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Dog eat dog.

The Meraka Institute is a development innovator with several innovative projects and concepts and they are very well positioned as concerns up-and-coming projects in Southern Africa. That's why I just had to stop by to visit them and chat about our ideas regarding rural marginalised areas and what one can do with ICTs to improve conditions in these areas.

In this post I want to just talk about one concern that came up, namely the fractured ICT4D landscape. This echoes strongly Jeff's comment last week on my post 27 (see my most frequently commented post), as well as comments in an email I got from Alfredo this morning.

Basically the problem is that most people guard their ideas jealously in order to prevent others from stealing them, while they are busily looking for pots of money to plunder. There are clearly limited amounts of money and one has to compete to get them. Now there are some relatively easy ideas, which have short time scales and involve a lot of "safe" lab work and few projects that really look at applications in the field - the difficult part. Also collaboration complicates projects, lowering the chances of success - because often in the background people are chasing their own research agendas. So it's really not in one's interest to work together with others, if one can avoid it. The result is a fractured landscape with 1001 pilot projects and 1001 wikis and information centres.

This is terrible from the point of view of the persons in marginalised areas living in poverty, who could use some co-operative assistance!

On the other hand, however, ICT4D is a new research field and claims are being staked out by the new miners. The field will settle and the most influential (not necessarily best, but good enough) projects will gain so much influence that they will become de-facto concentrators allowing better use of synergies and forcing more standardisation in the field.

As this process continues, eKhaya ICT will hopefully be able to play the role of intermediary and agent - as not bound to any research goals - trying out new techniques and making real headway for the people who need help the most by making and crossing bridges between research programmes, cultures and sides of the digital divide.

Obviously the competition will also start in the commercial sector, soon (I am not talking about VoIP, I am talking about innovative ICT technologies). But I think we have a head start in terms of technological know-how and quality standards. And if someone else does a better job, we'll try join them - after all the goal is to help.

Posted: June 25th 2007 09:05

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