Youth and innovation: What the ICT4D field needs
Today in International Youth Day 2013 I would like to dedicate this post to all of my peers, the young professionals aspiring to become someone in the ICT4D field.
In his latest blog, Ken Banks from Kiwanja.net makes a very strong, yet realistic, criticism of the ICT4D field. According to him, over a decade has gone by with very little significant change in the field, and questions that rose in the beginning have not yet been answered:
I’m all for discussion and debate, and I’ve taken part in my fair share over the past eleven years. But I’m now beginning to wonder if, after all this time, everything we could have said has been said. The fact we’re still talking about the same handful of challenges and issues implies that very little, if anything, has changed where it matters – on the ground. Have we really made so little progress?
The ICT4D community has more technological devices in hand, and more projects around the world than it did 10 years ago. However, we seem to be facing the same dilemmas: issues of sustainability, ownership of the technology, replication and scale, gap between academic work and workfield, and so on.
The growth of most of the ICTs started when we were growing up. As digital natives, we have been part of the evolution, from the Internet, moving to emails, instant messaging, mobile phones, text messaging, and currently with social media. We are open, we are connected, we can embrace challenges and transform them into opportunities. Are we what the ICT4D field needs? Can young people help transform this static situation? I actually see the field’s challenges as opportunities more than obstacles.
Young people have no other choice but to be innovative and 'think outside the box'. We no longer live in times where having a degree can immediately get us a job. For every job (or internship) application out there, we are asked to have some experience; that is, we are asked to ‘get experience before we get experience’.
This was my case specifically. I did a master degree on ICT4D, but I wasn’t sure what sector of the field would be of my interest until I found out about e-Agriculture. What I appreciate the most about e-Agriculture is that it provides a space which brings youth, agriculture and ICT together, by working with young volunteers and interns from different parts of the world. And because of this Community I have learned about many ways in which ICTs can help improve livelihoods of people in rural areas, how mobile phones can make a farmer’s life better, and how organizations see technology as solutions which can help make this a better world, a goal which I personally would like to contribute to (Yes, I am also an utopian). In the same line, it has given me an opportunity to meet other young professionals interested and passionate about this field, like Frejus and Darline, two people I would possibly never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.
If it is in fact our duty to transform the static status of the field, we need to take into account all of the room for improvement in the field. On the same blog post, Banks proposes that all ICT4D sectors (e-health, e-education, e-agriculture) collaborate and learn from each other’s approaches. “Don’t tell me mobile health projects can’t learn something from non-mobile agriculture? If, as we constantly hear, innovation and opportunity happen in unexpected places, we need to put ourselves in them a little more(...)”. Perhaps one of the main problems has been that we continue to separate the fields, as if a farmer would only use a mobile phone for farming activities, or a mother would only use it to receive healthy tips. Collaboration may be a way to help transform the current status, and perhaps it is something young ICT4D professionals can work for.