ICT Innovations for Development: here are the scholarships winners

We have officially concluded the process of Scholarship Awards by delivering 23 Scholarships to bright talents across the world (surprise, surprise – three scholarships more than planned!) that will attend the long-term online course “ICT Innovations for Development”. The scholarships are made possible thanks to the generous support of Fondazione Cariplo and Compagnia di San Paolo within the framework of the project “Innovation for Development”. The selection of 23 candidates who received the Scholarship Award has been a tough job for the Selection Committee, considering the tremendous high amount of applications received – 448 in total. And, today we are immensely happy to announce the winners of the Scholarship Award.
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Financial inclusion: potentialities and drawbacks

In the last years, financial Inclusion –  provide banking services to a larger number of users – belongs to the development agenda as a crucial element supposed to improve the financial requirements of those people who don’t have access to traditional financial services and eradicate poverty. That’s why we have seen a boom of new realities based on digital services that aim to go where traditional channels can’t.
However, as Gianluca Iazzolino – postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford on media and democracy and consultant for the Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) program at UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) – tell us, “mobile money services can actually be dangerous in the moment in which they create new exclusions instead of inclusions”Given the importance of the financial inclusion and its important digital part, Ong 2.0 offers a module on this theme, taught by Iazzolino, within the course ICT Innovations for Development.

by Federico Rivara

profile-picIazzolino warns us about the risks of the sector. “Today” Iazzolino tell us “the actors that provide digital financial services don’t limit their action only to mobile money (the digital transfer of money by means of mobile phones) but they tend to offer more services such as insurances and loans“. The reason is simple: these services entail larger profits to the operators that provide them.

The risks of the system are several and lead us to a current hot topic: the circulation  and availability of a huge number of data. The financial services mentioned before make the tracking of the user’s data possible. Consequently, the fintech companies can have a precise knowledge of the client’s credit score (the creditworthiness of a person). “The new excluded are therefore those who don’t have constant revenues coming from informal channels, as often occur in African countries realities“. Those who are invisible and don’t produce data might be excluded from a policy, for instance, because they are not considered.
Similarly, Iazzolino explains, independent operators of this business is realistic only for people who already run other activities. For example, in the over the counter (markets not regulated according to the official rules of a specific area) remittance business, the intermediary agent between the user and a company is often a person who already manage other enterprises and who can afford longer-term investments. 

m-pesaThe pursuit of profit, as already mentioned, is a basic element for the development of new platforms. But, the incomes barely go to the areas in which these platforms work. Look, for instance, at M-Pesa. This is a service that allows payments and money transfer through mobile phones. Today M-Pesa is a solid reality that works in many European and African countries. Safaricom, a communications company, launched the platform some years ago. Vodafone is the majority shareholder of Safaricom, based in London, where the larger revenues go.


The potentialities of the digital financial services can reach a lot of levels. For instance, government-to-person payments  are becoming more popular. Through this system governments can pay, for instance, salaries and retirements benefits of their citizens, decreasing the transaction costs. The authority and role of the state have to be clear. Otherwise, some services could be in the hands of powerful actors that stand between the citizens and the state in an intermediary layer. For instance, MasterCard has realised the opportunity coming from the identity cards in Nigeria, the most densely populated country of the African continent.  Similarly to other countries, a lot of people don’t have documents due to weak register offices. Therefore, MasterCard agreed with the Nigerian government to release 120 million of National Identity Smart Cards that allow people to have a document but also to make payments. On one hand, these companies help governments to overcome such a big issue but, on the other hand, “these systems can give incredible power to external actors that can keep in check a state“.

These projects look at the so-called bottom of the pyramid, the poorest and largest global group. People belonging to this group do have bargaining power, knowledge and entrepreneurial capacities. What is still missing is the market. Iazzolino moves our attention to another curious point. “Interestingly, the financial inclusion is part of the development agenda since the Maya Declaration, occurred in 2011, a year in which it was very clear how the markets of the north were saturated while the south ones are still explorable“.

