By Shaleen Rakesh, Executive Director, VSO India
Technology is rapidly changing the world and all forms of human interaction. It cuts across geographies, genders, generations and sectors; including the development sector. Many organisations are using Information Technology for community outreach, programme management, gathering information and providing access to services to poor and marginalised communities.
However, technology in and of itself isn’t good or bad when it comes to development sector practice. What is important to consider is the kind of technology, whether it is appropriate in the context, and how it is engaging with communities. For example, a development worker trying to provide crop related information to farmers living in rural areas may decide it is more appropriate to use text messages or radio broadcasts instead of developing an app.
A text message can be an empowering tool
It's crucial that technology is customised with the end user in mind, to make sure it appeals to the target audience for whom it is designed. VSO India’s Samadhan project in Odisha is using technology to strengthen the hands of people living in poverty, by helping them to hold government officials and service providers to account. By sending a simple SMS message using any mobile phone, they are able to get access to their rights and entitlements in areas of health care, education and livelihoods.
VSO India uses mobile phone technology for increasing educational outcomes for poor children in government schools using the SMS Story approach. The programme reaches remote villages in Rajasthan and Jharkhand to significantly improve English speaking and learning abilities of children.
Technology can help to engage volunteers
VSO India is working with the Vodafone Foundations’ World of Difference programme, which sees to increase employee engagement in development programmes. The Word of Difference mobile app is a really smart way to engage and motivate the volunteers. The app creates a gaming environment for them which nudges volunteers to do their best while on assignment, records how their work is making an impact on communities and allows them to be recognised along the way.
Sonia Shrivastava, Head of Vodafone Foundation in India believes that connectivity has immense potential to drive social change. This focus is ingrained in Vodafone Foundation’s commitment to transform development programmes through mobile technologies over the last 25 years. She says, “We understand that NGOs often struggle to identify the right technology or solutions for their projects. Our expertise lies in bridging this gap, thus helping organisations infuse technology to maximise the effectiveness and efficiencies of their programmes.”
We must bridge the gaps, not widen them
However, it's also critical that the use of technology reduces inequality, rather than increases it. We need to be extremely conscious of who we may be inadvertently excluding. It is often the most vulnerable who are also the least likely to have access to such tools, and relying on them to deliver services risks leaving the disadvantaged further and further behind.
There is a great scope for development sector organisations to use technology effectively for greater impact and economies of scale. There are also opportunities for collaboration between NGOs and private sector in the technology space. Indeed the 2030 development agenda relies on collaboration and innovation of this kind.