What We’ve Been Reading: February 7th, 2014

                February 2nd-8th is International Development Week in Canada! To celebrate the efforts of the Canadian government and private organizations to fight global poverty, various media stations and websites based in Canada are highlighting some of the work they have done in the last few years. One of these articles is by the Senior Program Officer of Farm Radio International, Mark Leclair, who talks about the role of participation and entertainment in international development. Just like how we remember the classes in school that were the most active, engaging and fun, people in general will learn the most important lessons of international development if they are entertained by what’s going on during the lessons. Farm Radio International is heard throughout 38 sub-Saharan African countries in order to serve small-scale farmers, for whom the radio may be their only form of communication and only channel of information. But the radio would only be helpful if the farmers turned it on and tuned in, which does not happen if the radio content is boring. Therefore, in addition to important farming information, the radio runs health programs, cooking shows, interactive talk shows, and other things that keep people both interested and informed. By finding out what farmers are interested in, the organization can be a successful one.

                According to Ben Leo and Beth Schwanke of the Center for Global Development, USAID has similar concerns in trying to understand what people in poverty need. While they contact all the experts and interest groups, and analyze all the statistics involved in alleviating poverty in developing countries, USAID suffers from not asking the recipients of the aid themselves what they need in their lives. Since foreign aid in the US only accounts for about 1% of the budget, the money spent on international development has to be spent wisely; however, when asked about what the biggest problems are in their area, Africans responded with jobs, inequality, and infrastructure more so than health and education, which is where the majority of US foreign aid goes. While health and education should not be cut out of aid, what must also be considered are the interests of those directly affected by the aid. If USAID responds to what the poor want, they may be able to reduce poverty through trade, investment and economic growth.

                On the private sector side, IBM, the world’s biggest technology service provider, began to distribute the Watson supercomputer system across Africa this past Thursday, February 6th. Their hope is that the supercomputer can address development obstacles throughout the continent, such as medical diagnoses, economic data collection, and e-commerce research. Through access to advanced data collection and analysis, entrepreneurs and businesses in Africa can grow and innovate at an impressive level. The supercomputer uses artificial intelligence to analyze large amounts of data and understand human language well enough to hold conversations. Similarly to how mobile phones exploded in popularity in the continent in places where landlines did not exist, IBM hopes that this technology will jumpstart the development of some of the poorer parts of Africa who could not gather data because it was too expensive. In the areas where no information previously existed, the Watson supercomputer provides data and knowledge so that the people of that region can be heard.