Category Archives: Sustainability

The challenges of Web 2.0 & digital mapping

 

Web2forDev is not listed yet by INGOs as one of their main blog sources on Web 2.0 and development, but it should be. Launched as the blog of the conference that will take place in Rome in September on the subject of ‘networking, collaborating and exchanging knowledge in agriculture, rural development and natural resources management’, the blog is already featuring a number of interesting post.

One is about the challenges of adopting and implementing Web 2.0 applications in Africa. Access, connections, and a general recognition that mobile networks are the future. Through this blog, I came across Giacomo Rambaldi’s IAPAD:

[IAPAD is] the merger of Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) methods with Geographic Information Technologies and Systems (GIT&S) to compose peoples’ spatial knowledge in the forms of virtual or physical, 2 or 3 dimensional maps used as interactive vehicles for discussion, information exchange, analysis and as support in advocacy, decision making and action taking.

Although quite a mouthful (the organisation is linked to CTA, the EU-funded Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU, so it’s unsurprising that their communication capacity is limited), this is still an interesting initiative worth signalling.

Finally, although not exactly related to Web 2.0 for development, it is also worth checking out the Digital Earth initiative, which (like the Internet and Global Warming) was allegedly conceptualised by Al Gore:

Digital Earth is a visionary concept, popularized by former US Vice President Al Gore,  for the virtual and 3-D representation of the Earth that is spatially referenced and interconnected with digital knowledge archives from around the planet with vast amounts of scientific, natural, and cultural information to describe and understand the Earth, its systems, and human activities.

Although at the moment it doesn’t seem to have produced much more than a series of lengthy conferences between suited executives, it has the potential to become really amazing in the future, as it translates into visual data all the vast amounts of information that is already on the net relevant to achieving the most pressing social and environmental objectives.

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From Development 1.0 to Development 2.0

The Future - CG4TV

FreePint printed this article by Giulio Quaggiotto and Pierre Wielezynski – both linked to/working for the World Bank – on how Web 2.0 is changing the face of development. This is the first article of its kind, as far as I know, and it’s also the subject of my dissertation here at the London School of Economics and Political Science, so I am glad I’ll be one of the pioneers on the subject. It’s in fact more than this: it’s a manifesto for the future of development. 

I am reproducing the article below for your perusal. It’s an excellent and most comprehensive review of the subject, and I thoroughly recommend it.

The transition from Development 1.0 to Development 2.0

One interesting aspect – which is sometimes forgotten – behind O’Reilly Media’s coining of the term ‘Web 2.0‘ is that it stemmed from an analysis of the companies that survived the crash of the dot-com bubble. Not so much of a futuristic vision, then, but rather a reflection on tried and tested business models (as well as technologies) that weathered the storm to produce the likes of Google and Amazon.

What if one were to apply the same type of analysis to the development sector? One could argue that we are currently witnessing a crisis of the traditional aid and international governance models, which could have far-reaching consequences somewhat reminiscent of the dot-com crash. At the same time, the emergence of new approaches (such as microfinance and online campaigning) may herald the beginning of a whole brave new world – indeed, it would seem that the era of the wisdom of crowds and the Long Tail, as defined by O’Reilly, has caught on in the non-profit world. Out with Development 1.0, the era of the World Bank, the UN, the IMF (but also the traditional non-governmental organisations (NGOs)), and in with Development 2.0, whose ambassador could perhaps be Grameen Bank, funded by Noble Prize winner Muhammud Yanus, or Gapminder’s founder Hans Rosling with his iconoclastic zeal to deconstruct established development myths.

Intriguing as the prospect of identifying clear-cut boundaries might be, the reality is that it’s probably too early to tell whether we are truly witnessing the emergence of a new development paradigm (see here for a similar conclusion). Rather, we are in a fluid, transition phase where traditional NGOs and development institutions are testing the waters of Web 2.0, while, on the more innovative end of the spectrum, new start-ups are emerging whose entire business model is based on Web 2.0 opportunities. Somewhere in the middle are ‘hybrid’ projects that span the two worlds. For instance, Oxfam’s recent campaign to support Ethiopian farmers featured traditional campaigning tools such as faxes, postcards and demonstrations, but also shared pictures via Flickr and a YouTube duel with Starbucks.

