David L. Neely, President
Affecting Change International (ACI)
Time is of the essence as we approach the Millennium Development Goals target of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. This has created an
imperative for all sectors, including corporate, civil society, and government
to work collaboratively to use all means necessary to help communities generate income, provide ample food security, see job creation, and realize an increase in poverty alleviation initiatives. The use of appropriate Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) is
surely a significant tool to be used in this collaborative effort.
We will know that we are achieving a modicum of economic stability when we can realize a reduction, by half, the proportion of people living on less than $1.00 per day with productive employment, regardless of gender, and by significantly decreasing the number of people who suffer from hunger. Largely due to the appropriate use of ICTs, our Maasai Community Development project in Kenya is working towards reaching these benchmarks in this local community. The project itself does not have satellite broadband connectivity and probably won’t for some time. Yet, it does have a desire to step outside the Maasai cultural norm and access information. They are currently doing this through the use of cell phone technology, the occasional trip into a town to visit an internet café, and the use of various media, including print, radio, and television.
ACI has been working in a highly effective partnership relationship in Kenya between leaders of a local Maasai community, the Kijiji ya Sanaa Trust, and private individuals since 2010 to meet the needs of the Ngatataek community in Kenya. Using the ICT Model Community Center concept developed in cooperation between ACI and its stateside partners, the Maasai Community Development Project, has a goal to provide, primary and secondary education, vocational and business development training for women, eMedicine, renewable energy alternatives, and sanitation solutions to meet the most critical needs of this local community. The bigger picture includes positively influencing this community by eliminating gender disparities, empowering women and children by, providing access to information, expanding entrepreneurship, and providing creative use of social media to mobilize the local community for democracy and human rights issues.
The project currently consists of a primary school and a community reforestation program on twenty acres approximately 30 km north of the Kenya – Tanzania border. An additional education module is currently under construction in partnership with the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), a part of Blue Valley Public Schools in Overland Park, Kansas, here in the United States. Upon completion, the CAPS Education Module can be relocated and activated at the Kenya project site. This module will provide additional education space, secure storage for ICT equipment which includes computers, solar powered renewable energy technology, and a cell phone charging station for the community. Plans to negotiate with Safaricom, the leading provider of converged communication solutions in Kenya, inexpensive broadband connectivity options for the project using cell phone technology are on the table for Mid-July of this year. The desire is to include in these
discussions Safaricom and governmental officials, along with the projects
community leadership, and ACI. The goal is to finalize this agreement between all stakeholders involved before the end of 2012.
I use the phrase “appropriate ICTs” because I believe it is imperative that every community be fully assessed for its ability to sustain whatever level of ICT are provided. The assumption by some is that if we just give people access to the information provided by the World Wide Web, then the knowledge gained by these people will be what they need to pull themselves out of the poverty they are experiencing. Almost a “Give a man a laptop with broadband access and he will surf himself to prosperity” mentality. There are a number of obvious problems with this to be sure. Primarily, many of the underserved and underprivileged in the world do not have the necessary cultural, educational, and emotional framework to be able to effectively utilize and leverage the ICTs provided at that level. However, they may be able to better leverage and sustain a less technical and less expensive technology, at least initially, such as information/education on DVD’s or even cell phone technologies.
In many developing countries, cell phones are a level of technology that most are familiar with and the technology has infiltrated the local culture. One organization working to develop alternative appropriate ICTs for development is mEducation Alliance, an international collaborative effort between bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs, foundations, private sector partners, academic researchers, and implementing organizations that is working to explore cutting edge intersections between mobiles, education and development and to promote collective knowledge sharing. Taken from the mEducation Alliance web site, “…embraces a broad definition of mobile devices including, but not limited to: phones, e-Readers, tablet computers, flash memory, radio, micro projectors and other audio/visual devices.” This is what I mean when I use the phrase “appropriate ICTs.” Let’s not get so enamored with all the bells and whistles of new high speed, broadband, satellite, notebook, laptop, desktop etc. technologies that we forget the “simpler” technologies that might be more appropriate and sustainable for many communities.
Once again, in regard to our Maasai Community Development Project in Kenya, we are working with all our project partners to help improve access to appropriate, scalable, and low-cost technologies, including mobile phones, to help improve outcomes in formal and non-formal education, and in the near future possibly eMedicine. ACI continues to work to mobilize individuals and non-governmental organizations to improve the physical, emotional, and economic conditions of the underprivileged and underserved in our global community. Through the use of high quality partnerships, we assist these developing communities to meet their most critical needs in sustainable ways one life at a time with partners who are willing to share, or even to forego, the credit for any project’s success.