Reclaiming ICTs for Development

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[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

The session was moderated by Prof. Tim Unwin (Geography Professor, University of London), author of the book Reclaiming ICT for development. In his remarks, Unwin said that so many people believe information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) will help cure poverty but they may also increase poverty and create more poor people. He said that the purpose of his book and of this session was to try to share a mind map, to share the panellists’ views on what we can do differently with regards to ICT4D, how we can empower street children, rural women, persons with disabilities and any other marginalised group in the use of technology.

The first speaker, Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum), talked about partnerships. He said partnerships are essential because ICT4D is multidimensional and cross-sectoral.

He mentioned two critical elements, infrastructure and the affordability of the Internet, as being among the problems many developing countries face, holding people back from adopting ICTs. On the other hand, he mentioned two demand sides, awareness and content. Wong said that people will not go to the Internet if they don’t know why they should, what its value is, or the importance of using it. He also said people will go on the Internet only when the content fits with their needs, and if the content is in their language.

With regard to partnerships, Wong mentioned the need to tackle and to fill those gaps. He said everyone, from all sectors, should come together and bring in their expertise, knowing that governments themselves will not solve everything. In order to build good partnerships, a set of skills including negotiation, communication, and the ability to manage expectations is required. For every partnership project, Wong concluded, there is a need to be clear with regards to expectations and the areas of collaboration.

The next speaker was Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex), who spoke on the need to tap into the wisdom of marginalised women. She reminded the audience that marginalised women have immense knowledge but how do we build on and foster it? Hassan believes that it is through giving them a voice, encouraging elites to listen to them.

In her remarks, she also said there is a need to look into building safer online spaces for women before we can even think of empowering them to use online tools. Hassan also mentioned the need to identify their needs taking into account cultural differences in the use of ICTs.

The next speaker, Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development (DFID), UK), shared donors’ perspectives in the talk on reclaiming ICT4D. She started by mentioning that if we are doing development in a digital world, we need to make sure we are aware of issues of inequality, and are looking into the potential risks and at the content both of which are shaped by so many digital factors. Smart told the session that donors are more interested in projects or actions focused on inclusion; they try to ensure inequalities in access do not increase other forms of inequalities in societies.

The speaker also described some of the different projects that her agency, DFID, is running across so many African countries in this field. They have a digital strategy with a large amount of money supporting projects that are making technology more inclusive in developing countries and they are employing wonderful young talents who help drive the agenda forward. As part of that strategy, Smart said that they are working to make governments accountable, to make sure that they don’t use technology to control people but use it to empower them. They are also targeting marginalised groups so that they can be part of the development of technology while at the same time looking at issues of privacy and freedom of expression.

The next speaker, Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society), touched on the issue of building trust on the Internet. He started by saying that trust is something that affects everyone. He highlighted issues such as violation of privacy and security attacks in instances such as when companies are using our data and when there are cyber-attacks.

Kende said that those types of issues impact the attitudes of online users. He mentioned some research they carried out in different countries on why people are not going online; 12% of their respondents in Brazil mentioned privacy and security as reasons, which Kende acknowledged is not very big. Other respondents stated that they do not feel secure enough to buy things online, others worry about sharing their information online through social media because they feel unsafe.

He concluded by saying that we all have a part to play in making sure the Internet is safe for everyone, helping to build the confidence of users. Kende also said that, with regard to privacy, we need to start being less accepting and more demanding of those companies giving us online services.

The next speaker, Nigel Hickson (Vice-President IGO Engagement, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)), focused his remarks on how innovation in the domain name system (DNS) can help strengthen inclusion. He also said that the international domain names (IDNs) can foster multilingualism and sustainable development goal (SDG) 10 because with the DNS and the thousands of available generic top level domain names (gTLDs) that ICANN is managing, people are able to have their content in their own language, and have their own identity.

With regard to online security, Hickson said that we should be more open; we should challenge governments, civil society, etc., and when we see that what is going on is not legitimate or working for our benefit, we need to highlight this. He recognised that there is a dark side of the web; those attacks that we see here and there are real and we need to do something about them. Hickson suggested that once people start telling each other things like, ‘the Internet is somewhere you should not go, you should stay away from it’, then we will not be able to use ICT4D to support development.

Talking about ICANN, he said that the DNS grants the ability to Internet users to reach out to each other. The fact that someone can post something in one country and other people can find that content is part of what drives knowledge. That’s the utility we should seek and encourage on the Internet.

The next speaker, Torbjörn Fredrikson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD), focused his remarks on discussing the energy of entrepreneurship and e-commerce as drivers of ICT4D. He started by recognising that the evolution of e-commerce offers opportunities and challenges, and that there are winners and losers.

In his remarks, he brought up the question of how we heal the web rather than focusing on what it is now. He encouraged participants in the room to start doing things differently in supporting poorer countries through e-trade.

Talking about entrepreneurship, he mentioned the mobile revolution which is allowing more people to easily access the Internet. Fredrikson thought that this was a huge opportunity for businesses doing e-commerce, but there are challenges attached to it including what he called the ‘e-com divide’. He pointed out that in the UK for example, many people are buying online compared to some developing countries where only 1 to 6% of people do online shopping. Now the challenge, Fredrikson said, is what happens to those companies or sellers who are not visible online? They only lose and will never profit from the benefits of the Internet.

His final words to the audience were a question: how do we scale up and make sure everyone in the world is able to benefit from the digital economy?

by Arsene Tungali

Organisers

  • Royal Holloway
  • University of London
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