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What is the Future of ICT4D in Cuba?

By Wayan Vota on March 20, 2015


The US Government has a mixed record in using technology to help the Cuban people improve their lives. Most of its attempts ended in failure, some painful for everyone involved, others comical in their shortsightedness.

At the same, Cuba is a technology backwater. Only 9% of the population has access to mobile services, 5% has Internet access, and neither are affordable to the masses or free of censorship. Of course, open competition by mobile operators or Internet service providers is nonexistent.

However, President Obama has finally brought Cuban-American relations into the 21st Century with historic changes to the political and commercial relations between the two countries. Of specific importance to us is the liberalization of telecommunications investment and technology.


ICT equipment and services that a few short years ago would land people in prison will soon be lawful for both Americans and Cubans. In fact, Apple just took Cuba off its Restricted Countries List.

Expect an explosion of investment, innovation, and celebration across the island as mobile towers and smartphones proliferate, and the famed Cuban entrepreneurial spirit is released across digital economies.

Direct US Government development activities in ICT4D could still be suspect, or tightly controlled, yet it will not be long before other development actors start using ICT in their Cuban programs. This prompts me to ask a few interesting questions:

  • Who are the current technology leaders already innovating on the island?
  • What are they doing, expecting, and envisioning in a liberalized future?
  • Which international organizations will be the first to do ICT4D in Cuba?
  • Where will they start? What will they focus on? How will they scale?

Essentially, we are about to witness an amazing transformation. In the next few years, Cuba will move from a hermit island to the center of a connected Caribbean. Do you want to be there making it happen with an ICT4Cuba job?

Then be sure to tell us your thoughts in the comments, so we know whom to go to first for advice and action when we convene a Technology Salon on ICT in Cuba in mid-2015.

Filed Under: Economic Development, Opportunity
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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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3 Comments to “What is the Future of ICT4D in Cuba?”

  1. Hi Watan,
    I’m happy that US organizations are now starting to have a look at the Cuban ICT sector after the recent opening of the US towards engagement in Cuba.
    I’ve followed the development of the Cuban IT sector quite closely in the last 10-15 years. After studying Computer Science at the Universidad de La Habana for one year as part of an exchange program with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in the academic year 2002/03, I re-visited the island for a 2-months field study for my Master’s thesis in CS in 2007. I wrote the thesis on the Cuban government’s efforts at the time to establish a Cuban software sector for exports, see http://konnektiv.de/kuba-sw-export.pdf (unfortunately only available in German). Millions of dollars where invested, mainly into the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas (UCI) in the outskirts of Havana.
    Most Cuban software companies at the time were small- to medium-size. Although having very skilled employees, the companies had some major disadvantages in international competition, mainly being the slow Internet access and the impossibility of legally purchasing and using any software by US companies (meaning almost all software). The legality was not a big problem as long as software was produced for national customers, but when it came to export this was a major problem.
    With the recent policy changes these two disadvantages are slowly disappearing and the chances of these efforts having success are more likely.
    When it comes to ICT4D I would have a look at how to promote these small- and medium-size software companies and encourage more young Cubans to become entrepreneurs in this field.
    I’d be happy to share these experiences and further discuss this and other topics around ICT4D in Cuba at the planned Technology Salon on ICT in Cuba.
    Best, René

  2. Dan Salcedo says:

    Here at http://OpenEntry.com we’re working with Cuban artists to help them set up their individual online galleries (example at http://store.openentry.com/marlysfuego).

    We also have an Android App enabling them to do 90% of the work offline.

    Finally we are aggregating the galleries of the individual artists into a marketplace (very preliminary at http://nm.openentry.com/CubanArt).

    Since art is considered “cultural goods”, sales are completely legal even under the embargo.

    We’re seeking partners, Dan