January 30, 2013

The Truth About Disruptive Development in the Digital Village


After a quick Twitter interaction, I find myself having agreed to write this caveat to Ken Banks' recently published article The Truth About Disruptive Development published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

So I'll start by taking a step back to ask myself what aspects of his proposed points make me hesitate with a second thought before whole heartedly supporting the whole concept, unargued?

My immersion in the so called "prepaid economy" or the prevalent purchasing patterns in the informal economy's lower income demographic, over the past 5 years, helps me to see some holes in Banks' theory.

What international ICT4D mega million bucks type of initiatives do is in fact a very expensive and elaborate song and dance show around your little developer community, screaming to be heard over the babelfish noise of the global internetworked web of humanity.

That offers a kick start that is not only much needed but about all that is really needed. The problem becomes when increased competition from more experienced entrepreneurs start arriving as expats funded by these socially patient backers.

The other aspect that bothers me is that Banks' title should be rewritten as The Truth About Disruptive Development in the Digital Village, thus taking into consideration the key constraint and differentiator that this situation may only apply to ICT and not, say for example, agriculture.

So what is the compromise outcome that well meaning global development funding and independent, indigenous innovators can arrive at?

Open lavish offices locally and share a taste of the global mainstream professional culture with up and comers across selected developing nations. It went a long way in changing corporate India's attitude towards women professionals. I saw it in 1990 at OMC Computers Ltd and then the dramatic difference at Hewlett Packard India in 1996.

This conversation really needs to be taken up further by more people sharing their personal experiences with the table.

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