September 2005

Everything starts with an idea

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In the midst of one of those conferences filled with formal speeches, Ravi Gupta lent across the table and asked something in a conspiratorial tone. Did one think, he wanted to know, whether an ICT4D magazine would succeed?

That caught one quite in a bind. Did I really think it was possible? Surely not! But obviously, one had to be economical with the truth here. Simply because it's unfair to discourage someone else to do something which you might not understand fully yourself.Or, without having the full insights and confidence that the other person has. After all, miracles do happen.

So many times things you thought were absolutely impossible do come about. Just this week, the mainstream Indian media has been felicitating Satyanarayan Gangaram “Sam” Pitroda, the man who “changed the telecom landscape of India in the 1980s”, to quote the Indian Express. Yes, he did. But, at that time, he was widely perceived as not more than one of the tech boys Rajiv Gandhi  was bringing into play costly techie games, which we all thought, were bound to fail.

Ravi Gupta made i4d a success. And, from the record so far, a sustainable one too. Thankfully, one didn't discourage Ravi at that time. And this young, focussed, serious, hardworking man with a vision – his soft-spoken nature and conceals, all these – made his dream come true.

In the interim, i4d has become a useful tool. One that takes the debate to a wider community, beyond the already converted. One that expands the debate beyond just NGO (non-government organisation) circles and international development organisations. And, above all, one which rightly acknowledges India's work in a field where solutions thrown up here can be replicated without too much difficulty across the so-called 'developing' world.

More than reaching the milestone, the journey has been interesting. i4d is the fruit of the hard work of its entire team, and they have all persisted. If you have doubts, just take a look at my inbox, and the persistent mails, reminding one about an overdue article, arranging to get across a book for review from the other end of this sub-continent, and in other ways.

What was surprising to me personally was the determination with which Ravi (and the team, of course) followed up every idea. He would squeeze in a few spare moments during a chance meeting in Delhi, to catch hold of his visitor, ferry him across to his NOIDA offices outside the national capital, and discuss issues en route.

Perhaps Ravi was under the mistaken impression that because we were somewhat early starters, we were necessarily better informed or even wiser! As much as Ravi believes in planning and working out every plan – perhaps a legacy of his IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) education – our work at BytesForAll has been as chaotic and unplanned. Serendipity has played a huge role in our unplanned experiment, as much as Ravi's was guided by design. In a region marred by pessimism and a form of working chaos, i4d is surprising with its calendar-of-themes announced months in advance!

Undeniably this is a good effort, which needs to grow. But while appreciating its work, there are also some areas which surely could be looked at more closely. Rather than looking at i4d as just another publication, it probably needs to build up a group of close supporters – not an easy task. It would itself benefit from such a possibility.

i4d needs to grow as part of a wider community, which is not only influenced by it but also in turn influences the magazine. Entry to this community should not be open just to a select-few friends, like this writer, but to whoever is keen about the ICT4D field.

In the past half-decade or so, the need for i4d (or ICT4D) is widely accepted. International donor groups have accepted this debate, and bodies like the UN are supporting Free Software through the Unesco and UNDP-APDIP's International Open Source Network IOSN.net. On the flip-side, the money entering the field is endingup NGOised, in the form of often unreplicable and unscalable projects. We don't seem to be learning the basic lessons from the Free Software world that made so much possible –  a purer form of volunteering, genuine sharing rather than unhealthy competition for funding, sharing ideas on an unprecedented scale in humankind, and so on. Governments are also willing to give their support to ICT4D concepts, even if this remains lip service and mostly don't get translated into solutions that work and scale-up. After all, ICT4D holds out the (untrue?) promise of development without tears, where poverty can be fought without either the rich sacrificing any of their privilege or the bitterness of social conflict!

Thanks for all your labours in ICT information dissemination to the entire world. The issue of IT education to the rural areas in the developing countries like Nigeria is of utmost importance to me. This is because, I have a dream that the rural subsistent agricultural based economy can easily be transformed into an information and knowledge based economy by mediating rural-urban migration through investments in Information and Communication Technology. This rural-urban migration is a hard nut to crack in the South East Nigeria, but I believe with this opinion pursued vigorously, the percentage of dropouts in the Nigerian School system especially in the rural South East Nigeria will be greatly reduced.

