VoIP Drupal Webinar: Building accessible communication systems

Amazing project by Drupal developers at MIT! They are creating an open source (i.e., publicly collaborative – even more awesome) communication system to reach out to individuals wherever they are, with or without “regular access to computers, fancy phones, or the Internet.”

VoIP Drupal [is] a new open source framework that makes it easy to build websites that almost literally pick-up the phone, make calls, record messages, broadcast audio, and more. By integrating web, SMS/Text, email, and telephone technologies together, VoIP Drupal takes ‘community plumbing’ into a new dimension, facilitating the implementation of community outreach initiatives, phone-based polls, audio blogs and other systems in ways that would be extremely difficult otherwise.

Below are screenshot from the webinar. They provide:

  • An introduction to VoIP Drupal, its functionality and basic components
  • Use cases and the latest features of VoIP Drupal in action
  • The “VoIP Drupal roadmap” and how to join the initiative
You can also watch the recording here.
View more PowerPoint from Leo Burd

$35 computer to teach children the basics of IT and computer programming!

The Raspberry Pi, a small computer that will help children to learn programming and coding, has gone on sale today in the UK and projects an official education launch later in the year.

At only £22 ($35), the Raspberry Pi will allow teachers to instruct students how computers work and the basics of programming and coding “with their own credit card sized, single-board computers,” according to British Education Secretary Michael Gove. “With minimal memory and no disk drives, the Raspberry Pi computer can operate basic programming languages, handle tasks like spreadsheets, word-processing and games, and connect to Wi-Fi via a dongle,” he said.

Although there are a wide range of skills required in IT, and forming a single, one-size-fits-all curriculum would prove problematic (if not, impossible), modifying existing educational curriculums to give more focus on marketable and highly in-demand skills will benefit all involved since students will be introduced to technical skills at a younger age. They would have a “one up” in their future training or studies should they decide to pursue any technical or related field professionally.

Imagine the implications a relatively affordable program like this could have on countries in the midst or on the verge of revising their education curriculums. Again, no panacea here, especially in regions where educational reform and progress in general are hindered by weak institutions, economic hardship, and political conflict. But, a(nother) viable option nonetheless, for it is in these very places, such as Africa, for example, where a home-grown technology force could provide the greatest long-term, social and economic benefits for all.

Image courtesy of http://www.computing.co.uk

Mobile-Enhanced Participatory Budgeting in the DRC

via http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/node/542

The video & article discuss, among other details, how the DRC government is using ICT through mobile phones to enhance transparency and participation efforts in the following ways (I paraphrase):

  1. Invitation: Citizens are invited to participatory budgeting assemblies through geo-targeted SMS messages. These messages, reaching all the phones receiving signal from a particular tower, announce the date, time and location of the assemblies.
  2. Voting: Mobile phones allow citizens to send a text to identify which of the priorities they would like to see addressed in their community.
  3. Announcements: Phones are also being used to announce the voted decision, making the process more transparent and inclusive than ever before.
  4. Feedback: Citizens are asked their opinions about the projects that had been chosen. Through text messages, they are able to offer feedback and monitor the projects. Over 250,000 text messages have already been sent throughout the different stages of this initiative.

It is clear how much these people (those interviewed, at least) are excited about this increased possibility for transparency and participation in their government. It’s also amazing to see how far a seemingly simple, yet proactive, governmental policy or program can go, especially in matters which much of the developed world takes for granted.

“Why broadband does not always have an impact on economic growth?” via World Bank ICT4D Blog

In this World Bank blog post, Victor Mulas introduces the concept of “absorptive capacity” when speaking of the introduction or expansion of broadband services in developing regions. Generally absorptive capacity is defined as the ability of governments and people to utilize whatever level of broadband services they have available to the most efficient and universally-beneficial degree possible. He argues that even in places with advanced broadband capacities, there exists the possibility of counter-productive, or at the very least insufficient, use of the services, hence [the title of this article] why broadband does not always correlate directly to economic growth. For broadband to have the most benefit, implementation and expansion policies must be coupled with an additional focus on absorptive capacity.

Defining how to do so, however, could prove a bit more murky. What are some ways to ensure absorptive capacity is taken into account in relation to broadband access programs? What can and should governments or companies do to monitor it? Are there certain, clear-cut success markers that can be pointed to in places where absorptive capacity is at its highest? Determining how to judge a country’s absorptive capacity must first begin with an evaluation of what exactly we are looking for – in less general, more specific terms – and how best to go about achieving it.

Read the original post: http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/why-broadband-does-not-always-have-an-impact-on-economic-growth

Visa to provide new payment mechanisms to Egypt’s unbanked, but… now?

I recently read The Daily News Egypt’s article about Visa’s new program to provide digital payment capabilities via pre-paid card, computer, and mobile devices to the large unbanked population in Egypt.

It’s exciting to see major financial service corporations leveraging their names (essentially their reputations), capital, and international influence to create impact or, at the very least, substantial headway into expanding financial access to the global unbanked and underbanked populations. Frankly, though, coverage of these partnerships and programs can seem a bit boiler plate (speaking for myself, of course). The pattern seems to follow “so & so multinational corporation partnered with such & such telco to start helping bring unbanked citizens of nation ABC into the financial system.” Obviously this is a gross simplification but, point being, there does not seem to be enough depth offered as to why

I would love to know more about why Egypt and why now, for example. The country is emerging from the aftermath of huge political and national changes which have affected every aspect of citizens’ lives, most importantly perhaps being the economy.

Egypt’s growth from GDP has contracted to around 1% in the last year. And according to this week’s article in the Economist, Egyptians are worried about the financial system and are depositing less money than ever in their banks. Unemployment is soaring, not only in Egypt, but in the entire region post-Arab Spring. Linked are crippling blows to two major sources of capital flow: tourism and foreign direct investment. The article even goes on to deem Egypt “the worst off” in relation to the fiscal crises of the Arab Spring economies.

Egypt does have a large domestic consumer market which is an important factor in deciding to launch a mobile payment campaign. But to not mention these intricacies or realities at all in discussion is stunning. And I am not only speaking of Egypt’s situation and Visa’s plans there. For example, for all the talk out there about Nigeria’s mobile payment platform headlining news, I see so few (if any) articles, posts, or discussions about the recent strikes that halted the country and turned it upside down. Does that not have any effect on consumers and their trust in the financial system, official institutions, or each other?

These are just two examples. I, personally, would like to know more behind the decisions being made and the thought processes of leaders in these mobile payment and banking discussions. I know for a fact that the people at Visa are taking into consideration the condition of the country; I would like to hear more about what they are thinking in particular. For me, it all seems a bit… missing, as if some realities are being ignored, or simply not considered. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Or maybe I need to re-arrange my RSS feeds. But, for me, it would just be nice if there were more complex debates among ICT4D professionals as to the feasibility of individual technological and financial access endeavors at certain points in time. It’s ok to hold on the implementation of a new product or program if social or economic conditions are not “ripe.” It seems as though many investors like to ignore this logic when possible.

It’s a little difficult to see how such a financial and infrastructure investment could be considered categorically “great!” today when the Egyptian people’s main goal, for the most part, is getting food on the table tonight.

Egypt's Economy Is Near Paralysis - Khalil Hamra/Associated Press (via the New York Times)