Category Archives: Development Projects

Mobile Agricultural Information Services in Mali by Sènèkèla

An exciting new development is the launch on 1 April in Bamako, Mali of Sènèkèla – a market price and agricultural information mobile service provided by IICD and Orange Mali, with the support of mFarmer (GSMA). The solution comprises an SMS/USSD information service and a call centre, serviced by specialised agricultural experts. My research in Ghana, suggests that West African farmers are reachable more readily via communication modalities, such as voice, which are congruent to their rural oral traditions. Therefore, I expect that complementing the SMS/USSD channels with a call center will raise the usability and attractiveness of Sènèkèla for rural stakeholders. Additionally, access to trained service operators is likely to increase farmers’ levels of trust in the information provided to them via SMS/USSD.

Sènèkèla

The service was developed through a complex partnership between technology providers (Orange Labs, Orange-Mali, GSMA), development partners (IICD, RONGEAD) and agricultural content providers such as the Malian Institute of Rural Economy (IER). Content quality is a shared concern with IICD taking responsibility for market price data collection; with RONGEAD providing market analyses and tips; and with IER ensuring the quality of the agricultural content delivered via the call centre. During the pilot phase the service was limited to he regions of Sikasso and covered only a few crops. With the recent launch, the partnership is entering a commercial phase with increased coverage and an increased range of agriculture information services.

The service relies on the combined SMS/ USSD and a call centre channels, using an operational model familiar to me from the of Esoko in Ghana. The 24-hour service provides market price information from different markets in the regions of Sikasso and Koulikoro; and information on crops such as corn, shea butter, onion, cashew, shea nuts, potato, sweet potato, rice and millet. Message services are delivered via a USSD menu on Orange Mali’s mobile network. The call centre staffed by agricultural advisers is reachable by the short number 37333 and the short code #222. The content for the service is generated via wide data collection efforts on food prices; as well as, national and international market trends.

via IICD and Orange Mali Launch Market Price and Agricultural Information Service in Mali

7 Ways We Can Scale ICT4D Pilotitis

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Below I am reporting an ironic contribution by Wayan Vota of ICT Works on the sustainability of “pilotitis”. I agree with all the points mentioned. I might have ordered them differently in terms of priority. One additional reason why ICT4D efforts persistently fail, without delivering learning, is because of insufficient research and understanding of the underlying problems. My pet hate is how opportunities are wasted on addressing problems which are merely symptoms.

7 Ways We Can Scale ICT4D Pilotitis

Published on: Oct 09 2013 by Wayan Vota

One overarching theme from the recent Mobiles! Conference was the need to get past pilotitis – the too many small projects that never scale, dying the day the original funding dries up. Now how we can do that is a matter of some debate, and there are even folks who say we need more pilots.

Regardless if you think we have enough pilots or not, I know exactly how we can scale pilotitis in ICT4D. After extensive cross-sectoral research in everything from FM radio, to laptops, to mobile phones, here are the 7 simple ways I’ve learned to ensure pilotitis spreads well beyond ICT4D into every aspect of development:

1. Have more hackathons and contests

What says transitory impact more than a one-day hackathon that brings together those not immersed in the real needs of a program to build beta versions of one-off applications without buy-in from end users? Having a low/no prize money contest via Facebook “Likes” so more people can make flashy demo software never meant to scale! That’s the best way to make compreneurs instead of entrepreneurs.

2. Only give out small grants

When you really want a lot of pilots that die the day the funding ends, make sure to start with small amounts of one-off funding with no pathway to future financial support. Grants of $50,000 or less are perfect seed capital that will not give a project enough room to grow into something lasting, especially if you demand that the funding lasts 2 years, require that any revenue generated reduces the initial funding, yet don’t ask for business plans, regardless of grant amount.

3. Focus on small organizations, or no organization at all

Why bother with large companies or organization with international reach and a history of stability – that’s just a nice way of saying “overhead”. Better is to focus on individuals, small companies, “local” organizations, or better yet, start-ups that don’t even have a track record of existence, much less success. That way, you know the idea will die when they get bored or the funding ends.

4. Only fund innovation

Being the second person to fund or work on an idea is no fun. Worse is replicating an idea that already works. There is no fame in implementation. So don’t do it. Real pilotitis can only scale when everyone focuses just on the newest new innovation, the bleeding edge of change – unique ideas launched without any history of prior efforts or existing constituencies to quicken adoption. “Transience” is the new “resilience”!