Take a look at the interactive list of the ’59 Smartest Orgs Online’, which ranks non-profits based on their ‘Web 2.0 smarts’ – the extent to which they integrated Web 2.0 in their business model. On any given day, it will feature established organisations such as Greenpeace or Amnesty International, alongside the likes of MobileActive.org (‘cell phones for civic engagement’) or microloans site Kiva. Indeed, the list is perhaps the best place to test the pulse of ‘Development 2.0’, together with Change.org‘s intriguing tag cloud.

If it’s too early to talk about winners or losers, it’s still interesting to apply O’Reilly’s model of key Web 2.0 patterns and competencies to the development world. It may highlight emerging trends and identify areas that may be waiting for the birth of a Google equivalent for the development sector.

The Long Tail of development services

O’Reilly invites Web 2.0-savvy companies to ‘reach out to the entire web, to the edges and not just the centre, to the Long Tail and not just the head’. The emblem here is eBay. This concept has interesting applications in the development context. Traditionally, managing micro-donations has proven to be challenging for non-profits, whose back end was not designed to guarantee to, say, a donor in the UK, that their money will go to found a specific project in a given village in Rwanda. ‘Adopt a school’ type of projects have often incurred very high overheads. In come the likes of Kiva.org, which uses the Web to cut out intermediaries and allow for direct donations to small businesses in the developing world, or GlobalGiving, which guarantees that ’85-90% of your donation gets to local project leaders within 60 days’. This way, even donors with niche interests can find a way to support the cause that is dear to their heart through the Web. The same desire to cater for niche interests lies behind Change.org, a social networking site that aims to foster ‘a fundamental change in the way people engage in social issues’ by allowing grassroots activists to network with others who share their interests. It will be interesting to monitor how these new business models will fare and, on the other hand, how traditional NGOs will react to the challenge.

The race for development data

What do Amazon, eBay and MapQuest have in common? They are backed up by the largest specialised database in their respective markets (books, auctions, maps, etc), O’Reilly observes. For this reason, he adds, ‘the race is on to own certain classes of core data’. The smartest companies are the ones who let users add value to their data through mashups or other types of interaction (e.g. book reviews on Amazon). Once again, there are intriguing parallels here with what is happening in the development world. Take, for instance, conservation – an area traditionally plagued by the lack of data interoperability. A number of initiatives are emerging, such as IUCN-backed Conservation CommonsEco-ishare that are trying to encourage open access to biodiversity data and build the biggest repositories in their category, to use O’Reilly’s language. Others, such as the above mentioned Gapminder and Maplecroft are adding value to their sets of development data through visualisation software (Gapminder’s so cool that Google had to get a piece of it). As for mashups, an example of an application with great potential that we’ve come across recently is a combination of Google Earth with meteorological data. Imagine for a moment the weather forecast being delivered to farmers in Ethiopia, specially trained for the purpose, via mobile phones, as in Wepoco’s plans. But see also the combination of Google Maps and ethnicity data done by Healthcarethatworks to prove that disenfranchised communities have more difficulty accessing care. and UNEP-WCMC’s

Letting users interact and play around with the data, ‘trusting them as co-developers’, (O’Reilly) is still a cultural challenge, as Gapminder’s Rosling found out, but the obvious next step. One could easily imagine, for example, that WWF’s recent partnership with Google, which allows virtual access to conservation projects on the ground may be followed by some interactive feature that allows scientists or volunteers on the ground to add or comment on the data. Ditto for the work Amnesty International has done with Google Earth, mapping out human rights abuses around the world (more here).

Getting datasets out of their respective databases is certainly a challenge due to intellectual property issues and data interoperability, but if the various owners of these datasets were willing to do it, the very 2.0 site Swivel would be the ideal place to get some collaboration going. After barely 4 months of activity, the site (still in beta) already offers over 3,000 datasets contributed by over 4,000 members (including OECD) and has all the 2.0 features you can dream off: blog it, digg it, badge it, Google widgetise-it, etc.

Harnessing collective intelligence

The key principle behind the giants of the Web 2.0 era, points out O’Reilly, is that they have embraced the power of the Web to harness collective intelligence. What better example than Wikipedia? NGOs in this respect would seem to have a natural advantage over the private sector, given their traditional reliance on volunteers’ passion and creativity. And Development 2.0 is creeping into perhaps unexpected areas of the development sector. It may come as no surprise to learn that the likes of Greenpeace and Oneworld have their own blog. Perhaps not many people, though, may know that the World Bank Group is running three blogs (as well as online discussions) and has recently developed Buzzmonitor, a tool to gauge stakeholder’s perceptions through social media. And what about UNICEF’s sponsoring of The One Minutes Jr. site, the YouTube equivalent that gives a voice to marginalised young people?

