Author Archives: Ken Banks

Making a new ending

Exactly two-and-a-half years ago I sat on the Unreasonable at Sea ship, docked in Ho Chi Minh City, planning next steps in a life and career that’s taken me from programming Commodore PET computers, running primate sanctuaries and developing messaging tools to mentoring tech startups and students on a ship with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. If it’s all about the journey, then I think I’ve passed on that one. Despite all of that, as time passes the destination inevitably becomes just as important. After 25 years working in technology – 22 years of those in conservation and international development – I’ve been rewarded with some amazing friendships, many wonderful experiences and more than my fair share of (unexpected) awards and recognition.

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Global development R&D: Maintaining a balance

My first brush with technology-for-development, almost twenty years ago, wasn’t on the potential of the Internet, or how mobile phones were going to change, well, everything. To be honest, neither were really on the development radar in any meaningful way back then. It’s almost funny to imagine a time when that was the case. No, my first contact with what was to become a career in ICT4D started off with an essay on the failure of plough and cook stove projects across Africa. I was struck by the beauty of simple, locally appropriate solutions and amazed at how development experts just didn’t seem (or want) to get it

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Is ‘fixing development’ the real Grand Challenge for Development?

“Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives” – Bill Gates, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation I’ve got an idea for a great new project if anyone out there is looking for one. But we warned – it won’t be easy

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In global development, is the pen mightier than the sword?

I’m reading two books in parallel right now – Ben Ramalingam‘s ‘Aid on the Edge of Chaos‘ and Kentaro Toyama‘s ‘Geek Heresy‘. With both books I’m finding myself regularly pausing for a nod of approval or a wry smile. Both books are spot on in their identification of the issues – Ben in global development more broadly, and Kentaro in ICT4D, a sector/field/discipline/specialism of global development. A while back when Bill Easterly published his ‘Tyranny of Experts‘ I started to wonder what impact his previous book – ‘The White Man’s Burden‘ – has had on the practice and policy of global development. I have the same question for Dambisa Moyo, too, whose ‘Dead Aid‘ is another classic development critique.

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The “Tweet. Recycle. Repeat” of ICT4D

During a rare, quiet, bored few minutes last week I looked through a few early blog posts from some of the longer standing members of the ICT4D community. Between around 2012 and now, many of the same statements, proclamations and questions have come up time and time and time again. The same tweets with the same outcome – usually nothing. Many have regularly appeared on my blog over the past seven or eight years, too, without making the slightest bit of difference. I recently wrote about the need to stop just meeting up and repeating ourselves in the ICT4D echo chamber, which is what has been happening

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Publishing and the art of iteration

Eighteen months ago, “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” hit the shelves. The product of a combination of donations, crowdfunding, ten inspiring innovators, an editor with too much time on his hands, and an engaged publisher, the book was always something of an experiment. Tales of people innovating ‘outside the system’ – people with little by way of resources or money, and often without qualification or permission – just getting on with fixing social ills that deeply bothered them seemed like stories the world needed to hear. Today, it looks like I may have underestimated the number of people who wanted to hear them. Professional book reviews are hard to get, particularly when you self publish.

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Talking ICT4D

Back in 2009 I carried out something of an experiment. Me and Erik Hersman attended ICT4D in Doha. For both of us it was our first time at a ‘professional’ tech-for-development gathering. After hearing and writing so much about the disconnect between academia and practitioners in ICT4D, I wanted to see if it existed – and in what form – for myself. I wasn’t disappointed

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Global Development: Investors in People?

We hear it all the time. Investors invest in people, not products or ideas. Marty Zwilling, a veteran start-up mentor, describes people as the great competitive advantage. I wonder what the non-profit world might learn from people like him? The vast majority, if not all, non-profit foundations and donors are project-focused

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Book Review

The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator Ken Banks (ed), London Publishing Partnership, 2013, 232 pages Review by the Society of Business Economists “Any book with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and comments from the World Economic Forum, the BBC and National Geographic is surely one to take notice of, and this book still exceeded my expectations in so many ways. If the book has a purpose, it is probably to inspire us to innovate using existing technology for those who cannot help themselves. As an economist in the field of innovation and creativity I was ready to uncover the principles involved. What I didn’t expect was the emotional roller coaster that made me stop and wonder why I was so close to tears. Human stories of injustice and income inequality are so much more powerful than statistics.

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Principles and Charters: A recipe for harmony in ICT4D?

There’s a phenomenon in the science world known as ‘multiple independent discovery‘. It’s where “similar discoveries are made by scientists working independently of each other” and the Theory of Evolution, the jet engine and the television can be counted among its ranks. Not that any of my work comes close to any of these, it was no surprise when I recently announced my Donors Charter to learn that friends on the other side of the Atlantic were working on something very similar. Or at least that appeared very similar. The Donors Charter was borne out of a specific frustration that donors often appeared to be funding ICT4D projects they shouldn’t.

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Like writing? Social innovation? Technology? Read on.

If you’re interested in technology – in particular the human face of technology in international development – have excellent writing and research skills, and want to develop our presence on the National Geographic website, then we might have the perfect opportunity for you. For a number of years, kiwanja.net has worked hard to take the ‘mobile message’ to the masses, sharing human stories of how technology is improving lives around the world and sharing them in an accessible format with the general public. “Digital Diversity“ with National Geographic is our flagship effort, and to date we have posted dozens of stories on how different technologies, from mobile phones to solar power, are improving the lives of people everywhere. The series is very popular and has strong support from the National Geographic staff who regularly tweet and share the stories with their millions of followers. The series has recently been managed by a number of volunteers, a couple of which have since gone on to take up full time roles with international development organisations

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Every three seconds

Every three seconds, someone in the world dies from hunger or extreme poverty. In a society where materialism reigns, what is the real secret to happiness? Award-winning filmmaker Daniel Karslake (For the Bible Tells Me So) tells the unforgettable stories of five regular folks – a boy, a college student, a thirty-something and two seniors – whose lives went from ordinary to extraordinary based on one simple decision: to engage. Each chose action over apathy, and in the process, each one has had a significant and lasting impact on two of the most challenging, yet solvable, issues of our time: hunger and extreme poverty.

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The folly of “Designing with the end user”

After years of near-invisible end users, it’s promising to see the beginnings of ‘end-user recognition’ in much of ICT4D‘s emerging best practice. It looks like we’ve made a big stride forward, but we’re not where we need to be yet, despite making all the right noises. To a great extent, we’re still saying one thing and doing another. The international development sector, which includes the ICT4D community, is famously uncoordinated. That’s no surprise to many of the people who work in it.

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International development: A problem of image, or a problem of substance?

The world has problems. Big problems. They need big answers, ambitious projects and innovative solutions. And they cost money. Lots of it.

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