In May 2009 I travelled to Kenya with a small Finnish NGO, to study the applicability of a pyrolytic stove we’d been researching at a university course. This 2-week long trip was my first to Sub-Saharan Africa, and besides wondering about the African life, I started wondering why modern technology wasn’t more utilized in the development co-operation.
I started immersing into the topic, and learned about the decades-long effort to combat inequality and alleviate poverty, about the aid flows from Western industrialised countries to developing countries, and of the multitude of actors in the field. In 2008 it was estimated that more than 280 bilateral donor agencies, 242 multilateral programs, 24 development banks and 40 UN agencies were involved in more than 340 000 development projects globally. And on top of official actors, the increasing number of private foundations and non-governmental organizations adds to the complexity of the way in which development assistance is distributed.
It is already very difficult to track official aid flows, and it is widely recognized that the statistics and figures related to NGOs are severely incomplete. Hence, it is impossible to have an accurate, holisitic understanding of the type and scale of international development projects currently being carried out. This is evidently undesirable, as most of these development aid actors share the same objectives – various of the eight Millennium Development Goals. We had to travel down to Kenya to learn of the other actors operating in the same area.
My IT/engineering studies have had a strong focus on the participatory Web 2.0 technologies. These technologies have transformed the way we interact with each other and left a huge impact on our societies. Social media websites such as Facebook, Wikipedia and WordPress have harnessed collective intelligence through user participation and dynamic content, and have quickly scaled up into global use. I realized that the modern Web 2.0 technologies could provide massive benefits also to the coordination of the development aid field. The new technologies could allow common ground for co-operation and collaboration by making the work performed by the different actors more accessible to all stakeholders. Besides offering the essential basic information on international development projects, the participatory technology could allow new ways of interaction between the different actors, and provide access to other stakeholders, e.g. possible donors and volunteers, to engage in development projects.
This blog is about my journey into the world of development co-operation and development projects, a diary on the research for my Master’s thesis at Aalto University, as well as a way to keep my friends up-to-date during my exchange period from Helsinki to Washington D.C.