Results tagged “International Development” from Wayan Dot Com

VSO international board.jpg

Picture a dusty, hot Saturday afternoon in Kaduna, Nigeria, the buzz of cheap Chinese motorbikes filling the air. In the backroom of a small community foundation, I introduce myself to the two people told to me as the "hardest working loan officers at Fantsuam Foundation." Bent over their laptops, sweat dripping on their brow, two Kenyan VSO volunteers are doing intricate financial modeling in their role as loan officers for the foundation.

This was my first introduction to of Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) volunteers in the field and I was immediately impressed with them and VSO in general. Peace Corps volunteers work hard (I was one, briefly) but not on Saturdays. And to see Africans volunteering in Africa gave me great pride and renewed hope.

Great pride in seeing the dream of Geekcorps become a reality; Africans empowered with high-level information and communication technology (ICT) skills able to grow and succeed on their own terms. Renewed hope in the belief that through this empowerment, we all - North, South developed and developing - can work together towards greater economic and social advancement.

So it is with great honor that I announce that I am now an international board member of VSO, as part of the appointment of a new Chair and six new trustees to its International Board. My ascension to the board is part of VSO's transition from a U.K.-based volunteering organization to a global development charity that engages people from all over the world in the fight against poverty. As Marg Mayne, CEO of VSO says:

"I'm excited to be working with the new trustees, all of whom are from outside the UK and nearly half from the global south. Their appointment shows how we're implementing this more global approach at the highest level."

Through its "People First" strategy, VSO is now more than just volunteering. VSO's approach has moved away from direct service delivery to a greater focus on strengthening systems, developing policies and building capacity in the 34 countries that play host to roughly 1,600 VSO volunteers, most of them mid-career professionals with an average age of 43. A VSO volunteer is now just as likely to be someone from Kenya, India or the Philippines as they are someone from the UK, Ireland or the Netherlands.

As an international board member, I plan on upholding the efforts of those two Kenyans I met in Nigeria by contributing to the continued shift at VSO and support VSO's global development impact with cutting edge skills and information and communication technology.


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Yesterday, Erik Hersman (aka. White African) dropped a blog bomb into the sometimes contentious debate around the term ICT4D - information and communication technologies for development. In his The Subtle Condescension of "ICT4D" post he says:

I have cognitive dissonance over the term "ICT4D". The term "ICT4D" is confusing, hypocritical and has a whiff of condescension that makes me cringe. As I understand it, it's what NGO's do in places like Africa and Asia, but if the same things are done in poor communities in the US or Europe, it's not called ICT4D, it's called civil society innovation or a disruptive product.

To be honest, at first I felt Erik was being confusing, hypocritical and condescending himself, as he is the co-founder of a very successful project, Ushahidi, which is an amazing free-to-the-user grant-supported tool for crowdsourcing information and visualizing data that was sometimes thrown into an emergency as an instant cure-all to those under served and misrepresented - the best and worst of ICT4D all in one.


But then I calmed down, thought about how ICT4D might look like to the average African. They might be seeing it as OLPC, the poster child for all the wrong ways to go about ICT4D. I spent six years of my life kicking OLPC in the shins to try and change their approach as I believed that they we sullying a good idea with their foolishness.

Now I will take six minutes of my life to change the ICT4D debate to make sure good ideas are better understood.

ICT4D and ICT4$ are two whole different industries

Let us not confuse two whole different uses of ICT. In the tech start up world, ICT is a means to make money. Software developers code products like MXit or M-PESA and hope to sell them at a profit to to venture capital funders and people that are currently under served by the market place. The focus is on $. This is ICT4$ and they should be proud of their efforts.

In the international development world, ICT is used to deliver education, healthcare, etc more efficiently. We have great products like FrontlineSMS, ChildCount+, and Ushahidi, and sell them to donor funders so we can deliver them free or subsidized to those under served by government or in market failure situations. The focus is on impact versus $. This is ICT4D, and I am proud to use the term.

Notice the different focus. In no way should a tech startup and its funders seeking to maximize profit seek to work in ICT4D, just like it would be laughable for a development organization (funder or implementer) to run a tech startup to be the next Facebook.

Projects can be ICT4D and ICT4$

Having said that, there is overlap. A product can be both ICT4$ and ICT4D. Let us take Mxit and Ushahidi as examples.


MXit is certainly ICT4$ - its sole aim it to create wealth for its developers. At the same time, MXit can help promote literacy, expand needed communications, and be a foundation on which development organizations do their efforts more efficiently. That would be an ICT4D use of an ICT4$ product.

Ushahidi certainly started as ICT4D - its sole aim was to help those without a voice be heard. At the same time, it can be sold as ICT4$ as a tool for business to increase their profitability. Say Coke uses it to track stockouts or customer satisfaction - in Africa or Arkansas. I would cheer on that usage of Ushahidi just as much as Haitians did after their earthquake.

