Turkish “censorship” delight — octubre 20, 2011

Turkish “censorship” delight

I have been absent from the online world for a while, and this is due to my well-deserved vacations in the fabulous country of Turkey. This land between Asia and Europe is absolutely beautiful, and full of contradictions. It is predominantly Muslim, but used to be Christian, and once upon a time part of the Roman empire. So there are Roman ruins (including Troy), Mosques and beautiful churches.

More importantly than the architecture though, the major contradiction is the predominance of a strong religion in a country that is in theory secular. I met some friends of a friend, who, like myself, studied journalism with the romantic idea of serving the masses while reporting on world injustices. The problem? Not only can they not find jobs, but Turkey’s censorship is legendary. There is an agency, RTÜK, the Radio and Television Supreme Council, in charge of monitoring, regulating, and sanctioning radio and television broadcasts.

Apparently various journalists are in jail for things they didn’t even get a chance to publish, since they were stopped by the RTÜK before publication. Prominent female publisher Ayse Nur Zarakolu, who was described by the New York Times as “[o]ne of the most relentless challengers to Turkey’s press laws”,  has been imprisoned various times.

This, to me, is one of the greatest contradictions in this country and probably a big obstacle for the country to be considered part of the European Union. I kept seeing an attempt to show that they are an economic power, that they are modern, that they are open to the world. But without freedom of speech, to me all of the rest is useless. You might as well be Saudi Arabia. Things like a full democracy are black and white; gray should be unacceptable. What do you think?

What about ICT to help gender equality? — septiembre 23, 2011

What about ICT to help gender equality?

 Only 1% of the world’s wealth belongs to women.

Of all the gender-related statistics I have heard lately, that one shocked me the most. Most of the world’s wealth come from developed nations, meaning that in the countries where women already have access to education etc. there is barely anything to show for it.

Yet in developing nations it is still worse, with women of course being treated as half a person in more than one respect. We all know that gender equality is smart economics, but in which ways can we achieve tangible results?

Today I was lucky enough to attend a panel where Naila Chowdhury, the CEO of Grameen Solutions, spoke about the role of ICT to achieve gender equality in the developing world.  In villages with no electricity, a solar-powered cell phone was given to a woman. She became the only one who could communicate with other villages, find out the price of the produce they grew, and it therefore eliminated the middle man who would take some of the profit.

I am a firm believer of communication technology to further development. It is the easiest, fastest most effective way of providing practical information, and we need to continue to find ways of exploring it.  Do you know of any other organizations that are focused on this?




Aps and more aps… all on DCTech — septiembre 13, 2011

Aps and more aps… all on DCTech

After the DCTech meetup last night I felt predictably overwhelmed in the amount of people, and inadequately underwhelmed with the lack of diversity in presentations. It was a mobile themed- meetup, yet everything circulated around smart phone aps only, ignoring the vast majority of both the industry and users world-wide who are still using and will continue to use regular cellular phones for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong. I have an iPhone, and I love and depend on aps. The presentations made by the lively Fastcostumer‘s Stephanie Hay,  and the amazing idea of the musicians turned techies with the album, “National Mall”, locational aware music only audible from the green memorial-ridden space, were quite innovative , imaginative and surprising. I cannot wait to go for a run (ok, ok, a walk… Who am I kidding?) around The Capitol and try it out.

Another highlight was the politically incorrect, foot-in-mouth moment by Dalpha Kalman from GetSurc, who expressed that half of their developers “are in Israel, which is apparently now the Mecca of technology”… sigh. I felt what we in Spanish call “pena ajena”, best translated as feeling embarrassed for someone else. She was quickly corrected by @Peter Corbett “You mean the Jerusalem of technology.” Oh my…

Yet besides the new aps on my phone and the cameo by the DC mayor, I was not feeling at all inspired. Yes, having an ap to help you find parking spaces and one to book taxis are both very valuable assets.Yet I wonder how much energy, if any, is spent by the dc tech community on innovation geared toward economic development. Is it sad that I expected DC to be a melting pot of social work, maybe even international one, with technology? I still ponder , as mentioned in my previous post,

Information dissemination? Corruption hot lines? Remittances? Post-conflict monetary aid via text messages? This realm is not particularly untapped,  but its advancement should not be left in the hands of development agencies, whose focus will never be on innovation. They are doing well in supporting already existing technologies and products, but bureaucracies are rarely the breeding grounds of new ideas.

Hopefully there will be a DCTech meetup more on the Tech4Dev fashion, and I can see the bureaucrats and non-profits  instead of the MBA GW students sharing ideas with the tech community. This IS DC after all…

Cell phones as tools for transparency — septiembre 8, 2011

Cell phones as tools for transparency

It is great to be constantly thinking of new projects. A few of my friends and I had thought about using the technologies we constantly use for more frivolous things, such as text voting and crime mapping in the US, to corruption hunting and bad service deliveries.

Artas Bartas, from Estonia, came up with an Android app for it called Bribespot. According to mobile active, they developed it during Garage48, an event where people pitch and develop apps in 48 hours. It has already been downloaded 600 times, with 700 submitted reports from around the world.

The app allows you to report an instance of corruption and maps it, with the purpose of bringing  awareness to government officials and to the public. I think the most effective thing it does is actively shame those involved. People may stop accepting bribes if they know that they could possible be posted online.  The idea reminds me of my favorite mayor Antannas Mockus’ way of shamming traffic violators with mimes in the streets of Bogotá. People are more scared of being ridiculed than of monetary punishment!

This is a great idea, but again, the concept needs to be adapted to local technologies. Most people in Africa, where corruption is prevalent, do not have Android phones. The more robust text-messaging system should provide the same or similar results. I cannot tell you our idea, because my team members could kill me. But think about it… what ICT tools could be used for transparency and to end corruption?