5. Build new software

Why share code? We can spread pilotitis faster when we make sure that every project builds its own bespoke, proprietary software solution – because we need more software options. Oh, and don’t hire reputable software development firms to code innovative solutions, that’s not building capacity. Recruit inexperienced volunteers or hire lone coders who always brag how they won a recent contest but never seem to show up on GitHub.

6. Evaluate via photography

Why stick around for maintenance, support, or the f-word in development to appear? None of that is sexy. Nor is reading long, boring evaluation reports listing all the lessons (re)learned. The best way of all to scale pilotitis is to evaluate success through pretty pictures of children holding gadgets. That way we can reinvent the flat tire, again, and look good doing it.

7. ___

In honor of Michael Trucano’s Worst Practices in ICT4E, I’ll leave #7 blank for you to fill in. I know you have your own ideas on how to scale pilotitis and I’d love to hear them in the comments below or on Twitter.

Together, we can scale ICT4D pilotitis!

Posted by: Wayan Vota on October 9, 2013

via 7 Ways We Can Scale ICT4D Pilotitis | ICT Works – Mozilla Firefox.

ICTs in Africa: US or China?

The Chinese presence in Africa has received considerable attention recently. The China-Africa Project have been detailing media accounts about China and Africa. In a study cited by the Economist and the Congressional Research Service, NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service estimated Chinese government aid to African countries in 2007 at $25 billion. A relatively small proportion of Chinese aid can be described as “official government aid”. For the most part, it consists of loans and investments in infrastructure projects, and resource extraction.

The Dilemma at the Heart of America’s Approach to Africa, the Atlantic 15/06/2012

The Chinese presence in Africa, has also given rise of discussions comparing the approach to African development adopted by China to that of the US, and the West more broadly. A recent article in the Atlantic, summarizes the dilemma at the heart of the American approach. With questionable allies in South Sudan, Uganda and Burkina Faso, the role of the US as as an supporter of democratic governance and free institutions is less than obvious. Alternatively, the Chinese have adopted an approach which follows the principle of “doing good, while doing well”. The Chinese discourse is dominated by “win-win” situations and the strong opportunities for economic gains on the African continent. It is largely oblivious of democratic governance and institutional change.

In China, Mobile Trumps PCs In Web Access, Reuters

Within this background, it is informative to situate developments in ICT adoption and use in Africa. Telecoms and IT are sector which can be very closely related to political upheaval and change. US Internet giants such as Twitter, Facebook and Google have been present within the context of the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Lybia.  USAID, alongside with development agencies such as SIDA and CIDA, is a leading development partner in Africa which supports information technology interventions. Even though they are funded from the West, the success of IT interventions in Africa is largely dependent on cost-efficient solutions, offered in Africa by Chinese suppliers. The market for devices is flooded by Chinese phones, with features and functionalities developed in China which match the developing country context much more closely than products targeted at Western consumers. See box 2.7 for the review “Mobile Phones with Features Attract Rural Users in China and Beyond”.

Recent reports show that mobile has surpassed PC as a channel for access to the Web in China. Mobile phone access to the Internet rose by 22.2% and in rural areas 60% of Internet users were doing so via a mobile device. These trends, alongside with the specific technical advantages of Asian and Western ICT suppliers, and the strong political positions of the leaders on either side – China and the US – raise the question of dominance in the emerging ICT sector in Africa. The answer will unfold at the intersection of the rapidly evolving technology landscape and the much more inert paradigm set in politics and development aid.

Mobile Information Services for agriculture and rural development: The Esoko Initiative

Wageningen, 2 November 2009. During the CTA ICT Observatory 2009 we interviewed Mike Davies from Esoko, in Ghana. Esoko is a software platform licensed to facilitate the flow of market information between farmers, governments, researchers and other stakeholders involved in agriculture and rural development. It is used to share information on prices, offers, price of fertilizers etc. It is managed by the web, but delivered via mobile phones. Mark underlines the potential positive effects that Market Information Services such as Esoko can bring about, both in agriculture as well as in for other sectors. He then concludes talking about the difficulties he has encountered in this initiative, such as the lack of content available and the lack of right capacities to build and develop such software.

See more at observatory2009.cta.int/

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