“To know the technological tools that make the financial inclusion possible is necessary in order to understand how we  can set a flexible system that looks at everybody’s needs”. We have to face the discussion now since the fintech industry is increasing every day and the paradigm has to be fixed. To know specific cases, design money transfer strategies helpful for the development strategy and understand how financial inclusion can really reach everybody are some of the aspects that Gianluca Iazzolino will present in the module “ICT for financial inclusion“.


Photo credit: whiteafrican Mobile Phone with Money in Kenya via photopin (license)

ICT Innovations for Development: a new long-term online course

ICT Innovations for Development is a certified long-term online course, with renowned international lecturers, seed-funding opportunities and 20 scholarships – are you ready to put your educational growth at another level?

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The phone besides the hoe. How ICTs are changing the agriculture

Today, 5 billion people use mobile phones and the total number of subscription is 7.4 billion. Moreover, almost 3.5 billion people are connected to the internet and this number is not expected to stop soon.
Agriculture represents one of the most affected sectors. For instance, farmers use mobile devices to know prices, products and also information to manage properly their resources. This is essential to reduce the transaction costs.

by Federico Rivara

Regarding this topic, we have interviewed Simone Sala, a consultant at the Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) and lecturer of the module ICTs for Agriculture and Environment within the course ICT Innovations for Development organised by Ong 2.0.

simone_sala_bangladeshSimone works for a division of the FAO which aims at developing and suggesting communication techniques supposed to ease the dialogue amongst various actors in rural contexts. “This is necessary in order to, for example, facilitate the collaboration between smallholders and government agencies”, he explains. Very recently, coincidently with the G20 held in Hangzhou, China, FAO, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have teamed up to create a platform over ICTs regarding the sustainable agriculture development.

The dialogue amongst different actors and the information flows”, as Sala says, “makes often the difference to the results of a project”. He tells us how a project over the water resources in Lebanon became more efficient once his team better understood  how to use the communication technologies. During the first stage of the project, the team was too focused on the technology transfer, without a deep analysis of the local context. Talking more about the available means with the actors involved improved the project that today can go on.

“If the information is well spread and accessible”, Sala says “a large number of users can be reached”. An example comes from Ethiopia and its Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency. The 8028 Hotline service, based on a simple technology such as the telephone, allows thousands of farmers to get advice and information about agriculture practices by means of SMS or interactive voice response. Launched in July 2014, the agency registered 7.3 million phone calls made by 1.2 million registered people.

According to Sala, in the light of his experiences, “some dynamics – within the agricultural context – occur in African countries as well as in Italy. A common problem is indeed represented by the access to technologies which might lead market diversification. Moreover, today farms are, on average, small. This implies that farmers are unable to afford technological investments. A state intervention could reduce these barriers”.

However, other actors can allow more access to technological innovations.

Farm Radio International represents an example. “The radio is one of the main information channels for the smallholders in rural areas”. This organisation, based in Canada, has developed a network that consists of 500 radio partners. Today, it works in 38 African countries and aims to give voice to smallholders so that the radio can spread information which comes directly from them and reach other farmers with similar problems and needs.

Moreover, Digital Green.  This non-profit organisation has thought to make videos in which the protagonists are the farmers themselves. The “actors” show their agricultural practices to the viewers who are farmers as well. In the video below it is possible to see how the communication  by means of video can be more simple because the video makers and viewers belong to the same community.

Finally, Ignitia. This social enterprise, based in Sweden, has been the first actor willing to make weather models specific for the tropical areas. Thanks to them, it is possible to know precise weather forecasts for very specific regions. The unpredictability of the weather is one of the main problems for farmers, especially in countries where they cannot count on weather stations. Today Ignitia is present in Western Africa, 80,000 farmers have been involved (2015) and they declare a forecast precision close to 84%.

“A large number of tools is available and every day more of them are launched”, Sala claims “people who work in the development sector need to know them. More importantly, aid workers have to understand which instruments is the best in a specific context”.

