ICT4D





Planting a Future in Philippine ICT4Rice

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I am honored and humbled to announce that in January 2017, I will start a new job as the ICT4D lead at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI, pronounced "eerie") in Los Baños, Philippines. This is an awesome opportunity for me to:

  • Innovate with cutting-edge research that impacts more than 3 billion people worldwide who depend on rice as their staple food.
  • Lead technology teams who are deploying practical solutions for the 144 million rice-producing farms worldwide.
  • Experience again the opportunities and challenges of working and living in a developing country, that itself is a major rice producer and consumer.

Yet this decision impacts more than myself. My whole family is moving to Los Baños with me, and I am very lucky that my wife, Amy, is just as excited as I am for this opportunity. This decision also impacts you - my friends, peers, and colleagues.

First, I'm deeply grateful to my FHI 360 family - from my boss, John Zoltner, to his boss, Nadra Franklin, to her boss, Patrick Fine, the CEO. All three have been ardent supporters of even my most extravagant ideas (yes, even JadedAid!), and I cannot speak highly enough of them and all of my peers at FHI 360. I truly love my tenure there, which continues through December, and would highly recommend you working there too.

Next, before you worry, many of my DC-based initiatives will continue on.

  • ICT4Drinks - is already in the capable hands of TechChange, though expect a Manila chapter to be opening shortly.
  • Technology Salon DC - will be run by Rob Baker, who will take it in new directions, while I will still run the overall Technology Salon umbrella organization.
  • ICTworks - will continue with only minor changes, as I will still be the editor, though expect a continued focus on ICTforAg themes.
  • Fail Festival - will still happen this year, so mark your calendars now for December 1 to enjoy the best variety show in Washington, DC.

Beyond that, I need your help. Amy and I will be wrapping up over 15 years of DC living - packing, selling, or giving away everything that doesn't fit in a suitcase, and transporting the whole family to a new country. We'll need your advice, guidance, and support with everything from renting out our house to finding quality beer and wine in Manila.

Got any tips or tricks? We're all ears!

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This is the business travel frequent flyer lifecycle graphed, illistrating the tradeoff between miles flown versus your overall quality of life.

You start off in your first business travel with the excitement of flying to a new country, but after yet another long flight followed by a long day of meetings in a confusing city, the joy of business travel starts to fade, decreasing rapidly as you squeeze yet again into a no-frills economy seat.

Then you reach a top tier in your preferred frequent flyer program (100k on United for example) and get complimentary upgrades to business class, complete with free booze and food. Life is very good, with the basic luxuries tempering the fact you are stuck in a metal tube for days on end.

If you are smart, you stay in the sweet spot, flying 100,001 miles per year, often with your family. You get the freebies, sooth the wanderlust, and see your family.

Caution not to be lured into going on that one business trip more.

Then you start down the slippery slope of flying too much. You forget your friends and family. You are confused by the word "home" and then your spouse decides you are never there long enough to still call it that. You now learn about divorce.

For a brief time afterwards, free from even the pretense of domestication, you have a euphoric travel high, but then its short lived as you fly more, and you become alone, friends only with strangers. Don't go there. That is not a happy place.

My Work Here is Done

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When I started at Development Gateway in late 2012, it was, well, stuffy. Its heritage as a World Bank spinoff was clear and present as the high cubicle walls. Then we went OpenGov Hub and blew away all the physical barriers. Open plan for everyone, including the CEO. That put a zap to the bureaucratic feel.

Next we broke down the mental barriers. We opened up marketing - anyone could write about their own project and we encouraged staff to explore current topics that excited them. And we liberated sales - finding new opportunities and writing proposals is now a company-wide effort, which, surprisingly, the project managers and software developers love.

The DG team is tight. From brain-bending competitive lunches where Bananagrams peel next to toppling Jenga towers, to the many happy hours remembered (and those best forgotten), Development Gateway has a esprit de corps any organization should envy. And envy you shall, their new swanky new digs when OGH 2.0 opens in April.

