COOL Tech for development

“Development Sector.” As soon as we hear this phrase, the first thing that comes in our mind is poor areas where people are suffering to meet even their basic needs. By most definitions, basic “needs” do not include technology. But it seems in recent days technology is playing a vital role, helping confront the persistent problems such as poverty, health issues, and education.  As catalytic companies like start to turn their attention to Bangladesh, it’s crucial that BRAC reflects on how to leverage technology to best achieve its mission.

The most common way of using technology to promote poverty reduction and gradual but inclusive growth experienced in Bangladesh is through harnessing mobile communications. It is surprising how a developing country like ours have already leveraged the technology to reduce poverty and tackle other development issues. Examples of mobile phone usage include BRAC’s microfinance and health programs, OboPay/Grameen’s Bank-a-Billion project, education Janala, and information or helpline services (Pallitathya Help-Line).  For those readers interested in gaining deeper knowledge of today’s Bangladesh in terms of using technology or more about these applications, I recommend the article, ‘Mobile Phone Technology for Development in Bangladesh’.

If we look out a little bit further from home, mobile communications seems to set its mark across African and other South Asian countries as well. Movirtu, a UK-based technology firm in partnership with an UN-backed initiative, plans to provide three million poor people in Africa and South Asia with access to low-cost mobile phone numbers. Since not everyone is able to own a mobile phone, this firm is working with a concept of getting this group of people, at least, easier and cheaper access to mobile phones. So we can take this type of projects as learning opportunities and can think about whether we could use some of these techniques here in Bangladesh as well.

Now, shifting our focus to some other interesting uses of technology for development. The internet itself is a powerful tool. In fact, a cool website called Practical Action has taken my breath away! The measures and initiatives that have taken through technology is commendable. They are using internet to raise funds and increase global participation of individuals in development work. Traditionally, funds for development have flowed primarily from governments and private foundations with less attention to contributions of general people. However, if people are also sympathetic to these issues and if they are given a chance, many will contribute in the process of development as well. Having this idea in mind, Practical Action introduces many exciting organizations for a general audience to learn and make donations.  They have an internet-based fund system where any common user can contribute to the development world by charity, giving out with a minimum of 10euro (TK 1200) to Practical Action.

Recently I and several others at BRAC met with another interesting innovator called Amadeyr Cloud and learnt about their project called ‘Digits to all’. The DTA project uses sophisticated information techniques to constantly load information onto Amadeyr Tablets.  Users get these devices at no charge.    Community people are using these tablets as tools for education, literacy program, the basic idea is to help the users to access ‘information’ using technology keeping the whole process simple and understandable to people who are semi-literate or not literate at all.

I personally think Amadeyr Cloud has a great product, and they are looking for content to include on the tablets.  They approached us to share ideas for content to include, and participated in our Facebook Innovation Contest.  They would retain the BRAC brand within the content, but help us reach people in new and different ways. What contents can we share?   Should we partner with Amadeyr cloud to use these tablets in our own programs? Should we follow practical action’s different new initiatives and think whether these can fit to BRAC programs as well? Lots of new ideas and a lot of new things to learn from; the trick is prioritizing.  We’d love thoughts from programs on what would be most helpful for them, and hope to follow this conversation up in next monthly ICT forum which is going to be held in 20th March,2012, from 3-4pm at 20th floor conference room.


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