December 20, 2012

Mobile Phones and Economic Development in Africa: Evidence from Policy and Field Experiments
By: Jenny C. Aker, Aker is an Assistant Professor of Economics at The Fletcher School and Department of Economics at Tufts University.

Abstract: She is also a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for Global Development and a member of the Advisory Board for Frontline SMS.

About the Speaker: After working for Catholic Relief Services as Deputy Regional Director in West and Central Africa between 1998 and 2003, Jenny returned to complete her PhD in agricultural economics at the University of California-Berkeley. Jenny works on economic development in Africa, with a primary focus on the impact of information and information technology on development outcomes, particularly in the areas of agriculture, agricultural marketing and education; the relationship between shocks and agricultural food market performance; the determinants of agricultural technology adoption; and impact evaluations of NGO and World Bank projects. Jenny has conducted field work in many countries in West and Central Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, DRC, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Sudan, as well as Haiti and Guatemala.

April 26, 2012

Using Mobile Technology to Provide Specialty HealthCare and Education to Remote Communities in the Developing World
By: Carrie Kovarik, Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Dermatopathology, and Infectious Diseases, Perelman School of Medicine

Abstract: Throughout the developing world, inadequate access to physicians, subspecialty care, and medical information resources are serious problems that telemedicine can help address. The new field of mobile telemedicine allows medical consultations to be submitted via mobile phone (mHealth), enabling health care to reach rural areas, where cell phone coverage extends beyond computer networks. The mhealth program that we have established in Botswana will be highlighted, including the use of mobile phones for cervical cancer screening, dermatology, radiology, and oral medicine consultation, and well as for medical education.

About the Speaker: Carrie L. Kovarik, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Dermatopathology, and Infectious Diseases at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Kovarik has a special interest in tropical, infectious, and HIV-related dermatology. Dr. Kovarik is the Head of Dermatology, as well as Telemedicine and Informatics, for the Botswana-UPenn Partnership. She is also the primary dermatology consultant for the Baylor International Pediatrics AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) in Africa. Dr. Kovarik has created an African teledermatology consult service ( which is a collaborative effort between BIPAI, the American Academy of Dermatology, twelve African countries, and several other institutions. Recently, the teledermatology website/application has been translated into Spanish, and programs are underway to expand teledermatology services in Mexico and Central America. Dr. Kovarik has also been working to expand telemedicine services in Africa and Central America through the use of cellular phones. Dr. Kovarik has started an initiative in global health at the University of Pennsylvania, and she is the Director of the Penn Dermatology Global Health Program. Dr. Kovarik is also the Chair of the Residents' International Grant Work Group within the AAD and received funding to send over 60 senior dermatology residents in 2008-2012 to participate in 4-6 week rotations on the dermatology consult service in Botswana.

April 5, 2012

Technology in the wild: How to co-opt tools and practices for educational purposes
By: Daniel Andler, Professor, Université Paris-Sorbonne, Institut universitaire de France & Ecole normale supérieure

Abstract: It has become clear that technology makes a real difference to education only under certain conditions, and the problem has become to identify not just what works, but what makes what works work. The usual constraints on adoption of innovations are operative, but education is a very special case involving a resilient ecology on which innovations brought from the outside are seldom able to leave a significant mark. The key then perhaps is to work from the inside, to colonize pre-existing tools and practices and reroute them towards educational goals. In formal school systems of advanced countries, this is a complex process which, though extensively studied and experimented, eludes our understanding. Things look more hopeful in the case of out-of-school education in developing countries. Still, we cannot assume that any old bright idea is going to work: we must try and assess its chances beforehand. So basic research is necessary, but so is translational research. Medicine may have some lessons in this regard. Our group, allied to a major publisher of traditional educational material, has drafted a project to use mobile phones in francophone Africa to teach French where people live and work. I will describe the project and use it as an illustration of a colonizing strategy which shows promise elsewhere, focusing on why it might work if it does work.

About the Speaker: Daniel Andler is a logician and philosopher of science specializing in the foundations of cognitive science. A professor of philosophy at Sorbonne, he has been active in the construction of cognitive science in France, and created the Department of Cognitive Studies at École normale supérieure in Paris. An experienced teacher of mathematics, then philosophy, he got interested in the question of what cognitive science could bring to education and to the use of technology for educational purposes. In 2006 he founded Compas, an interdisciplinary think-tank, where this question is explored in the wider philosophical, political, economical and cultural context of educational change in the global society.