This is why Simone will be teaching his module within the course ICT Innovations for Development. The module consists four meetings (first lesson on the 11th of November) in which he will discuss ICTs for agriculture, information channel and data sets, main actors in these sectors, applications, case studies, exercises and so on.

Photo credit: MedSpring and Flickr

Technology is a new kind of lifeline for refugees

Imagine you’re a refugee leaving home for good. You’ll need help. But what you ask for today is much different than it would have been just 10 years ago.

“What people are demanding, more and more, is not classic food, shelter, water, healthcare, but they demand wifi,” said Melita Šunjić, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Šunjić began her work with Syrian refugees in camps in Amman, Jordan. Many were from rural areas with basic cell phones.

“The refugees we’re looking at now, who are coming to Europe – this is a completely different story,” Šunjić said. “They are middle class, urban people. Practically each family has at least one smart phone. We calculated that in each group of 20, they would have three smart phones.”

Refugees use their phones to call home and to map their routes. Even smugglers have their own Facebook pages.

“I don’t remember a crisis or refugee group where modern technology played such a role,” Šunjić said.

As refugees from Syria continue to flow into Europe, aid organizations are gearing up for what promises to be a difficult winter.

Emily Eros, ‎a GIS mapping officer with the American Red Cross, said her organization is working on the basics like providing food, water and shelter, but it’s also helping refugees stay connected. “It’s a little bit difficult because it’s not just a matter of getting a wifi station up, it’s also a matter of having someone there who’s able to fix it if something goes wrong,” she said.

The new demands are equally critical and challenging to meet, said Kate Coyer, director of the Civil Society and Technology project at Central European University in Hungary, which is also helping to provide refugees with charging stations and wifi hotspots.

“There are two kind of distinct problems really – how do you bring wifi to places and then also how do you bring in electricity and ways for people to charge their phones,” Coyer said.

As borders and routes constantly change, it becomes both more important and more difficult for refugees and aid organizations alike to share information.

Access to technology, information and communication, Šunjić said, is beginning to be regarded as a basic of humanitarian aid. Of refugees who have no way to stay in touch, said Šunjić, “one of the first things they buy when they come to Western countries is mobile phones.”

Listen the podcast here.

Originally written by Sally Herships

Featured in: Marketplace for Monday, November 9, 2015

Photo Credits: AKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/AFP/Getty Images “Refugees use mobile phones to take pictures of a map upon their arrival on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean sea from Turkey on September 21, 2015“.


From non-techie to ICT4D enthusiast

posted by guest writer Patricia Mtungila


I first heard of the term ICT4D in May 2014 during the TERENA Networking Conference that I was privileged to attend in Dublin, Ireland in 2014. One of the participants there mentioned that he was studying ICT4D and it seemed like total Greek to me. I was a not a technical person. At that time ICT related issues were very new to me as I had just started working as Communications Officer for UbuntuNet Alliance, a regional organization of people involved in managing and using high speed data networks.

It was this desire to learn all that I could learn about my job and about ICT and Internet issues that lead me to apply for the Technological Innovation for Social Change in the Global South offered by ONG 2.O. So, when I was offered the scholarship in February 2015, I was thrilled. Despite the fact that I had no idea what the course would entail, I knew that this was the Course that would make me to better understand ICTs and to be innovative and stellar in my job as Communications Officer for the Alliance.

Like any worthwhile venture, challenges tend to present themselves. My biggest challenge was a caution by colleagues that the slow and unreliable Internet in Malawi would not be able to support five months of training via webinars! My dream of becoming ICT4D savvy was about to end as mere cloud in the Malawian sky. I decided to die trying and pursue the ICT4D Course anyway. And like most girls from Southern Africa my biggest challenge turned out to be really a battle of courage and confidence, a battle in the mind.

Five months later, precisely today, June 28, I have received my certificate from our ICT4D Course Coordinator Serena Carta. I am overwhelmed with gratitude and I hope it would not be cliché to say: thank you ONG 2.0. Thank you for taking me from a state of not knowing the meaning of ICT4D, or never having being part of a webinar to a present state of being able to practically assess and establish the innovation needs of my organization and to present a clear roadmap to efficiency is a wonder. I really do wonder if there is another course out there that could do this.

