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ICTworks Interview with Eva Kagiri of eCAP East Africa on ICT Sustainability

By Aicha Malloum on April 22, 2011

Eva Kagiri works in the field of eLearning creating educational content for different ICT platforms. She has a background in Environmental Engineering, Development and International Co-operation. In the last 2 years, she has been working on educational projects in Africa which have involved the use of LMS, Radio, TV and Mobile platforms for Learning.

1) First of all, can you tell me about your current work in ICT for Development?

I work for a Swedish social enterprise – MKFC (it is a Swedish name translated into English as Multicultural Centre for Adult Education). The enterprise has 4 branches under it :

  1. An adult education school in Sweden (Folk High school)
  2. Stockholm College (which provides education within and out of Sweden)
  3. Helsinki College (works the same as Stockholm College and also where I work)
  4. Sharing Awareness (the NGO through which we raise funds to offer support for projects we are unable to support ourselves)

MKFC’s main work is Education through ICT. In the organization, we have experts in different fields – pedagogy, development work, ICT and specialized studies like Environment, Health, Teacher Training, and others. This team is the one that creates content. Our learning content uses two main pedagogical approaches, PBL and Action Learning.

The adult education school was the first to be formed, and was purposely for educating immigrants in Sweden. In 2000, the school started running parallel courses online, it turned out that most of the students preferred this system than the face-to-face sessions. So in 2001, the school sold the school building and transferred all its courses online, increasing enrollment and cutting costs.

Our aim is to make education accessible to all through ICT. We have created different educational material and offer it through:

– Online LMS – Opit, a Finnish learning management system.
– CD’s and USB’s
– Educasts through MP3’s
– Mobile phones – so far we have mostly done SMS based education

As you may know, exporting technology, systems or knowledge into developing countries doesn’t work for sustainability or applicability if there are not localized, home-grown solutions or a sense of ownership. As a result, MKFC always works with local partners. We have been working in:

1. Eritrea – with Eritrean immigrants in Sweden. This educational project was based on Project development and Implementation. There were many immigrants in Sweden who were interested to go back and develop their country but they didn’t know how. MKFC educated them online and provided an idea incubation centre virtually. They developed their business ideas and transformed them into reality in Eritrea.

2. Ghana – in Ghana, we are working with eCAP Ghana Foundation. Through mobile phones and our online LMS platform + USB’s we educated a group of 3 young men on Community Health Management. They then transferred this knowledge to a village up North, Niliyungdo. The transformation of that village was remarkable – environmentally and in health related issues like diarrhea and malaria. The village was taught how to clean water using the Solar Disinfection Method, Waste disposal and environmental issues to avoid spread of diseases. The 3 young men did this through role play, pictures and videos.

3. Palestine, Kenya, Pakistan, Somaliland, Tanzania, Syria – In this countries, the main education has been on Teacher Training in service. The biggest challenge that sub-Sahara Africa is facing and many other developing countries is the lack of trained teachers or poorly trained teachers. In our Teacher training in service, we educate teachers on pedagogical methods, specifically PBL and Action Learning. We also teach them how to integrate ICT into their teaching. The reason why it is Teacher training in service is to ensure that the teachers practice their knowledge in an authentic environment and to enable them to continue teaching while they study, avoiding teacher shortages.

The local partner in East Africa for our projects is eCAP East Africa, of which I am also the director and founder.

2) People in developing countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania etc may have daily life challenges such as securing food, shelter and water, what is the significance of ICT to their lives?

This is a very interesting question. Before I can say whether ICT is significant, perhaps we should first discuss what exactly people in the developing countries perceive ICT to be. The term ICT in the development context (and therefore ICT4D) has only come to be widely used say in 2000, especially in Africa (China might have began in the 1950s). Even though by 2000 Television and Radio were widely used in many African countries, people hardly related these tools to development or as tools for promoting development. They were simply entertainment and social.

As a result, while carrying out many projects in this field, when I ask the locals (and I am now not talking about the elite who have perhaps obtained a degree from some foreign university or studied IT), in 90% of the cases, they always answer ‘Computers’. People in the BOP begin perceiving ICT then as something complex, inaccessible and which can only be made use of if you have gone to school. This approach of complexity (which has not been made any easier by governments insisting that schools be equipped with computers instead of enough trained teachers) has resulted in what I call the African syndrome of Education and ICT, where students learn about computers instead of learning through computers.

