Technology Salon

Wayan Vota hosts the Technology Salon, an intimate and informal discussion around emerging trends in technology and international development, with a focus on both:

  • technology's impact on donor-sponsored technical assistance delivery, and
  • private enterprise driven economic development, facilitated by technology.
Active participation with your ideas, opinions, and predictions is actively encouraged, and Power Point presentations are banned.

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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."

Vital Wave Consulting has asked my opinion a very simple, yet profound question:

What should the donor community do to expand national health information systems in the developing world?

Speaking as a technologist on a mission to change the way international development employs information and communication technology (ICT) to reach its aims of economic and social development, I am honored for the opportunity to present the key activities I believe donors need to engage in immediately to better implement national HIS.

Recognize Problems Are Human, Not High-Tech

In Washington DC, I convene the Technology Salon a monthly conversation between international and technology professionals, and recently we tackled the barriers to effective deployment of national health information systems. After a hour of debate, we came to the conclusion that the key national HIS success technology is change management.

That is deploying a national health information system successfully does not necessarily require the high-end technology resources available to richer countries. The major hurtles to successful national health information systems are human, not high-tech.

Having a clear goal of improving data quality, and a solid change management approach to achieve is the critical success factor. And this can be accomplished in countries as varied in resources as Belize, India, and Sierra Leone, regardless of what technology or technical approach is used.

So Move Beyond Shiny Flashy New Thing

If we accept that its not the information or communication technology that matters most, but old school change management, then donors need to get past their infatuation with the newest shiny, flashy gadget.

mhealth
Move past mHealth (Img: DataDyne)

mHealth is a great example. While mHealth more than just mobility, and mobile phones are revolutionizing ICT in Africa, do we really need yet another program that tries to be mHealth? Is it really the answer to every health problem? You would think so by all the recent donor focus on it in lieu of the larger health initiatives that can be empowered by technology.

It even propelled Karl Brown of Rockefeller Foundation to ask, "Will mHealth eat eHealth and spit out its bones?" I sure hope not, as we should be talking about health - not focus on the letter in front, be it e, m, p, q, or z.

And Get Back to Building Human Capacity for Change

Then how can donors effect greater adoption of national health information systems, if not by focusing on the technology? By supporting a structured approach to transition Ministries of Health staff into accepting, even demanding data-driven decision making - the ultimate national HIS outcome.

This means a shift towards human capacity building across health ecosystems. Using the ADKAR Model for change, Donors and their implementing partners (consultants, NGOs, and the private sector) working together with all health stakeholders in the slow but effective community organizing process to articulate the need for data-driven decision making, and create a real desire by the stakeholder to change to it.

Then, via in-person training and workshops, give stakeholders the knowledge and ability to make the change at an individual level, and finally, ensure that Ministries of Health will reinforce the change to data-driven decision making at the organizational level through its hiring and budgeting processes.

Notice there wasn't one mention of information and communication technologies in any of those steps. Why? Because if the donor community really wants to expand national health information systems in the developing world, it needs to recognize the inhibitors are human, not high-tech, stop focusing on the shiny toys, and build human capacity to accept change. Its only then, we'll see any real impact from national HIS, no matter the technology.

This post was original published on Insights on Health Information

I am proud to announce that the Technology Salon is now officially sponsored by the United Nations Foundation's Technology Partnership with the Vodafone Foundation.

In April of 2008, I started the Technology Salon as a forum where technology and development professionals could share there opinions on emerging trends in information and communication technologies and international development in an intimate and informal discussion around:

  • technology's impact on donor-sponsored technical assistance delivery, and
  • private enterprise driven economic development, facilitated by technology.

A year later, as we've grown towards a community of practice, the Technology Partnership came to see the Salon as an effective way to increase the discussion and dissemination of information and communication technology's role in expanding solutions to long-standing international development challenges.

With agreement that the Salon will maintain its key attributes and its humble host, it became part of the Technology Partnership family. The Salon also got a whole new look - I created a new online presence to reflect its new status: TechnologySalon.org. Please redirect your Salon attention to this new site.

But don't get too excited - their sponsorship is just free donuts and coffee, as its our collective input that really powers the Salon. And along those lines, the views and opinions expressed on the site and in the Salon do not necessarily reflect those of the UN Foundation or the Vodafone Foundation.

Mobile phones are an amazing success story in the developing world, bringing transformative opportunities to many underserved communities. But they do not reach out to remote rural villages - where there is demand and purchasing power, albeit limited - and a scaleable micro mobile teclo solution could transform communications and development for the poorest of the poor.

rural micro mobile telco
Rural mobile phone entrepreneurs

So what might be the business and technology models that would allow entrepreneurs to roll out mobile phone systems to these underserved communities? And could development organizations play a role?

