The Digital for Development field has enormous potential—and plenty of room for learning. We launched this blog as part of our own learning process, and we hope to engage the Digital for Development community as we find our way forward.

Cyber Security Series Part 1: Trust is Why Cyber Security Matters to Digital Development

Tags: Cyber SecurityDigital Inclusion

We’re launching one of our final series for 2018 on cyber security with this post on why it matters to international development. Stay tuned and subscribe to our newsletter if this topic interests you!


Thinking About the User Part I: Design Considerations for Mobile Apps

Tags: Human-centered designUI/UX series

Think back to the last time you used a mobile app(lication) with unwieldy menu placement, indecipherable icons, and inconvenient user-configurable options. These may seem like minor nuisances in the everyday life of app interaction, and frankly, most users probably never notice (or maybe don’t realize that they notice) or hardly care. But user experience in application design is critical to ease of use, efficient navigation, and longevity of mobile-based application technologies.


Fortnite for International Development?

Tags: Think PieceInnovation

Fortnite—a free, online multiplayer video game—has amassed more than 125 million players worldwide during the mere 14 months since it debuted in July 2017. The game features a fast-paced, Hunger Games-inspired format mixed with community, celebrity, and story, and so far it’s working. Everyone from athletes to musicians are going public with their fandom and some parents are shelling out $35/hour for a Fortnite coach for their kids.

fortnite-superhero-art-01-ps4-us-27apr18.jpgImage © 2018, Epic Games.


August Roundup: Leapfrogging Technology, ICT4E in Conflict, and Facebook in Myanmar

Tags: ICT

Ah, the dog days of summer. Usually a slow time for work, that means there’s extra time to sit at your computer looking for good stuff to read, struggling with either being uncomfortably warm from the summer heat or excruciatingly cold from over-aggressive office air-conditioning. We get it. We got you. Fresh ICT4D reads from our August Roundup below!



5 Top Resources for Digital Access Data

Tags: Digital InclusionDigital Principles

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The global community has recognized the importance of digital equality—affordable, universal internet access as one of the Sustainable Development Goals. When we are implementing digital programs, access and inclusion are key concerns: We don’t want to leave anyone behind.


The Rising Tide of ICTs for Accountability

Tags: GovernanceThink Piece

A tectonic shift is taking place in commerce, and we’re all a part of it. At its core, it boils down to one concept: accountability. The accelerating movement toward web-based management tools, data analytics, and automation among businesses—coupled with the rapid growth in mobile phone technology—has reduced the cost of doing business, slashed barriers to entry, and reduced the time elapsed from concept to market-ready solution. The result is increased competition, more customer choice, greater accountability to the customer, and the sound of the sledgehammer falling upon formerly protected industries. Customers in the many business-to-consumer verticals (admittedly not all) have more bargaining power than ever before, and can hold businesses accountable for poor performance by downloading a competitor’s solution with a few simple clicks.


Getting Started with RStudio, Part 2

Tags: Open Source SeriesCoding

This article is part 2 of a series exploring the basics of importing and analyzing data in RStudio.

In a previous post we introduced the R programming language, RStudio as a development environment, and examined rainfall data for May. The data we analyzed was stored in Google Docs. We used some functions to pull the data into our work environment, and displayed the data over time using a line graph. In this post, we’re going to make an improvement to this analysis. Specifically, we’re going to streamline the way we access weather data.


Essential Actions: A Human-Centred, Global Approach to Privacy Rights

Tags: DataHuman-centered design

We’ve read the headlines: large-scale breaches of highly sensitive information in the United States, in the Philippines, in Nigeria, in India … the list goes on. The message is consistent: somebody, somewhere, needs to do something to protect us. Enter the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the EU’s (in)famous answer to protecting the personal data of its citizens. Some applaud it as the world’s strictest privacy standards; others consider it outdated from the start. (We’re in the age of blockchain and AI; you tell me how to exercise right to erasure here.) Either way, GDPR concepts are useful to international development contexts.



Take it to the Farmer: Behind the Scenes of the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize Co-Creation

Tags: Co-creationFall ArmywormInnovationAgriculture

Along with human-centered design and lean startup, co-creation is an approach arising to prominence in the development lexicon over the past five years. Some of us (myself included) have used “co-creation” without understanding what it means, simply assuming it was an event that brings together a variety of partners to brainstorm ideas to solve a problem. Only when I attended the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize co-creation workshop from June 26 to 29 in Kampala, Uganda, did I grasp the nuances of co-creation and realize the significant benefits it holds for the end users of co-created products.


A Time of Change. And Reflection.

Tags: Think PieceDigital Inclusion

I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when the grenade went off up the street—probably brushing my teeth or something mundane like that. I was halfway through my two-week visit to Ethiopia and looking forward to getting out in the field. I was also completely unaware of what had just happened. It was a sobering day. I spent all afternoon watching the news. First one person confirmed dead, then two. One-hundred and fifty or so wounded. Fear on the faces of a populace that had recently been so full of hope.

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DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration Featured on Podcast

Tags: Human-centered designThink Piece

This is HCD—a podcast that explores what human-centered design (HCD) looks like in practice—featured DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration work in Guatemala on its most recent episode.

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Digital Health in International Development: Using Tried & Tested Technology Innovatively

Tags: Global HealthInnovationHuman-centered design


I recently took part in the DAI panel discussion on “Digital Health in International Development: Current Realities and Future Trends” in London. It delivered fascinating perspectives from across the health, tech, and development sectors. Here’s a few key points I shared during the discussion and hope to stimulate a continued conversation.


Deadline Extended! Apply Now: Support USAID Missions to Improve Broadband Connectivity

Tags: Digital Inclusion

DAI’s Digital Frontiers project has extended the deadline to July 3 for proposals from interested organizations to help the U.S. Agency for International Development implement the Better Connectivity, Better Programs: How to Implement a Demand Aggregation Program (How-to Guide). The initial Request for Proposals (RFP) and related information can be found here.

Answers to RFP questions were emailed to interested offerors and can be found here.

Have questions? Email [email protected].


Catching Up with the Winners of MIT’s Grand Hack for Health

Tags: Global HealthInnovation

Let me start by saying that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Grand Hack is kind of a big deal. I don’t make the point as an affront to other hackathons—certainly not DAI’s own—but not many other hackathons can claim to have generated more than $150 million in venture capital and spawned more than 40 viable companies. Those two facts qualify the Grand Hack for royalty status among hackathons, which makes it even more surprising that the event is run entirely by students, MIT’s Hacking Health group. It’s also the reason why I was so excited to get a taste of MIT’s secret innovation sauce from the inside—as a mentor, alongside my colleague Kristen Roggemann.


Coffee Cloud: The Digital Project for Central American Coffee Growers

Tags: Human-centered designAgriculture

From 2010 to 2014, the Central American coffee bean suffered from a disease that rocked the economies of the region. Exports declined by 55 percent. From 2012 to 2013 some 374,000 jobs were lost—17 percent of the labor force. Roya, or coffee rust threatened the livelihoods of nearly 2 million.

Coffee rust is a fungal disease that covers the leaves and prevents photosynthesis, slowly constricting plants’ ability to process sunlight, reducing bean yield and eventually starving the plant to death. The warmer, wetter conditions wrought by climate change creates a better ecosystem for the fungus to grow. Its impact on Central American economies is significant as coffee exports are the region’s largest source of foreign income and coffee supports a vast supply chain, in turn supporting dozens of adjacent industries.


Trends in Digital Health: 4 Takeaways From Our UK Event

Tags: Digital InclusionGlobal HealthHuman-centered design

In comparison to other development sectors, health programs have historically been early adopters of digital tools. What have we learned over the last 10 years, and where are we heading? How can we build systems that integrate data from independent actors across the health ecosystem? How can we use lessons learned to support innovation? How can we adapt to expanding digital access and support the growth of local capacity?


Apply Now: Support USAID Missions to Improve Broadband Connectivity

Tags: Digital Inclusion

The rapid expansion of mobile and internet access in the developing world holds the promise of catalyzing resilient economic and social growth. However, the availability and cost of connectivity is a significant barrier to fully realizing that vision.

To help address this challenge, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Center for Digital Development developed the Better Connectivity, Better Programs: How to Implement a Demand Aggregation Program (How-to Guide).