And that's why I know its time to go. I came in with the mandate to shake things up and now DG is shaken, stirred, reassembled, and better and more beautiful than before. It is time for me to work my magic in the big leagues.

I'm joining the TechLab at FHI 360. John Zoltner and his team have seduced me with sweet whisperings of working directly with development constituents, of hacking hardware and screaming at software, of getting back to my roots in field-based ICT4D.

I can't wait to get started and I look forward to seeing you in my new journey that starts later this month

What is your 20% project?

| in ICT4D | Comments (1)

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We are all busy. But you should never be too busy to experiment, explore, and build something new, especially something new that could be a new income stream or professional achievement.

I call this the 20% project.

Yes, that implies you should be spending 20% of your time on new projects, be they for work or outside of it. My earliest 20% project, Belly Button Window opened up a world of friends that helped me cross the earth in style. My most successful 20% project was OLPC News, that beget a whole new career focus for me: 6 years as a thought leader in ICT for education.

Now I am juggling two 20% projects: Technology Salon, which I am working on rolling out as a private company in 2013, and an MBA, which is a long-term 20% project.

But don't think I am the only one.

In thinking about 20% projects, I asked around to see what others are up to. Here are a few of the responses:

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  • Ian Thorpe says: two things 1. internal UN "transformation" network 2. #post2015agenda public conversation platform
  • Linda Raftree says: kids, running, capoeira, TSNYC, curric on Visual Literacy, blog, mYWD research, FLSMS brd
  • Mike McKay says: PouchDB is an html5 offline capable DB with full sync. Phones, tablets & dev countries. me =>80%
  • And Christine Prefontaine says: Maybe too meta, or maybe because I'm a freelance, but I don't think 80/20.

Christine brings up a good point. If you do it right, your 20% is your 80% - you are able to build innovative projects as your job, and that's when you know you're doing it right.

So... what's your 20% project?
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Check Out Inveneo's New Website!

| in ICT4D

new inveneo website cake

As one of my last acts at Inveneo, I helped design and launch their new website. Well, I did a bit more than that. I spent the last two years bemoaning our old website and lobbying for a new one.

For a small company that sold best though in-person meetings, it was hard convincing others that we needed to invest in a new website. In addition, there was a perception that websites were expensive - at least $100K. So there was a long road to get the green light to change Inveneo.org

I am proud to say that we came in pretty much on time and on budget - and our budget was a tiny fraction of what they thought it would be. I will have to thank Lee Heidel of Heidel Design for both helping me demonstrate that websites can be built for very reasonable investments and actually building the new site within the expected costs. (Yes, I highly recommend him for your web needs)

But enough about the backstory - that's not as much fun as the visual feasts this cake represents. Now dig in to http://inveneo.org!

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peace out, inveneo

Four and a quarter years ago, I joined Inveneo with the dream to accomplish three goals with the company. I aimed to grow the local ICT partner program to a market differentiator for Inveneo, raise the company's profile in the Washington DC market, and get Inveneo on large USAID programs.

I am proud to say that I've achieved each of my goals.

  1. The ICIP program grew to be what sets Inveneo apart from all other ICT companies and has become a major reason we are sought out as a partner and implementer. Now under the leadership of FJ Cava, the program has achieved success in Haiti and around the world beyond my expectations and has inspired similar efforts at other organizations.
  2. Unquestionably, Inveneo is now known in Washington DC. Today, it's rare that I have to explain what Inveneo does or even hand out a business card. All the major players know of Inveneo, many of their staff have met Inveneo staff personally, and the conversations start with "How can we partner?" - with real business opportunity in mind.
  3. Inveneo is now sought out as the preferred technology partner for major USAID RFPs and IQC's, to the point where Inveneo is on multiple primes' proposals as the exclusive ICT solution designer and implementer.

In addition, Inveneo now has a deep pool of staff that can support its Washington, DC business. Sybille Fleischmann has ICT in education deployment experience from Microsoft and in Haiti that eclipses my own. Lisa Lin brings deep experience with USAID contracts beyond any level of detail I would ever want to have. Kristin Peterson and the sales team know their way around the different contracting vehicles and how to read the proposal and partnering tealeaves.

