Development Theory

Mobiles Vs Computers

Cell Phone in rural India
Are Mobile Phones the Winner?

February's Technology Salon was on the (false) dichotomy of mobiles versus computers in development. Thankfully due to the high caliber of all the attendees, we were able to establish and move quickly past the problem that so often plagues the actual projects and "real world" debates - which is better? Some people will claim mobile phones are better due to their low barriers to entry, but then you see low-cost computing and netbooks providing that same promise to computers. Others will argue that you'll never write a school paper on a cell phone.

The reality is, the entire frame of this argument is off on every possible angle.

First, there are clear cases where one technology is better suited to a task than another. I'd no more write long papers on a cell phone than I would carry around a laptop to use as a personal communications device. However there's a large chunk of tasks where either tool will suffice, and which "should" be used is more a factor of the local conditions than the features of any one technology.

Secondly -- and more importantly -- this discussion is tool-centric. We have a hammer (two, in this case) and are going around the development landscape searching for nails we can drive home, and it's a race between the two hammers to see who can hit the most nails. This is inherently the wrong way to apply ICT in development.

We shouldn't be arguing about mobiles vs computers, or even OLPC XOs vs Intel ClassMates, or Windows vs Linux, we should be arguing about specific problems in development, what tools could help, how, and for what costs (training time, implementation and infrastucture gotchas, as well as equipment costs).

Rescuing the baby from the thrown-out bathwater

Worldchanging's Jeremy Faludi calls it "reverse-leapfrogging", but is looking for a better name. It's reviving or importing concepts that used to exist:
Green architects in the last twenty years have learned passive-solar design tricks from pre-industrial buildings, both historic ones in their own countries and contemporary buildings in non-industrial societies. (For instance, cool towers come from vernacular middle-eastern architecture.)


Many Paths Leading to the "Base of the Pyramid"

Paths to the Pyramid
BoP Spending
(on Flickr by Merkur*)

(on Flickr by Merkur*)NextBillion, which spends most of its time praising social entrepreneurship, comments on Michael Edwards' new book, Just Another Emperor, which attacks rampant "philanthrocapitalism" (market solutions to development problems);
"Despite its flaws, Just Another Emperor does a superb job of fulfilling Edward's main intent - deflating the hype around philanthrocapitalism without denying it its place as a tool for combating poverty. Edwards reminds us that the free market cannot solve all social ills and inequalities. While noting the benefits of approaches championed by social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropists, he suggests that these movements complement - rather than replace - non-market-based approaches to poverty and sustainability."


Simple Global Pleasures

You might remember the Youtube video of this guy named Matt who did this silly dance and captured it on video everywhere he went a few years ago?

Well.. he's back, with friends.

It's a good video to watch when you worry about things like war, unfair trade practices, poor foreign policy, dictatorship, and so on -- it reminds you that people are globally friendly, silly, happy folk if given a chance. Which is always true, but not always easy to remember.


Robert Strauss vs. Peace Corps: Round 2

You may remember Strauss from his NYT article damning the Peace Corps back in January. It made the point that the increasing numbers of volunteers is decreasing the agency's effectiveness and that the agency itself was too stuck on its mission to improve and adapt. Strauss has been a volunteer, and also a country director, with the Peace Corps, and I as a returned volunteer can agree with some of his points.

He's back now in April with a much longer attack in Foreign, where he sets up a series of strawmen to knock down.

For example;

"The Peace Corps Is a Potent Diplomatic Weapon"

No. With diplomats stuck inside barricaded compounds or loath to venture from expatriate residential ghettos, a Peace Corps volunteer is likely to be the only representative of the U.S. government that poor, rural populations ever see. As the State Department cuts back on its public diplomacy and cultural exchange programs, the Peace Corps' predominantly young volunteers wind up carrying more and more of the responsibility for demonstrating that the United States still has good intentions abroad.


Good People Day 2008

I like the good people day idea all about giving props where due. Since I'll be nose-down in work preparing for the upcoming Global Youth Service Day April 25-28, let me point out the amazing youth around the world who do the real work on GYSD as some people who rock. Last year we had over three million youth in over 100 countries taking up projects to improve their community -- and expect the same or more this year.


Slacktivisism for Fair Trade (Updated)

My friend over at Esperanza en Accion in Nicaragua, has let people know that someone is attempting aland grab against a cooperative clothing factory, Nueva Vida, that'sone of her suppliers. Nueva Vida's supporters are asking that we email Nicaragua's first lady, Rosario Murillo, who has been "a strong defender of poor women throughout the country" asking for her support. They also ask that we forward the story widely so that others can do the same.