The Role of Information Technology in Development


The world we live in today revolves around the collection and use of information.  Whether it’s checking our e-mail, surfing the internet, or buying things online we live continually connected lives.  One of the most prominent and exciting companies out there is facebook which boasts over 500 million users around the world, or roughly 1 in every 13 people.  As a Peace Corps volunteer I came in to this whole thing thinking I would be living in a hut for two years without a cell phone and farming for my own food.  How surprising it is now that I am here with a cellphone (like most people in Mali), I have access to the internet through a satellite internet connection at our regional transit houses, and I routinely skype my parents back home.  Speaking to previous volunteers who traveled through Kita we talked about how much things have changed so although the progress is not as quick as we’d like, things are in fact changing.  As little as five years ago volunteers in Kita didn’t have cellphones and many of the roads in and to Kita weren’t paved.  Today I can get from Kita to Bamako in 3-4 hrs whereas before it could have taken an entire day.  Even in my work I find it important to use the Internet as a way to research new ideas and share about my experiences here in Mali as well.

Upon coming to Mali one of the things that was clear to me from the beginning was a lack of institutional memory.  From the beginning we volunteers try to find as much as we can about Mali and when we get here we are dying to find out about where we’ll be placed and so we want to learn as much as we can about our sites as well.  But when it comes down to it we all receive these little packets with bits and pieces of information and some times volunteers are placed in sites that are new so the information is even more scant.  Volunteers do many projects and when they’re finished with the projects they file some sort of report about how it went but many times these are not available to the volunteers themselves.  Volunteers may even find some really cool articles/manuals, etc. on the Internet but most of the sharing of information that happens is from one volunteer giving it to someone else.  To remedy the situation we looked at different ways to share information and eventually we settled on using Google Docs.  Google Docs is a way volunteers can easily upload, edit, and download files online so the idea is that we will be able to share relevant information with each other.  Additionally it’s a way for program staff to add their knowledge and documents to a searchable database.  By making more relevant and quality information available to volunteers it allows them to be better equipped to address the specific challenges and needs of their communities.

One of the ways in which information technology can aid development is by keeping track of projects that are running and by collecting and sharing results of projects.  Development is most definitely an art but we must have a way to scientifically record data and results.  Many organizations and individuals want to laud their efforts and on one wants to admit that a project was a failure but people need to be bold and try new things knowing full well there is a high chance of failure and when projects do fail they must understand why.  There are many NGOs that come up with brilliant ideas sitting at their desk in an air-conditioned office in DC but when they go and actually implement the project they realize the project may not be appropriate.  It’s important to identify the need and then try to create a solution, not the other way around.  Furthermore there are just so many NGOs in Mali.  There may be hundreds of NGOs but since many don’t communicate with each other regularly there’s a high likelihood of redundancy or worse off one NGO trying to implement a project in a community where it has already failed without understanding why.  It’s difficult for Malian ministers because how do they tell an NGO “I’m sorry, Saves the Children is already doing that so you can’t….?”  The Malian government will never turn down an NGO or project that wants to pump money into the economy but there needs to some way to regulate the activity that goes on in this country and the easiest way is if the NGOs could coordinate their efforts together.

The world is changing rapidly.  We live in a world where artificial intelligence is not science fiction but very much reality.  Revolutions with people crying out for freedom and democracy are lighting up the world.  Everyone is connected now through phones and the Internet.  Where does that leave Mali?

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