March 29, 2012

In Whose Interests?
By: Dr. Tim Unwin, CEO of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation

Abstract: This seminar explores some of the taken for granted assumptions about the use of Information and Communication Technologies for Development, focusing particularly on the interests that gave rise both to the concept and to the activities delivered in its name. It argues that all too often ICT4D initiatives have failed to deliver on the real needs of poor people and marginalised communities, and that ICTs have to date frequently actually tended to increase inequalities at a range of scales rather than reduce them. Having established the divisive character of such technologies, the seminar will then examine ways through which such technologies might indeed be used creatively and disruptively to change the balances of power that underlie such inequalities, drawing particularly on research in Africa and Asia undertaken over the last decade. It concludes by arguing that while the market may provide for the majority, states have a crucial role to play in ensuring that the benefits of ICTs can indeed be experienced by everyone in any given society, and that multi-stakeholder partnerships have a particularly important role in achieving this.

About the Speaker: Tim Unwin (born 1955) is Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (, Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK (, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and Emeritus Professor of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London. From 2001-2004 he led the UK Prime Minister’s Imfundo: Partnership for IT in Education initiative based within the Department for International Development, and from 2007-2011 he was Director and then Senior Advisor to the World Economic Forum’s Partnerships for Education initiative with UNESCO. He was previously Head of the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London (1999–2001), and has also served as Honorary Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) (1995-1997). He has written or edited 15 books, and more than 200 papers and other publications, including "Wine and the Vine" (Routledge, 1991), "The Place of Geography" (Longman, 1992), as well as his edited "Atlas of World Development" (Wiley, 1994) and "European Geography" (Longman, 1998). His recent research has concentrated on information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D), focusing especially on the use of ICTs to support people with disabilities, and to empower out of school youth. In 2011, he spent three months in China teaching and undertaking research on the use of mobile devices for learning by farmers in Gansu and people with disabilities in Beijing. His latest collaborative book, entitled simply ICT4D, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. He is a Fellow of Education Impact and Honorary Professor at Lanzhou University, China.

March 22, 2012

Designing User Interfaces for Novice and Low-Literacy Users
By: Indrani Medhi, Associate Researcher, Microsoft Research India

Abstract: One of the greatest challenges in developing Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for global development is that 41% of the population in the least developed countries is non-literate and even the literate among the poor are only novice users of technology. I will describe work we have done over the past 6 years in Text-Free User Interfaces. Text-Free UIs are design principles and recommendations for computer-human interfaces that would allow a first-time, non-literate person, on first contact with a PC or a mobile phone, to immediately realize useful interaction with minimal or no external assistance. Through an ethnographic design and iterative prototyping process and rigorous user evaluations, involving more than 700 hours of field work and 570 study participants from low-income, low-literate communities across India, the Philippines and South Africa, we established design principles that could apply to UIs for non-literate groups new to ICTs.

About the Speaker: Indrani Medhi is an Associate Researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group at Microsoft Research India in Bangalore. Her research interest is in the area of Ethnographic UI Design and Technology for Socio-Economic Development. Her current work has been in UIs for Novice and Low-Literate Users. She has a Masters degree in Design from Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. Currently, she is also a 4th year Ph.D. student at the Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT Bombay), India. In 2010, Indrani was listed in the MIT Technology Review's TR35 list of "outstanding innovators" under the age of 35 and featured in the list of "50 Smartest People in Technology" in 2010 by Fortune magazine.

December 5, 2011

Designing a More Equitable Internet
By: Tapan Parikh, Assistant Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract: My research is concerned with the design of appropriate and accessible information systems serving the needs of poor, indigenous, remote and otherwise marginalized communities in the developing and developed world. I am also broadly interested in the impact that new kinds of data and communications tools can have for improving transparency and trust in governance, aid and philanthropy. My research group and I have recently developed Awaaz.De, a phone-based voice message board allowing small farmers in India to ask and answer agricultural questions. Using any phone, farmers navigate a voice interface to record questions, obtain answers from experts, and to listen to and answer the questions of others. This system has been deployed in Gujarat, India for over two years, consistently receiving hundreds of calls a week. Another project, LocalGround, is investigating the use of paper maps for collecting local geo-spatial knowledge. Users annotate paper maps using colored markers and stamps. These annotations are automatically extracted using a combination of simple computer vision and crowd-sourcing techniques.
Local Ground was recently used by teenagers from Richmond, California for planning of a public park in their community, presenting their ideas to the mayor's office. In this talk, I explore several themes in my work, including a) the design of cheap, "low-fidelity" interaction techniques allowing new populations to interact with and author content; b) the importance of "bottom-up" data for planning and evaluating development projects; and c) how "crowd data processing", interleaving automated and human-driven steps, can bridge the gap between (a) and (b).

