Archive for the ‘Technology’ category

How Citizen Journalists in Mongolia are Saving the Environment Using New Media

May 6, 2009

Climate changes in Mongolia are not only threatening the country’s environment, they are also threatening a way of life for Mongolian nomads. Over the decades, seasonal winds have resulted in the desertification of 41% of the country as the nation’s grasslands gradually turn into dust and sand. Poor land management and unsuitable farming practices have also contributed to the problem and as a result, nomadic herdsmen have fewer available grazing plots for their livestock, causing a population migration from rural areas into the cities as families are forced to abandon their nomadic ways of life.

Unfortunately, the problem is not contained to Mongolia/China’s Inner Mongolia as the sand storms also affect cities in China, Korea and Japan. (Yours truly has had the lovely experience of enduring the “yellow dust storms” which frequent Korea every spring.)

The problem is so severe, that increased awareness is needed in the hopes that desertification can be stopped, or at least slowed. In an effort to address the growing concerns surrounding the fate of Mongolia’s land, a Rising Voices grantee, Nomad Green, is working to train citizen journalists in the use of new media in order to spread awareness about the country’s environmental crisis. Through the use of blogs, podcasts, videos and mapping mashups, participants will be better equipped in reaching a broader audience as part of their awareness campaigns.

Click here for the project’s blog and here for more information Nomad Green’s work through the Rising Voices grant program.

The Truth about Biotechnology, Agriculture and Sustainable Development

April 27, 2009

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel wants a more civil debate about them. Britain’s Prince Charles thinks they will lead to “real disaster,” and farmers in India are allegedly committing mass suicide because of them. In case you haven’t figured out what I’m talking about, maybe one of these terms will ring a bell: biotech crops, biotechnology, genetically enhanced seeds/grains or genetically modified organisms. The debate over this “gene revolution” is becoming especially important as global concerns about food security have made nations skittish about food production, supplies and whether biotechnology is a possible solution to their concerns. The issue of food security is so hot right now that just a few days ago the U.N. called for sustainable agricultural spending in Asia, stating that last year’s crisis was “a warning of things to come.”

While the fear-mongering headlines against biotechnology may seem alarming (ie. articles about how GMOs are bad for our health, the environment and the livelihoods of farmers worldwide) there’s another side of the story you most likely aren’t hearing. Biotech crops have a proven track record of alleviating poverty in developing countries and providing a sustainable lifestyle for farmers (and nations) who have adopted this technology. (Note, none of my notes are coming from GMO seed producers or distributors but from secondary sources.)

From a 2008 report issued by the non-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications:

  • Biotech crops have improved the income and quality of life of small and resource-poor farmers and their families, and contributed to the alleviation of their poverty – case studies are cited in Brief 39 for India, China, South Africa, and the Philippines.
  • The impressive contribution of biotech crops to sustainability is reviewed: 1) Contributing to food, feed and fiber security including more affordable food (lower prices); 2) Conserving biodiversity; 3) Contributing to the alleviation of poverty and hunger; 4) Reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint; 5) Helping mitigate climate change and reducing greenhouse gases; 6) Contributing to more cost-effective production of biofuels; and 7) Contributing to sustainable economic benefits worth US$44 billion from 1996 to 2007. In summary, collectively these seven thrusts are a significant contribution to sustainability and the potential for the future is enormous.
  • Five principal developing countries: China, India, Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, with a combined population of 2.6 billion, are exerting leadership with biotech crops, and driving global adoption – benefits from biotech crops are spurring strong political will and substantial new investments in biotech crops in several of these lead countries. [Emphasis mine.]
  • Of the economic gains of US$44 billion during the period 1996 to 2007, 44% were due to substantial yield gains, and 56% due to a reduction in production costs (including a 359,000 tonne a.i. saving in pesticides); the production gains of 141 million tons, would have required 43 million additional hectares had biotech crops not been deployed – a land-saving technology.

And the list goes on. Case studies supporting the report’s findings can be found on the ISAAA Web site. (more…)

Global Volunteer Options for the Working (and Non-working) Professional and Individuals Via the Internet

February 27, 2009

As unemployment rates rise in the United States, the jobless find comfort and continue to keep their resumes active by participating in various volunteer activities. A while ago we shared with you ideas for the college student looking for an “alternative spring break” of overseas volunteering. Today, we’re going to focus on small efforts both the employed and unemployed professional/individual can partake in – and our suggestions even have an international twist.

Nabuur.com is an online volunteering platform that links Neighbors (online volunteers) with Villages (local communities) in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Connected through Nabuur.com, Neighbors and local communities learn about each other, share ideas and find solutions to local issues. Nabuur.com is a fantastic example of how technology and new media are even playing a role in volunteerism today. Watch this video for a thorough introduction to how the program works:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Operating under the same spirit as Nabuur.com is the United Nations Volunteers site which connects volunteers with organizations working for sustainable human development. Volunteers donate their skills and team up with organizations in need of those specific skills to work toward a common goal all via the internet.

For those looking for resources to get non-profit or grassroots ideas off the ground, Social Actions offers tools via their online database of more than 20,000 actions aimed to help people share opportunities to help make a difference. The great thing about Social Actions is that it is flexible enough to work both at a community and international level.

Another social action network is Change.org which helps people learn about various causes, refers them to non-profits and other related organizations and ultimately makes the necessary connections to help people get involved.

What we’ve listed today are just a few of the many options available to anyone with the time, passion and ideas necessary for volunteering internationally (or within the community) and the great thing is, each one of these opportunities begins from your computer.