I am by no means fully knowledgeable on all that there is to know about emerging and present appropriate technology but I have a sustainable understanding of what it is that development organizations should avoid in implementing projects to promote agriculture, health, democracy and even learning. Through the theoretical modules, I have acquired the gut or indeed skill to design monitor and evaluate development projects that can use different technology from the radio, basic phones and smart phones, to the Internet and web-based platforms such as COMCARE to the technology that is still treading along ethical lines like the drones or unmanned vehicles.

Through practical sessions with tech leaders and facilitators like Paola Fava and Maurizio Bricola who have implemented very successful and practical ICT4D projects, I have gained practical skills in designing ICT4D projects. It has been inspiring to see Projects by these innovators that are revolutionizing the public health sector in my country, from a death trap to a sphere of hope and a leader in e-health and m-health innovation in the region.

I know, now, that ICT4D have real life impact. To learn text messages enabled by the application TextiT are helping save expectant mothers by reminding them of antenatal visits is inspiring. I am inspired by these new technologies that are saving the lives of women and babies in my nation because I personally can count the number of women that I knew who died in childbirth or due to preventable maternal related issues.

Now, from studying this course, I can categorically state that ICTs are channel for attaining development. Practical would be for development organizations not to shun these new technology but to consider them as potential accelerators for their efforts. Innovatively leveraging on these technologies is the principle. For the “tech-thirsty” organizations that are salivating to be the first to apply the newest and fastest tech in the game, remember that “ICTs are not an end in themselves”, as others have already said.

So be it a Project using drones or the feature phones that I am faced with managing, I am passionate and confident to know that I can manage it for the greater good thanks to this online Course in Innovation and ICT4D in the Global South. It has been a win-all situation for me. I would recommend that more people from the developing world should attain this Course in the soonest. On the other hand, I am not waiting for the future to share my newly found cause, my journey to illuminating my nation, Malawi, and the Africa region to the world of innovation and ICT4D has already started.


The importance of a good Internet connection: the Iranian case

Losing a job opportunity because you cannot access a good Internet connection. It happened to Shahriar Khonsari and it happens all the time to Iranian citizens.

posted by guest writer Shahriar Khonsari* from Iran

One night, in April 2015 at Tehran, I tried to check my Gmail account but I couldn’t open it. I contacted my Internet provider and a recorded voice said: “There is problem to access Viber, Google, Gmail, Instagram (… and other applications) due to limitations we cannot control”.
So I switched on my anti filtering program on my Iphone 5 to open Gmail and I became quite happy upon seeing an email saying: “Congratulations! After careful review of your application by our review committee, you have been selected as a finalist for the Diane Dammeyer Fellowship in Photographic Arts and Social Issues”. I was so excited! I immediately thought it was a great opportunity to improve myself and my work. In the email they invited me to have an interview on Skype. Skype? All of the sudden I remembered the recorded voice “There is problem to access…”. Therefore I replied writing them that I was worried about the Internet speed in Iran, which is sometime too low to have a full and clear conversation, and I suggested to have a phone call. Here is their answer: “However, with consideration to the unreliable nature of your Internet speed/connection, if your Skype connection should not work, we will be prepared to conduct the interview by phone”.

Skype, then. When the interview started everything was smooth, but after two minutes my Skype disconnected. We re-connected, but it happened again and again and again. My interviewers tried to relax me but it was too late: I perspired like a melting ice and, I couldn’t concentrate on my answers and it was difficult to listen to their voices. I couldn’t get this fellowship in the end and it was painful. I am not the only one with these kind of experiences and losing the Internet connections gives Iranian citizens a very hard time on a daily base. Next time I will travel to Turkey to access a good Internet connection and I will not risk this opportunities again.

Understanding the context: the status of the Internet in Iran
Iranian Internet service providers (ISPs) are under a single governmental ISP. Some years ago, ISPs could only give higher speeds of the Internet to organizations, university lecturers and companies. Nowadays some ISPs accept fake documents from their customers to provide them a better speed and I was one of the Iranians who forged a document to get a better Internet connection.

