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The Future of Communications as Aid

By Wayan Vota on May 29, 2013


What does communications in humanitarian and crisis response look like in 5 years time? This was the question I posed to the panel session I moderated at the Aid and International Development Forum on the issue of social media in humanitarian response.

While Imogen Wall, Mark Frohardt, Jacob Kurtzer, and Kevin PQ Phelan gave good responses, I would like to take moderator’s prerogative and respond with my own vision.

No more beneficiaries

First, in 2018 I expect us to look at the “beneficiary” moniker as not just passé but also a slightly derogatory term no longer allowed in the development discourse. Beneficiary implies passive acceptance of aid as something done to a people, not with them, regardless of the intentions.

Better terms we could be using by then include customers, clients, co-creators, or my current favorite, constituents, to show the fundamental shift that is happening in international development, and globally in every industry and activity.

From us to them to them to them

Communications are changing rapidly. Where once those in positions of power held all the information closely and informed people in one-way streams of TV, radio, or print media, new social media technologies (pick one, or all of them) are changing the fundamental relationships between us and them – regardless of who is “us” or “them”.

Currently, we have a more balanced flow, two-way communications instead of one-way information. People in the developing world are taking their opinions on development to everything from Twitter and Facebook to MXit and Whatsap to tell us what they think of development efforts – be they local, national, or international in origin.

The days of silent, passive recipients of aid is over

In the future, probably event before 2018, communications in aid will be more from those in the middle of the crisis situation out to the world than any of us in development can imagine. What I can imagine is a future where those in a crisis tell us what they need and want – and don’t – and are loud and forceful enough in their communications that they drive the development process, not us.

That is a bright, communicated future I am excited to embrace. And so should you. Its not like you have any other option. Its not about us anymore.

More thoughts and session highlights on Twitter via the #commisaid hashtag and special thanks to Jacobo Quintanilla for inviting me to moderate.

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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 “The Future of Communications as Aid”

  1. craig lefebvre says:

    I suggest you think about your “future” graph a little more. I would eliminate ‘us’ and ‘them’ language and depict the networks as many “we’s.” That would stay more consistent with the idea, that I share, of having co-creators working in collaborative ways as teams to solve aid puzzles.

  2. I love the term “co-creators” as I think people who share unique skills, knowledge and technology with one another are truly creating something altogether new. When we began the ruggedized computer/Frontline SMS grant program together, I never dreamed of the ways the grantees would use and share these technologies. However, “donor” language will also need to shift and that will take some relinquishing of power and pride!

    • jindra cekan says:

      Excellent post and comments. I think part of the donor issue is the incentive structure of RFPs to grants is only about money spent rather than long-term impact. There’s little incentive for donors to look beyond what they decide to give, to whom, where, for how long …. however well-meaning, co-creators requires a parity of power which am not sure is around yet… Cheers!

  3. Jaime Chang says:

    Not only in humanitarian and crisis response but also in cooperation for development, communication is evolving from a two way “donor/cooperation agency with recipient” to a “partners network” scheme.
    One important element, particularly for the “agencies”, is that there’s a need to resist to the hunger for control and to focus in promoting open communication channels between all partners.
    Yes, there will be some two way communication as well, after all grants and contracts are a relation between two parties, the key is to avoid limiting to it.