ICT4D: August 2010 Archives

My Standing Desk Home Office

| in ICT4D

Since I live in Washington DC and work for a company in San Francisco, I can't exactly go into the office every day. Instead, I work from home. Yet even there I am a little different from the rest. I don't have a sitting desk with a chair - I stand to work.

Yes, I have a standing desk, and work all day standing up. Wondering what that might look like? Then watch this video and learn how I make the magic happen standing up:


I do have to say that I love my standing desk. I no longer have back or shoulder pain that plagued me when I sat for 10 hours a day, and contrary to what you might think, I'm not tired at all in the evening. I feel refreshed actually, because I've been moving around all day and not tied to a chair. In fact, my only real worry is how I can stay standing for the rest of my career!

Recently, Ken Banks put forth an interesting question in his post "Mobile community: The holy grail of m4d?" He essentially asked "Who is the mobile community?" and hinted that there is a lack of clarity in the definition and therefore the need for a specific mobile community.

Taking his hint, Nate Barthel suggested we think of a Venn diagram of the m4D community as overlapping the ICT and development communities, with Prabhas Pokharel creating this one so we could visualize a m4D community.

I'd like to present my own Venn diagram of m4D, adding in Apps4D:


Now here is each category explained, along with its placement in these respective communities:

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  • ICT
    Information and communication technologies represent the full array of solutions, from FM radio to cloud computing that the world uses to create and relay information electronically.
  • Mobile
    Mobile technologies, from the mobile phone to the iPad are a subset of ICT that, like the name suggests, are primarily focused on allowing the user to interact with ICT while in motion.
  • Development
    Often called "international development", its the industry seeking to increase the economic and social development of disadvantaged communities and countries.
  • ICT4D
    Where the use of ICT is for the purpose of developing a community, its referred to as ICT4D (ICT for Development).
  • m4D
    Where mobile technologies are used for development, this is called m4D and is a subset of both mobile and development.
  • Apps4D
    Where software applications interact with mobile technologies, often but not always as software on the mobile device itself, for development, it is Apps4D.

Now this does not mean that m4D should not have its own community - it should. I only wanted to show its location, and to an extent its size, relative to the other communities.

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The rise of the smartphone has unleashed a wave of excitement and income generation across the software development community. Applications that can run on iPhones, Android phones and Blackberry's, can be written quickly, and on the cheap, and have generated outsized returns for their creators.

Even more impressive is that this application revolution is just starting. As Darrell Owen pointed out in the Apps4D presentation at a Business Growth Initiative meeting, iPhone adoption is growing at an order of magnitude faster than any other Internet technology - 11x the rate of AOL at its peak.

In addition, smartphone adoption in the developing world is only at 3-5%, compared with 70-80% for mobile phones in general. Smartphones are the emerging middle class aspiration, and will be the mark of financial arrival that can be conspicuously displayed for all to see.

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So the demand is there for smartphone applications in the developing world. Around this demand, Darrell and Steve Schmida ask three very pivotal questions to the international development community:

  1. Does smartphone application development offer a real opportunity for advancing entrepreneurship in the developing world?
  2. How could donors facilitate the efforts of private industry to accelerate application development?
  3. What impact would investments in application development have on international development goals?

To these three questions, I propose these answers on how software application development can be an engine for entrepreneurship and economic growth in the developing world, on a limited basis.

Smartphone applications are within reach of African developers

Right now, Facebook is driving ICT adoption in Africa. But Facebook is not coded in Africa - its written in Silicon Valley, where the majority of commercial and website software comes from. Yet there are a number of successful software companies in Africa.

In fact, MXit, a mobile social network holds its own in South Africa and just expanded into Kenya with Safaricom.

In addition, software development centers like Accra, Lagos, Nairobi, and Kampala are churning out applications for smartphones and even basic mobile phones, which can only SMS. Applications like OhmSMS and iWarrior show you what's possible - and that's without any donor support.

Donor support would increase competitiveness

Now imagine if these same mobile application software developers had access to mentoring from established leaders in the field, if they were able to share experiences and resources with their peers in a results-focused environment, and if seed funding and growth financing were easy to obtain.

That's exactly what Limbe Labs and Appfrica Labs are attempting to bootstrap with their incubators. And its what infoDev at World Bank aims to achieve with its Regional Mobile Applications Laboratory grants - seeding world-class entrepreneurship in at least two locations in Africa.

Donor support would increase diversity

The private sector will be quick to capitalize on Africa's software development for their own mobile applications - and let them. The donor community should leverage this opportunity to ensure there are social development applications as well. Just look at what the Kenya ICT Board is doing.

