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.
Author Archives: Ken Banks
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
“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
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
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
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.
The world has problems. Big problems. They need big answers, ambitious projects and innovative solutions. And they cost money. Lots of it.