Working With Tech Service Providers: It’s About More Than Tech

Tags: Human-centered designDigital Principles

Are you a nonprofit focused on improving maternal health outcomes? Or maybe you’re a civic engagement organization that encourages young people to become more involved with their local governments. No matter the objective, technology can both help you be more efficient internally and more impactful externally. The idea of tech is often easy: “Oh, we’ll just build an app for that!” But relationships with technical service providers are fraught with pitfalls that can jeopardize outcomes and derail even the best intentions.


5 Recent Reads We Loved (And You May Have Missed!)

Tags: Digital InclusionHuman-centered designDigital Financial Services

As our Center for Digital Acceleration team grows, we are finding new ways to share knowledge beyond our epic WhatsApp group chat that grows more ridiculous and off-topic by the day. We have some voracious readers on the team, so in prep for this post I took a minute to poll them to find out which recent articles they found fascinating—and I had missed them all! Since I can’t be the only one, I am sharing them with you to ensure these gems get as wide a readership as possible.

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Replicando la App de Transparencia en Guatemala

Tags: Human-centered designGuatemalaGovernance

Note this post is also available in English

El pasado mes de febrero del año en curso, retorné a Guatemala con el fin de dar seguimiento a una iniciativa tecnológica denominada Somos Chiantla, que promueve la participación ciudadana y la rendición de cuentas en el municipio de Chiantla, en el departamento de Huehuetenango. De igual manera visité los municipios de Sacapulas y San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta, con el fin de replicar esta herramienta en estos dos municipios, con un enfoque eminentemente participativo y colaborativo, considerando propuestas de autoridades de gobierno local y representantes de la sociedad civil para personalizar la aplicación atendiendo a sus gustos y preferencias.

07 Plenary voting.jpg Un participante en Sacapulas vota por las mejores formas de actualizar Somos Chiantla.


Getting Started With RStudio, Part 1

Tags: CodingOpen Source Series

This article is part 1 of 2, as we explore the basics of importing and analyzing data in RStudio.

As a data scientist, I spend a lot of my time working in a programming language called R. RStudio is an open source integrated development environment (IDE) for the R programming language, which focuses on programming for statistical analysis. You could arguably do data analysis in almost any computer programming language, but R offers some of the most accessible statistical functions of any language available today. You could also do this work in a business intelligence application such as Tableau or PowerBI, or conduct statistical analysis in STATA, but R and RStudio are free and open source. In this post, I’m going to introduce a few lines of code to get you started on your journey into R.


ICT4D Conference: Unpacking the Complexities of Integrated Health Data and Data Ownership

Tags: Think PieceGlobal Health

“We are at an inflection point in digital development!” Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope, boomed over the crowd of 750-plus participants the first day of the recent ICT4D Conference in Lusaka, Zambia. It may indeed be a critical time for technology, but the means of reaching our collective goals can create healthy disagreements, ones that should be unpacked in exactly the kind of setting the ICT4D Conference creates.


A Do No Harm Framework for ICT4D: Inspiration from SwitchPoint 2018

Tags: DataThink Piece

SwitchPoint 2018 was an inspiring, passionate, and delightful indulgence: Spending two days in lush Saxapahaw, North Carolina, thinking about big ideas and learning from leading experts in small group sessions in between performance art and live music shows felt like such a departure from Conference As Usual. I felt space opening up in my brain to start really processing what the speakers were saying—the real act and action of listening versus the usual ruse of secretly responding to emails on my phone while half paying attention and nodding at key pauses.


Digital Insights Malawi: Information and Communication in Rural Communities

Tags: Digital InsightsDigital Inclusion

Last month, I spent two weeks in Malawi trying to gain a real understanding of technology use and media consumption habits of people in rural and marginalised communities. Along with a team of enumerators, I spoke to 183 women, men, girls and boys (ages 14 to 80) in different traditional authorities (TAs) in Northern, Central and Southern Malawi.

009-MangochiTAMponda_approval.jpg Alice talking tech in Mponda, Mangochi, Southern Malawi.


TicTec 2018: Key Takeaways from the Impacts of Civic Technology Conference

Tags: InnovationGovernance

Last week I was at MySociety’s annual civic technology conference, TicTec, in Lisbon. For anyone who couldn’t make it I unfortunately can’t share all the takeaways, like the delicious Pastel de Nata, but here are a few treats for the mind.


Forking a Live Tool with Design Thinking in Guatemala

Tags: Human-centered designGuatemalaGovernace

Esta publicación también está disponible en español

This past February I was back in Guatemala, working with the fine people of Chiantla to improve and iterate Somos Chiantla. I was also in two new municipalities—Sacapulas and San Rafael Pie de la Cuesta—helping them create their own, personalized, forked versions of the app.

07 Plenary voting.jpg A participant in Sacapulas votes for the best ways to update Somos Chiantla


Writing Code is for Everyone—Now the Code Partners Scholarship Makes it Affordable

Tags: Coding

When someone needs a website or mobile app, they search for a coder. Almost anyone can be trained to write code and enter the digital workforce—once there, opportunities abound: from helping businesses, governments and other organizations build the websites and apps they need to supporting the digital systems that power economies worldwide.


Blockchain for Development Part 2: Implementation Considerations

Tags: AgricultureInnovationGlobal HealthBlockchain Series

As discussed in Part 1 of this two-part post on blockchain, “Understanding the Tech,” the blockchain hype is pervasive in international development these days. It is my view that blockchain does not deserve the “Swiss army knife of new technology” label that has been thrust upon it. While blockchain is exciting and potentially very useful, appropriate application of the tech can be evasive. If you need a quick and simple run down of blockchain, check out Part 1. Here I will give you a glimpse of some of the potential uses for blockchain in global development programming, and some of the challenges.


Submit Your Session Ideas for ICTforAg 2018

Tags: InnovationAgriculture

As in previous years, DAI is co-sponsoring this year’s ICTforAg conference in Washington, D.C. The conference is on June 14 at FHI 360. The conference is now accepting submissions for lightning talks and breakout sessions here. The deadline for submission is April 13. Use the guiding questions below to shape your session ideas, and see you all in June!



Blockchain for Development Part 1: Understanding the Tech

Tags: Digital Financial ServicesBlockchain Series

Bitcoin has launched the term “blockchain” into the world’s tech vernacular. Unfortunately for blockchain as a technology and a theory, it is often, for better or worse, synonymized with Bitcoin. Because of this, the ideas of public, transparent, and unchangeable information immediately come to mind as soon as someone mentions blockchain. While this is true for Bitcoin, this is not necessarily the case for all blockchains.


Putting Liberian Cities on the Map With OpenStreetMap

Tags: Data VisualizationSub-Saharan AfricaGovernance

As the world becomes more urbanized, data on cities and the residents who inhabit them is key to building and governing sustainable communities. Yet this data is simply not available for many rural and urban areas around the world. Many cities lack base data sets—such as accurate maps of their cities that identify key infrastructure, services, and human settlements. In some cases, these maps exist on paper, but in other cases, are only available in closed, proprietary systems or not at all. This was the case in the Liberian cities of Ganta, Gbarnga, and Zwedru.


How a Pilot Project in Haiti Brings Optimism for Digitally Enabled Health System

Tags: Global Health

I recently presented during a TechChange course titled “The Future of Digital Health.” I was asked to discuss the implementation of the Haiti Strategic Health Information System (HIS) program, a five-year, U.S. Agency for International Development-funded initiative that is consolidating and integrating Haiti’s disconnected health information assets. Preparing for this presentation gave me a chance to reflect on the past year—the progress we have made, the challenges we have encountered, and the future of digital health in Haiti.


How to Engage and Support Local Innovators: 3 Takeaways from the Digital Development Forum

Tags: EntrepreneurshipEconomic Growth

On March 9, I moderated a workshop called “How to Engage and Support Local Innovators” at the USAID Digital Development Forum. I was joined by three expert panelists: Danielle Dhillon from the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) at the UN Foundation; Toni Eliasz from the World Bank’s Digital Entrepreneurship Program; and Tyler Radford from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). All three are focused on nurturing local technologists and innovators. Toni and Danielle support local startup ecosystems and Tyler builds communities of volunteer mappers. What have they learned through these efforts?



Playing The Right Role In Haiti’s Growing Mobile Sector: 4 Key Principles

Tags: Digital Financial Services

Digital financial services have been a robust part of the development sector for over a decade and their impact continues to grow. This blog post is part of a series produced by mStar that focuses on successful projects that achieve results-driven impact in people’s lives. This post was originally published on the mStar digital development blog.


It’s an exciting time for mobile money expansion in Haiti. Digicel’s MonCash—Haiti’s largest mobile money deployment—has reached nearly 1 million customers and $400 million in yearly transacted value in 2017. This customer base represents a +1500 percent increase from 2015, the same year Digicel rebooted its strategy, marketing approach, product offering, and sales and training force.