They're investing $4 million in grants from the World bank's International Development Association for mobile applications to enhance citizen participation in eGovernment.

I could see an Apps4D program using the same approach to bring eGovernment services to businesses, or eLearning to expand the reach of secondary or adult education.

Apps4D would have limited employment impact

Before we get too excited about Apps4D, a little history. Back when every country thought they could become a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) hub, like India, by proclaiming themselves a Silicon Valley and investing in software development industries, USAID spent many millions on improving software development business skills and enabling environments.

The expectation was that BPO would magically employ thousands and the IT industry would be the path to middle class incomes for all. That didn't happen, and BGI found little long-term employment impact from all those millions.

But that should not be a surprise - IT isn't a high-employment industry. It only takes a handful of coders to produce the most elaborate software. One person can write good mobile software applications, which is both a strength and a weakness.

Homegrown success would be an inspiration

Youth are the largest cohort of unemployed in Africa, with young males the most listless. Yet they're also the most tech-savvy and mobile phone addicted. By showcasing one or two young mobile application software development stars, coders who make it relatively big through their apps, we could engage an entire generation to focus on positive role models.

Just look at the following Google has across Africa at their developer-focused Google Technology User Groups - software development hopefuls flock to their meetings.

Still, there isn't a need for that many software developers. So don't expect an Apps4D program have a big employment impact. It will only create a handful of good jobs. Instead, measure it by how many youth look to mobile application development as an inspiration for the basics of good grades and dedication to employment.

Apps4D should be a targeted investment

While mobile software application development can be an engine for entrepreneurship and economic growth in the developing world, it should only have a small role within a larger context. It's the sizzle that can help sell the development basics of improvements in education, employment, and business climate.

At a few hundred thousand dollars, the infoDev regional mobile application labs are a rounding error in USAID mission budgets, yet imagine the positive publicity and impact when one of them creates the next ChildCount+ or Ushahidi!

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"We need a website. Who wants to figure that out?" says my new boss in the very first staff meeting I attend on the very first day of my new job.

"I will," I answered, and so in 1995, I started blogging, before there was even a term for it.

wayan vota
Blogging got me on 60 Minutes!

Fast forward 15 years and I'm now paid to blog. In fact, through blogging, I'm known as an ICT4D expert, which has led to the best job I've ever had and a sweet consulting gig with the World Bank. It's also led me to great personal happiness, but that's a different post.

We're not here to talk about personal blogs. We're here at the World Bank's "Making a Difference in International Development with Blogging" session to learn how to blog your profession to achieve an amazing international development career.

First, do you blog? If you said no, then do you Facebook? Or Twitter? Then you're blogging. In fact, I would say that in this day and age everyone blogs in one-way or another. Personally, I blog professionally on five platforms:

  1. ICTworks - an online community for ICT practitioners in the developing world.
  2. Technology Salon - exploring the nexus of ICT and development
  3. OLPC News - the premier independent online community on One Laptop Per Child
  4. Educational Technology Debate - discussing low-cost ICT initiatives for education
  5. Technology Salon - an in-person, informal discussion at the intersection of ICT and development

That looks like a lot, right? Its actually not, as all these blogs cover the same topic, ICT4D, in different ways, so a post for one can be re-purposed for others. But no matter which blog I write for, I keep 3 things in mind:

Write to Your Key Audience

To improve your professional standing, you need to blog professionally. You need to think of your blogging/social media as a sales tool you're using to reach your target audience, and then be focused on that audience's needs.

First, define your target audience. Personify the 5-10 specific people that you'd like to work with or for. Then figure out what might arouse their interest and attention (topics, thoughts, arguments, etc) - ask them directly if you already know them.

Next, slavishly focus on them. Write every blog post as if you are writing to them. You can even send them select blog posts. Just be sure to keep on topics of their interest or find themes they mention elsewhere and comment on them (the ideas) in posts.

If you pick the right key audience (thought leaders in your industry, or decision makers in your field), others will start to read your work too, and soon you'll be leading a tribe of followers.

olpc wayan
Enlightened by OLPC News success

The OLPC News Example

When I started OLPC news, my goal was to stop work at the One Laptop Per Child headquarters when I published a post. I wanted to reach the 30+ people leading the initiative and make them think. I wanted to change the way OLPC was being deployed.

By being so purposeful in my writing, I was able to focus on topics that mattered, and I definitely go their attention. I knew that when they sent a consigliere, a Tom Hagen, to tell me to chill out in my rants.

