Tag Archive | World

From Theory to Business, a shift beyond ICT4D

The African ICT space is experiencing an explosion of activity. This period of growth and development was first marked by the UN General Assembly decision to host the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2001. The first phase of this summit took place in Geneva 2003 and was used to outline concrete steps needed to establish the foundations for a global information society. The second phase took place in Tunis 2005 and was used to put Geneva’s Plan of Action into motion as well as outline initial framework for Internet governance, financing mechanisms and a plan needed to follow-up the implementation of the Geneva and Tunis documents.

These events were instrumental in putting forward a multi-stakeholder policy needed to encourage the creation of a true global information society. Remarkably, more than 19,000 participants from 174 countries attended these two events. The WSIS served as an effective call to action and established an initial road map needed to close the digital divide, a term used to describe the information gap that exists between the connected and the unconnected populations of the world. An otherwise noble effort, it is important we review both existing and new intentions. We have to constantly assess the progress made since these historic events and refine our strategies moving forward.

Incommunicado (referring to a state of being without the means or rights to communicate) is a forum that took place in 2005 and was an early step in this process. This event was in a new effort to start addressing developments post WSIS and in the interest to introduce both a critical and alternative point of view. Specifically, the event arose out of the need to start looking seriously at ‘info-development’ and ‘ICT4D’ and to deconstruct both the theory and the practice. To look beyond the rhetoric and to critically challenge the emerging sector otherwise tasked with closing the digital divide.

It is clear that the Flattening of the World, as described by Thomas Friedman in 2005, introduces a new era as described by Incommunicado, ‘where most computer networks and ICT expertise were located in the North, and info- development mostly involved rather technical matters of knowledge and technology transfer from North to South. While still widely (and even wildly) talked about, the assumption of a ‘digital divide’ that follows this familiar geography of development has turned out to be too simplistic. Instead, a more complex map of actors, networked in a global info-politics, is emerging.’ It is along these lines that Incommunicado introduces a new space that supports an outside opinion and perspective on the activities of the major agencies (like the ITU, UNDP, UNESCO, WIPO and the UN), international NGOs and multinational corporations dedicated to addressing the issues at hand. This approach is grounded in the deconstruction of ICT4D as a term, an approach and an agenda.

So where are we four years later? What progress has been made and what can we learn from our experiences? How has the situation changed and how can we best move forward? Now that initial policy is in place how can we transition from theory to business?

More importantly, we need to look beyond the actual technology and in the effort to better understand what is actually happening with our local cultures and societies in the process. As Christine Hine explains in her book Virtual Ethnography, ‘one particularly persuasive current format is the foretelling of strange new futures based around the advent and widespread use of computer-based communication, with Negroponte (1995) and Gates (1996) among the most prominent in a legion of futurologists. To date, far more effort has been expended on predicting the revolutionary futures of (technology) than has been put into finding out in detail how it is being used and the ways in which it is being incorporated into people’s daily lives.’ It is on this foundation that we can move past the technical and into the social, where we can recognize the impact ICT’s have on our societies and better manage them moving forward.

Read ‘An African ICT Explosion’

Altoje Computer World

Tony Wamala - CoFounder Altoje Computer World

Tony Wamala - CoFounder Altoje Computer World

A 30 minute Boda Boda ride to the outskirts of Kampala, towards the east on the main road to Jinja, you end up at Banda Station. There at the intersection of a marketplace and two dirt roads I call Tony. Before I can turn around I see the young man come up to greet me. He is wearing brown leather shoes, slacks and a striped button up shirt. He has a big smile and looks forward to showing me his shop several buildings down the street. I can see that it has several stories, each containing a hallway lined by small business shops on either side. On the ground floor, at the end of the hallway on the right, you find Kampala’s newest software company Altoje Computer World.