Getting ICT Into the Hands of More Women

Tags: Digital Inclusion

March 8 is International Women’s Day! To celebrate, we’ll look at a course on women and ICT inclusion developed by USAID Digital Inclusion, mSTAR, and Panoply Digital. Click here to access the course.


ICT for Citizen Engagement and Advocacy: Lessons Learned from Mozambique DIÁLOGO

Tags: GovernanceICT

The Mozambique Democratic Governance Programme, DIÁLOGO, funded by the U.K. Department for International Development, worked with citizens, civil society, local media, and municipal government to engage more effectively on local issues. DIÁLOGO supported innovative solutions, including mobile- and web-based technologies, to amplify the voices of citizens and help governments respond to their demands. The programme ran from 2012 in the five urban municipalities of Beira, Maputo, Nampula, Quelimane, and Tete, and ended last December.


DFID’s Digital Strategy: What Does it Mean for DAI?

Tags: Digital PrinciplesThink Piece

Last month, the U.K. Department for International Development (DFID) launched its much-anticipated Digital Strategy 2018-2020: Doing Development in a Digital World, outlining its vision and approach towards using technology to have a bigger, faster, and more cost-effective impact on the lives of poor people—particularly those who are marginalised.


Getting Past the Blockchain Hype Cycle

Tags: InnovationThink Piece

Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLTs), commonly referred to as blockchain applications, are possibly the most talked about innovation of the day. And the most commonly discussed DLT applications are those that involve financial transactions with cryptocurrencies. Fortune Magazine recently listed “The Fintech Renaissance” as the second-most important technology trend of 2018, and with good reason. Last month Bitcoin saw more than 400,000 transactions per day. Despite warnings of Bitcoin’s volatility, the increased investment in cryptocurrencies is hard to ignore.

But what about all of the other promises of DLTs? There are no shortage of articles written about their impact on data security, the value of smart contracts to create efficient online transactions, and the value of data democratization and transparency through shared ledgers. While there are case studies for each of these promising areas, distributed application developers are in short supply, and active implementations for global development projects are rare. As a result, I get the sense that blockchain may be entering the peak if its hype cycle.


Why is DAI Investing in a Coding School?

Tags: ICTCoding

DAI and Rockville, Maryland-based United Solutions recently launched a business called Code Partners to provide classroom instruction in software development. Code Partners will rely on the proven curriculum and teaching methods of Seattle-based Code Fellows, starting with beginner-level courses in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.


“S3” Site Selection System: A Data-Driven Decision-Making Tool for Effective Engagement

Tags: Site Selection

Recently while on assignment in Haiti, a project manager for a local agricultural development project asked my team why we weren’t targeting certain rural communities. According to him, those communities are the ones that could really benefit from the type of work we were doing. While we had good reason to work where we were working, the question stuck: How can we be certain that we are targeting the right communities?


We Don’t Need to Reinvent the Wheel, But it’s Time to Invest in Roads and Highways

Tags: Global HealthDigital Principles

Here’s the good news: Over the past 10 years the digital health community has begun to heal from a severe case of pilotitis. As a community of innovators and health systems researchers, we increasingly recognize that creating and testing new digital health tools in the absence of investments in the enabling ecosystem is likely to produce limited, short-term, and small-scale impact. Without concerted efforts to fertilize the soil in which the seeds of innovation are planted, those seeds will never mature beyond a sapling. That is, unless we pay attention to the policy and regulatory environment, the telecommunications and electrical infrastructure, and most importantly, the availability of trained and appropriate human resources to facilitate scale-up and sustainability, we cannot expect national-scale digital health projects to thrive.


KIC Expands its Support of Tech-Driven Entrepreneurship to Mauritania

Tags: EntrepreneurshipSub-Saharan Africa

Regular readers of [email protected] will know that we’ve been supporting Kosmos Energy’s Innovation Center (KIC) in Ghana for the last two years. KIC’s work with young tech entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector has garnered awards and plenty of media attention, and Kosmos is now looking to apply what it has learned to a new country: Mauritania.


Looking Ahead to 2018

Tags: InnovationThink Piece

The new year provides a great opportunity to think about priorities for year ahead. Last week we wrote a post highlighting the top posts of 2017. The most-read articles covered a lot of ground—from reflections on specific projects, to advances in our thinking on best practices for human-centered design (HCD), to technology reviews. So, what’s on our minds for the year to come?

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Lean HCD: How to HCD When You Can’t Travel to the Field

Tags: Human-centered designDigital Insights

Back in late 2015, I landed a unique design gig. The job came via Nexos Locales, a USAID-funded, DAI-run project that works with municipalities around the Western Highlands of Guatemala to improve public financial management and citizen engagement. A newly elected mayor in the municipality of Chiantla wanted to open his finances to the public to close the space for corruption, and I was asked by the project to scope out the activity.


Q&A Responses: Looking For a Partner to Fight Fall Armyworm

Tags: Agriculture

On December 7, DAI released a request for proposals (RFP) for a prize implementation partner to confront fall armyworm. This partner will join DAI and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in designing a results-driven prize to find digital tools and services that help smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa. Thank you to those who asked questions about the RFP. We have reviewed your questions, and provided answers to each below.



GeekFest 2017: Talking Gender-Disaggregated Data with Alex Tyers, Panoply Digital

Tags: Geekfest 2017Data

geekfest-d47647.jpg Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for our #geekfest2017 interviews are 1. to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, 2. feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and 3. to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.

AlexTyers_Headshot_May2017.jpg This week I chat with Alexandra “Alex” Tyers, Co-Founder and Director at Panoply Digital. Alex is a mobiles for development (M4D) professional, specializing in monitoring and evaluation for innovation, mobile learning in emerging markets, and women’s mobile and ICT access and use. Alex recently spoke at our Frontiers in Digital Inclusion Event in London on the importance of gender-disaggregated data for digital access and inclusion.


Apply Now: Looking For a Partner to Fight Fall Armyworm

Tags: Agriculture

Today, DAI releases a request for proposals for a prize implementation partner to confront fall armyworm head on. This partner will join DAI and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in designing a results-driven prize to find digital tools and services that help smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa.

34880771941_a99698095a_z-089e50.jpg A farmer in Ethiopia inspects his fall armyworm-infested maize. (Photo Credit: FAO/Tamiru Legesse)


GeekFest2017: A Discussion with Cassandra Mickish Gross

Tags: Geekfest 2017Global Health

Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for our #geekfest2017 interviews are 1. to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, 2. feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and 3. to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.

Cassandra Mickish Gross Headshot.jpg This week I’m speaking with Cassandra Mickish Gross from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs to discuss the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Knowledge for Health Project. In this post Cassandra reflects on her experience developing a digital health platform. We explore the choice between an established solution with the potential to scale, versus one that has clear evidence of impact on health outcomes. During the interview, she reflects on the Faster to Zero Initiative, implemented in partnership with HealthEnabled, that aims to support the Ministries of Health of South Africa and Uganda in the scale-up of digital health tools and accelerate the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.


3 Key Takeaways From Our London Digital Inclusion Event

Tags: Digital Inclusion

Earlier this week, we were joined by Alex Tyers of Panoply Digital, Saloni Korlimarla of the Cherie Blair Foundation (CBF) for Women, and Guillaume Touchard from the GSM Association (GSMA)’s Connected Society Team at the delightful Makers Academy space in Shoreditch, United Kingdom, to discuss, debate, and engage around the challenges and opportunities for increasing digital inclusion and access.


DAI Launches 'Lean HCD: A Case Study in Human-Centered Design in the Highlands of Guatemala'

Tags: Human-centered designDigital Insights

Today DAI launches Lean HCD: A Case Study in Human-Centered Design in the Highlands of Guatemala. This landmark report is the culmination of 18 months of close collaboration between DAI’s ICT team, the USAID Nexos Locales project, and the people of Chiantla, a municipality in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, to design a tool for budget transparency and citizen engagement.


Tailored Technology Enhances Resilience Programming

Tags: InnovationThink Piece

FHI360 recently hosted its annual Technology for Resilience workshop in Bangkok. In doing so, conference organizers created an opportunity for technologists and development practitioners to learn from active technology projects that promote community resilience, and work together on innovative solutions to what are often seen as intractable problems. In this post, I’ll look at some of the technologies showcased during the conference. But before doing so, let’s define resilience.