Through that focus, I eventually owned the OLPC community. Over 5,000 people read OLPC News every day, a real achievement for a niche blog, and they spend an average of 4 minutes on the site, an eternity in the web world. And the site is a recognized force in the community, even by Nicholas Negroponte himself, the OLPC founder.

Engage Your Key Audience Everywhere

Realize that no matter your writing skill, you nee dot be where your audience is. A post unread does not exist. So be on any platform your key audience congregates on, from MySpace to Okrut, to LinkedIn, even if you dislike it.

Also, be sure to create opportunities for offline, face-to-face meetings as well. These can be as simple as a meetup over beers, or as formal, scheduled meetings or conferences, but just remember to keep activities focused and relevant to your key audience.

Your goal with both of these activities is to get on your key audience's and their colleagues' radar. You want your key audience to think, "Wow, they are everywhere in this space. I need to pay attention to them."

Once there, you can use the body of work you'd written on the blog as deeper background after you've met them, "Thanks for the meeting, by the way, here's a post I wrote on what we talked about," and additional contact opportunities, "Do you know this other expert on the topic we talked about?" This will help make you central to their professional community.


Rob Munro discussing his SMS efforts

Technology Salon Example

Even though I pretty much live online, there isn't any substitute for meeting in-person. So for each platform, I also organize offline events. In fact, I created the Technology Salon specifically to network with my peers face-to-face.

The Technology Salon started when I wanted to have a few beers with my ICT4D colleagues and talk about our work. Then I realized that like me, they all had spouses, kids, and other entanglements that eliminated casual evening meetups. So I moved the Salons to the morning, gave us a strong industry focus, and served coffee and donuts instead of beers. Only begrudgingly I started blogging our meetings, but they have actually driven greater attendance at Salons.

And wow! The Salons now attract a stunning turnout. We have everyone from Vodafone regional presidents to USAID decision makers, to technology innovators on the cutting edge of ICT, and there is even a three-month waiting list for speaker slots. From this networking session, jobs have been found, proposal teams created, and large contracts won - the ultimate measure of success.

Focus on Tangible Outcomes

Which brings us to the ultimate goal of your professional blogging - cash money, honey. Going back to the first point I made, blogging and social media should be one part of your overall professional sales strategy. And you are selling something: your expertise, monetized as a salary or consulting contract.

So always keep that in mind when you are blogging. You are positioning yourself as a thought leader in your field, raising your profile to "expert", and advertising your ability to achieve results. This does not happen overnight, of course, but blogging can speed up the process. To copy from Why Blogging is Good for Your Career, here are the seven benefits it bestows:

  1. Your blog becomes a log of your ideas for yourself (inspiration and record keeping)
  2. Your blog is like an extended business card (personal branding)
  3. Looking for materials for posts makes listening and reading more active (focus)
  4. Researching for posts is educative (learning)
  5. Posts can be used to claim intellectual property rights (protection)
  6. Interaction with idols, readers and others (networking)
  7. A blog makes you visible online (controlling web presence)

From this elevated profile, you should start to get a following, people who read your work regularly. Focus on the quality of your following - is it your key audience? Are they linking to your posts, commenting on them directly or in their own work? And most importantly, are they now coming to you with questions about trends in the industry or best of all, opportunities for employment?


Wayan Vota at Live Debate India

Educational Technology Debate Example

infoDev at the World Bank has always been a leader in the integration of ICT into development, especially ICT4E - the use of ICT in education. They literally wrote the book on its usage around the world and everyone looked to them for leadership.

As I started focusing on ICT4E as part of my overall ICT4D blogging, I consciously focused on attracting their attention. Once I realized that infoDev decision makers were reading my posts, I made sure to meet them in person, integrate their thoughts and ideas in my writing, and generally develop a relationship with them.

Over time, my blogging exploits lead to infoDev inviting me to submit a consultancy proposal for an ICT4E community of practice. And now I just finished a two-year contract organizing the Educational Technology Debate, which itself has lead to other consulting offers.

Blogging is Not Silver Bullet

Note that blogging should only be one sales tool of several you should use to promote yourself. Business cards, a good resume, clear focus on the skills you bring and the position you want, are just as important.

And all of this is predicated on your ability to think critically and express yourself fluently - though both of these will improve as you blog more. Practice makes perfect, and blogging has you practice your writing regularly.

So what are you waiting for? Start blogging on your profession today and dream about the kick-ass ICT job you'll have tomorrow.


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