Campaigns, as in the case of Oxfam above, are the obvious place to harness Web 2.0 to create connections and galvanise supporters (readers may be interested in an interesting think piece by the author of ‘Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age‘). Online campaigning is by now a well established advocacy tool in the armament of the smart NGO campaigner. See here for a list of examples and here for an illustration of how EWG is using volunteer support to build an online database of labels for their water safety project.

But this natural affinity doesn’t mean that all opportunities have been explored. Far from it, one can only imagine what would happen if the development sector were able to fully galvanise the ‘wisdom of crowds’ in support of its goals. One has to love the interactivity of Amnesty’s Guantanamo campaign, which allows users to create a virtual alter ego and join an online flotilla to the US base in Cuba. But what if you were to take this one step further? What if, as in the case of WWF Russia’s strategy game to save the leopard, you create a full- scale simulation of a real conservation challenge, let users compete to come up with their best solution and then use it in the real world? Likewise, one likes to think that it is it just a matter of time before an NGO (or development institution) will use a tool like Second Life or equivalent to interact with funds recipients to jointly create a virtual version of an ideal project scenario before funding it.

Joi Ito, a prominent venture capitalist, has written an interesting paper entitled “weblogs and emergent democracy” where he outlines how blogs and other 2.0 technologies will help shape democracy. Yochai Benkler has written a riveting book (available free online) titled “The Wealth of Networks”, in which he explains and documents how peer productions are changing markets and freedom. The arguments used by these two authors revolve around the network effect. How can an issue go from obscure to front page in a matter of five links and lead people to act and change things? A site like dotherightthing.com leverages the wisdom of the crowd to evaluate corporations and hold them accountable. By asking users to vote, tag or flag issues, these sites hope to become forces of change and get organisation to, well … do the right thing. A similar issue aims at doing the same for the US government. GovTracks mashes up various information sources to help regular citizens track their elected officials, key legislative issues, voting records etc.

If these initiatives do not yet have huge visibility, they are a model of the things to come.

Making a difference, in hard, cold cash: the Long Tail of micro-donations

And finally, what about fundraising? Raising awareness, having conversations around development issues and sharing photos could be labelled the first wave of 2.0 applied to development. But what if there was something much more tangible (money for example) coming?

Over 3 years ago, Fred Wilson, a popular blogger and venture capitalist out of New York City decided to sign up for the AdSense program offered by Google and to contribute the revenue generated by his traffic to the Grameen Bank. Small step, yes. But scale that up and it could make for a significant amount of cash for various social causes.

See also GoodSearch, which helps monetise traffic much in the same way most site do, via advertising, except that, here again, a portion of the revenues are contributed back to social causes. Even Microsoft launched their own program, labeled I’M. The idea is that a portion of the advertising revenue generated by users of the Live Messengers IM software would be allocated to social causes.

There is something more than just a gimmick here. As it becomes increasingly easier to put your money where you mouth is, why not think about fundraising through Linked In and other social networks where you put your money on causes that you, your friends and the rest of the crowd filtered and recommended for you?

The very secretive Project Agape seems to want to do something along those lines by ‘applying virality to altruism’. No specific details are available at the time of writing but given that the founder was behind Napster and Facebook, a healthy dose of ‘sociality’ is to be expected.

More to come

We have seen that many of the initial uses of Web 2.0 were focused on raising awareness around issues by leveraging word of mouth. We also discussed a second wave where applications and sites are more focused on getting people to collaborate, and a third wave focused on monetising traffic and attention to support social causes. Given the short time frame in which these three phases have happened, and given the increasing pressure on governments, international organisations and large NGOs to be more transparent, there is little doubt that much is yet to come.

As our world increasingly looks like a village, as new information sources become available and as more people get connected (see “The Internationalisation of Web 2.0“), it is inevitable that new, revolutionary applications will spring up and take the development sector by storm. The challenge therefore for existing 1.0 players like the World Bank and the United Nations is not to decide whether they should ‘comply’ to Web 2.0 but to actually embrace the technology and principles and maintain (or redefine) their relevance. Medium to large size non-profits also need to ask themselves questions about their relevance in this highly competitive, highly fragmented environment. How can they invest in technology, people and applications, not to be cool but to leverage their competitive advantage (be it their donors, knowledge, data or assets)? Smaller non-profits have proven the most innovative so far in their use of 2.0 and the question arises whether they will still be able to compete for attention once the entire sector has moved to this brave new world. The upcoming Web2fordev conference, hosted by FAO, looks like an interesting place to get the discussion going.


