Tag Archive: Google

Saturday is a work day in Juba, but it’s also a day (the only day) when we have reliable internet because we’re not at the Ministries.  Taking advantage of this improved access, I wanted to post some of the articles that I managed to read during the week and thought that other people might find interesting.

  • http://www.ted.com/talks/peter_eigen_how_to_expose_the_corrupt.html It’s TED talk season.  In this November 2009 TED talk, Peter Eigen, the former head of the World Bank for East Africa and founder of Transparency International, talks about how the global economy contributes to corruption and poor governance in emerging markets.  I liked: that every company I have worked for requires all employees to take training on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act which prohibits payments by US companies to foreign officials.  Eigen talks about the lack of laws preventing bribery of Foreign Officials in Germany, France and the UK and it’s nice to remember that the US has had a law on its books since 1977.  I wished: that his discussion of civil society also addressed tools to expose foreign companies that use bribes to achieve their business objectives.
  • http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/15/marja-from-usaid-to-u-s-marines/?hp The New York Times At War blog describes the surreal experience of visiting a USAID compound from the 1960s in the Helmand Valley that had since been occupied by the Taliban and is now a police station for the Afghan police.  I liked: the ballsy reporting.  I wished: that it didn’t make me think of the reserved parking space for the SPLA at our camp in Juba.
  • http://aidwatchers.com/2010/02/four-ways-brain-drain/.  AidWatch summarizes a counter-intuitive paper by William Easterly and Yaw Nyarko about the benefits of educated Africans living outside of their home country.  I liked: that it added nuance to the debate over the challenges of building capacity in emerging markets by showing that there is benefit to training and education even if someone doesn’t stick around.  If this applies to migration out of a country, it certainly applies to someone switching jobs within a country. I wished: that it had also mentioned the costs of migration by the educated workforce (such as too few health workers).  While the economic benefits of someone living overseas may outweigh the costs of training, there are other ramifications that aren’t captured by looking solely at inflows and outflows.
  • http://www.rovingbandit.com/2010/02/more-arguments-for-aid-as-direct-cash.html.  Friends at Roving Bandit (the best Economics blog in Southern Sudan) argue that more aid should be direct cash transfers and less spent on expensive US-based consultants (like me).  I liked: that it presents an interesting alternative to the traditional aid model (which doesn’t always work).  I wished: that it had mentioned that 51% of the GoSS budget is already spent on salaries and 59% of 2009 USAID funding for Sudan was spent on food.

This week’s cool product:  Google Goggles.  You take a picture of painting, a monument, a strange-looking meal, a bottle of wine, or anything else and Google looks it up and tells you more about the object (the name of the artist, the history of the monument, the ingredients, the Wine Spectator score, whatever).  It’s search by picture as opposed to by text.

This week’s bonus cool product: A machine that can print organs.


Coverage of Secretary Clinton’€™s speech at the Newseum on Internet Freedom has focused on its repudiation of censorship and its rebuke to China, but I was most interested in the section that discussed the role of technology in promoting the freedom from want (a.k.a. reducing poverty).  The speech included an intriguing example of how technology could close the feedback loop between beneficiaries and donor agencies and increase accountability:

Let me give you one example. Let’s say I want to create a mobile phone application that would allow people to rate government ministries, including ours, on their responsiveness and efficiency and also to ferret out and report corruption. The hardware required to make this idea work is already in the hands of billions of potential users. And the software involved would be relatively inexpensive to develop and deploy.

If people took advantage of this tool, it would help us target our foreign assistance spending, improve lives, and encourage foreign investment in countries with responsible governments. However, right now, mobile application developers have no financial assistance to pursue that project on their own, and the State Department currently lacks a mechanism to make it happen.   But this initiative should help resolve that problem and provide long-term dividends from modest investments in innovation.

The speech did not contain details about the shape of this initiative, but I hope that the Department of State goes beyond the typical response of providing funding and training.   Unlocking the potential of mobile developers in emerging markets and spurring economic growth requires two additional steps beyond more money and more capacity:

Create and Promote Tools for Developers. The open source community has been leading the way in mobile application development for emerging markets with tools like FrontlineSMS , which enables mass communication through text messages, and Ushahidi , which creates maps based on information submitted by SMS.   Both these tools require developers to install and maintain servers, which isn’t always feasible, and are only available to NGOs, which excludes local entrepreneurs.  The United States could help accelerate the creation of new mobile tools by provided hosted versions of these tools similar to Google App Engine or the WordPress.com instance of the wordpress.orgblogging software.   In addition, it should support innovative, open-source tools, by requiring implementing partners to use them.

Advocate for Governments to Improve Regulation of SMS. In the 2008 report ICT Access and Usage in Africaby ResearchICTAfrica.net , researchers found that Kenyans in the bottom 75% in terms of disposable income spent 63% of their disposable income on monthly mobile fees.     The cost of sending text messages, which cost nothing to transmit on GSM networks, eats up a significant amount of that expenditure.   Certain premium services, such as Google’s Trader, which allows people in Uganda to buy and sell goods via SMS, cost even more.  The State Department should encourage countries that receive development assistance to pressure mobile networks to drop the price of sending text messages.   This would be help poor people throughout Africa by reducing their mobile costs and would help spur innovation in the mobile application development market.

It was exciting to see the Secretary of State speaking enthusiastically about the role of technology in achieving the US Government’s foreign policy objectives.  I hope that they think about more than just pouring in money.