A Different Kind of Poverty

Speech given at United Nations, InfoPoverty World Conference, April 11, 2014:

It is a privilege to speak here today at the 14th InfoPoverty World Conference. My name is Neelley Hicks, and I am the Director of ICT4D Church Initiatives at United Methodist Communications, which is the global communications agency of The United Methodist Church. I invite you to engage this presentation on Twitter with the hashtag #INFOPOVERTY.

On Wednesday, I heard perhaps the best quote of the week, from a Zimbabwean gentleman named Phillip Chabata:

“Send me a desktop computer that I have no way to power & I will have a nice stool to sit or prop my feet.  Send appropriate technology & I will transform my community.” P Chabata

We can understand why information poverty is still so prevalent, when we all are trying to eradicate it using tools not exactly made for their context.

Yet, United Methodist Communications has found affordable, appropriate and accessible tools that do work – when coupled, of course, with intentional human interaction! This simple ruggedized laptop when equipped with an open source software called FrontlineSMS can send group text messages without the need of Internet. Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau of the Democratic Republic of the Congo calls this laptop her magical rural instrument because its battery runs up to 9 hrs. She uses it to send messages to her community telling them to boil water when there is a cholera outbreak, and provide other health alerts.

We have found that simple solar lights like this one which also has cellphone charger can reappropriate the wages of someone living in poverty – away from kerosene purchases and into simply making life better and healthier.

We have found that solar powered computer labs can educate girls like Angeline by day and her mother at night. Program Manager James Lazarre said that Angeline’s mother came to the lab to see what her daughter would not stop talking about, and then she said she wanted to know what her daughter knows, so she too is taking classes there.  And even in the poorest of schools that  do not have space for labs, a solar power computer cart with water filtration can quench the thirst for knowledge, and clean drinking water. This summer, we will focus on monitoring and evaluation through Matthew Kam of American Institutes for Research, in collaboration with Emory University, and will release a report in the Fall.

We have found that community health workers like Karen in Malawi can put more money back in her own pocket if we not only set up Internet access for computers, but also through phones on a network. This means that her mobile minutes are for her own use, not for her work.

ICT villages like this one can be created not through Americans going in and building the ICT infrastructure, but by using local capacity who are trained to implement, repair and maintain systems.

We have found that by partnering with others like the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster, we can connect those working to respond in disaster situations like Typhoon Haiyan so those providing water, food and shelter reach those who need it most.

Ultimately, United Methodist Communications, as a faith-based organization, operates on a moral imperative to focus not on those who already have access but the many who do not. We are striving together with partners to do this work well, so that we do not lose time, which is the most precious commodity available.

I would like to introduce some of our partners in this work: Bruce Baikie, CEO of Inveneo; Sean McDonald, CEO of FrontlineSMS; Marc Abbyad, Product Manager of Medic Mobile, and Firdaus Kharas, multi-award winning animator of behavior change communications developed to address issues such as domestic violence, malaria, HIV/AIDS and adoption of solar power to eliminate the need for kerosene.

The workshops we’ve been giving this week are a sneak peek into our conference September 3-5, 2014, which I hope you will attend. You can learn more at www.umcom.org/gamechangers. Thank you.

Watch the presentation live (begins at 53:00) and be sure to continue watching to hear directly from Firdaus, Bruce, Sean and Marc.

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About N. Neelley Hicks

A pioneer in the use of ICTs for global communications, Neelley inspires others through building and teaching solutions that are affordable, appropriate and available within remote settings - particularly in Africa and the Philippines.
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