Tech for Resilience Poster.jpg


Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls Exacerbates Digital Exclusion

Tags: Digital InclusionThink Piece

Raise your hand if you have experienced online harassment. I am sure the response is a virtual flurry. Although digital technologies have the ability to empower, connect, and liberalise, they can also serve as platforms for marginalisation and abuse.


5 Podcasts for Human-Centered Designers

Tags: Human-centered design

In the field of international development, human-centered designers (HCD) are charged with rapidly developing empathy with a specific, targeted, marginalized population, diving into a social challenge which that group faces, and parlaying that understanding and access into a locally-tailored solution.


Doing so successfully requires one primary skill: listening. That means listening in the traditional sense: to an individual, as DAI does in our Digital Insights work. But, more broadly, listening for design in the international development space means listening to an entire population to identify social challenges as well as the cultural, political, and economic dynamics that affect them and perpetuate the problem.


Digital Insights: Would Haitians use Mobile Money for Banking?

Tags: Digital InsightsDigital Financial Services

In late September, I traveled to Haiti to conduct research on how Haitians engage with financial institutions and mobile technology to explore the feasibility of introducing mobile money as an avenue for the provision of financial services. Together with the team from the USAID/Haiti Finance Inclusive project, implemented by DAI, and with support from our sister USAID/Haiti project Finance Pour Tous and two key credit unions—Caisse Populaire Fraternite (CPF) and Socolavim—I visited nine locations through the northern and central provinces of the country to interview 181 credit union customers as they went about their business.


Why a Dashboard Isn’t Just a Dashboard

Tags: Data

I distinctly remember an early conversation with colleagues when I began working in digital development in which a peer dismissively waved his hand at the idea of implementing a live data dashboard, saying “A dashboard is a dashboard is a dashboard!” The finality of that line stuck with me. I assumed that the dismissal came from a person who was bored with dashboards, like a kid who opens a birthday present to find he has received yet ANOTHER dashboard. Well, interactive data dashboards—just like automobile dashboards—may not be the newest, hottest, shiniest thing in the ICT4D toolbox, but they’re still important and their often hidden values go unappreciated by many.



8 Do’s and Don’ts in Adaptive Management and Learning in ICT4D

Tags: InnovationData

This is a guest post by Kate Heuisler, Chief of Party of DAI’s USAID-funded Cambodia Development Innovations project.

Development Innovations supports innovators and boosts the use of information and communication technologies for the overall development of Cambodia. The project is structured to be flexible and adaptive—because we need to. Really, most creative development programs should build themselves to be learning organizations, to be ready for big pivots, regardless if you and your partners use digital innovations. The development world is regularly disrupted—by political changes, natural disasters, new technologies such as social media—and is no longer built for static, five-year plans. Donors and funders need partners that can learn by doing, and are not afraid to adapt strategies and implementation plans to continually improve.


GeekFest 2017: Delving into Public Access with Duduzile Mkhwanazi of Project Isizwe

Tags: Geekfest 2017Digital Inclusion

geek fest logo Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.

This week we are focusing on public access as a solution to closing the Digital Divide. Being able to access free public wifi can be crucial for those who cannot afford internet subscriptions: It can be the difference between finally finding that job, getting the training you need or linking up with a valuable investor for your new venture. The 2017 A4AI Affordability Report noted the importance of public wifi for engendering use of the internet: Research shows public wifi as one of the most popular options for online access.

We sat down with Duduzile Mkhwanazi, CEO of Project Isizwe-an organization making great strides in providing free public wifi in South Africa, a country where inequality is rife and the affordability of mobile data is just out of reach for many, despite 99 percent 3G coverage.



Practicing the Principles for Digital Development in East Africa

Tags: Digital PrinciplesInnovation

This is a guest post by Mustapha Issa, Field Manager and MAST Coordinator and Gilead Mushaija, GIS Database Specialist, both from DAI’s Feed the Future Land Tenure Assistance project.

At the recent Practicing the Principles for Digital Development event on October 12 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 80 participants from organizations including DAI, the Ministry of Works, Transport, and Communications, and private organizations from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda attended.

The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and the Human Development Innovation Fund Tanzania (HDIF-UKAid) stewarded the event and were joined by leading organizations in endorsing the Digital Principles. DAI is a signatory to the Principles.


Three Key Takeaways from USAID’s New Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit

Tags: Digital InsightsData

This past week USAID’s Global Development Lab and mStar project released the Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit. In an informative webinar (you can listen to the recording here), the team that produced the report discussed both the content and the context surrounding the genesis of the toolkit. I tuned in and spent the majority of the time silently cheering, thrilled to hear USAID promoting research tactics and information needs that align with what we on DAI’s ICT team are doing with our Digital Insights work. In between cheers, I feverishly took notes and captured these three key takeaways.


Testing Data Collection with OpenDataKit

Tags: Open Source SeriesData

Primary data collection: One of the most challenging, but necessary, components of any research project. Mobile and browser-based technologies have revolutionized the speed and efficiency of collecting data, enabling teams to work together on a centralized database without the headache of managing paper forms, or multiple excel documents.

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’ve used Googleforms or Survey Monkey for your work. But what if you need to collect data in regions without 3G or LTE coverage? You’ll need a tool to manage offline data collection, and load the data once you access a wireless internet connection. Fortunately, there are several tools designed to do just that, and one of them is completely free and open source. It’s called OpenDataKit (ODK). Let’s take a look at how this technology works.


Open Innovation in 60 Minutes or Less

Tags: InnovationGlobal Health

When we do “open innovation,” it’s essential to define the problem we are trying to solve. And crucial to that process is crafting a good “Call.” Can this be done in 60 minutes or less?

workshop-5df2eb.jpg DAI facilitated workshop on open innovation at the Triangle Global Health Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.


The Second Chance Fund: Learning and Iteration with Tech in Cambodia

Tags: InnovationDigital Inclusion

Any honest digital designer will admit it: Most tech tools fail. At least the first time around. Getting your users to drop the old way of doing things and use your new website (or gadget, or app) isn’t easy. It doesn’t matter if it visualizes their transactions in some really clever way, or sends their user data to the cloud for real-time analysis, or even if it saves them time or money. Behavior change is difficult, and doubly so when you’re designing across cultures. Why? A few reasons:


Investments in Internet Access Must Include Investments in “Critical Digital Literacy”

Tags: Think PieceDigital Inclusion

Expanding internet access in ‘last-mile markets’ is a priority for development agencies—and rightly so. The economic costs to countries that do not offer their populations internet access is high: Studies have detailed the internet’s macroeconomic boost to GDP, the economic and employment benefits of the growth in the digital sector, and the impact of ICT on small business revenue and job creation. Internet access has also been shown to improve learning and health outcomes and catalyze civic engagement. Reading these reports, it seems we’re in an all-hands-on-deck moment to get bandwidth into every last corner of the earth. But what about the risks?

fake news.jpg Photo from Kenyan Daily Star


Catalyzing Ghana’s Growing AgriTech Ecosystem

Tags: Economic GrowthEntrepreneurship

This is the wrap-up piece for 2017 in our ongoing series about Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) Ghana and its annual AgriTech Challenge, which DAI supports and helps implement. We’ll pick this series back up again for KIC’s 2018 cohort, but in the meantime, browse our KIC archives here, here, and here.


Open Source Series Part 3: Spatial Analysis with QGIS (Article 2/2)

Tags: GISDataOpen Source Series

In my last post I introduced QGIS, and previewed some of the basic functions in the upcoming release of Version 3.0. In this second of two articles, I’ll compare using QGIS in professional organizations to the use of proprietary software, and provide recommendations for organizations seeking to test the waters with spatial analysis. I’ve also reached out to three GIS professionals with experience integrating spatial analysis software into diplomatic and development work environments, and shared their perspectives in a Q&A section below.



Data Management Series Part 3: Painting a Vivid Picture with Data

Tags: Data VisualizationDataData Management Series

Welcome back! After reading the previous two posts in this series, you’ve come a long way: you’ve devised a brilliant monitoring, evaluation, and learning plan, set up your data storage and management infrastructure, and conducted your baseline data collection. It’s finally time to get to the good stuff and dive into the data to make sense of it all—with eye-popping graphics worth of downtown billboards!

160939707 data visualisation-ab2ed4.jpg


Data Management Series Part 2: Don’t Let Your Data Get Dusty

Tags: Data VisualizationDataData Management Series

So, after reading last week’s blog, you’ve developed the world’s most robust monitoring, evaluation, and learning plan. You just conducted a multi-tier baseline assessment, validating your data by triangulating data points through five different surveying tools and are excited to dig in to multivariate regression analysis. But wait! First we need to talk about data storage and management!

