By Sidee Dlamini
After a year of taking graduate level classes in development, I still have not found the answer to what development is. This is not disappointing to me, but it is rather encouraging. The fact that there is no straight answer to this question confirms that we actually do not know what development is and because we do not know we will keep searching. On the other hand, we could say development is not one simple thing and therefore there are many definitions for it. The latter response also implies that individuals will choose what development means to them and resort to approaching development that way. I will admit that I am not too fond of the second option because it takes away the need to keep learning and exploring alternative definitions.
At the conclusion of my first semester at Berkeley, I was frustrated by the minimal focus on the local people when it came to addressing development issues. Every now and again the topic about involving communities came up, but it was not given much attention. My frustration led to me ranting on one my final papers about what development actually was. I concluded my paper with the following paragraph:
A few weeks ago I was presented with the opportunity to listen to Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, who founded the Sirolli Institute. Dr. Sirolli asked a very interesting question, which was “Instead of arriving in a village or community with our ideas of what the local people should be doing, why don’t we shut up and ask the local people what it is they love to do?” The room was dead silent. This moment took me back to the previous semester when I wrote about what I thought development was and it was comforting to realize that there are great men who are already practicing this form of development. The unfortunate thing is that the majority of the organizations out there have not caught onto this model.
You might be asking “what does this have to do with ICTD then?” Great question!
Based on what I believe about letting the community choose what they want, it is hard for me to also believe that the communities would be informed well enough about the different ICT options available for them to improve their current states of living. I believe ICT is, and will continue to play an important role in development, but how do we implement ICT components to development and also respect the communities’ voices? Do we follow after Steve Job’s belief that “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them?” or do we do what they ask and wait until they are informed about the other options, and then let the local people request ICT options at their own time? Unfortunately, ICT products are not like vaccinations where we could possibly justify administering them without full consent.
There is a slight possibility that there is usually one informed person in the community who would serve as the “ICT Champion” and bring the rest of the community on board. This would be great, but what happens when this individual isn’t there? I am curious to hear about how people think they would approach such situations.
Sidee Dlamini is a Master of Development of Practice student at UC Berkeley. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her at @miss_sidee