I am back in Finland again.
(Have I ever mention how much I like this place? – If you have never been to Finland before, you need to reconsider your life goals) 🙂
Part of why I like the University of Joensuu is because of their strong international programs, and in particular their connection to Africa.

I recently accepted a position as the coordinator of the EDULINK ICT4D Consortium of African and European Higher Education Institutions.
Last year we wrote a grant proposal to the EDULINK funding call Changed Priorities Ahead(a part of the European Union’s efforts to support and develop ties with the developing world), a couple of months ago we heard news that they accepted it, and this last week I sent out an official confirmation of the EU funding to each of the partner institutions.

The current partner institutions include:

  • the University of Joensuu, Finland;
  • Tumaini University/Iringa University College, Tanzania;
  • the University of Southern Denmark, Odense;
  • UNESCO Centre for ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London;
  • the University of Education, Winneba, Ghana;
  • Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique;
  • Maseno University, Kenya;
  • C. A. Diop University, Senegal

And with the following two associates:

  • the Association of African Universities (AAU)
  • and Entertainment Robotics, a private company that develops ICT4D.

The specific objective of this project: To strengthen each of the partner institutions potential for effectively producing and utilizing ICT for development; specifically improving academic curriculum and research capacity through (1) workshops, (2) student and faculty exchanges, and (3) online contributions to a virtual hub (for collaboration, resources, and open sharing of results).

I am excited about the position because it allows me to be flexible in where I live (as I can do most of the work online), and the project is focused on an area that I feel passionate about. I feel we can make a difference, even though progress usually turns out more slow than we would hope (it is more like sitting and watching a tree grow than it is like watching a train pass).

As you can see from my previous blog entries, instead of western countries simply offering aid to the developing world (and often unintentionally making things worse than before) – I’m a strong believer that it is MUCH better if it is a two-way flow of ideas and communication, synergistically coming up with solutions together Africa is Richthat no one partner could on their own, helping with the “development” of the European partners as much as with the African ones.

We need to get rid of the idea that Africa is a poor person that we need to pity and help! In my opinion, such an attitude is patronizing and simply fosters dependency. Africa is truly rich, and they have all they need and more!
In a sense they might benefit from association with Western countries, but in that same sense Western countries need Africa just as much or more. It seems much more healthy and helpful to have relationships and attitudes that encourage a two-way synergistic sharing and implementation of ideas and resources (where the end result is better than either party could come up with by themselves).
Hopefully the fruits of this consortium experience will be ICT4D innovations, curriculum, and research that meet real needs and contribute to improving the quality of lives and the human potential of all involved.

Along those lines, my questions for you in this blog entry are ones that we asked at the TEDC conference participants in August:

  • What do you think are the unique strengths of Africa and its people?
  • In your opinion, what is it that Africa and Africans can share with others, to help “develop” even Western countries, and make the world a better place?
  • (I ask these questions about Africa, because that is where a lot of the EDULINK project partners come from, but you can answer them with regards to any another “developing” area too.)