In the international development world, an all-too-familiar sight is binders of data sitting idly on shelves in rural government offices. We all acknowledge that there are much better ways to store and maintain our results. However, many organizations only move one or two steps up the ladder: from paper and pen to .xlsx or .csv files on a laptop. While this may enable you to conduct the minimum analysis needed to satisfy your donor in an annual report, does it really maximize the value of the data we collect?



Data Management Series Part 1: Planning and Collecting

Tags: Data VisualizationDataData Management Series

If you’ve been paying any attention to the so-called data revolution, you may have heard the expression “Data is the new oil.” The phrase has been attributed to and adopted by countless people and organizations to whom the central reasoning is clear: In the information age, data is an incredibly valuable “commodity.” The purpose of the analogy as originally made by mathematician Clive Humby in 2006 is significantly deeper though. He said that data is valuable, but cannot be used if it is unrefined. Like oil, data has to be changed, transformed, broken down, and analyzed for us to actually draw out the value locked within. This is true for anyone producing or accessing any type of raw datasets, including development organizations.


Open Source Series Part 2: Spatial Analysis with QGIS (Article 1/2)

Tags: GISDataOpen Source Series

In part one of this two-part article, we’ll explore the open source geographic information system (GIS) software package, QGIS, through a look at its history, and take a sneak peek at the upcoming release of Version 3.0, which is scheduled for release this fall.


There’s been a buzz around the release of QGIS version 3.0 for a couple of years now. QGIS has been my go-to desktop GIS application for the past five years, so I was thrilled to receive an e-mail from the QGIS LinkedIn user group with a link to beta test QGIS 2.99, a pre-release copy of the version 3.0. No hesitation there, it was finally a time to give it a whirl.


GeekFest 2017: Discussing Blockchain and Economic IDs with Shailee Adinolfi of BanQu

Tags: Geekfest 2017Digital Financial ServicesInnovation

geek fest logo

Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.

This week I’m speaking with Shailee Adinolfi, Vice President, Account Management and Marketing at BanQu. We discuss blockchain technology and its application to finance and commerce. For an in-depth primer on blockchain technology, we encourage reading this article in the Harvard Business Review.


Blockchain Summer News Round-Up: A Big Splash Into the Pool or a Dip of the Toe?

Tags: InnovationDigital Financial Services

This is a guest post by Colleen Green, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at DAI and avid swimmer.

Blockchain technology has been in the news a lot this summer, and like the child standing at the edge of a swimming pool, the news is equal parts enthusiastic, cautious, and speculative about what lurks beneath.

Pool-photo.jpgPhoto from the 2016 Blockchain Summit


Lanzamos ‘Somos Chiantla’, App de Transparencia, en Guatemala

Tags: GuatemalaGovernanceHuman-centered design

Note: This post is also available in English.

Nota: Esta entrada es la continuación de una publicación anterior que explica nuestra fase de diseño digital, que fue centrada en los ciudadanos de Chiantla.


El 25 de mayo, el Alcalde Carlos Alvarado Figueroa anunció desde el Teatro Municipal de Chiantla el lanzamiento de Somos Chiantla, una aplicación móvil para la transparencia presupuestaria municipal y la participación ciudadana de Chiantla, uno de los municipios apoyados por Nexos Locales y ubicado en el Departamento de Huehuetenango.


Results of HCD: Governance App Launches in Guatemala

Tags: GovernanceGuatemalaHuman-centered design

Nota: Esta publicación también está disponible en español

Note: This blog post follows an earlier post which covers our pre-development human-centered design phase.


On May 25, Mayor Carlos Alvarado Figueroa stood on stage at the local municipal theater and announced the launch of Somos Chiantla—a mobile app for municipal budget transparency and citizen engagement for the citizens of Chiantla, a town in the Western Highlands of Guatemala and one of Nexos Locales’s partner municipalities.


Human-Centered Design for Behavior Change in Health

Tags: Global HealthHuman-centered design

One of the largest barriers to improving health outcomes across the world is the difficulty of changing behaviors. Building a stable health system that provides quality products and services to its beneficiaries can only go as far as the patients’ willingness to trust that system. There may be clinical evidence that proves the health benefits of a given drug or device, but can that evidence compete with history, cultural norms, stigma, trust, and many more behavioral and societal pressures that often preclude widescale adoption?


Open Source Series Part 1: What is Open Source?

Tags: DataOpen Source Series

Here at DAI we rely on software applications and data systems for our everyday work. From internal chat applications, to business intelligence software, to online data collection platforms, technology systems enable us to do our work more efficiently and effectively. But when working on international development projects, we must consider other factors such as access to desktop versus mobile devices, computer processing power and storage, levels of technical acumen, and maybe most importantly, cost.


Refugee Co-Lab: Using Design Thinking to Integrate Refugees into Communities in Greece

Tags: Human-centered designInnovation

This is a guest post by Ting Shih, CEO and Founder of ClickMedix

More than 800,000 refugees came to the Island of Lesvos, Greece, to seek safety and a new life. Many of them came from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflict-ridden countries. As the refugee crisis in Greece subsided, there are about 3,000 refugees who now remain there, anxious to find ways to integrate and contribute to Greek society. The refugees I met are educated and skilled and some used to run their own businesses. They’re not helpless, but they are constrained and in a state of limbo as they await asylum. This state of uncertainty and despair is especially challenging for refugees who were, until recently, productive members of the workforce. Our role is to help them understand their new pathway, by leveraging what they already know to do as well as provide new skills.

One of them is Jalal. He is just 22 and full of energy and aspirations. Jalal is building his own social enterprise to help fellow refugees and working as a translator at a local law firm. He even taught himself English during his stay in Greece by interacting with international volunteers and other aid workers. Is Jalal unique? Are there more budding entrepreneurs like him? Can we help them achieve their dreams?


GeekFest 2017: Talking Open Source Design, Makerspaces, and Global Supply Chains with Jessica Berlin

Tags: Geekfest 2017InnovationHuman-centered design

geek fest logo

Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #GeekFest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.

This week I’m speaking to Jessica Berlin, the co-founder of the MakerNet Consortium and founder and Managing Director of CoStruct based in—you guessed it—Berlin, Germany. Before taking the leap as an entrepreneur, Jessica worked for a number of German and U.S. government organizations and development agencies as well as nonprofits in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America—experiences that inspired her to start her own company to create new programs, provide innovation strategy consulting, and build public-private partnerships to advance business and tech innovation in emerging economies.


5 Things to Consider When Doing Mobile Data Collection

Tags: Data

This is a guest post by Nafessa Kassim, Director of Business Development, and Al Ismaili, CEO and Co-Founder of Bamba, a mobile data collection company in Nairobi, Kenya.

Development organizations now have a plethora of mobile data collection tools at their disposal, and choosing between the various options available can often seem like a daunting task. But even after finding the right tool, it is imperative to think through and address the most common challenges that arise in the mobile data collection process. In the last five years of helping development actors integrate mobile phones into their data collection processes, we’ve identified five challenges they run into most often.

151014-M-XW591-468.JPG Photo credit: David Staten


HCD in the Field: Trading Counterfeit Rupees for Real Insights with Farmers in Nepal

Tags: Human-centered designInnovationData

This is a guest post by Meredith Perry, Innovation Specialist with DAI’s Center for Development Innovation project.

My colleague pressed $1,000 in visibly fake Nepali rupees into the hands of each farmer, inputs dealer, and agricultural entrepreneur. Then, she grandly opened the doors to our ersatz haat bazaar (an outdoor, rural marketplace) and instructed them to, “Pay what you would be willing to spend on the products.”

Photo 1 meredith blog.jpg Inside the Data-Driven Farming Prize’s “haat bazaar.” Yes, we know inside makes this an oxymoron. Photo by Kathaharu Studios.

For two hours, the din associated with an actual marketplace poured out of a Kathmandu conference room. The Data-Driven Farming Prize’s 13 finalist teams became sellers straining to attract prospective buyers from among the invited participants. But how did data analysts, graduate students, and entrepreneurs transform into wily hawkers? Why was a simulated haat bazaar a Data-Driven Farming Prize activity?


