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ICTworks Interview with Linda Raftree: Her views on ICT4D and Sustainability

By Kelechi Edozie-Anyadiegwu on February 23, 2011

Linda Raftree is the Social Media and New Technology Advisor for the Plan West Africa Regional Office and also the ICT4D Technical Advisor for Plan USA. I caught up with her recently and asked her about ICT and sustainability.

linda raftree on the jobLinda Raftree in action

1) First of all, what does sustainability in the context of Information and Communication Technology mean to you? And what do you say to those who believe that sustainability in the context of ICT4D is an unrealistic concept?

In the context where I work, sustainability means that once an external agency or company has stopped providing funding and support, an initiative or solution continues on in a way that is spurred on by local users because it’s something that is useful and/or needed by them and they find it worth investing their time/money/efforts in because the outcomes are worth achieving.

Another kind of sustainability is that which comes with learning and changing frames of mind. This type of sustainability may not be tangible, but it can be even longer lasting. If people are spurred into a new type of thinking or acting which improves their lives, and they make changes and improvements on their own without outside support and without waiting for someone to come spur them along the next time, that is also for me, sustainability.

Sustainability in ICT is not unrealistic if you start with what people have already, what they tell you they are willing to put in, and build from there.

2) Many contest that there are five realms of ICT4D sustainability: economic, political, financial, socio-cultural and environmental. Which of these do you think is the most influential to the sustainability struggle and why?

I think all 5 need to be considered when working on an initiative. Each context is different and what is simple in one place may be difficult in another. I’d say the first one to tackle is socio-cultural however. If you start with engaging users and who want to be involved and who want to use ICTs in their own development, then you’ve already got allies to help you with the other 4 struggles.

3) In 2001 the UNDP stated (in an ICT4D context) that “clearly identified development goals … are more likely to develop effective operating models and deliver tangible results.” How do you see ICT4D implementers incorporating these development goals into their projects?

That means that ICT4D implementers would need to start with goals like health improvements, education improvements, government accountability goals or whatever, and then see what information and communications gaps exist – see how information and communication can help them achieve their goals. Then they would move to the step of seeing what tools are the best to help bridge the gaps.

It might be technology or it might not be technology. When defining all this, involving users in the discussion and learning from them what information sources they trust, what information they need, where they currently get information, how much effort or time or money they are willing to spend to bridge the gaps is vital to designing the different project phases.

4) Regarding the “Bread vs. Broadband” debate, what do you say to community leaders who fail to see the importance of ICT’s as opposed to their basic needs (hygiene, basic water, sanitation etc)?

I normally work with youth in communities, and they often see the potential of ICTs before their parents do. In many places, however, adults are also seeing the need for ICTs for their children’s education and their community’s future, and they are pushing for access.

If I were working on a program that used ICTs to achieve some other, broader goal that the community wanted to reach, I might show people how the ICT works and how it can help to see if they are interested. There would very likely be someone who steps up. If community leaders failed to see the importance of ICTs, I would listen to them and not try to push something on them that they are not interested in. They know better than I do what their priorities are. They will think about ICTs when they are ready, when they hear about it from neighbors or families and friends, and then at that point someone can support them.

5) Last but not least, what kind of impact do you see local citizens making in sustainability of projects, such has appointing a local champion or incorporating indigenous knowledge. And how do you see fit to engage the local community?

I wouldn’t do any work without engaging the local community, because I work for an organization whose methodology is community based. The community always needs to be involved and sign off and participate in any project or it won’t be successful or sustainable.


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I am currently an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, majoring in Media and Communication Technology with specializations in African Studies and Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). My interests include ICT4D and Human-Computer Interaction for Development (HCI4D). I am very passionate about the ways in which ICTs can be used as a told for social and economic upliftment in the third world.My dream is to have a role in socio-economic development of African countries, to discern how greater technology adoption in Africa could aid in achieving social and economic development. I would also like to see an Africa where youth have the same life chances as their counterparts abroad. making this dream a reality calls for the mobilization of African youth, to help them build the tool that they need to enter and become successful in a globalizing economy.
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One Comment to “ICTworks Interview with Linda Raftree: Her views on ICT4D and Sustainability”

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Ask basic questions, get basic answers”