Giulio Quaggiotto <gquaggiotto@ifc.org> is the Programme Officer, Knowledge and Innovation at the IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group. His interests include social network analysis, integration of KM in business processes and the link between KM and sustainability.

Pierre Guillaume Wielezynski <pwielezynski@worldbank.org> is a member of the World Bank’s Central Web Team, where he focuses on audience measurement, marketing strategy and social media. He designed and supervised the development of the buzzmonitor, the first open-source social media aggregator.

Store Wars

Store Wars 

In a pause in the endless series of exams I seem to be enduring these days, here’s an excellent use of the Internet and creative imagination to promote organic products: the Store Wars animation.

A similar – and equally funny – idea to that of the Meatrix, which also takes inspiration from a movie to promote messages about farming and organic production methods!

So when is organic food going to cost less, so we can all afford it?

Ruleless: on the self-organisation of road traffic

Juan Freire posts two interesting videos on the subject of self-organising systems. In particular, these videos deal with traffic self-regulation based on crowd behaviour in two very different contexts, India and Russia. He had previously presented similar scenarios in Vietnam.

As Juan points out, what makes self-organising systems so interesting is precisely their unpredictability:

We could attempt to build a new theoretical model based on the “Russian anomaly” (different cultural standards, or the fact that a ruleless crossing in a country where such a thing is quite common is not quite the same thing as a ruleless crossing where such a thing is an exception). Or we could resort to more banal explanations: the vodka effect.

The post recalls a Wired article published a few years ago about Hans Monderman, the traffic engineer whose counter-intuitive logic on traffic regulation is conquering Europe: Build roads that seem dangerous, and they’ll be safer.

I have certainly noticed this to be the case in London, where 4,171 people were killed or seriously injured in road accidents in 2004, compared to 346 people in Rome. Everyone knows Rome has a terrible traffic, but – unlike London’s – it tends to self-regulate itself. If you jaywalk in Rome, chances are people will insult you, your mother and your whole ancestry, but you’ll survive. In London, bus drivers wouldn’t even bother touching the brakes, simply because they are ‘in the right’ and you are not on a pedestrian crossing.

Perhaps the explanation lies not, as Juan suggests, in the vodka effect, but in the stark legacy of societies accustomed to self-organise themselves, versus societies that have been living for centuries in highly-centralised socio-political and cultural systems.

Blogging about sustainability

Gold miner holding canary bird 

My great friend Paul, who is always looking for new ways to tackle the challenges of development, has started a new blog, looking at the implications and applications of trying to do sustainable development, especially from a private sector perspective. A very exciting new addition to the blogosphere.

Here’s his first entry, A Mining Adviser’s View of Global Warming. A taste of things to come:

Climate Connections is a series now on National Public Radio done in cooperation with National Geographic: “How are we shaping the climate. How is climate shaping us.”

I enjoyed this story on a mining adviser, environmentalist and government advisor. (Also a friend of mine!)

Another considers “carbon charge” on Chinese imports at the border. Also on China, a story on the impact of coal in China. 5,000,000 miners! According to the BBC, anywhere between 5,000 (official) and 20,000 (independent groups) are killed each year. Another BBC story quotes the People’s Daily saying 17 miners die a day. The size and scale put many issues in a different perspective.

As one injured miner explains in the NPR story:

Those rich Chinese in the Eastern Provinces, they pay lots of money for our coal. But they have no idea about the price we pay. Our bitterness is their happiness.

Africa – March 2007 Round-Up

 Hluhluwe Park, South Africa - C  www.mmuspratt.com

These are the articles, posts and news-items that have caught my eye in relation to Africa over the last month. My main sources are Africa Unchained, Sociolingo, BlogAfricaMy Heart’s in Accra and Timbuktu Chronicles, amongst others…

African Update paints a portrait of the Mugame regime, backed by video evidence, before predicting its demise, while Stephen Chan gives a good analysis of the current situation in Zimbabwe on Open Democracy. A good, informed read, like most of Stephen’s stuff.