Lean Design for Development: A Practical Approach to Human-Centered Design

Tags: Human-centered designInnovationThink Piece

Bilateral donors and foundations continue to look to digital tools to innovate. Why innovate? Given the intractable nature of many development problems, innovation speaks to the desire for different results, to try something new, or to apply something old in a new context or in a new way. Digital tools hold the promise that a program can leapfrog traditional development pathways, amplify impact, and create real game-changers in people’s lives. One way to increase the possibility of success in deploying any digital tool is to follow the principles for digital design - particularly design with the user. Human-centered design (HCD), and its close cousins, co-creation, design thinking, and lean startup methods, can serve not just as an activity but as a process for effective creation, iteration, and implementation.


6 Things I Have Learned About Delivering an Introductory ICT4D Training

Tags: Think PieceInnovation

On the ICT team we wear many hats and have many responsibilities. We are technical specialists who support our company’s global development projects in the design and use of digital solutions. We are evangelists who teach others about the potential of digital technologies to enhance and sustain the impact of development programming. We are thought leaders who answer strategic questions about where digital development is as a technical field and where it might be going. These are the aspects of our work that often appear in our blog posts.

But another hat we wear is as trainers: It is our responsibility to familiarize our projects and clients with the fundamentals of digital design and to equip colleagues with practical knowledge on how to effectively integrate digital programming into their work so they can design and deliver their own digital programs. Since joining the team some 19 months ago, I have had the chance to train 100+ people in three countries on the fundamentals of digital development. Below are my biggest takeaways on how to ensure that participants get the most out of their training.



Iterating Digital Insights with Cambodian Civil Society Groups

Tags: Digital InsightsCambodiaEcosystem Insights

Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a critical role in public life: understanding citizens’ daily challenges, providing services to address those challenges in the short-term, and pursuing long-term policy solutions. In Cambodia, there are hundreds of CSOs, but a wide variability in management capacity, technical capability, and staffing has given rise to domestic and international organizations that exist to help these CSOs carry out their important social role more effectively.

1small.JPG Interviewing the director of a Cambodian CSO for Member Insights.

Domestically, the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) functions as a membership association for Cambodian civil society organizations, and provides training, research, and technical assistance to roughly 170 member organizations. From the international community, there is a wide range of donors, foundations, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that support Cambodian CSOs, including USAID’s Development Innovations (DI) project. DI helps local CSOs, technology companies, and social enterprises design and use new technologies to address Cambodia’s development challenges.


The Viral Success of Horticulturalist Chat Groups: An Uzbek ICT4Ag Case Study

Tags: AgricultureEconomic Growth

In the typical way things happen at large global firms with highly decentralized project management, I first learned about the exceptional digital work being done by DAI’s U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Agricultural Value Chain Activity in Uzbekistan project (AVC) through an email referenced in a meeting about something totally different. I took a photo of the email—true story, I even sent the shot to my colleagues I was so excited—followed up with the listed contacts, and two weeks later was having a fascinating conversation with two dynamic Uzbek colleagues, Kamil Yakubov and Sardor Kadirov, who manage AVC’s digital initiatives.


Women in Agritech: Profiles from Ghana

Tags: Economic GrowthEntrepreneurshipSub-Saharan Africa

This is our latest piece on Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC), a DAI-supported initiative that helps young entrepreneurs build tech startups that address challenges in Ghana’s agricultural industry. Find out more about this project in previous [email protected] posts here and here.

The KIC works at the intersection of three fields traditionally dominated by men: agriculture, entrepreneurship, and technology. In response, the KIC is tapping into the potential of young female entrepreneurs. Below we profile some of the women co-founders playing a key role in developing business concepts, designing technology products, and pitching to potential investors.


9 Lessons on Digital Design from ICT4D 2017 in Hyderabad

Tags: Digital Principles

I spent the last week at the 2017 ICT4D conference in Hyderabad, a four-day feast of presentations, discussions, and panels on how international development organizations are using new technologies in their work overseas.



What Bike to Work Day Tells Us About Open Data

Tags: Data

More than 17,000 Washington, D.C.-area residents are commuting by bicycle today, as part of the 17th annual Bike to Work Day. The event’s rising popularity parallels the region’s growing investment in bicycle infrastructure and multimodal transportation. This is a positive trend, particularly for those of us who want cities and urban areas to provide safe, convenient, and diverse transportation options for all residents. But is there a larger message for international development? What can Bike to Work Day tell us about the importance of open data for civic engagement?


How to Run an Electronic Cash Transfer Program: A Kenyan Case Study

Tags: KenyaElectronic Cash TransferEconomic Growth

Working on an ICT team can sometimes feel like being the Morpheus of the development world—all we want to do is show development project teams that digital tools can unleash immense potential. So we try our best to sneak ICT elements into projects in any way possible: short blurbs in project proposals, ICT strategy documents while on technical assignments in the field, or straight-up bribery. Whatever it takes to sugarcoat the red pill. So imagine our surprise when we were asked to meet with a DAI-led project that already has multiple ICT tools integrated into its workflow: the Kenya Hunger Safety Net Programme Phase 2 (HSNP2), funded by the U.K. Department for International Development.



GeekFest 2017: Exploring Mobile Money and Women’s Financial Inclusion with Yasmin Bin-Humam

Tags: Geekfest 2017Digital Financial ServicesEconomic Growth

geek fest logo

Welcome to GeekFest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals for #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the overall growth of the ICT4D community.

In this installment, I’m picking the brain of my own sister, Yasmin Bin-Humam, a Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Consultative Group to Assist the Poor. Yasmin is establishing a community of practice focusing on solutions to improve women’s access to financial services, such as mobile and digital services.


Takeaways From F8: It’s Zuckerberg’s World—We’re Just Living In It

Tags: Innovation

F8, Facebook’s annual conference, was my first trip to Silicon Valley—I’ve been to the Silicon Wadi in Israel and the Silicon Savannah in Kenya, but never had I stepped foot where it all began. It was the perfect sort of baptism by fire into the ethos of the place that brought us semiconductors, personal computing and smartphones: a gathering where the future is dreamed up by developers and defined by technology’s limitless potential. It was wild.

I’ll outline below a few of the innovations that are particularly relevant to the work we do, and then make an argument for why the practice of ICT4D is more important than ever.


First Contact with the Planet API and NodeJS

Tags: Remote Sensing SeriesData

We love remote sensing here at DAI and luckily for us, satellite imagery APIs are starting to pop up all over, like springtime flowers. One of the most prominent imagery providers is Planet, a small company with lofty service and product offerings for remote sensing. Planet builds and launches small satellites that image the entire world every day. It provides access to that imagery through a web platform, and it gives developers access to its data through a web API.


Meet Honduras's Innovation Community

Tags: InnovationHonduras

01.JPG Chronogram of the 2016 Honduras Startup accelerator from

In December 2016, I spent a month in Honduras helping launch the new USAID Local Governance Activity and, replicating some work I did in El Salvador last year, I decided to get to know the innovation and technology community. Why?

DAI is currently launching four new USAID-funded projects in Honduras: local governance, a justice & human rights project, an environmental governance project, and the new school-based violence prevention project. My goal in writing this piece is the same as it was when I wrote Hey USAID, Want to Promote Innovation?: to get those new projects to think creatively about how to achieve their goals.


Digital Insights Rwanda: How Do Rural Youth Use New Technologies?

Tags: Digital InsightsRwanda

In early March, I spent a week in Rwanda building a profile of how young people in rural areas use media and technology and interact with rural financial institutions (RFIs). With the help of the Rural Youth Agribusiness Forum (RYAF), we interviewed 116 young people (aged 17 to 34) in a ring of towns and villages outside the capital, Kigali.

header-5c6d35.jpg A Digital Insights interview in a rural area outside Kigali.


SXSW 2017: The More Trends Change, the More They Stay the Same

Tags: Innovation

The annual South by Southwest Interactive Music and Film Festival with all of its thought-provoking panels, workshops, keynote speakers, and booths demonstrating the latest gizmos, gadgets, applications, and trends has come and gone—and for the second year, I was in attendance to make some sense of it all.


Jhatkaa: Tech-enabled Citizen Advocacy in India

Tags: GovernanceInnovation

Our top post of 2016 was my interview with Avijit Michael, the director of Indian citizen advocacy organization Jhatkaa. In his interview, Avijit mentioned they had created a tool for citizens to report local issues via WhatsApp. Needless to say, we were intrigued. So, in the spirit of investigative journalism, we sent one of our staff members to India to find out more.