But I doubt you are in that group of people who have a narrow view of what ICT comprises. Knowing what we both know about ICT being any technology designed to relay/transfer Information and enable people to Communicate, I will say a very big yes, ICT is very significant to the people in the BOP. What we should be asking is not whether it is significant, it is whether the information they are getting through the different ICT’s is relevant in enabling them to transform their lives in terms of food security, accessibility to their basic needs or contribute in any way to their general development.

The most important thing in ICT4D is: the content (what is the tool being used for? is the use relevant? is it solving a problem in my life? is it helping me make my life better today than it was yesterday?)

3) How do you think sustainability is achieved for ICT projects?

The only way sustainability can be achieved for ICT projects is if the applicability is homegrown. I am very, very adamant about this. The users or intended users must first identify what their need is. As it is difficult perhaps to do information and communication analysis for say a 40 million population, local people should be involved in the development and implementation of ICT projects – only they know best the problems their fellow citizens face. Engaging local expertise will make the content relevant and the tool easy to use.

One of the other issues why ICT tools are failing is due to limited funding and lack of technical expertise to maintain them once they are in existence. Important ICT applications made to enhance development HAVE to be adopted locally by governments or institutions. For instance, there are currently many mobile apps being developed to deal with problems of health management or agriculture. The institution that is in charge of health or agriculture has to adopt these applications and bear the financial burden. In terms of technical expertise, this is an issue of knowledge transfer. The traditional method of how the West operates in the South has to change. Companies/organizations interested in doing ICT projects in developing countries need to:

  1. Support local innovations in this area/develop and together with the innovators put them into the local market or,
  2. Import their own innovations but engage locals from the start – conceptualization, to development to production and lastly to dissemination.

Watch this video, it is very interesting:


4) Unlike old technologies such as radio and television, which benefit from high social penetration regardless of income, the new ICTs require continual updating and economic investment, which could lead to the poorest sections of developing countries being excluded…How do you address this issue?

This is quite true. Nothing can beat the breakthrough of inventions, and telecommunication is one of them. We need to take up some lessons from past technologies that African countries adopted. Let’s get back to basics – the radio. Prior to the colonial era and even way back before that, Africans communicated in very different ways than they do now – drums, word of mouth and horn-blowing. Introduction of conventional media happened in the 1900s, bringing with it – A new era!! This new Era managed to sustain itself because:

  1. People widely adopted it and added it to their already existing culture
  2. Because it was widely adopted and very much recognized as something which are needed/useful, governments supported the use of this conventional media. Governments began using this conventional media, governments promoted the use of this Medias and Governments Supported the continuous development of this media.

It is exactly the same thing now. While the principles of what current ICTs are operating on nowadays are old, their development is phenomenal, and we can say in the African context (and globally), we are in a new era! For this new era to sustain itself, we need to do the same things we did with the radio – governments need to be more active in adopting, showcasing, promoting & developing. In this way, the ICTs will gain high social penetration, and therefore the costs will drop. Just look at the mobile phone adoption in Africa now, who would have thought…and now phones are becoming cheaper, and cheaper.

5) Furthermore what significant benefits have you noticed in ‘‘making education accessible to all through ICT’’?

The most significant benefit I have seen is how the use of ICT breaks down the barriers of space, distance and time. The use of ICT has enabled education to move from the traditional classroom and institutional buildings to anyplace, anytime learning. We could also say that it promotes inclusion regardless of a child’s economic status, but that is relative as it depends on other factors like cost. In cases however where the consumer is not bearing the cost, it definitely does promote inclusion regardless of economic status.

Other forms of inclusion are very evident – inclusion regardless of race, culture, gender etc. Institution based education has sometimes had serious limitations in promoting education accessibility – for instance, religious based schools may sometimes be highly biased against students who are not of the same religion or who do not meet their standards of religious beliefs. ICTs can also go a long way in increasing the efficiency of teachers – ICT’s should never replace teachers, and using ICT’s cannot upgrade poorly trained teachers – what ICTs can do is act as a tool through which very well trained teachers can efficiently teach/manage their classes.

