November 3, 2011

‘ICT4D postcards’: The picture so far

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kiwanjaAcouple of weeks ago I sent out an open invitation for people to contribute to the ICT4D Postcards Project. The idea was to gather a collection of postcards from people working in international development who had a technology theme – or influence – in their work. Postcards have been coming in since, and I thought it would be a good idea to post a few up here, ahead of the full collection that will be posted online in the coming weeks.

In short, a postcard consists of a photograph and short narrative that explains why the image is important – or how it relates – to that person’s work. The idea is to go beyond usual explanation and website narrative to reveal more personal insights and motivations of the people who work in our field.

Here’s a selection of five that have come in so far, in no particular order.

Jonathan Donner. Kigali, 2003 | Website | Twitter

In 2003, mobile phones were just appearing in Rwanda. Penetration was just 1.5 per 100 people (1.5%) then. It is over 33% now. I organized some studies to ask microentrepreneurs about how they were using their new phones. Everyone was quite accommodating, letting us ask details about each of the last 10 calls recorded on the phones call log. Though we learned a lot about business processes and productivity, our data also demonstrated just how intertwined these phones had already become into daily life – two-thirds of the calls were with friends and family. I suspect these trends still hold.  At this moment, the interviewer (Nicole K. Umutoni) was probably looking back at me and wondering why I was taking this picture. Now we know!

Jan Chipchase. Lagos, 2011 | Website | Twitter

That your and my cultural sensibilities about what is appropriate is irrelevant. That there are many ways to extend the internet – and that those that make the effort to do so, show us where the value is. That everything can, and will eventually be remixed.

Linda Raftree. Cameroon, June 2010 | Website | Twitter

This picture is taken on top of a large rocky hill during a workshop in Ndop, Cameroon. I love the young man’s rasta hat and the delicate lavender colored felt flower in the girl’s hair, the tender manner that they are learning together to film, and how the camera helps them see themselves and their surroundings in new ways. Up on that rock in the middle of the fields, breeze blowing under the giant sky, watching two young people teach other; the reminder that I am transient in this line of work and do not matter much in the larger scheme of things was strong, beautiful and comforting.

Erik Hersman. Liberia, 2009 | Website | Twitter

“ICT4D” represents a mental roadblock. A term that brings as much baggage with it as a sea of white SUVs, representing the humanitarian industrial complex’s foray into the digital world. It means we’re trying to airlift in an infrastructure instead of investing in local technology solutions. Like the SUVs, it’s currently an import culture that will not last beyond the project’s funding and the personnel who parachuted in to do it.

Heather Underwood. Kenya, 2011 | Website | Twitter

In August, 2011, I visited several health clinics in Kenya to determine the feasibility of using digital pen technology to enhance paper health forms. This photo was taken in a rural clinic in Mangalete. The woman using the digital pen is filling out a partograph – a paper tool used to monitor and detect prolonged or abnormal labors. She simply picked up the pen and started showing me how to properly fill out the form. When the pen’s audio suddenly informed her that she had crossed the alert line and should consider transferring the patient, her surprise and immediate understanding of the quality assurance and training benefits of this tool were incredibly gratifying. This interaction highlighted one of my core beliefs about ICT4D: big problems can often be addressed with simple solutions.

If you’re interested in taking part there’s still time. I’ll need the following:

1. A photo (high resolution if possible) – one you’ve taken, please. All it needs to qualify is to have a technology theme – radio, mobile phone, computer, solar lamp and so on.
2. Details of where it was taken and the year (if you remember).
3. A short description of what it is, and why it means something to you. Keep it short – think back of a postcard! We want personal stories – how you connect with the picture – not just a description of what it is.
4. A link to your website, blog or Twitter handle (or all three) so I can point people back to you and your work.

You can email all of this to [email protected] – I’ll collate all the postcards in the coming weeks and publish them online.Ken Banks is founder of, a site that helps nonprofits use mobile technology to serve their communities’ information needs. See his profile page, visit his blog, contact Ken or leave a comment. Follow Ken on Twitter at @kiwanja.

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