Moving On

So it's with the satisfaction of knowing I've propelled Inveneo into the highest levels of international development that I now take my leave from the organization. I am moving on from Inveneo on September 7th with a full heart of goodwill and happiness for the organization and my departure from it.

I feel truly blessed to have worked at Inveneo for the last four years. I loved, LOVED, every minute of it, often to the point of tears when I saw our impact on the communities we serve. It was truly the best job I've ever had.

I will cherish the working relationship I've had with the Inveneo team. I will especially miss Kristin and Mark, who were more than my bosses - they became great friends to me and I appreciated their continued support and endless patience.

The Next Challenge

Yet its time for me to take on a new marketing challenge with another organization. Starting September 10th, I will be joining Development Gateway in Washington DC. They develop results monitoring and big data ICT solutions for bilateral and multilateral donors and national governments and are instrumental in supporting the growing momentum around the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

Not to worry, I will still be in the ICT4D space and I will not forget Inveneo. I will continue to be a tireless advocate for both. I will start by suggesting that you subscribe to ICTworks, one of the many initiatives I started at Inveneo that I know will live on well past my exit.

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ICT4D presentation feedback

I am often asked to speak at conferences, meetings, and workshops on Information and Communication Technologies for Development - ICT4D. My goal is to be a lively presenter, engaging the audience as active participants in the discussion. I am succeeding at my goal from feedback like the responses above on the Learning@Hand back channel.

So what is my secret to getting kudos like that in talking about technology and development? Here are a few guidelines to being an engaged, exciting presenter.

  1. Start with a storyline: The first step for any good presentation is to develop a storyline. Know the story arch you want to present and build an outline of key points based on that story arch. Note the focus here - in a story. As the great Seth Godwin says, a presentation excites, motivates, inspires. You will educate the audience in the course of the talk, but don't make it the focus. That's a workshop, not a presentation.
  2. Think in photos: Woe to the presenter who puts more than 5 words on a slide. They are confusing a presentation with slide notes. Your slides should accentuate your point, not be Cliff Notes to remind you want to say. Your audience can and will read your words faster than you, and just be annoyed that you read so slowly out loud. Instead just use big, evocative photos that demonstrate your point. Google Image Search is your friend here. And for those that worry about image rights - if they didn't want the image used freely, they shouldn't put it online. For my presentations, I have a goal of less than 5 words for the whole presentation - including my title slide.
  3. Be animated: No one likes to watch grass grow, so don't just stand there clutching the podium. Grab the microphone and move out into the audience. Talk with emotion, point to your photos, point to people in the audience, raise & lower your voice, get excited, cry, do whatever the presentation calls for to get and keep your audience's attention. Trust me, they will remember your point if you make it memorable.
  4. Convert the audience to participants: I love asking questions to specific audience members, especially the engaged ones. Also, I do pop quizzes asking for answers to be shouted out. I make people vote by raising hands or standing up. I ask for gadget examples from the audience, like who has the oldest phone or newest tablet. Anything to make people feel they were part of the presentation, not passive receivers.
  5. Get personal: Big topics, like ICT4D, can often be impersonal and seem remote to the audience. I like to break through this barrier with personal stories - events or actions I experienced that tie the big, global narration to common themes we can all relate to. One of my current favorites is that yes, everyone is on Facebook, even my mom - and she "likes" every single one of my posts. Also, stopping mid-story and asking the audience what they think should happen next, especially when the next step isn't logical or expected, is a good way to make a personal story participatory.
  6. Go funny and positive: I love making people laugh. And if they're laughing, people will accept critique and criticism in a positive light. Often, I am discrediting theories and actions that are popular but ineffective, so the humor goes a long way to get the point across without being booed off the stage. In fact, I know I've hit the mark when the crowd erupts into laughter and then goes "oooo" when they realize the joke it on them for perpetuating these misconceptions.
  7. Be short: No one ever leaves a presentation saying "I wish that talk went on for another hour!" So be brief. Finish early, and spend the extra time getting mobbed by your new fans.