About the Speaker: Dr. Tapan Parikh is an Assistant Professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. Tapan's research interests include human-computer interaction (HCI), mobile computing, speech UIs and information systems for microfinance, smallholder agriculture and global health. For the past 10+ years, Tapan has been designing, developing and deploying information systems in the rural developing world - initially in India, and now also in Latin America and Africa. Tapan and his students have started several technology companies serving rural communities and the development sector. He holds a Sc.B. degree in Molecular Modeling with Honors from Brown University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Computer Science from the University of Washington, where he won the William Chan award for his Ph.D. dissertation. Tapan was named Technology Review magazine's Humanitarian of the Year in 2007, and Esquire magazine called him one of the "Best and Brightest" in 2008.

November 3, 2011

Phone-based Tools for Community Health Workers
By: Neal Lesh, Chief Strategy Officer, Dimagi Inc.

Abstract: It is increasingly possible to apply computer innovation to improve aspects of health care delivery in low-income countries. In this talk, I will provide an overview of some recent efforts in ‘eHealth’ and ‘mHealth’. I will then present our experiences with implementing CommCare, a phone based tool for Community Health Workers over the last four years in sub-Saharan Africa and India. I will provide an overview of the tool, and then discuss challenges, lessons learned, and some recent successes.

About the Speaker: Dr. Neal Lesh is the Chief Strategy Officer of Dimagi, Inc. He received a PhD in computer science from the University of Washington in 1998 and a Master in Public Health from the Harvard School of Public Health. From 2005-2009, he lived in East and Southern Africa, working on information systems for projects including large-scale AIDS treatment programs, rural hospitals, and research projects. His primary focus now is on the CommCare project, a phone-based tool for use by community health works in low-income countries.

October 13, 2011

Myths of Information Technology for International Development
By: Kentaro Toyama, Visiting Researcher, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract: The past decade has seen incredible interest in applying information and communication technologies for international development, an endeavor often abbreviated "ICT4D." Can mobile phones be used to improve rural healthcare? How do you design user interfaces for an illiterate migrant worker? What value is technology to a farmer earning $1 a day? Interventionist ICT4D projects seek to answer these kinds of questions, but the excitement has also generated a lot of hype about the power of technology to solve the deep problems of poverty. In this talk, I will (1) present several myths of ICT4D that persist despite evidence to the contrary, (2) offer a theory of "technology as amplifier" which explains the gap between rhetoric and reality, and (3) provide recommendations for successful ICT4D interventions. My hope is to temper the brash claims of technology with realism about its true potential.

About the Speaker: Dr. Kentaro Toyama is a visiting researcher in the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. He is working on a book that argues that increasing wisdom should be the primary focus of global development. Toyama co-founded Microsoft Research India, where he started an interdisciplinary research group to understand how electronic technology could support the socio-economic development of the world’s impoverished communities. The group's projects - including Digital Green, MultiPoint, and Text-Free UI - have been seminal in ICT4D research. Prior to his time in India, he did computer vision and multimedia research at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA, USA and Cambridge, UK, and taught mathematics at Ashesi University in Accra, Ghana. Toyama graduated from Yale with a PhD in Computer Science and from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in Physics.

October 6, 2011

ICT and Literacy for the Very Poor: A Decade of Work
By: Dan Wagner, UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy and Professor of Education, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education
Abstract: In many developing countries, over the past decade, the atmospherics concerning information and communications technologies (ICTs) has undergone a dramatic change: from (1) "are you crazy?" to (2) "well, let's see what pieces might work for us," to (3) "ICTs are the answer." Even for the poorest countries, the benefits of ICT are now (in 2011) seen as relatively well-suited for coping with the problems of literacy and basic education (and other sectors), and for enhancing the socio-economic consequences for the lives of the users. The reasons for this are varied, and still debated, along with the types of solutions proposed to date. Various examples will be discussed, including the author's work over the past decade in India and South Africa.

About the Speaker: Dr. Dan Wagner is the UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy and a professor of education at Penn GSE. He is director of the International Literacy Institute (ILI), co-sponsored by UNESCO and Penn. As founding director of the Literacy Research Center in 1983, he is also director of the National Center on Adult Literacy. He received his Ph.D. in developmental psychology at the University of Michigan and was twice a visiting fellow at the International Institute of Education Planning in Paris, a visiting professor at the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and a Fulbright-Hays Scholar at the University of Paris. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Anthropological Association. He is also director of the International Educational Development Program (IEDP) at Penn GSE. Dr. Wagner has extensive experience in national and international educational issues, has consulted for numerous U.N. and donor agencies as well as with the U.S. government, and has worked in more than a dozen countries around the world. Dr. Wagner has more than 120 professional publications, including 20 books (translated into a half-dozen languages) across topics of literacy, basic education, child development, applied technology, and research and policy in cultural and international perspectives.