The use of ICT’s in informal or formal education has reduced the struggles that many young people in developing countries have always had to go through just to attain basic education. For instance, a child who belongs to a nomadic family can still learn mathematics and English, through say, a mobile phone game based application. Before, this child would have had to forfeit any form of formal learning as he/she could not attend school.

6) Last but not least, do you have any recommendations for future ICT projects in developing countries?

1. Homegrown solutions – you cannot assess the needs of people sitting in an office in New York, and no amount of research can compare to life-long personal experience in an environment. If an organization/company would like to implement an ICT project, they need to involve the locals. They can come with an idea and technology expertise, but they will never be able to come with userbility expertise unless they understand how the locals think, behave, believe or live and why.

2. Fulfill a need – not a Want, a Need. There is a big difference. Wanting is something that people can do without, something through which their entire survival does not rely on. We all know human beings basic needs – and they can all be summed up as, ‘The right to live’. The right to live encompasses accessibility to food, shelter, clothing, sanitation, water, healthcare and security. Without these things, the risks of dying are multiplied ten-fold. Around these needs comes what I call facilitators (they facilitate and enhance the possibilities of attaining the needs), and this is where Education and things like ICT come in. ICT’s should be seen as Facilitators to fulfilling the needs of a society.

3. Transfer Knowledge – this is of course a very complex issue, as it depends on which side of the fence you are standing on. If you are corporate/innovator, the last thing you want is to allow anyone to know ‘your tricks’, if you are an NGO, humanitarian etc. you work endlessly to ensure the community you are involved in gets all the knowledge they need. I am the latter and am therefore constantly insisting if you are going to do some ICT4D project, sell your product to the people and government then take off, without transferring knowledge on maintenance or development, then don’t do it at all. I know that is what is happening everywhere because corporates have the money, even though the locals have the ideas. Practitioners need to leave something behind in the countries they work other than a problem of eWaste.

4. Analyze the sustainability issue – transfer of knowledge is one way of doing this. However, the biggest question ICT delivery (and any delivery for that matter) is always, who will pay? A friend of mine told me the other day that NGO’s, Companies, Governments all speak the same language, and the difference is that they all use different terminologies. This language is called ‘Money’. I know that so far I have been emphasizing about governments adopting useful ICTs that will bring development. However, as we know, governments hardly ever pay for everything. To make ICT’s sustainable, without relying solely on governments, create solutions that people can afford. It is utterly and completely pointless for say, introducing an SMS service for farmers to check market prices if the farmer gets 1 dollar/day and the service costs that 1 dollar or more (including the hardware costs which nobody ever mentions). If I was that farmer, I’d rather walk my cow to the nearest market and sell it for 5 dollars.

Thank you for your time!

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Written by
I am a Mauritanian Fulbright Visiting Scholar at George Washington University. I am currently doing research about how to apply new ICTs in developing countries. I am interested in the potentiality and complexity of ICT for development as I believe it can enable social and economic growth in emerging markets. I have several years of work experience in Mauritania and I have the motivation and the drive to learn and enhance my knowledge about Africa and development issues. I am fascinated about emerging technologies and challenges of designing sustainable projects and programmes that make use of ICT with the goal of reducing poverty in rural areas. My goal is to help rural communities and marginalized areas overcome the digital divide and gain access to relevant ICTs.
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5 Comments to “ICTworks Interview with Eva Kagiri of eCAP East Africa on ICT Sustainability”

  1. I am very interested in sustainability of ICT, and am sympathetic to the need to increase local capacity for creation of local solutions. Along with Neal Lesh and Jon Jackson of Dimagi, I’ve pioneered the concept of “Coded in Country” to increase the percentage of coding dollars that go to local country programmers, and DataDyne’s own EpiSurveyor software is almost entirely coded by our terrific Kenyan team.

    Nonetheless, I think it is simply incorrect to say that “exporting technology, systems or knowledge into developing countries doesn’t work for sustainability or applicability if there are not localized, home-grown solutions or a sense of ownership.” Incorrect because this ignores the runaway success of ICT like Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter, etc.

