Information and Communication for Development (ICT4D) and Social Change
Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) refer to the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the fields of socioeconomic development, international development, and human rights. The theory behind this is more and better information and communication further the development of a society.
Aside from its reliance on technology, ICT4D also requires an understanding of community development, poverty, agriculture, healthcare, and basic education. Richard Heeks suggests that the I in ICT4D is related with “library and information sciences”, the C is associated with “communication studies”, the T is linked with “information systems”, and the D for “development studies”. It is aimed at bridging the digital divide and assisting economic development by fostering equitable access to modern communications technologies, and it is a powerful tool for economic and social development.
When I boarded the flight on December 21, 2014, to Washington, D.C. to kick start my journey as an Atlas Corps Fellow, I was painfully aware of how big this decision was, and how much it could have an effect on my life – as well as the lives of people I was leaving behind. My journey this year has been more than just living in the United States. Far away from the people and places I know and love, my journey as a fellow has given me the opportunity to get the tools, knowledge, and experience I needed to ramp up the technology for development and social change revolution back home in Liberia and Africa at large.
Liberia like other countries in Africa has endured 14 years of on and off civil war, during which the country experienced one of the largest recorded economic collapses with national Gross Domestic Product falling by more than 90 percent from 1987 to 1995. Although the war ended in 2003, it left a legacy of extreme hardship—with almost two-thirds of Liberians living below the poverty line—severe capacity constraints, significant under-employment, and a vast infrastructure deficit. Access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) skills, tools and connectivity remain a huge challenge.
Though the World Bank Group has promoted ICT access in developing countries through (1) advising on the sector and institutional reforms to encourage competition and private sector participation; and (2) innovative financing mechanisms such as incubators, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) for extending rural access. Low-income countries which have implemented deep sector reforms supported by the World Bank Group generated some US$16 billion in investment between 1997 and 2006. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are keys to the most modern economies and it very vital to solving some of the world’s toughest challenges.
Many international development agencies recognize the importance of ICT4D – for example, the World Bank’s Global Information and Communication Technologies section has a dedicated team of approximately 200 staff members working on ICT issues.
Upon my return to Liberia, I plan to dedicate the next 10 years of my career to working with the local individuals and communities, organization, NGOs and governmental institutions to use ICT for Development, especially in achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the next 15 years while keeping accountability as an indispensable component.
I believe when the local people have access to the skills, data, tools, and connectivity, their local communities can flourish and they can also be able to hold their governments accountable, that’s the theory. The practice is that for these skills, data, and technology —to work, it requires the participation of the locals. It is an ambitious journey, but I believe it is achievable. We have to build the skills and capacity of the locals to work with these tools and technologies, but that should not stop us from embracing the new concepts and technologies.”
From the skills acquired and networks built during my fellowship, my key areas of focus as I return home will be using ICTs for:
- Fostering economic growth – using ICTs to bring economic benefit to consumers of products and services.
- Improving the Foreign Investment Climate – using ICTs to give investors essential information on Liberia governance, infrastructure, opportunities, and resources.
- Reducing poverty and income inequality and promoting job growth.
- Strengthening healthcare systems – using ICTs to connect patients to healthcare providers while providing the right information for treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.
- Promoting education and ongoing learning – using ICT to enable citizens to keep learning anytime, anywhere, and from any device.
- Relieving hunger and improving food security.
- Strengthening institutions and governance – using ICTs to expose and prevent mismanagement and corruption and promoting innovation in public administration.
- Ensuring environment sustainability – using ICTs to reduce pollution, conserve natural resources, and build resilience to climate change using Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
ICT4D has been my passion and has been pivotal to my career, long before I joined Creative. At iLabLiberia, I spent the last four years supporting development organizations and projects on using technologies and geospatial tools to do everything from monitoring elections to coordinating the Ebola response activities. But still, for me joining Creative Associates through the Atlas Corps Fellowship was a game changer—getting the chance to join a recognized international development organization, with nearly four decades delivering on-the-ground development services and sustainable solutions, to help usher in an innovation and geospatial revolution across its work.
The Atlas Corps Fellowship community, Creative Associates and the ICT4D Community in Washington, DC have made an indelible impact on my career during this year. The mission of which I came to the U.S. remains constant—learn, share, network and return to Liberia to support my country by using new and old technologies to inspire social change. In the end, my journey this year will not only bring about change in my life but also changes the lives of hundreds and even thousands of my fellow citizens back home and around the world.