13 February 2013 | EN | FR
Technology can have a significant impact on development
[LONDON] A UK-based charity's struggle to recruit a technology policy advisor highlights a dearth of interest in technology among Western NGOs and funding agencies, insiders say.
Practical Action (PA), a charity that supports the use of technology to tackle poverty, is now re-advertising the senior policy and practice advisor role. The lack of interest in the post could be symptomatic of development organisations' dismissive attitudes to technology.
"Technology is not seen as pertinent to poverty reduction," says Astrid Walker Bourne, PA's policy director.
When NGOs talk about poverty reduction, she says, they focus on food, health or education. "People see health, but they don't see the fridge and the health centre that need energy. That's a technology," she says.
Duncan Green, strategic advisor for Oxfam GB, says that people within the NGO community "don't like talking about technology".
He is unsurprised that PA is having trouble finding the right person for the policy role as few people's interests span both technology and aid policy.
Yet people on both sides of the divide should realise that "where technology meets society, something happens", he says.
For PA, the concept of 'technology justice' — the idea that everyone has the right to access the technologies they need to lead full lives — is at the heart of its work.
Walker Bourne says that technology can be simple. For example, reducing the use of coal or kerosene stoves would dramatically improve air quality in many homes.
But concepts such as access to energy are intangible to many in the developed world, she adds. "In the West, we don't see the technology behind energy."
Now the PA is trying to recruit "somebody who is able to break down what technology means in different spheres of poor peoples' lives", says Walker Bourne.
William Hoyle, chief executive of techfortrade [sic], a charity that works to set up technology-based trade networks in developing countries, says that part of the problem with getting NGOs and funding agencies to engage with technology is that it is so wide-ranging.
"The term technology covers anything from GM technology for new seeds to ICT [information and communication technology] and e-learning," he says.
Money for technology is scarce, he adds. Funding agencies, Hoyle says, are cautious about investing in technology programmes because they lack experience in the field.
"We have to help funders understand the business case for funding technology," he says.
Walker Bourne is hopeful that PA will be able to hire someone who can relate the mindset that while technology can be simple, it must be considered in development debates. "We need to explain how this niche fits with the big buzzwords of development," she says.
Tony Roberts ( United Kingdom )
14 February 2013
Weird how some people (and some people in development) are technophobic. If the definition of technology is 'the process of applying knowledge, materials and human resources to solve human problems' then development IS technology. Surely?
Wayan ( United States of America )
14 February 2013
I advertized this position on http://ict4djobs.com and got direct feedback that PA's problem has nothing to do with tech interest in NGOs.
The problem is that PA is based in Warwickshire. Anyone who is rocking ICT4D in the UK is in/near London and £47,000 isn't worth the move to West Midlands.
Eric Ferguson ( Netherlands )
18 February 2013
From 1978 to the mid 1990s I was involved in Energy and Development in West Africa, Yemen and elsewhere, looking especially at household energy. The projects were both at technological and policy level, and were funded by the World Bank and the Netherlands development assistance. I strongly support the statement that development of the proper technologies, and even more the embedding of these technologies in the society, so that the technological systems become self-sustaining, is an essential ingredient for development.
To Wayan I would say: the technology expert must spend much time out in the field. Trying to work from an office in Warwickshire is worse than useless.
My age precludes me from becoming active again in the field, but I will gladly support PA in any way they wish.
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