Which technology would be best: GSM? WiFi? WiMax? What's the business case: Handset sales? Subscriptions? Airtime only? Could voice services be augmented with data? Even broadband?

How might an entrepreneur serve 400 customers with $10 per month revenue or $48,000 per annum? And should aid organizations seed these businesses?

Please join David Ferguson on Thursday, April 2, for a lively discussion of possible micro mobile telco models and expect to hit the whiteboards with your ideas. Our gracious host is the UN Foundation and I'll have coffee and donuts for a good morning sugar rush to wake everyone up.

Designing a Micro-Mobile Telco
April Technology Salon
Thursday, April 2, 8:30-10am
UN Foundation Conference Room
1800 Mass Avenue, NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036 (map)

Do note that seating is limited and the UN Foundation is in a secure building. So the first fifteen (15) to RSVP will be confirmed attendance and then there will be a waitlist.

Epidemics and a shortage of healthcare workers continue to present grave challenges for governments and health providers in the developing world. Yet in these same places, the explosive growth of mobile communications over the past decade offers a new hope for the promotion of quality healthcare - billions now have access to reliable technology that can also support healthcare delivery.

mhealth
Mobile-empowered healthcare

How can this access to mobile technology, radically improve healthcare services - even in some of the most remote and resource-poor environments?

Please join Inveneo's Eric Blantz and Vital Wave Consulting's Dr. Karen Coppock in a discussion around mHealth - how technology can empower better and more efficient healthcare services throughout the developing world, with an emphasis on mobile and cellular technologies.

Of special focus is the recent United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership report, mHealth for Development, authored by Vital Wave Consulting

Opportunities for mHealth in Development
March Technology Salon in San Francisco
March 3rd, 8:30-10am
@ Inveneo
972 Mission Street 5th Floor (map)
San Francisco, CA

Please RSVP as we only have seating for 15 and after that, there will be a waitlist.

With the explosion of mobile handsets and the faltering of the "$100 laptop" idea, the international development community is focusing on the mobile phone as an empowerment tool, while questioning investments in computers. Is this wise? Is there a data continuum that includes both? Or should development dollars really shift to one platform at a loss to the other?

cell phone africa
The primary development platform?

Please join us for a spirited debate where Troy Etulain of USAID will push us to envision a future where development objectives are achieved on mobile phones, while Wayan Vota will back computers, desktops even, as the true tool of choice to accelerate development with technology.

Katherine Townsend of State will moderate the discussion with an eye to finding realistic recommendations for the development community.

Our gracious host is the UN Foundation and I'll have coffee and donuts for a good morning sugar rush to wake everyone up.

Mobile Phones vs. Computers: a False ICT4D Choice?
February Technology Salon
Thursday, February 12th, 8:30-10am
UN Foundation Conference Room
1800 Mass Avenue, NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036 (map)

Do note that seating is limited and the UN Foundation is in a secure building. So the first dozen (12) to RSVP will be confirmed attendance and then there will be a waitlist.

In northern Mali, out beyond the famously remote Timbuktu, distances are vast and communication difficult. National borders often are less than lines in the sand, and the rule of law just a vague idea. In this power vacuum, bandits still hijack convoys, Tuareg stage rebellions, and terrorist organizations can take root and train.


Communicating community security

Yet one brave organization is connecting remote Malian communities to reduce the threat of banditry or worse. Geekcorps Mali is building links between caravans, villagers, and local government - with information and communication technologies.

Geekcorps Mali has developed an innovative ICT intervention that marries FM radio broadcasting with Internet-enabled computers and digital audio recording to give a voice to local communities. The radio stations have become beacons of objective information and a de-facto early warning system for northern Mali and even the country as a whole.

Please join Olivier Alais, Director of Geekcorps Mali on Thursday, December 18 for a discussion of this Internet-enabled radio station model and its impact on northern Mali's security and society.

Our gracious host is the UN Foundation and I'll have coffee and donuts for a good morning sugar rush to wake everyone up.

Fighting Terrorism with ICTs in Mali
December Technology Salon
Thursday, December 18th, 8:30-10am
UN Foundation Conference Room
1800 Mass Avenue, NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20036 (map)

Do note that seating is limited and the UN Foundation is in a secure building. So the first dozen (12) to RSVP will be confirmed attendance and then there will be a waitlist.

For November, we have a very special Technology Salon. In coordination with the World Bank e-Development Thematic Group and infoDev, we will have a World Bank ICT and Education Community of Practice Discussion on Total Cost of Ownership:

olpc cdma india
How much does this really cost?
How much does it really cost to introduce and sustain computers in schools? A discussion of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and models of affordable computing for schools in developing countries.

