May 2010

The Secret Sauce in Technology For Development isn't the Tech.

Ushahidi's Patrick Meier has a fantastic graph of deployment time for Ushahidi's amazing crisis-mapping solution (which has been deployed for such diverse projects as Haiti post-earthquake, the Gulf Coast post-BP, and DC's 2009/10 "Snowmageddon"):

The simplicity of Ushahidi setup sometimes leads to some crestfallen administrators.

Just because you bought a domain name and ran the Ushahidi installer doesn’t mean that anyone is going to use they system — and even if you somehow get a lot of reports, you might not be relevant to the existing systems [...] Ushahidi is only 10% of solution.”

I'd posit that this 10%/90% division applies to any and all "tech" solutions to real-world problems.

The technology is increasingly (perhaps it always has been) the easy part. It's a shiny, tangible product with clear "milestones" of in development, in testing, deployed, working. Lots of happy checkboxes for any M&E report, and photo-ops to generate great press and build excitement and community around a technology.

Put your technology where your solution will be

The Technology Salon on SMS4D covered a lot of ground in a few hours, but the reverberating sentiment was the power of mobile technology at the local/regional level. Part of this is a bit of sour-grapes with the hard challenges of scaling mobile solutions globally, which is as much a problem of cross-provider functionality as it is capacity. The value however is in reminding us that development solutions - while they may be globally replicable - are rooted locally.

The Technology Salon went through an inspiring round of implementations and use cases of on-the-ground efforts using texts in cross-sector development situations. Microfinance solutions, tying the payments to the notifications via mpayment were the purview of CreditSMS, lowering the costs of each loan by dramatically reducing transactional costs, allowing MFI account managers to deal with the exceptions (late/missedpayments) instead of burning time tracking payments to records and managing each interaction. mHealth, a favorite topic of Tech Salons had use cases in using SMS to replace timely and costly travel to report medicine stock levels and local disease trends, but also mobile-centric medical records management and remote, low-cost diagnostics tools, all using SMS:Medic.


Ubuntu 10: Worth the wait

Just a quick note: Ubuntu 10 totally rocks. Better digital video and audio support (via HDMI and toslink) than Windows 7, slicker than Mac OSX with a great dock and productivity-enhancer with gnome-do/docky, tons of crazy user interface enhancements, a smooth 3D desktop... the list goes on. It's amazing, and it's open source.


Going Nuts over the Value of Local Production

For some background, I highly recommend Alanna Shaikh's post here: and follow-up here:… . In short, a French company is defending their patent on a super-nutritious "therapeutic" food called Plumpy'nut against a lawsuit by some US NGOs (who could have licensed it, but are instead trying to break the patent)

My guy reaction was anti-intellectual property, as I strongly believe that our current IP schemes tend to do more damage than good. That being said, I think Nutriset is seemingly doing the right thing here - forcing support for local production. Let us presume nothing but sparkly, unicorn-bedazzled thoughts about Nutriset for a moment:

Goal 1: Provide a therapeutic food product
Goal 2: Ensure quality standards (duh)
Goal 3: Make it widely available and politically tenable to "recipient" governments
Goal 4: Don't make things worse locally by undercutting the economy

You could open the patent, post the ingredients and production methods and encourage everyone to go after it. This would support goals 1,3 and 4, with a risk of opportunists really wrecking #2, anyone could claim that they were using the authentic plumpynut recipe even while their product is unhealthy at best or outright deadly at worst.