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October 09 2011

17:07

How mobile phones could bring public services to people in developing countries

PBS MediaShift :: In Santiago, Chile, more than 60% of the poorest citizens don't have access to the Internet. In the rest of the country, that number increases to 80%, and in rural areas, an Internet connection is almost nonexistent. But there are more than 20 million mobile phones in the nation,that's actually around 1.15 cell phones per capita in a nation of 17,094,270 people. And in rural areas, cell phones are king.

Miguel Paz: What if governments of underdeveloped countries create and provide easy ways to access public information and services on mobile phones with an application or open-source web app that could be downloaded from government websites?

Miguel Paz, Continue to read www.pbs.org

March 02 2011

15:10

What is the Value of the Cloud for CSOs in the Developing World?

This is the second of a three part series about Cloud computing as it relates to civil society organisations (CSOs).  This was originally posted on the GuideStar International blog. You can also read the first post here TechSoup Global: Teaching CSOs About the Cloud.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the benefits of Cloud computing to the nonprofit sector, but many CSOs in the developing world are unaware of how important this technology is quickly becoming.  This is in part because developing countries face additional constraints which limit its adoption, though the benefits that can be derived from its use are somewhat unparalleled.  CSOs in developing countries may arguably not be as worried about security and privacy, (though this too is by no means of little importance!) because infrastructure problems like lack of a reliable electricity supply, limited internet access and slow broadband are issues they must still overcome if they want to adopt many ICT services and truly take advantage of services like the Cloud.

On the other hand it is worth emphasising that NGOs and the many community based organisations, small businesses, educators and researchers they support can realise massive cost saving on software and ICT support, which can translate into developing countries having the competitive edge needed for a community region or country to emerge from poverty.

The Cloud is channelling the creativity of developers in the developing world despite the absence of sufficient infrastructure.  Wilfred Mworia, a young engineering student created an application for the iPhone that shows where events in Nairobi, Kenya are happening while also allowing others to add further information about them even though he did not possess an iPhone, which was also not available in Nairobi. He used the iPhone simulator… hosted far away … in the ‘Internet Cloud’ to develop the app. Decreased costs derived from the use of the Cloud provides tremendous potential for the nonprofit community in collaboration with well intentioned technologists and philanthropists in the developing world to develop apps that can be utilised to help with their work.

Moreover, research and education are two areas that are of vital importance to many NGOs located in the developing world, and the Cloud provides an opportunity for NGOs and the research and education centres they support to access the same information that those in developed world possess. It also provides an opportunity for increased collaboration and sharing of information. For example Elastic-R, is a Software platform that provides a collaborative virtual research environment in the Cloud. It enables African scientists to utilise digital vouchers subsidised by civil society organisations to pay per use.

As low cost smartphones and netbooks are increasingly made available in the developing world this also provides increased opportunity for CSOs operating there. Though many developing countries still struggle with lack of high speed broadband and related infrastructure problems, Cloud Computing has the potential to help them utilise the Cloud via their mobile phone to get services they need cheaply, easily and in some cases free. Cloudphone is one service that allows those who can’t afford the mobile handset to still have a mobile number and assess the information from any phone through the Cloud. As more Cloud based applications tailored to the constraints of the developing world are made available not only to individuals, SMEs and governments but also to CSOs, they will increasingly depend on such technology to carry out their work efficiently and cost effectively.

The Cloud is even being utilised for mapping crises. Ushahadi, is one nonprofit technology company that developed a free cloud based platform called Crowdmap. Crowdmap helps to crowdsource information needed to aid disaster and emergency response efforts.  It was used to aid relief efforts following the Haitian earthquake and the platform has been recognised as useful beyond the nonprofit sector.

If cloud computing is seen as vital for the growth of a developing economy more resources may be allocated to ICT infrastructure.  Michael Nelson argues in The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy that the Cloud may force governments to provide subsidies or reform their policies in a way which promotes the use of broadband and helps to bridge the digital divide.  This will only serve to increase not only the use of the Cloud, but also the use of other related ICT products and services and help to engender greater creativity, another ingredient vital for development.

As problems related to lack of reliable broadband and an inadequate power supply are more quickly and hopefully surely overcome in developing countries, the Cloud can level the playing field and facilitate maximum efficiency for many local CSOs as well as some of the small businesses and public services they support.

September 09 2010

11:03

US journalism groups join forces on global health reporting

Two US journalism organisations – the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting – are partnering in an attempt to support greater coverage of international news.