    Those applications, coded and maintained and hosted in the US for the most part, are not homegrown in the developing world, and there is no sense of ownership there. They are, however, free (supported by the ad dollars of people in rich countries, for the most part) and infinitely repurposable by regular people with no technical expertise at all. And they need no tech support.

    This is very unlike the usual model within international development, in which every use of ICT requires extensive and expensive technical and programming support — which makes them so expensive they cannot be sustained and they cannot be scaled.

    There is no technological reason why organizations working in international development could not create web-based, user-repurposable software to address the needs of development — and we have done just this with our EpiSurveyor web-based system for mobile data collection. ICT4D just needs to observe the very, very successful commercial models of ICT which have given great capacity to the rich and the poor world alike by leveraging web and mobile.

  2. Eva Kagiri says:

    It is true that Google, yahoo, Hotmail etc are not homegrown solutions, but i find that even for these technologies to fulfill a need in a developing country they at least do need to be localised if not the other two (home-grown or with a sense of ownership) if their use is to go beyond a certain point. Although when Google and the rest were producing their technologies their core market was not the BOP and their main interest was not really ICT4D (they have thrived in developing countries by sheer luck, which has been propelled by internet connectivity and the Mobile adoption boom) they have recognised the necessity for localistion. Google currently supports more than 104 languages or dialects and offers a personalized version of it’s search engine to more than 115 countries. While it’s mail messaging service is still lower than yahoo’s and hotmail’s, it’s use as a search engine far outweighs that of yahoo which supports only about 37 languages (all major languages none of which is authentic to any developing country). This localisation process has enabled google, facebook, etc to go beyond the general user percentage by tapping onto the 2nd and 3rd language users which make up a huge majority in some developing countries where the first language is taught in schools – enhancing the applicability and possibilities of developing apps that can be used by a higher percentage of people.

  3. Hi Eva,

    If by “localized” you meant in the local language, of course, yes, French people won’t use Yahoo Mail if it’s not in French. What I am emphasizing (and maybe I am not doing a good job of it) is that Google’s web products, and Facebook, and Twitter, etc, were successful because:

    1 – they were useful (in this we agree: they fulfill a need)

    2 – they were available in the browser

    3 – they were easy enough to use without programmers or tech support

    4 – they are infinitely re-purposable by regular people with no tech expertise — that means that their utility never ends. Facebook is, apparently, as useful for California teenagers to talk about celebrities as it is for Egyptians seeking political freedom.

    Notice that none of these points is “they were developed locally by local programmers.” Again, while I support training more programmers, we don’t want to have to re-invent every wheel in every country. The future is not one where everyone is a programmer and able to program their own apps; it is one where we don’t need to program our own apps.

    International development typically addresses the above 4 points as follows:

    1 – they build technology that may or may not be useful, but is at least trying to be useful

    2 – it is not available in the browser

    3 – it cannot be used/maintained without programmers or technicians

    4 – it cannot be used for a different purpose without programmers

    And since any time you need to hire a programmer you have dramatically increased your costs, ICT4D typically does not scale. It doesn’t matter if the programmer is programming an open source app or a proprietary one: programmers don’t scale. I don’t need to be a programmer (or hire one) to use Google maps for my business or my personal needs. Likewise Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    The web allows us to create easy-to-use and versatile apps in one place, put it online, and then scale it very cheaply everywhere. The big question is “why doesn’t international development use this approach?”

  4. Because their business model is based on dependency. If they do as you suggest, then they will literally be doing themselves out of a job, hence their approach. We at the African Virtual School are focused on helping students mainly in West Africa pass Maths and English (85% failure rates in some places). Our solution is

    1) browser-based
    2) maintained by us, centrally
    3) our content is local to English speaking West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone)

    The main problems our users experience is slow Internet connections.

  5. Shakwei says:

    I believe the answer is both very simple and very complex. Applications such as Facebook & Twitter were not build for the development sector. They were build to be different things to different people and therefore grow very organically. The development sector generally builds solutions to be a specific thing to (hopefully) a large group of people – generally more mechanical.