In general, I think I am a pretty good presenter now, or as I like to think of it, a lead discussant, by following these simple rules. Then I happen to see a presentation that really rocks and yet again humble me. Here is one of my favorites, which I re-watch often to learn from: Mark Congiusta on Power Point Failures

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In fact, if you only watch one video to improve your presentation skills, please let it be this one. It gives great guidelines on how present with the right mood: funny, informal, yet highly informative.

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I'm proud to announce the publication of USAID's First Principles: Designing Effective Education Programs Using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Compendium, to which I contributed during its formation and development. Yes, I am even listed as an author on the back cover with Anthony Bloome, Ed Gaible, Analice Schwartz, and Janel Hoppes Poché.

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Designing Effective Education Programs Using ICT provides important overview guidance for designing and implementing education programs that use technology. The principles and indicators are primarily meant to guide program designs, including the development of requests for and subsequent review of proposals, the implementation of program activities, and the development of performance management plans, evaluations, and research studies.

The First Principles series are intended to help USAID education officers specifically, as well as other stakeholders--including staff in donor agencies, government officials, and staff working for international and national non-governmental organizations--take advantage of good practices and lessons learned to improve projects that involve the use of education technology.

The guidance in this document is meant to be used and adapted for a variety of settings to help USAID officers and others grapple with the multiple dimensions of ICT in education and overcome the numerous challenges in applying ICT in the developing-country contexts. The last section provides references for those who would like to learn more about issues and methods for supporting the education of the underserved.

Designing Effective Education Programs Using ICT is based on extensive experience in, and investigation of, current approaches to technology in education and draws on research literature, interviews with USAID field personnel, and project documentation. It also includes profiles of projects funded by USAID and others.

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Last year, I started the ICT4D Career Network to help people start and grow their career in information and communication technologies for development. At first, I thought there would be more ICT experts than employers with job openings. Now I know better.

There are more ICT4D jobs than ICT experts

Recently, I spoke at an ICT4D Career Workshop, where employers almost outnumbered those seeking jobs. Each was hungry for quality applicants to staff their many job openings and all told of hardship in finding ICT4D experts.

In fact, I publish dream ICT4D job announcements every day, and yet there seems to be more job opportunities than I can keep up with. Yet there are still only a handful of people looking to start an ICT4D career.

You too have the needed ICT4D skills

Interestingly, most people assume they need to know how to code software or install communications hardware to get a job in ICT4D. However, the majority of employers I talk to are not looking for these "hard" technology skills. IT techies can be found all over the world now.

What employers are looking for is staff with the "soft" skills like clear, concise writing, which is always a critical skill in a development organization, and people skills, which is really flexibility and adaptability. Another key skill is the ability to tell pie in the sky tech ideas from on the ground reality, and the ability to innovate within the real life context of the beneficiaries you work with.

If you've been working in the developing world, or in the fast-paced technology field (and not even as a techie) then most likely you have the needed skills to success at ICT4D. So what is stopping you? Start networking and jump start your career today!

Wanna get job search advice & ICT4D job opportunities? Subscribe to the ICT4D Career Forum!

datawind aakash difference from olpc

Recently, the CEO of Datawind presented his case to the World Bank on why the Aakash tablet computer will revolutionize education in India. During his talk, he presented this slide as justification that his tablet was not the XO and that Datawind would be more successful in reaching a 5 million units sold milestone than OLPC.

While I agree that Suneet Singh Tuli's business plan of selling tablets directly to consumers based on clear market advantages is more sound than Nicholas Negroponte's idea of selling millions of laptop to governments based on a handshake with presidents, I do not see a better education plan. In fact, I see none.

What I do see is Datawind and OLPC focusing on hardware sales. OLPC started the netbook revolution - cheap laptops for everyone, and Datawind is starting a "netlet" revolution - cheap tablets for everyone. Congratulations to both. But without a serious focus on educational software and content, and the integration of both into the national curriculum and into teachers' daily instruction, the Aakash will have the same issue as the OLPC:

It will be a cool gadget that pushes boundaries in computing, and leaves education as moribund as before.

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