Digital Insights Bangladesh: How Urban Youth Stay Connected

Tags: Digital Insights

It’s late January in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which means I’ve managed to avoid the usual heat and humidity, but the bustle and throng are just what I’d expect of one of South Asia’s largest cities. Even though I grew up in India, I’ve never had the chance to travel to its sister republic to the east. And yet, all at once, everything seems familiar—the cars, the noise, the smells. My guide through the city is Ontiq Dey, an eager young graduate student of economics and a seasoned data collector. He and four of his classmates are DAI’s street team for our first-ever Digital Insights study in South Asia.

Image 1.jpg Digital Insights data collectors gathering information from students in Mymensingh.


Ecosystem Insights: How Trade Associations in Rural Afghanistan Use Mobile Tech

Tags: Ecosystem InsightsEconomic Growth

We’re pleased to launch a new research product on the blog today: Ecosystem Insights (EI). EI seeks to understand how key groups of stakeholders use digital tools to connect with each other and share information, pushing beyond the individual personas of our Digital Insights work to gain insights into how groups access and use ICT in both their personal and professional lives. We conducted this research alongside our partner CIPE’s star provincial teams in Herat, Kandahar, Balkh, and Nangarhar. Not surprisingly, even in rural Afghanistan, smartphone and social media penetration rates are much higher than currently published reports account for. These findings continue to prove that DAI’s investment in this research is worthwhile: Designing a sustainable and high-impact ICT intervention will always start with knowing the what, how, and why of users’ ICT habits.


I Made a Facebook Chatbot (And You Can, Too)

Tags: InnovationThink Piece

When I first heard that Facebook Messenger was introducing chatbots, I immediately thought back to junior high summers. Back then I was spending a lot of time in my parents’ basement on the computer–safe from harmful things like sunshine and other people–getting into flame wars with people on IRC that (more often than not) turned out to be chatbots. Not my greatest summer. Fast forward some 20 years, and chatbots are back with a vengence, this time with a significantly improved value proposition: (near) last mile access to native language information and services.


Primer: What is a Facebook chatbot?

Our Digital Insights research in Indonesia, Honduras, and Palestine emphasized the popularity of Facebook and FB Messenger in the marginalized communities where DAI and other development implementers work. In Indonesia, 77 percent of the people we interviewed said they use Facebook on their phones; in Palestine that number was 95 percent. In Honduras, 80 percent of our respondents across urban and rural areas said they use Facebook. If development projects want to reach people with information and services, we must meet them on the platforms where they already spend time: in more and more cases, as access to the internet, smartphones, and social media grow, that means on Facebook. (No, not exclusively and not in all instances. read our Indonesia post, and see which social media messaging app is king there.)


Crowdsourced Data Collection Provides On-the-Ground Insights

Tags: Data

At the end of 2016, we published a post on the digital data collection sector. In 2017, we’re delving deeper into this growing sub-field of ICT4D with interviews, technology reviews, and guest posts. We’re kicking things off with a piece from our friends at Findyr who specialize in gathering insights from emerging markets using mobile-enabled, trained data collectors from the field. Kelsey Buchbinder is a Business Development Associate at Findyr.


Unemployed? Stop Looking for a Job and Create One—Insights from INC Monterrey

Tags: EntrepreneurshipInnovation

Guest blogger Caity Campos is a specialist in our youth and workforce development unit. Here she reviews the recent Innovate Network Create (INC) Monterrey conference, a gathering of global entrepreneurs from a variety of disciplines.

Finally, a conference that wasn’t boring, cliché, or overly esoteric. The Innovate Network Create (INC) Monterrey, held in November was exciting, innovative, and inspiring. Lest you think I am being hyperbolic, let me share some conference highlights:


Remote Sensing Part 4: The Everest of Satellite Conferences, SatSummit 2017

Tags: Remote Sensing Series

We reached the summit of satellite conferences this week! This is the fourth post in our remote sensing series. See part 1, part 2 and part 3.

#SatDiversity and #FatData are two hashtags I did not expect to see blaring across the screen when I attended the SatSummit conference this week. These bold declarations are something new: a compression of expression, capturing with perfect brevity the major themes of a fledgling tech space on the cusp of bringing real change almost as quickly as the terabytes of data that rain down to Earth from satellites bearing the names of these space-technology pioneers. Here’s some key takeaways from the event.


More Data, Less Risk: Innovators Chart a Path to Financial Inclusion

Tags: InnovationDataEconomic Growth

The phrase “Catch-22” was originally coined to describe a paradoxical situation that someone is unable to escape from because of contradictory rules or regulations. Think, for example, about the recent graduate who is unable to obtain a job because he or she does not possess any previous work experience, yet cannot gain any work experience because he or she cannot get a job. Fortunately, as tends to be the case with graduates who persist, compromising expectations and demands, eventually someone takes a chance, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and chooses to invest in their potential.


Remote Sensing Part 3: Identify Healthy Vegetation From Space

Tags: Remote Sensing SeriesData

DAI’s excitement about the upcoming SatSummit is approaching perigee levels, with the conference less than one week away! This is Part 3 of our Remote Sensing Series. In case you missed them, here’s Part 2 and Part 1.

You could live a perfectly fulfilled life while taking for granted all the colors that appear in the natural world. However, when you ask “why?”—a fascinating level of complexity is revealed, and this is especially true for the colors of nature: green forests, blue skies, red roses, golden sunsets.


Remote Sensing Series Part 2: Landsat is the Stalwart of Satellite Imagery Platforms (and it’s Free!)

Tags: Remote Sensing SeriesData

DAI is in a stellar mood about the upcoming SatSummit in Washington, D.C. Part 1 of the remote sensing series can be read here.

Some incredible things were happening in the United States in 1972: Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” was the No. 1 song on the radio; the first “Godfather” film was released; and NASA launched the first in a series of satellites designed to provide consistent and reliable coverage of the earth’s land cover. The platform—the Earth Resources Technology Satellite or ERTS-1—was developed in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which agreed to handle the storage, archiving, and distribution of the data products. The second satellite, eventually renamed Landsat 2, launched in 1975, operating in parallel with ERTS-1 for a few years until the original satellite was decommissioned in 1978.


Situamos a la Ciudadanía en el Centro del Proceso de Diseño en Guatemala

Tags: GuatemalaGovernanceHuman-centered design

This post is also available in English.

Actualización: Somos Chiantla ahora esta disponible para descarga a dispositivos Android. Una nueva publicación cubre su lanzamiento.

A finales de 2015, el proyecto USAID Nexos Locales recibió una solicitud novedosa. Fue enviada por Carlos Alvarado Figueroa, que acababa de ser elegido alcalde de Chiantla, un municipio de 75.000 habitantes en el altiplano occidental de Guatemala. Alvarado había sido elegido por su plataforma de transparencia presupuestaria y auditoría social, y formó parte de una ola de reformadores de buena gobernabilidad que fueron elegidos después de la revelación del escándalo denominado La Línea, que envió a prisión el Ex Presidente Otto Pérez Molina y la Ex Vicepresidenta Roxana Baldetti.


What Good Is the Internet of Things to People Who Don’t Have the Internet?

Tags: InnovationThink Piece

As I write this, the annual Consumer Electronics Show has just wrapped up in Las Vegas, having introduced an allegedly eager public to smartphone-enabled hairbrushes, Bluetooth-capable vibrating hotpants, and refrigerators that tweet when you’re running low on soy milk. This is what marketing departments call the Internet of Things (IoT): devices that are networked for sensing, control, and/or coordination. Under the stifling blanket of hype, though, new platforms, network protocols, and data repositories really are enabling applications of value, in addition to the tweeting kitchen appliances which, one hopes, will stay in Vegas.


GeekFest 2017: Q&A with Ian Schuler, CEO of Development Seed

Tags: Geekfest 2017Data

geek fest logo

Welcome to Geekfest 2017, a series of interviews featuring ICT4D thought leaders. Our goals in launching #geekfest2017 are: to highlight the people and organizations who are pushing the field in new directions, to feature their work and show how it’s different or new, and to support the growth of the ICT4D community.

We’re kicking things off with Ian Schuler, the CEO of Development Seed, one of the lead organizers and sponsors for the upcoming SatSummit.


Hiring ICT Staff (Or, How to Get 500 IT CVs Without Really Trying)

Tags: Economic GrowthThink Piece

Kabul, 2016. I’d been here before: a cold cup of Nescafe and stack of overly formatted CVs on the table next to me, an over-worked HR officer slow-blinking at me from across the room in subtle panic. Of the 35 CVs in the stack, culled from hundreds submitted online, only two had any mention of ICT experience—the rest were full of network engineering degrees, Oracle and Microsoft certifications, and years and years of experience managing IT networks and project systems. If I had been looking to hire IT staff, I would have been spoiled for options—but I wasn’t. I was trying to hire an ICT officer, and it was almost impossible. Just as it had been in Cambodia, Jordan, and Senegal. Why, oh, why was hiring ICT staff so hard, and what could we do about it?