It is not astonishing what Hopper said: “Towards the end of 2006, the Iranian government was seeking to restrict online speeds and fast broadband packages in order to curtain Western cultural encroachment into the country and other influences considered ‘un-Islamic’” (Hopper, 2007). The Government identifies in the Internet a threat to the censorship and its authority over the population; therefore in the last weeks it started to test new smart filtering systems and disabled many anti filtering systems, generally used by citizens to access filtered and blocked websites and weblogs. Many of these softwares are VPNs (Virtual Private Network). Free VPNs haven’t good speed and are very time consuming, so most of the people prefer to buy a VPN account to have a better speed connection. But the government started to sell VPNs accounts anonymously, with the intention to boycott the opposition and to steal information from the users.

* Shahriar Khonsari is an Iranian documentary photographer. Some of his pictures have been published in The Guardian. He got the scholarship to take part in the ICT4D course run by Ong 2.0 since February 2015.

Mobile money to improve maternal health, an African story

posted by guest writer Patricia Mtungila* from Lilongwe, Malawi

Healthcare in Africa is reaching a whole new dimension with the introduction of mobile money to health systems. Mobile money itself takes many local names by the countries but be it Mpesa in Kenya or Mpamba in Malawi, the power of these mobile money services is now being harnessed to take reproductive health services, health insurance and and universal health coverage to those who needed most, the poor masses of rural Africa.

Sharing her story at the Africa Regional Meeting on Digital Health**, Erica Layer of D-Tree tells the success of the lives of women in Zanzibar who have had safe digital deliveries in medical facilities as opposed to the age-old norm of home delivery which has been a part of life in Zanzibar until recently.

Through a mobile-money based initiative, D-Tree transfers mobile money into the mobile phones held by community health volunteers who monitor pregnant women. In this way, through the mobile phones they are able to closely link the health centres with the expectant mothers by keeping the health officials informed about health status of pregnant women living in their areas in between medical centre visits. At the time of delivery, the community volunteers inform the health facilities and communicate with a network of taxi drivers in charge of providing the transport to the hospitals.

Despite its huge success, D-Tree’s m-health initiatives in Zanzibar are not without challenges: Erica Layer highlights difficulties in forecasting transport needs of the mothers, the need for a culture of digital reporting and accountability among the community volunteers. She also calls for improvement in connectivity and in an automated medical record system. Nevertheless, the programme has been hugely successful and will be scaled out to Tanzania.

photo credits: africahealthitnews.com

* Patricia Mtungila works as communication officer at UbuntuNet Alliance, the regional Research and Education Networking organization for Eastern and Southern Africa (NRENs). She got the scholarship to take part in the ICT4D course run by Ong 2.0 since February. Follow her on Twitter and on her blog.
** It’s a three-day regional conference on mobile and digital health supported by USAID and the UN Foundation and kicked off in Lilongwe, Malawi (13-15 May 2015). The meeting aimed to tackle how the use of digital health can overcome barriers to ending preventable child and maternal deaths and help achieve universal health coverage.

Top 10 most innovative companies in Africa – Part II

Read here part 1.

Africa is full of innovation. Whether it is a startup, or a multinational company, Africa is bursting with potential when it comes to innovation in the fields of technology, applications, education and the ICT sector. According to fastcompany.com, the latest list of the top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Africa has been revealed.

Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology

For training and investing in entrepreneurs. Described by tech blogger and Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman as a “finishing school for tech startups,” MEST trains future entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria by putting them through a two-year program that blends an MBA-style education with training in software development. Founded by Norwegian software entrepreneur Jørn Lyseggen, the school also invests in the best business ideas and teams that emerge from the training program, providing developers with $50,000 to $250,000 in seed funding for their businesses.