The collaboration, which will have a focus on worldwide health news, is part of the Nieman Foundation’s fellowship in global health reporting, which was launched in 2006 and includes a four-month reporting project at the end of the academic year, an announcement on the Nieman Foundation’s website explains.

Journalists in the program travel to the developing world to learn and report about health issues firsthand and recent participants have produced important, groundbreaking international health stories. However, due to the many recent changes affecting journalism, and international reporting in particular, placing those stories in mainstream media outlets is becoming increasingly difficult

(…) In collaboration with the Nieman Foundation, the [Pulitzer] Center’s staff will help Nieman Global Health Fellows with story planning and placement.

The partnership will also see Pulitzer Center journalists invited to Harvard University for events on underreported international stories and an annual workshop for Nieman fellows.

See the full announcement here…Similar Posts:



December 21 2009

17:06

Combating the digital divide in the developing world with mobile phones

Last week, the Guardian reported on a few promising citizen journalism projects in Africa that use mobile phone technology effectively to not only communicate with people but to also allow the audience to contribute to newsgathering. As opposed to the excessive – and even frivolous – growth of smart phone applications in the Western world, mobile phones in developing countries, which are nowhere near as sophisticated as ones in America and Europe, are being used as a reliable proxy for high-speed Internet access to perform basic functions, such as paying grocery bills and delivering medicines. Cell phone companies have bought into this as well, developing cheap, reliable phones with ease of use and practical functionality.

The Ushahidi crowdsourcing project that the Guardian article elaborates, is perhaps one of the best known and most successful mobile journalism exercises in Kenya. Ushahidi–which means “testimony” in Swahili–attempts to gather as much information from the public as possible and then verify this collected data with the help of computer and human confirmation. Launched during the post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, Ushahidi has since been implemented worldwide — from monitoring unrest in the Congo, tracking violence in Ghaza, to reporting on the Indian elections earlier this year.

The project allows people to contribute in the form of simple text messages, photos and video delivered through smartphones, or reports submitted online; this is posted in real time to an interactive map, accessible directly through smart phone technology. This information can also be converted to formats that are readable in various communities by news organizations in developing countries. The technology itself is open source, so anyone can help enhance and develop it. In order to verify the accuracy of information obtained in the case of breaking news events, Ushahidi has also launched the Swift River Project, which helps voluntary participants worldwide to separate good information from ‘noise,’ or in the team’s own words, in “crowdsourcing the filter.”

Basically, the way it works is that once the aggregated data comes in through multiple streams, be it Flickr, Twitter, or Ushahidi, people can go in and rate the data – the information is thus verified by the sheer power of numbers, as in any crowdsourcing project. In addition, the information is filtered through machine-based algorithms to confirm accuracy. Ushahidi used a similar method to track the Indian elections earlier this year through VoteReport.in. In India, “moblogging” or microblogging, made possible through the explosive popularity of cell phones, has been growing for the past few years. Sites like smsgupshup.com and Vakow.com – Indian versions of Twitter – allow people to disseminate 160-character messages to groups, enabling amateurs to deliver personalized, customized news through sms messages. This makes up for the relative lack of interactivity from mainstream Indian news organizations.

Cell phones as tools for information dissemination are particularly valuable in countries like Zimbabwe where radio transmission is often blocked. Text messages can allow an uninterrupted flow of information in such cases. The Guardian’s Activate 09 project sends out headlines to tens of thousands of citizens in the Southern African country through sms messaging. In addition, the paper has been crowdsourcing ideas from its global audience on the different methods available to reach thousands of people during breaking news events.

The Grameen Foundation, a global nonprofit, has partnered with Google and a Uganda-based telecommunications provider MTN, to answer important queries sent in by residents via text messages; questions range from clarifications about deadly diseases to agricultural problems. In Kenya, RSS feeds from the Internet are fed into mobile phones to educate and inform people, and text-to-speech tools that convert sms messages into audio files are helping the visually impaired. Some Western companies are encouraging Kenyans to take part in crowdsourcing projects in return for micropayments. Citizens perform small tasks such as transcribing audio and tagging photos for small sums of money. The BBC is now providing English language learning capabilities in Bangladesh through cheap audio and SMS lessons through a partnership with mobile service providers.

Despite the availability of hi-speed Internet access in Western countries, the versatility of the cell phone as a vehicle for citizen journalism is very special indeed. The ability of a phone to provide real-time, on-the-ground coverage is undisputed, whether you see an unusual occurrence on the street on your way to a mall in Los Angeles or witness a riot in a displaced community in Darfur.

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