The AL stands for Alex, TO stands for Tony and the JE stands for Joseph. I ask why there is an E at the end as opposed to an O. They tell me its because they wanted to include Jesus in the name of the company. So JE stands for Joseph and Jesus. The company was started by five friends who got to know each other during their time at the Makerere University. They finished their studies in July 2008 and graduated from the Makerere University in January 2009. Never able to find a job they decided to try and start their own business. Alex explains, ‘We were searching for jobs but jobs for Uganda is difficult. Why can’t we create our own. We knew it would take years and years to find a job so lets start a company, provide some services and earn a living.’ The jobs that are available aren’t attractive for someone passionate about software. He goes on to say, ‘You could do data entry for 100,000 to 200,000 shilling a month. But this is not the point. We want to build our own business and have a vision now.’

Although Joseph, one of the original partners, has become less involved recently. They explain he lives farther away and the travel costs can be prohibitive. There are two other individuals but they only come in on an assignment basis. This really leaves Tony and Alex running the show. They make sure the shop is always open from 7 am to 7 pm six days a week. On Sunday they assure me they don’t work ‘very hard.’ The two entrepreneurs make clear that when you have a job you can do whatever you want. You go home at five and you have freedom on the weekends. Alex, while helping a customer reorganize his pricing list, says, ‘they actually want you to rest on holidays. But for us we always have this rent over our heads. We have to work every day and try to get in as much business as we can.’ It is clear these guys are eager to build their company and don’t have time to waste. They are far more focused and serious about what they are doing and seem to be working harder than most of the programmers I have met until now.

Contact Tony and Alex
Website: http://www.altojecomputerworld.com
E-mail: altojecomputerworld@gmail.com
E-mail: wamalatony@yahoo.com

Thinking Outside the Water Box!

Reporters in Africa are using new tools and technologies to tell their stories

Reporters in Africa are using new tools and technologies to tell their stories

Was great to join the Akvo team in Istanbul for the World Water Forum. They did a great job putting together a format that really starts to push the edges of the traditional water box. It was great for them to bring in outside organization that could illustrate some new ways forward. As Africa Interactive, it was great to be able to bring the AI network of photographers, film makers and reporters into the picture. To actually show some of the projects we have been working on and to illustrate some of the ways that we as media can contribute to this process.

I look forward to seeing how their format evolves. Can see some great ideas being brainstormed for the future.
Keep it up!

Some additional background:

Akvo has been asked by Netherlands Water Partnership to assist in organising a 4-hour session called ‘thinking outside the water box’, that will take place on the morning of Friday 20th March. The water sector can be quite ‘inward’ looking, so the basic idea was to ‘open it up’ and fuel a creative atmosphere where new ideas, concepts and approaches that stimulate breakthroughs can be experienced. This animation will probably be used to kick it off.

I can now announce the key presenters and members of the panel – namely Alix Zwane from Google, Djeevan Schiferli from IBM, Thomas Bjelkeman Pettersson from Akvo and Joke Witteveen, who represents the computer gaming industry. Djeevan shared initial ideas about using footage from the animation movie, Madagascar, to back up his story, which sets the scene for what we have in mind.
So, why did these organisations step into the water sector? What is their vision for the future and their role in it? What are the possibilities that social networks and new IT and communication tools offer? How will business change in the years to come?

Additional input in the shape of short pitches will be prepared by Ben White representing Africa Interactive (a citizen network of local African reporters), Becky Straw from Charity Water (think Twestival and tweeting for water), and Gurdal Ertek, who will highlight open source software tools to save water in chemical industries. Representatives of the consortium Helixer talked about doing a sketch (lets wait and see) and the rap star BangBang has a video message to explain his initiative ‘fighting for water‘, where rappers and kick-boxers raise funds to provide water for poor people in Bangladesh. And yes, there is more to come.

During the session, participants will be able to send SMS messages to a big screen (if Rik Fleuren from Tenq manages to make it work on the ground in Istanbul), so the audience can directly with presenters as the session unfolds. Mark Charmer will package short interviews with participants at the forum, to be used as input for the discussion. He will also make sure the session gets broadcast and can be followed via twitter as it unfolds (I haven’t told him yet though).

Learn more about Akvo.

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