At first it was way more work than I expected to organize a conference and workshop like TEDC – but in the end, it was a lot of fun to see it all come together and to have so much participation from local Ugandans and from the people from all around the world who attended.
Soon we will have uploaded the audio and hopefully at least some video from the keynote addresses and Appfrica session.
Here is a video slideshow I created which captures some of our experience from the 3 day conference.
(If it doesn’t play, you can go directly to this link: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7294789452996405975&hl=en)
Also, in the comment section to this blog entry Herment Mrema wanted to start a discussion regarding the way forward with what we gained from this conference. Whether you attended or not, feel free to add your thoughts…
If you attended:
What were the highlights of this year’s conference for you?
What was your main “take-aways”?
What would you like to see happen differently for next year?
Between now and then, how do you think we could be involved in supporting and learning from each other?
If you didn’t attend:
Why not, and how can we get you there next year?
In the time between now and then, would you like to be involved in this effort at all? If so, how?
More than I expected, Ethiopia is green, beautiful, chilly, and the food is great. Like Thai food, they use a lot of peppers and have a spicy taste. You eat with your hands and everyone eats off the same large plate.
Because there is a different calendar system here, it just became the millennium (year 2000). Like Tanzania, they also have two ways of telling time – the one that I am used to, and also the one where with the sunrise it is 0 o’clock, then after one hour it is 1 o’clock, etc. (Does anyone else know of other calendar systems or ways to tell time?)
There about 45 languages spoken here (the main language being Amharic) and the economic developments seem fairly stable in Addis Ababa with a lot of roads and buildings under construction. The hard thing is that for the first time in living memory, prices on most everything have gone up by 3 to 4 times in the last few years, without hardly any increase in salary.
The African Union is headquartered here, and because it is perhaps the only country which was never colonized, it has a lot of the traditional African culture that has been lost or morphed elsewhere.
Since I was so close, I decided to come visit one of the PhD students that I supervise, Temtim Assefa. He is the chair of the department of ICT Education at Addis Ababa University, and has been an excellent host.
And Temtim tells me that people get Ethiopia all wrong – by thinking everyone here is starving. He says that in a country with 70 million people it is “only” about 5 million who are starving.
The land and the people are as visually rich as is the food, but here are just a few pictures from the last couple days…
(click on any picture to see an enlarged image)
Taking the ideas from the last two entries (about mistakes in development/ aid – wanting to help but making things worse) – I wanted to share a coule specific examples that are representative of many of the mistakes I have seen here in Uganda with ICT4D projects (Information and Communication Technology for Development).
About 4 hours outside of Kampala, I drove with two friends to an area that was nick-named the “wireless village”. Essentially, in the middle of nowhere Africa, some people from the US (Inveneo) had spent a ton of money to create a way for 5 remote huts (in an area without even electricity) to receive wireless Internet access that the community could use for free.
The roads got so bad that we had to park the car and walk to the first “kiosk” location – actually a man’s home. Everything is powered by solar panels that the man of the house maintains, and works through high-powered antennae and satellites. And people from the community or rural areas come to access everything from market prices for goods to new farming practices to email access (email surprisingly was the least utilized, because most of the people they knew were in the villages). It was such a big deal that I was told even CNN came out to do a story on it, and (to my surprise), the people I talked with actually used it and really appreciated having it – at least for two years until about 6 months ago when one part broke and the whole system crashed. The part can not be found in Africa, and it seems like the American partners are less than responsive about coming to fix it any time soon. The village people now blame the local staff who were left in charge. The one person taught to maintain it has now moved on to a different city and job, the people continue to wonder if it will ever work again, and in the mean time the technology collects dust.
At the same time, children in a near-by refugee camp are dying at an alarming rate because of a lack of food, water, and inexpensive anti-malaria medication.
I visited a similar telecenter and community radio project (with initial funding by UNESCO and other big boys), powered by huge solar conductors – and once it was set up the partners pulled out. Now the simple costs of Internet access (which are way more than rent) are forcing the operation to raise and sell pigs and produce on the side to try desperately to stay operational. And in the mean time, they also have a part that broke which they need someone to come out and fix before the Internet is up and running again.
Similar to the famous anthropologist Margaret Mead’s observation regarding development in the 1950s – people brought tractors to developing countries to increase their productivity, but quickly fuel would run out, or part breaks and no one could fix it – so this wasted technology cluttered the ground like an elephant graveyard.
The main problem
As I see it, perhaps this is because most of development (especially in ICT4D) seems to come because people develop a pet project (and/or technology) and in order to make themselves feel good (and sometimes in order to capture an untapped market) they try to find poor places in the world to inflict it upon. It isn’t really done for the people, but for the donor or volunteers (to feel good). They literally want to help in the worst way.
It is easy for us all to see the world (and the lives of the people we are intervening in) through the lens of our discipline, or academia, or our business industry, etc… & asking what we can do to “help” these “poor people” who are “less fortunate” than us through those myopic lenses.
Any better ideas?
In trying to think of better ways to be involved in the lives of other people, here is what I have come up with – but I am interested in what you think about it.
Instead of what I described above — why not try as much as possible to take off your predisposed lenses, and just see people in developing countries as humans first (not potential recipients of your specific pre-determined project/research – but humans, with hopes and fears and dreams as real as your own). If you want to be involved in their lives, before predetermining a project or specific outcome, why not first discover what their most pressing needs are (in light of your own as well) and see if there can be some synergy. Instead of you being the benefactor and them the beneficiary – why not try to build relationships where you try to listen more than speak and you each work together (a two-way flow) in order to synergistically create something better than either could on your own!
After all, what is the most valuable use of our brainpower, resources, time, network, energy? And at the very least, how can we do more good than harm?