Neither ICT4D nor ICT4$ is perfect

Now Erik does point out that there are many development workers who parachute in, talk too much, then leave too quickly to have their projects make any real difference. The same can be said of a number of software developers too. We've all met arrogance in every field.

Erik also points out that many ICT4D projects are not financially sustainable - they exist as long as the grant funding does. The same can be said about startup companies. The current Silicon Valley metric is that only 20% of startups succeed. The World Bank says 30%-60% of theirs succeed.

Now we can argue what "success" means, but the greater point is that failure happens everywhere. We should not be ashamed of it - in fact we should celebrate failure. At least we're doing something.

ICT4D and ICT4$ should be symbiotic

I am firm believer that ICT4D has the same overall goals as ICT4$ - to do well by doing good. We are all here to make money, even if we do it different ways. And we want to feel good about our work, regardless of the end client.

So I wish Erik all the best in keeping his distance from ICT4D while a co-founder of a great ICT4D project. I remember a conversation we had once where he reminded me he is a web technology professional first, and made more from that than Ushahidi. I'll be the first to tell a venture capitalist that they should invest in his next startup, or in any African software developer's big dream. There is real money to be made in Africa. I support efforts like VC4Africa and Coded In Country every way I can. And I have certainly pitched the idea of investing in African companies to VC's before - often to jeers and laughter.

But VC's dismissal of African opportunities hasn't stopped me from investing my time and efforts into a nonprofit tech startup, Inveneo, which is combining the best of ICT4D and ICT4$ the best we can. We sell our consulting services, we sell hardware, and gladly take grants and donations. We are certainly mercenary in our business approach - there are no "charity" projects. Yet our services are all designed to do good while we do well.

We work through local ICT companies, who often make much more than us on projects, and a few have even grown larger and more profitable than Inveneo itself. We do not "parachute" anywhere - if a project is not designed sustainably, we don't do it (yes, we have walked away from projects and left cash on the table). And we tirelessly promote good ICT4D practices, because Erik is right, "ICT4D" can be a loaded term to some.

I work every day to make sure the load "ICT4D" carries is a positive one that benefits those who need it the most, first. I ask you and he to do the same.


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Wow! I've been named a young international development leader by DevEx, the world's largest community of aid & development professionals.

Devex just published a first-of-its-kind list of the top 40 international development leaders in Washington, DC who are under 40 years of age. And I'm on it.

I was selected based on my ballot box stuffing skills influence on the development agenda and impact on development results. The list includes a diverse array of leaders from the international development field and I am honored to be among them.

Here is how they highlight and celebrate my work inspiring the next generation of leaders in the international development community in Washington, DC.

Wayan Vota Senior Director, Inveneo

Wayan Vota says he's been a "backpacking geek" since his hippie, globe-trotting parents gave birth to him in Indonesia. As a young adult, he jumped from the Peace Corps in Russia to Silicon Valley dot-coms, the collapse of which led him to transition to international development with some incredible technical skills.

In 2004, Vota joined IESC Geekcorps, a non-governmental organization that promotes global development through information and communication technology. Three years later, he was appointed a senior director at Inveneo, a similar NGO with a broader reach.

"It's great to be able to work with the coolest kids on the block in a dream job and have it stable and growing," Vota said.

Information technology as a development tool is growing, not just for Inveneo but for its local partners. He and his team not only deploy computers to some of the world's poorest, they teach them how the equipment works and, their local partners earn money in the process.

Following this year's earthquake in Haiti, Inveneo built a long-distance Wi-Fi system to support humanitarian NGO's work. Inveneo is now pushing that network beyond Port-au-Prince and helping rural companies develop a fast-growing Internet industry. Similar scenarios are transpiring throughout the world. Inveneo now reaches 1.5 million people in 25 countries, with a particularly strong presence in Africa.

"Our partners are starting to eclipse the work of Inveneo itself," Vota said.

It has taken more than techie brains to do it.

"I'm a geek-to-wonk interface, so I'm able to translate between what technologists are saying with what the development experts want," Vota said.

He said that would not have been possible if he had not suffered through countless nauseating bus and taxi rides in poor regions to meet with needy locals, aid workers and politicians to find out what's missing and what's logistically feasible.

Now, through his "Technology Salon," a monthly, in-person meeting in Washington and San Francisco, he is inspiring others to do the same. At each one, he brings development professionals and information technology gurus to a table to discuss ways to carry out their work.

And thanks to their face time, people in the developing world are able to have remote conversations for the first time.

What makes Vota glow, he said, is "the thousand-watt smile when they get online and understand they're part of the global community, or the overriding joy of a son [in a rural area] being able to talk to his father in the capital."

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