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Giving Thanks to Ten Digital Development Leaders

By Wayan Vota on November 22, 2018

10 ICT4D Leaders

Today in the USA it is Thanksgiving, which used to be a day we gave thanks for a bountiful harvest and successful preparations for winter, but now usually means too much food, shopping, and (American) football.

I’d like to take us back to this original tradition – of giving thanks – to publicly thank 10 people in digital development who’ve inspired me personally, and I’m sure have inspired others too.

10 Inspiring ICT4D Leaders

Below is my list of ICT4D leaders who have inspired me over the years. If you look closely, its not really 10 people. There is no way I could ever make a list that short. Even this one leaves off too many who’ve inspired me along the way.

1. Ethan Zuckerman

Back in the day, Ethan Zuckerman founded Geekcorps to fill the technology skills gap he saw in Ghana. Like a Peace Corps for geeks, Geekcorps sent technology volunteers to train Africans, and helped develop early skills-transfer models. Fast forward a few years, and there I was, running the GeekCorps program at IESC, my first real ICT4D job. You have Ethan to thank for my presence in your life.

I should also thank Sabina Behague for introducing me the idea of  international development as a profession for technologists. She worked on AED LearnLink, one of the early programs to put computers in developing countries, which was the first time I realized I could use my technology skills for good.

2. Kristen Peterson

When working in a small technology startup, you learn every aspect of the business really fast. Kristen Peterson was an awesome boss and mentor at Inveneo, still the best job I’ve ever had. At Inveneo, she taught me how to run a small business and do business development right.

She was brave or crazy enough to let me experiment in how I could get Inveneo into USAID proposals, and wow! that was a learning curve. So I should also thank all the people I’ve worked with on USAID proposals – primes, subs, partners, and the like. I’ve learned from each of them how important proposals are – an essay contest with one multi-million dollar winner.

3. Erik Hersman

No mention of small business innovation in ICT4D is complete with out Erik Hersman, arguably one of the greatest technology innovators in our field, even if he doesn’t really think of himself as ICT4D. Ushahidi, iHub, BRCK, he can execute and idea like no other. I may not always agree with him, or Ken Banks, but they both gets my attention and respect.

Along with Erik and Ken, other innovators like Matt Berg and Kafui Prebbie, are developing new tools and services that you’ll be using soon enough (if you aren’t already). Some days I look with envy at their work, then I remember the small business stress of Inveneo, and I am in awe how easy they make it look.

4. Jerry Sam

You may think I’m a networker, but I have nothing on Jerry Sam. After I led one Technology Salon in Accra to show him the model, he leveraged the idea into a community force through PenPlusBytes. Now he regularly has government ministers and US Embassy staff as lead discussants in vibrant, regular meetings.

Then there is Rachel Sibande, David Madden, and others who’ve started tech hubs around the world to incubate today’s start-ups and tomorrow’s innovators. Their networking is what inspired me to create ICT4Drinks, Fail Festival, ICT4Djobs and yes, even ICTworks, to bring together ICT4D professionals where ever I could find them.

5. Neelley Hicks

Neelley Hicks is unique on this list. Not only is she an ordained minister, she also isn’t a techie, really. She does know how to communicate, and her work with religious groups is inspiring, even to an Atheist like me. She fundamentally understands technology as a communications tool, and brings the rest of us along – secular or religious.

She has inspired a group of Communicators in multiple countries around to world to come together as Harper Hill Global to use their religious connections and technology skills to help NGOs and governments better reach and support community development.

6. Linda Raftree

I was so inspired by Linda Raftree‘s ability to see the community participation angle (or lack of it) in our work, that we co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, and Kurante together to bring that insight to international development. To this day, I still get nervous when pitching an idea to her, less she point out how I’ve totally forgotten community context or voice.

Tony Roberts and Tim Unwin are more moral compasses in our field, reminding me of the power imbalances inherent in our work. And back in the day, the ICT4D Jester (aka Kentaro Toyama) took all of us to task for our foolishness, and helped inspire JadedAid.

7. Steve Song

I like to think that I come up with radically practical ideas when I am helping write a proposal. I have nothing on Steve Song. His ideas like an undersea cable map or free 2G mobile access for everyone are so brilliantly obvious that once you ponder them, you wonder why you didn’t think of the idea first.

Of course, Jonathan Donner on telecenter usage, Ari Katz on libraries, and the late Michael Gurstein on community informatics remind all of us that technology needs to be accessible to everyone for it to have truly transformative impact on development.

8. Hoang Bach Dao

Now I’ve seen my share of dashboards, but Hoang Bach Dao‘s dashboard for HIV clinics, complete with a “fish tank” of swimming fish that represented real time data literally stopped me in my tracks the first time I saw it. At that moment, I finally realized the true power of PowerBI and other data visualization tools to improve development decisions.

Amanda Makulec, Herb Caudill, and others are taking data display into the development mainstream, and we should be thankful for their efforts to give policy makers the tools to make evidence-based policy. If it were up to me, we’d still live in the land of pie charts and line graphs.

9. Jonathan Metzger

I bet if we played the Six Degrees game in ICT4D, we could use Jonathan Metzger instead of Kevin Bacon, though I think we’d all connect to Johnathan in 2 or less people. That is the length and depth of Johnathan’s career in this field, starting back in 1989 at Satellife . I think only Gary Garroitt goes back farther – to the 1970s.

Along with Johnathan is Pam Riley, Adele Waugaman, John Zoltner, Patty Mechael, Michael Trucano, and many others who inspired and guided my through my years in Washington, DC. Too many to list, but honored to call peers, even though I still feel like an understudy.

10. ________

Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list. It skews to people I’ve met and worked with – a tiny microcosm of the global digital development ecosystem that’s mainly centered around USAID-funded programs and Washington, DC.

It doesn’t mention those that have inspired me from afar, like Ory Okolloh and Chris Fabian, or those who’ve left the field like Matthew Kam and Mitul Shah.

So I invite you to add your inspirations in the comments or just in your own thanks on this day of Thanksgiving. We are privileged to work with so many great minds and great people. Thank you to all today, and every day.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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5 Comments to “Giving Thanks to Ten Digital Development Leaders”

  1. Simone Sala says:

    Well, you didn’t list yourself in the list.. but you have been a great source of inspiration for many of us! I am sure that loads of people you helped throughout their carriers will agree with me. 🙂

    Thank you a lot Wayan!

  2. Victor says:

    Thank you, Wayan,

    The list is obviously skewed and looks more like your list of friends. Please start looking outside the Anglophone world and outside the DC area. You will find some very interesting thought leaders.

    I agree with Simone – above – that you deserve a place in the list.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Victor, it is obviously skewed towards the people I know. I was specifically thinking about the people who I’ve interacted with closely. Maybe you could add names that I should be looking for beyond my limited circles?

  3. Edan Puritt says:

    Hi Wayan.
    Nice list. New people for me to learn from. I’ve know Steve Song for years. One of those rare humans who could keep his eyes on the ground and his vision over the horizon