[email protected] Year in Review: Top Five Posts of 2016

Tags: Digital InsightsDataEconomic GrowthThink PieceAppathon 2016

That’s a wrap for 2016, folks. We launched this blog in February with a sense of curiosity and caution, unsure who would read it—or if it would be read at all. Since then, we’ve grown steadily to more than 2,000 page views a month, collaborated with colleagues throughout the ICT4D ecosystem to host 12 guest author posts, and had the privilege of teammate John DeRiggi being interviewed by the BBC’s program “Click,” about his post on Machine Learning in Afghanistan.


We’re Putting Citizens at the Center of the Design Process in Guatemala

Tags: GuatemalaGovernanceHuman-centered design

Esta entrada también está disponible en español.

Update: Somos Chiantla is now available for download to Android devices. A follow-up post covers the launch event and next steps in development.

Back in late 2015, the Nexos Locales project in Guatemala received a novel inquiry. It was from Carlos Alvarado Figueroa, who had just been elected mayor of Chiantla (CHEE-ahn-tlah), a municipality of 75,000 in the Western Highlands, and he had an idea. Alvarado had been elected on a platform of budget transparency and social audit and was part of a wave of good governance reformers that swept into office on the heels of the Línea corruption scandal, which saw both President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti jailed. He wanted DAI’s help to design and develop a mobile tool to give the citizens of Chiantla (Chiantlecos) better access to municipal government. In particular, he wanted to give Chiantlecos an easy, transparent view on how his government was allocating and spending money, facilitating social audit and giving citizens the ability to more easily communicate with his administration. So, the project called me, and I called the Mayor.


Next Steps: Making Countering Violent Extremism Approaches More Rigorous

Tags: GovernanceCVE

This is a guest post by a friend and colleague of the DAI ICT Team, Ben Dubow. Ben is a partner at Omelas, a firm that works to bring together data scientists, software engineers, and counterterrorism experts to defeat violent extremism. Debuted at the annual meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers, Safe Cities, Omelas currently has operations in Europe and the Middle East. It was co-founded by Ben, Evanna Hu, and Bjorn Ihler.

I started my career by conducting threat analyses of suspected jihadists. I’d trawl their online profiles and then use a mix of instinct and experience to decide what to include. It made sense that sharing a post from a Taliban website signaled radicalization. It made sense that following a jihadist preacher signaled the same. It made sense that liking a Facebook page for bacon lovers signaled some apprehension about fundamentalism. But making sense was the extent of the proof we had.


Remote Sensing Series Part 1: The Foundations and Applications of Remote Sensing

Tags: DataRemote Sensing Series

This is the first in a series of posts about remote sensing. DAI is entering an orbit of excitement about the upcoming SatSummit on January 31!


Origins of Remote Sensing

One day in 1800, German-born British citizen and musician-turned-astronomer, Sir James Herschel was doing something we’ve all found ourselves doing on lazy Sunday afternoons: He was playing around with a prism, investigating the temperature differences between the bands of colorful light that splay out in this familiar natural sequence:

roygbiv Herschel placed a thermometer to the left of the red band and found invisible infrared light.


Mobile Data Collection: A Sector in Flux

Tags: Data

In recent years, mobile surveys and data collection capabilities have increased alongside rapidly expanding mobile phone penetration in the developing world. And with this trend, there has been a proliferation of small firms that have entered this space. At DAI, we realize that by allowing us to quickly capture hard-to-gather data and conduct surveys across our portfolio, new tools can change the way we execute development projects as well as win new business.


Crowdsourcing Ideas—The Challenge Fund Model for Innovation

Tags: Think Piece

I apologize for using the word “innovation” in the title of this post. I know… I work in ICT4D and I’m supposed to be a champion for innovation in all its forms. The truth is, for me, the word has nearly lost all its meaning. Innovation is easily one of the most overused and least-understood words favored by businesses, academia, and yes, international development agencies. So instead of writing a post on how we can “promote innovation,” per se, I prefer to write about how we as development practitioners can use promising models to source, finance, and apply new solutions—be they digital technologies, products, or processes—to development problems based on open competition, collaboration, and evidence.


4 Things I Learned at MIT’s TechCon

Tags: Think Piece

This past week I attended TechCon 2016, co-hosted this year by MIT and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). TechCon is the annual gathering of the Higher Education Solutions Network, a partnership between USAID and top universities to harness the academic power, passion, and curiosity of students, researchers, and faculty to solve global development challenges. Spoiler alert: it was GREAT. It’s easy to forget in the day-in, day-out of ICT4D work that “technology” has a far broader remit than the work we as ICT4D practitioners do in it. Engaging with researchers and academics conducting research far outside my normal scope awakened a sense of real and joyful curiosity I hadn’t felt in awhile. So beyond this humble reminder, and that Boston in autumn is truly glorious, here’s a few other things I learned at TechCon.


Counting People is Hard: Biometrics can Help

Tags: DataThink Piece

This is a guest post written by Ben Mann, a development specialist at DAI with a wide range of interests. He is a policy wonk; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) technical expert; ICT enthusiast; and general advocate for improved use of data and visualizations. Follow Ben on twitter @bhmann

One of the core functions of an effective monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system is the ability to accurately count things. Depending on your M&E strategy, you may be counting the number of schools built in a district, number of boreholes functioning in a region, or the number of microloans given to farmers in a cluster of villages. From my experience designing and operationalizing M&E plans for a range of private and bilaterally funded programs, counting people is by far the hardest and most complex to do—especially when you are trying to observe and record information on the same people over an extended time.


Hey USAID, Want to Promote Innovation?

Tags: Think PieceInnovation

Earlier this month I had the good fortune to attend the Global Accelerator Network’s (GAN) annual Rally in Denver, Colorado. GAN includes 70 startup accelerators in 100 cities across six continents.

GAN stage.jpg GAN CEO Patrick Riley and the managing directors of startup accelerators at the GAN Summit 2016


Should Big Data Be Open Data?

Tags: DataThink Piece

This is a guest post by Michelle Kaffenberger, Applied Research Consultant, and Bill Kedrock, Independent Consultant. The post uses Nigeria smallholder farmer data collected through the Growth Enhancement Scheme as the backdrop for a set of initial principles to guide those weighing the pros and cons of opening big data.

We propose that when considering whether big data should be made open, decision makers should apply a litmus test including at least the following three questions, and likely many others according to the specific context of the data.


App-a-Thon 2016: Viber for Development

Tags: Appathon 2016

As we’ve ramped up our Digital Insights work over the last few months, we’ve had the opportunity to talk with people around Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East about the digital tools they use to stay in touch with each other and the world around them. These conversations have reminded us that we have to work hard to stay on top of the growing number of messaging apps on the market today, as what was popular six months ago might no longer be today. “App-a-Thon 2016” is our way of quickly immersing ourselves in different messaging apps to learn about their functionality, look, and feel. How does it work? The entire DAI ICT team signs up for a platform, and for one week, we use it to chat with each other, send images and video, and explore the quirks and features of the app.

So far, we’ve covered WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, kik, LINE, and BBM. This time around we’re checking out Viber.


Geeks Like Us: How Academic Research Can Help us Create Better ICT Programs

Tags: Think Piece

In a not-so-distant past life, I was at the PeaceTech Lab, a spin-off from the U.S. Institute of Peace. For the most part, the Lab executes in-country technology and media projects, but one vestige of its parent organization’s think tank legacy is the Blogs & Bullets project—a research initiative done in partnership with some of the wonkiest political science and data analysis geeks from American University, George Washington University, and Stanford University. As I’ve made my transition into a full-time ‘do tank’ like DAI, it has become easy to dismiss (or forget) the somewhat esoteric pursuits of our friends in academia. But with the release last week of the latest installment in the Blogs & Bullets series, I was reminded just how important the work of the Ivory Tower is to advancing our understanding of the role of ICT in creating real world change in the places where we work.


Have You Read the 2016 Digital GAP Act?

Tags: Think Piece

Update: Since I wrote this, removed the text of the bill. It’s now pasted at the bottom.

Have you read the Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act?

If you’re an ICT4D practitioner, you should.


The bill was just passed in the House and is speeding toward a Senate vote. So, what’s it all about? In short, it enshrines the growth of affordable internet access as a tenet of U.S. foreign policy by promoting: