E-aid: Digital opportunities for AusAID

18 April 2011

By Fergus Hanson, Director of Polling and Research Fellow, Lowy Institute

Cross-posted with The Interpreter.

While writing on e-diplomacy one thing I've noticed is how many innovations in this field touch on development and security issues as well.

For some time AusAID has been experimenting with social media but there are a range of other ways it could be using new IT platforms to achieve development objectives.

Here are a few examples I've come across, but I'd be interested in any others readers might be aware of.

Image by Flickr user Gates Foundation.

In Afghanistan, the US State Department has experimented with the payment of Afghan police officers via mobile phone. This bid to circumvent graft has taken advantage of a technology (mobile phones) that has spread rapidly throughout the developing world. In Mexico, where thousands have been killed in recent drug wars, State harnessed the same technology by developing a free short code to allow people to report crime anonymously to get around their fear of reprisals from drug gangs.

Ushahidi, a non-profit tech company, has developed a whole range of promising development-related tools. It was used to map violence after the Kenyan elections in 2008 (via text message reporting), but it now offers software that can be used for a range of purposes including responding to natural disasters.
 
In Australia's own immediate region, the uptake of mobile phones has been rapid with the entry of companies like Digicel. This presents opportunities for the Australian aid program.
 
As The Economist highlighted in an article earlier this year, the uses for mobile phones in the developing world are staggering: checking market prices, learning English, transferring money, verifying the authenticity of medicines, translation services. All can be done by mobile phone. As it concluded:

Talk of a “Development 2.0”—meaning a mobile-driven transformation of how poor countries develop—thus seems premature. But the potential of mobile services should not be underestimated. If they take off, they could transform lives and livelihoods, not just by connecting the world’s poor to the infrastructure of the digital economy, but by allowing them to become digital producers and innovators.

Comments