Issa G. Shivji, Professor of Law at the University of Dar es Salaam, discusses on Pambazuka News the changing nature of the development discourse in Africa over the last few decades.

Afrol News writes a really interesting article on Ethiopia’s continuing economic boom, which – unlike that of other African economic miracles like Angola or Botswana – is not attributable to oil or natural resources, but to ‘hard work, economic reform and investments in its people and infrastructure’. While IMF officials were quick to state that this ‘mainly comes as a result of implementing economic policies prescribed by the Fund’, the article rightly points out that it’s down to Ethiopia’s willingness to ‘invest in key sectors that empower the poor masses, mainly in education, infrastructure and agriculture’. A good example of this comes via Sociolingo: in the outskirts of Addis, Azmeraw Zeleke is turning burnt-out shells into cylinders used in coffee machines!

Again afrol News discusses the heavy price air-borne African exports are beginning to pay because of Europe’s increasingly populist green policies. Also at stake is the increasingly important tourist industry, at a time when more and more African countries are relying on tourism to earn much needed foreign reserves.

Henry Ekwuruke from TakingITGlobal argues on his blog that ‘funding is not a necessity for invention’. In fact, he says, ‘the need to adequately fund research without unfairly compromising invention and innovation, this is why money is such a complicated component of any scientific and technological development’.

Ethan Zuckerman writes on My Heart’s in Accra about the awe-inspiring talk given at the TED conference by former Nigerian finance minister Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: Africa, she says, has its fair share of problems, but it’s Open For Business, and the signs of an African Renaissance are beginning to be visible.

Akwe Amosu on Foreign Policy in Focus gives a good and in-depth overview of the China-in-Africa issue, and of the governance issue that lies at its heart.

Sociolingo writes about the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, and reviews the comments and articles that have been generated across the web.

Timbuktu Chronicles reports on the imminent advent of solar-powered cellphones, which promise 20-25 minutes of talk time for a 40 minute charge in the sunshine. This phone could revolutionize the way Africans communicate and do business in an environment with unreliable electricity supplies.

The UNDP published (back in February, in fact) a highly critical policy brief on the impact on the MDGs of privitizing basic utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa (PDF): Privatisation has failed on several counts. Contrary to expectations, private investors have shied away from investing in such utilities in the region. So it has been costly for governments to motivate them to invest. Moreover, the focus of investors on cost recovery has not promoted social objectives, such as reducing poverty and promoting equity. Thus, current realities dictate refocusing on building up the capacity of the public sector. It continues to dominate the provision of water and electricity, and will do so for the foreseeable future. But a dramatic scaling up of both external and domestic resources will be needed to finance more extensive public investment in these sectors.

And finally, Kathleen starts getting excited about the PICTURE Africa project, which aims to learn how ICTs are affecting poverty in East Africa. Nice!

World Water Day

Young Sudanees refugee drinks dirty water at Kashuni refugee camp in Eastern Chad - C newsday.com 

It’s World Water Day 2007 (March 22), an annual, international day of recognition of the world’s most precious resource, established by the UN after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The theme this year is “Coping with Water Scarcity. Check the full entry from WorldChanging, listing a number of interesting water and sanitation initiatives underway in the various parts of the world, including:

On the subject, the World Bank’s Poverty and Growth Blog reproduces an article by Peruvian writed Mario Vargas Llosa, on the UNDP’s Human Development Report 2006:

From this reading, the first conclusion I reach is that the emblematic object of civilization and progress is not the book, the telephone, Internet or the atomic bomb, but the toilet. Where human beings empty their bladder and intestines is the decisive factor to know if they still find themselves in the cruel underdevelopment or if they have started to make progress. The repercussions that this simple and very important fact has on people’s life are vertiginous…

In Dharavi, a populous part of Mumbai, there is only one toilet per 1,440 people, and in the rainy season the water flooding the streets turns them into rivers of excrements. The abundance of the liquid element is, in this case as in many third world cities, a tragedy, because, given the condition in which people live, water, instead of being life is often times the instrument of sickness and death…

In Les Miserables, Victor Hugo wrote that “sewers are the conscience of the city” and … he tried to do a strange interpretation of history through human excrement. This terrific report does something similar, without the poetry and eloquence of the great French romantic, but with a much better scientific knowledge.

“We are born among feces and urine”, wrote Saint Agustin. A shiver should shake us when we think that a third of our contemporaries never leave the filth in which they came to this valley of tears.

See also World Water Day by WaterAid.