While I am not an expert or keep up with all things related to ICTs and ICT4D – preffering to hypothesise on other topics including ash clouds and Sudanese elections – I feel that the amount of activity generated on Twitter for the past two days around the #1millionshirts initiative deserves a (brief) mention.
To those not familiar with it, you can ready summary posts here, here, and here. In a nutshell, the debate went like this: guy #1 (@iwearyourshirt) makes a living of wearing T-shirts and using social media; guy #1 (together with other charities) decides it would be a good idea to help Africa by collecting the already mentioned #1millionshirts (each with $1 to cover costs) and send them to Africa; guys #2 (including @texasinafrica; @TalesFromthHood; @saundra_s; @Katrinskaya; @Michael_Keizer; @morealtitude; @tmsruge; @alanna_shaikh; @meowtree; @IdealistNYC) are people that live/work in Africa, or on aid projects, or academics (or as guy #1 calls them, trolls) and think the idea is not good, not good at all, even a bad one and tweet abouy it; guy #1 does not like this “Hatorade” and posts a video asking guys #2 to call him; debate continues, now involving blog posts, not just tweets; guy #1 (he’s getting a lot of attention by now) posts another video saying (sort of) that he’s open to new ideas; guys #2 and guy #1 arrange to meet and discuss all this in a few hours – 12pm EDC.
All this discussion started on Tuesday, and since then a large number of contributions have been made. And most of them from people that either live in Africa, have expertise in aid project, or are somehow involved with the development community. I can’t really discuss the details of this project (although from my limited knowledge it does sound like a bad idea), just pointing out that what we have just seen is probably what real Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) in action looks like . And I feel really impressed with the speed, precission and thoroughness it has worked. One recent and very insigtful blog post by @mobileactive points precisely this:
But look what happened. Within a day a development concept has been aired. It has been discussed. Literature has been created around it. Sources cited. Histories referenced. A community built.
Real-time input, from “the field” has just become an actor in “aid/charity/development.” Voices from places which otherwise would never be represented spoke. People in “the place” (“Africa”) where the “aid” was going got to weigh in. Experts who had not met each other were able to share experience, synthesize and create new literature on giving, aid, and development theory.
And it happened in a few hours.
I don’t know what the t-shirt guy will do. I don’t know what his motivations are. It doesn’t really matter, because I have just seen the avalanche start.
Imagine if a large organization could put out its project plans in a way that was as appealing to comment on as this.
Imagine if there was the same transparancy and accountability of ideas in development.
Imagine if there was the same involvement of donors and implementers – and (watch out!) the beneficiaries of projects.
Imagine if we could actually ask people in the developing world what they thought of projects before we started them.
And most importantly, perhaps, imagine if we could fail quickly enough at the beginning of a project to not pour in the resources, ego, and time that sometimes gives otherwise bad ideas an unstoppable, zombie-like momentum.
But wait. We can. And it just happened, right in front of you.
This is really what one envisions ICT4D can become in the future. Helpful tools that will allow a large number of people from around the world, who will be affected by the projects and with different expertises come together and discuss the advantages and problems of different aid and development initiatives in real time, and before things get off the ground.
I’ll stay tuned to see where this discussion eventually leads to, but I already have the feeling of having witnessed (live) development and ICT history being made. A discussion that, I feel, may easily become a case study for future academics studying the growth and development of ICT4D. Exciting indeed.