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Debate: Can ICT4D Improve International Development Programs?

By Nadia Andrada on February 7, 2023


I recently had an interesting debate on the using of information and communication technology (ICT4D) in international development programs with my university professor.  I earned my advanced degree years ago, but I still keep the relationship. She is very smart and makes me think.

I believe ICT4D can increase our impact. She did not agree with me. Here is the basics of our debate. Who do you think is right?

Nadia: Pro-ICT4D

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can significantly improve the delivery of humanitarian aid and enhance development outcomes. By leveraging ICTs, organizations can reach more people, reduce costs, and deliver aid more efficiently.

For example, using mobile applications and social media, humanitarian aid workers can gather real-time data, ensure transparent delivery of resources, and monitor programs’ impact. By providing information to constituents, these technologies can also promote community engagement and facilitate transparency, accountability, and trust in humanitarian operations. For example, the Red Cross uses TikTok – yes, TicTok! – to engage with crisis-affected communities around the world.

My Professor: Anti-ICT4D

While it might seem that using ICTs can enhance development outcomes, it’s crucial to consider the digital divide between different communities. Many people living in developing countries might not have access to the internet or mobile networks, which hinder the effectiveness of digital programs.

Moreover, there is always the risk of technology failing, which can cause big setbacks in crucial humanitarian missions. Additionally, maintaining the infrastructure and staff for ICT programs can be considerably expensive, which might not be a practical outcome for organizations with limited budgets. For example, it will cost $2.5 billion per year to maintain digital health solutions globally.

Nadia: Pro-ICT4D

While it’s true that there are risks to be considered when implementing new technologies, that doesn’t discount the potential benefits. By collaborating with local communities, humanitarian organizations can learn about what technologies they are already using and find solutions that meet their needs.

Aid workers can also work to bridge the digital divide by providing access to technology and digital resources to those who might face challenges in connectivity. Organizations can also leverage existing infrastructure to reduce the cost of implementing ICT programs. Additionally, mobile banking and digital systems can enable the efficient and secure disbursement of funds to beneficiaries, thereby reducing the possibility of fraud and corruption.

My Professor: Anti-ICT4D

It’s true that there are potential benefits to ICT programs, but often the benefits do not outweigh the costs. While mobile applications and digital systems can reduce corruption and save costs, the technology requires maintenance and updates, which can be expensive. Moreover, ICT programs can prove a distraction to the core objective of providing humanitarian aid. Instead, resources should be put towards providing immediate aid, such as food, shelter, and medical supplies.

Nadia: Pro-ICT4D

While it might seem that providing immediate aid can address the immediate needs of constituents, long-term solutions are equally vital. By investing in ICT programs and capacity building, organizations can empower communities to take control of their development, engage in policymaking, and drive more lasting change.

Additionally, ICTs can provide a vital platform for disseminating information about health, civil rights, education, and other topics affecting communities. It’s essential to strike the right balance and invest in long-term strategies that will have a lasting impact on communities. In fact, we saw many low-tech solutions excel in the COIVD-19 pandemic.

My Professor: Anti-ICT4D

While long-term solutions are necessary, including investments in ICT programs, their value should be considered case by case. Organizations should look at the communities they serve, evaluate their digital infrastructure needs, and decide if investing in ICT programs is the best course of action. The primary thrust of humanitarian work should focus on providing immediate aid, making sure that beneficiaries’ basic needs are met, and their survival is ensured.

Verdict: ICT4D is a Net Benefit

Both me and my professor put up strong arguments, but in the end, I feel ICT4D emerges as the winner of this debate. I was able to defend the potential of ICT programs in improving development outcomes, providing practical examples of how organizations can leverage technology to monitor programs’ impact, and ensure transparent delivery of resources. I also showed a strong understanding of the potential challenges of ICT programs and addressed them logically by suggesting ways that communities could be empowered to take control of their development.

While my professor raised valid concerns about the costs and potential distractions of ICT programs, she failed to address the potential benefits of such programs in promoting community engagement and facilitating transparency, accountability, and trust in humanitarian operations.

Overall I was able to present a more balanced view and articulate a better-rounded argument, earning the victory in this debate. Or was I? What’s your verdict?

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Nadia Andrada has decades of experience deploying technology solutions around the world with a focus on working with communities in the Global South.
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