolof was out of reach of a mobile signal, had no electricity and felt very isolated being 27km from the nearest paved road.

Today as a practitioner in the information and communication technology for development (ICT4D) field I find myself constantly thinking back to Kouthiaba and how difficult and slow it was for residents to communicate and spread and receive information.

Villagers traveled on horse drawn carts for hours to deliver messages between villages or would show up after hours of travel at the local clinic to find the doctor was out on a vaccine campaign.

Children in Kouthiaba pose with a cart that was used for transport between villages.

Today, just as it is hard for us here in the United States to imagine life without mobile devices, I imagine many residents of Kouthiaba have also come to depend on their mobiles.

While Creative has always been dedicated to innovation, the recent establishment of a Technology for Development team has allowed us to more purposely explore the promise of new technologies…

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa mobile phones have been and are continuing to spread fast.  According to the Mobile Africa Report 2012 in sub-Saharan Africa mobile phone penetration was 45.3% in 2010 and is expected to be 75.4% by 2016.

In cities such as Nairobi, Kampala and Accra innovation hubs are being established where talented developers are collaborating to create mobile applications with Africa’s needs and challenges in mind.

Thus not only  have mobile phones enabled faster and more efficient communication,  mobile applications are being developed that help farmers access price information and educate themselves on improved farming practices,  connect new mothers to tips on infant health and nutrition and allow citizens to quickly make payments and manage their savings.

Here at Creative we also are excited about the possibility for the mobile phone to be a transformational instrument in development.

While Creative has always been dedicated to innovation, the recent establishment of a Technology for Development team has allowed us to more purposely explore the promise of new technologies, which include mobile devices, but also other promising tools such as solar panels, social media, and mapping tools.

We see how technology can support our work in education, good governance, civil society strengthening, electoral integrity and livelihoods and we already are off to a good start in working with new technologies in the field:

  • Under the USAID-funded Tanzania 21st Century Basic Education program, Creative is training teachers in new teaching technologies and approaches and installing and supporting a rugged technology package in primary school classrooms. This package includes energy-efficient laptops, GSM modems and solar panels to power learning.
  • As part of Creative’s USAID-funded Community Livelihoods Project in Yemen solar solutions are being tested to reduce dependency on dirty fuels such as kerosene and increase the reliability of power supply for businesses, schools and hospitals.
  • Creative used open source mapping tools in Zambia to identify patterns of conflict and violence surrounding the electoral process so that government stakeholders could develop measures to prevent, mitigate, or manage similar forms of violence surrounding future electoral contests.
  • Around the world, Creative uses mobile phones, television, and social media to help communities increase their knowledge of electoral processes and level of engagement.  These interventions have been especially useful to women and youth.

We look forward to using VOCES to share what we learn as we use innovative technologies and models in the challenging and ever changing environments where we work.

Jacqui Deelstra is a Technology for Development consultant at Creative Associates International.