Notes from the web4dev conference

12/3/2007 | Christian Kreutz

Continuing with the web4dev conference in Nairobi, I wanted to add some more personal perspectives. During the conference, on the second day, twenty different workshops were offered. We, Nynke and I, gave a presentation that same day, and as with most other sessions, not many people showed up. We highlighted some lessons we had learnt at the web2fordev conference and showed different examples which will be described further in a future post. From my impressions, many tools of social media were presented, but the philosophy of openness and sharing and the implications for a new era of collaboration had not yet arrived to the web4dev conference. Still, there were promising signs such as the water wiki from UNDP.

There were a lot of interesting people, as well as some examples worth mentioning. One interesting workshop I attended was about the idea for a huge United Nations aggregator, "One Source," collecting information from all UN organizations. All these agencies such as UNHCR, UNAIDS --just to mention a few-- have different IT-systems, content management systems, etc. The idea is to develop common schemes (XML) so all information is available in RSS-Feeds. These feeds would be a independent platform for different devices and can be sorted through all the existing ontologies or taxonomies from the different UN-organisations. Quite an ambitious project, which shall be launched in January 2010. One aspect about it that I liked in particular, is that it will allow to localize feeds, which can be nicely done with mashups through yahoo pipes.

Another session, which was also very interesting, was held by Christopher Fabian from UNICEF, whom I unfortunately missed. But luckily he came to our presentation and told us a bit about his interesting projects. It is all about giving young people a voice in developing countries through the web.

These tools "include using mobile phones to collect data from young people, bootable USB sticks that turn any laptop into a radio station, and technologies to allow people with landlines or mobile phones to record stories onto the Internet."

For that, one great example is "Our Stories," which is a "collaborative project that leverages new digital technologies to help capture and preserve individual stories from around the world." They had a nice video showing to many storytellers a flight around the world; unfortunately it is not on the web. Another tool, which was mainly developed with partner organizations in South Africa, is a poll feature that can be accessed and retrieved via mobile phones.

The first day of the discussion was very much about connectivity and the great challenges on which especially many countries in African focus in that regard. But from having different conversations with many different participants, I concluded once again that the situation varies from country to country. Whereas in some countries through competition the prices are very high, in others, such as Sudan, there are four providers competing for low prices and offering the mobile web everywhere in Sudan.

I also met Helene Karamagi and beside from exchanging some iphone hacking tips, I asked her about the ICT4D in Uganda. She gave me some interesting insights I would like to share here. From her point of view, Africa is going to face promising times when it comes to ICT4D. Her sister runs the famous Brosdi example presented on the web2fordev conference. The following three points she highlighted for Uganda:

  1. In Uganda, by next year, all local districts will be connected to the Internet. This will enable a new way for information sharing between rural and urban areas.
  2. This means that there will be a high demand for web solutions and all sorts of applications that will lead to a rise on new enterprises in that domain.
  3. Whereas in the beginning it was to NGOs, slowly the private sector is getting involved asking how to contribute to ICT4D. It is entrepreneurs, who try to develop business models for connectivity and web solution, which make profit and are potentially more sustainable.

Once again, it shows that information and communication technologies develop very different on industrialized countries. Whereas in Germany companies watch out for the best ring-tone business model, many essential, valuable and innovative ICT-solution are on the rise in developing countries. David Galipeau, who I met first on the little barcamp kind of event before the conference, underlines this development and says that it is on the eighty per cent of the south where the future innovations will come from and not the 20 per cent of the north. By the way he just started a foundation called