Elochukwu Ukwandu
Imo State University, Nigeria
eloukwandu@msn.com

This is with reference to your magazine Vol III No 5. We request you to kindly give permission to reproduce the article on 'Communication for Development'  in the Special Issue of Journal of Rural Development on the same subject.

S Rajakutty
CIEC Nird, India
ciec@nird.gov.in

Thanks for sending me the i4d magazine, it is excellent idea, much needed for the sector.

Viji Balakrishnan
vijibalakrishnan@yahoo.co.in

I receive your print magazine as well as e-Updates. I would be grateful if you could send 'soft' copy of the article 'Mixed signals of expec-tations' in the June 2005 issue of i4d. I am an operator of a  'mobile women's community radio station' in Fiji as well as member of AMARC where at the upcoming Asia-pacific conference we are going to be addressing regulatory issues – and I would like the steering committee to also read this article – as well as others here in the pacific island region.

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
fem'LINKpacific: Media Initiatives for Women, Suva, Fiji Islands
femlinkpac@connect.com.fj

I would like to appreciate the work you are doing. This is just amazing! Good work! I would be happy to collaborate with your organisation and the magazine. My interest lies with ICT4D.

M. Nazrul Islam
Relief International-Schools Online, Bangladesh
nazrul07@gmail.com

Congratulations, the online version of the July 2005 i4d magazine looks very good.
I'm looking forward to the printed version!
Juulke Brosky
Hivos, The Netherlands
j.brosky@hivos.nl

I have read some contents of 'FLOSS' issue of October 2004 on the web and it is inspirational. We will use the excerpts in our FLOSS campaigns around Africa.

Bildad  Kagai
FOSSFA , Africa
  bill@circuitspackets.com

Those who care about which direction this debate is going on need to extend it beyond the narrow walls into which it is getting constrained. India has a large based of software skills (and this extends into South Asia and beyond). Many of these educated and privileged knowledge workers feel the pressing need to do something for those less fortunate than them. The Azim Premjis and Narayan Murthys speak a different language from the sweatshops that South Asia is otherwise accustomed to. So, are we extending the debate to its natural allies? Are we taking ICT4D to fields where it is needed most and can bring in huge changes simply by harnessing the power of existing infrastructures – in education, in agriculture, in health, in governance that works?It doesn't seem to be happening. And this needs to be a priority for all of us.

In a word, i4d has a big role to play in bridge building. As things stand, the ICT4D community is largely unaware of, or disinterested in, the far-reaching work going on in the Free Software world. One is not only talking about Free operating systems like GNU/Linux, distros like Debian which bring you a package of some 15,000 softwares at an affordable price (that of copying 14 CDs!). But, more important are the social software and other collaborative tools that the world of Free Software is throwing up. Their contribution makes the Internet workable and stable. Or the tools that permits for new, unprecedented forms of collaborative work – such as wikis; and create new spaces for expression in a world where the majority had no voice – such as blogs.


On the other hand, the Indic language-computing programme seems to be working in an isolated ghetto. Teachers and educators, for the most, don't have much of a clue of what ICT can do for them. And, those of us talking the language of ICT4D haven't spent enough efforts at identifying educational needs of the left-outs and finding a mechanism to meet these needs. So many tens of thousands of students go through engineering colleges and an IT education, without even encountering the debate about whether India's IT talent needs to serve India primarily or simply focus on the unnecessarily over-valued export dollar.

Can i4d enter new grounds, and create new marriages among partners who otherwise simply won't see all those benefits of working together?

In this process, it would help vastly if i4d itself took on more collaborative and open models for itself. Small things matter: instead of drawing the reader to the i4d's site itself with URLs for breaking news, could we not be taken direct to the source of the news?

That apart, on this milestone of 25 issues of i4d, it was a nice present indeed to learn that i4d is already being released under a CreativeCommons.org sharable license. And that all the issues of the magazine have already been archived in a 'pdf' format “for global researchers and practitioners to benefit from this effort” at  www.i4d.csdms.in. Surely, we need to show our own faith in what we are talking about, and implement it ourselves. i4d is a good contribution in terms of the knowledge and information it throws up. We are grateful for not just what you do, but how you do it!

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