MEST selects around 40 top university graduates each year, representing less than 2% of the applications it receives. Since its inception in 2008, more than 200 entrepreneurs have graduated from its program, and it has invested more than $15 million in African startups. Two of its Ghanaian companies—Saya Mobile, which provides a WhatsApp-style messaging service for feature phones, and ClaimSync, which digitizes medical records—were acquired by foreign technology firms last year. In the future, MEST plans to develop a hub of incubators across the continent.


For making solar energy affordable for the underprivileged. Since launching its pay-as-you-go solar-energy service in Kenya in 2012, M-KOPA has grown to serve 150,000 households in east Africa, adding 100,000 in the last year alone. M-KOPA aims to provide households living without electricity a cheaper, safer alternative to kerosene. While a typical off-grid household in Kenya spends $200 per year on kerosene, M-KOPA offers solar home systems for an initial deposit of $35, followed by 365 daily payments of 43 cents, which can be made through the M-PESA mobile payment service.

“You can make solar affordable by making it a daily payment,” says M-KOPA’s cofounder and managing director, Jesse Moore. “Affordability to a low-income person is about very small amounts on a daily or weekly basis because cash flows are very tight. It doesn’t work to offer somebody a monthly plan.” M-KOPA is providing power to 500 new homes each day and aims to reach over 1 million homes in Kenya by 2018. It estimates that the global market for off-grid energy spending is around $50 billion per annum, with east Africa accounting for 7% to 10% of that.

One Acre Fund

For improving the livelihoods of African farmers. Africa’s smallholder farmers are among the poorest people on the planet. Yet One Acre Fund is betting that the asset-based loans and training it provides its clients can help lift 1 million African farmers out of poverty by 2020. Instead of lending cash, One Acre Fund offers seed and fertiliser on credit to farmers living in remote areas. It trains them in agricultural techniques and helps them sell their harvests.

It also offers flexible repayment, allowing clients to repay at any time in any amount throughout the year. At the end of 2014, One Acre Fund hit its target of serving 200,000 farmers across Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Tanzania, and it expects to reach 300,000 by the end of this year. It has also seen high repayment rates, with 100% of farmers in Kenya and Burundi repaying their loans in full and on time last year. On average, farmers working with One Acre Fund realize more than a 150% return on their investment and double farm income from every planted acre.

Praekelt Foundation

For empowering cell phone users at the base of the pyramid. The South Africa-based Praekelt Foundation uses open-source technologies to provide millions of cell phone users in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia with free information on education, finance, and health. Despite growing mobile penetration in Africa—researchers predict a 20% increase in mobile phones in the next five years—many countries still have poor outcomes for maternal health, education, governance, and transparency, says Gustav Praekelt, who started the foundation in 2007.

The social enterprise, which is backed by the Omidyar Network, partners with governments, NGOs, and UN agencies, enabling them to provide potentially lifesaving information. One of its tools, TxtAlert, sends reminders to patients on chronic medication and allows them to reschedule appointments when they have no credit using “please-call-me” messages. Last year, the foundation also partnered with the South African Department of Health to create MomConnect, which enables pregnant women to receive free maternal-health messages throughout their pregnancy, the first such program of its kind in the developing world.


For increasing access to job opportunities. Africa will have the world’s largest workforce by 2040, but high youth unemployment is currently the reality in many countries on the continent. Nigeria’s Jobberman has 1.5 million registered users and aims to increase job seekers’ chances of getting hired by providing an alternative to recruitment agencies and old-fashioned word of mouth. More than 70% of its registered users are between the ages of 20 and 45.

“Jobberman is addressing the massive unemployment issue in sub-Saharan Africa by leveraging the Internet to give job seekers free access to employment opportunities in a region that has historically had limitations on the flow of both information and people,” says cofounder and CEO Ayodeji Adewunmi. Backed by Tiger Global, the U.S. investment firm, and Seek, the Australian jobs site, Jobberman features jobs in Nigeria and Ghana, a market it entered more than two years ago. It also has a presence in east Africa through its sister company BrighterMonday. Last year, its revenue grew by 125% and it placed more than 70,000 people in jobs.

Source: itnewsafrica

Photo credit: inclusivebusinesshub