For the gainfully employed or those still searching for work, volunteerism is a great way to use your skills to help others help themselves, keep your resume active and hopefully bring yourself a sense of personal satisfaction.

[“The Advanced Ape” would like to thank the Rising Voices Google Group for sharing these fantastic ideas.]

The Power of Journalism Around the World

February 16, 2009
Serbian Web Journalism School participants.

Serbian Web Journalism School participants.

Newspaper circulations may be declining worldwide with the advent of web-based media, but that has not diminished the vital role journalists play in society, particularly when it comes to social development. In terms of coverage, journalism has managed to adapt with the changing times through web-based reporting: blogs, online networking sites and other new media applications have added a whole new twist to how news is covered and consumed. Due in part to the increased connectedness the Internet now brings us, reporters in other parts of the world are learning how to take advantage of the perks technology offers the industry while others are answering the call to journalism’s role in social development and how it can improve lives in their own countries.

One notable project that is helping shape the journalists of today is the Serbian Web Journalism School which was founded “in Belgrade by Serbian citizen media enthusiast and veteran blogger, Ljubisa Bojic.” The school relies on local media experts to teach the fundamentals of citizen journalism to participating students.

Thanks to the help of a grant from Rising Voices (see sidebar), an initiative dedicated to bringing “new voices from new communities and speaking new languages to the global conversation by providing resources and funding to local groups reaching out to underrepresented communities,” students at the Serbian Web Journalism School are learning how to take advantage of web-based applications and are using them in their reporting.

Students now can use Google Maps to help illustrate a news story and are experimenting with new media applications such as Facebook, blogs and Flickr – all which bring reader interaction to online journalism. In fact, the students have their own Flickr page and blog, which we have added to our sidebar.

(To see other Rising Voices projects, follow this link.)

In another example that highlights the importance journalists have in today’s society, during an interactive forum in Nigeria, journalists there have been “urged to double their efforts towards anchoring developmental projects that have direct impact on people at the grassroots to enable them to enjoy the dividends of democracy.”

Jummai Alhamdu, the Kano/Jigawa program manager of the State Accountability and Voice Initiative (SAVI) emphasized to participants the growing roles journalists must fill when it comes to social development efforts, especially in their own communities:

“As the eyes and ears of the general public, journalists are expected to inform the government about the needs of the grassroots and at the same time inform the public about government policies and programs for proper execution,” she said.

The full story can be read here.

Myth: Developing Countries Don’t Have Access to Digital Technology

February 4, 2009
he above map shows the densities of Internet connectivity around the world. Photo via Symmetry Magazine.

The above map shows the densities of Internet connectivity around the world. Photo via Symmetry Magazine.

It’s a commonly held perception that developing countries lack access to technology. For many parts of the world, it’s still an accurate statement. But having said that, it’s simply not true for all developing nations. Use of the internet and cell phones in particular, has not only increased in the developing world, but access to such technology has helped improve millions of lives.

Here are some facts about digital technology in developing countries:

  • Technology has spread faster in emerging economies than in rich, developed nations
  • Technological progress has contributed to a rise in incomes in developing countries and has helped reduced the amount of people living in absolute poverty from 29 percent in 1990 to 18 percent in 2004
  • Technology has also spurred the growth of call centers where the majority of phones for a particular business can be answered. This has created thousands of new jobs.
  • And such technology has helped bridge together traditionally isolated nations with the rest of the world, especially during instances of human rights abuse. This has improved communication between news subjects and the media, resulting in better news coverage

Readers might be surprised by the first fact stated above. How is it that digital technology has spread so quickly in emerging economies?

Here’s a brief breakdown in regards to the main drivers for the rapid adoption of mobile phones in developing nations:

  • A growing middle class (especially in BRIC nations) has created a greater demand for cell phones, especially in heavily populated countries such as India and China
  • The adoption of wireless technology has made it more affordable for emerging economies to build the necessary infrastructure to accommodate mobile phones. It is less expensive to build a cell phone tower than it is to install land line connections to each and every home
  • The cost of labor in many developing countries is significantly lower compared to the United States. To put this into perspective: “The average American makes over 40,000 per year, the average Chinese citizen is closer to $1,200.”

So what amazing things are being accomplished in developing nations because of greater access to such technology? Here’s just a sample. I’m sure this list could be added to and expanded by readers who have had experience using digital technology in development work:

Closing the Global Digital Divide: Technology for Developing Countries

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

One Laptop Per Child Project

“Ushahidi” and 2008 Post Election Violence in Kenya

February 2, 2009

When post-election violence erupted in Kenya last year, the need to communicate and keep track of instances of real time violent behavior was vital from a human rights and reporting standpoint. Sometimes the only thing one can do is simply report what they see from the field. Recognizing this, a group of people banded together to create a system where people could send alerts of post-election unrest via cell phones, email and computers. The project is called “Ushahidi.”

According to the Ushahidi blog:

Ushahidi, which means “testimony” in Swahili, is a website that was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008.

More specifically, it works this way, as stated on the system’s web site:

The Ushahidi Engine is a platform that allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline. Our goal is to create the simplest way of aggregating information from the public for use in crisis response.

Another description can be found here, posted shortly after the system was developed during the post-election crisis in Kenya last year.

Following its success in 2008, the system has gained international recognition with goals of its use expanding into other countries experiencing situations of crisis and unrest. (In December 2008, Al Jazeera tested Ushahidi in the Gaza strip.) A timeline of the system’s milestones and progression can be found here.

This is a fantastic example of how a group of inspired individuals and technology can make a huge contribution at a nationwide level.