"Total cost of ownership" (TCO) is often underestimated, sometimes grossly, when calculating costs of ICT in education initiatives in developing countries. Estimates of initial costs to purchase equipment to overall costs over time vary widely; typically they lie between 10-25% of total cost. That said, there is a dearth of reliable data, and useful tools, to help guide education decision makers in their assessments of the true costs of educational technology initiatives.

A recent whitepaper from Vital Wave Consulting, "Affordable Computing for Schools in Developing Countries: A Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Model for Education Officials", and accompanying case study of ICT in education initiatives in India, provide further insight and perspective on this important and often controversial issue. The white paper discusses key issues related to technology use in education and presents several major findings.

At the same time, we now have an update to the TCO Tool for schools developed by the Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI) and Mr. Camfield. This tool, "Deploying 1:1 educational models in large scale: a practical budgeting tool based on TCO", is currently being utilized as part of planning processes in Rwanda, drawing on lessons learned from its earlier use elsewhere in Africa, most notably in Namibia.

Come join what we hope to be a lively presentation and discussion of the findings of both activities, their potential implications, and the underlying methodologies and assumptions underpinning the models explored in this work.

Speakers:

Logistics:
11am to 12:30pm - 6 November 2008
The World Bank "J" Building,
701 18th Street, NW, room J-B1-075

While this Technology Salon promises to be larger than usual, seating is still limited, so please RSVP to Lorelei Lacdao, with the subject line: "Attend ICT/ed TCO meeting"

The Technology Salon returns to Washington DC this September 25th to explore an innovative initiative from USAID: ICT4D Challenges.


Let's solve his ICT4D challenges

Akin to the contests that had Lindbergh cross the Atlantic and Rutan/Branson cross into space, ICT4D challenges (contests, makeovers, and competitions) will leverage user-driven innovation to create ICT-based solutions for major development challenges, with the incentive of cash prizes and possible inclusion in a USAID project.

These challenges will spur innovation at the nexus of development and technology while forging new connections between the technology and development communities.

What better forum to explore where USAID is going with these challenges and help shape that path than the Technology Salon, our intimate and informal discussion of technology and development?

Leading the conversation will be Seema Patel, Alliance and Management Specialist for DAI, who is consulting with USAID on the Global Development Commons Initiative - the sponsor of the ICT4D challenges. Our gracious host is the UN Foundation and I'll have coffee and donuts for a good morning sugar rush to wake everyone up.

September Technology Salon: USAID ICT4D Challenges
Thursday, September 25th, 8:30-10am,
UN Foundation Conference Room
1800 Mass Avenue, NW, Suite 400,
Washington, D.C. 20036 (map)
Do note that seating is limited and the UN Foundation is in a secure building. So the first dozen (12) to RSVP will be confirmed attendance and then there will be a waitlist.

For the July Technology Salon, we're returning to the cellular technology world, with a twist. We'll be discussing mobile banking, m-Banking, but we'll move beyond the handsets and the hype to discuss the legal frameworks required to make it a reality.


The future bank teller in Mali

In some countries, text messages cannot be used as evidence in court - a problem if that's all you have to show for a money transfer. In other regions, cross-border and multi-currency transactions is the domain of banks, not mobile operators. In either situation or more, what is the development community's response to facilitate m-Banking?

Please join Michael Tetelman of AED, and Ann Casanova of CARANA, at the UN Foundation headquarters for a vibrant discussion of their work in overcoming legal and regulatory barriers to make local and intra-regional m-Banking a reality in the developing world.

July Technology Salon: Empowering m-Banking, Legally
Tuesday, July 15th, 8:30-10am,
UN Foundation Conference Room
1800 Mass Avenue, NW, Suite 400,
Washington, D.C. 20036 (map)
Do note that seating is limited and the UN Foundation is in a secure building. So the first dozen (12) to RSVP will be confirmed attendance and then there will be a waitlist.

About the Speakers
  • Ann Casanova is a lawyer with fourteen years of combined experience in multilateral trade negotiations, institutional strengthening, and management of USAID and IDB projects in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. Ms. Casanova joined CARANA Corporation in 2004 as Vice President of the firm's Trade Practice.
  • Dr. Michael S. Tetelman is director of the dot-ORG program at the Academy for Educational Development (AED), and designs and manages innovative ICT infrastructure and applications projects that stimulate economic growth and improve the service delivery of governments and other institutions.
About the Technology Salon

Wayan Vota hosts the Technology Salon, an intimate and informal discussion around emerging trends in technology and international development, with a focus on both:
  • technology's impact on donor-sponsored technical assistance delivery, and
  • private enterprise driven economic development, facilitated by technology.
Active participation with your ideas, opinions, and predictions is actively encouraged, and Power Point presentations are banned. If you'd like to join us, please subscribe to get invitations.

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