Ethan Zuckerman’s Rules for Innovation

Ethan just posted some rules for innovation which are interesting. The one that speaks most to me right now is #7, which states, “problems are not always obvious from afar”. That’s a big problem with the kind of “innovation” that happens with first-world government-funded NGO IT for Development work. It is easy for a programmer to sit in an office and say, “what Africans really need is more data collection via PDAs!” It is something else entirely for Malian Linux enthusiasts to say, “Downloading is too expensive, I bet I can make money distributing Open Source via a kiosk”.

The former type of “innovation” is (1) colonialist, (2) ignorant, and (3) a theft from the tax payers funding it and from the beneficiaries who need results (not another failed project). The latter is about people, taking a hand extended to them, and lifting themselves up. In the case of Kunnafoni, the hand is a vibrant expat and African IT culture (probably centered on alumni from Geek Corps Mali), and the cornucopia of free content available to them.

Which type of IT4D would you rather be involved in?

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