John Paul

Jhai’s take on ICT and development – a Social View

The following was written by Lee Thorn of the Jhai Foundation, originally sent to us via the Foundation’s newsletter.

I think it might be useful to look at rural ICT and development from a social perspective. What works from this perspective? What doesn’t?

What Jhai does is consulting about processes that are critical parts of economic development for people who have been left out. We are especially concerned about people left out of the opportunity to use information and communication technology tools that might help them increase earnings and deepen their social networks, business relations, and friendships.

“A quantum universe is enacted only in an environment rich in relationships. Nothing happens in the quantum world without something encountering something else. Nothing is independent of relationships that occur. I am constantly creating the world – evoking it, not discovering it – as I participate in all its many interactions. This is a world of process, not a world of things.” – Margaret Wheatley, Leadership and the New Science, Barrett-Koehler (pb), 1994, p. 68

Jhai focuses on the quality of our relationships.

I just came back from India where I worked with our partners, C-DAC, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Datamation Foundation Trust, and NASSCOM Foundation, and visited with Ashok Jhunjhunwala and his staff. I also visited many villages. I tried to spend most of my time listening. I’m quite the lip-flapper, so I can only hope I succeeded. 😉 What I am focused on now is how to help Mission 2007 in India gain momentum and succeed in its objective of helping very poor rural Indians earn more money.

One way of looking at what Jhai might contribute in this context is to think of it from three vantagepoints. These are:

* drivers of system change
* new tools
* going beyond financial sustainability

* Drivers of system change

o Reforming (putting in new form) interests – for example, what happens when you feed passions for particular work, like farming rice, with new information and new people of like interests to talk with?

o More money, more money, more money – what happens, for example, if poor people discover new ways to make money that don’t take away from old ways of making money, but rather build on them?

o Restructuring – if you add anything that is ’healthy’ to an existing system (that is, anything that is found wholesome according to local customs and beliefs and that is not thought of as imposed on people, but rather is invited by them), then the new structure that includes this new wholesome thing is stronger than the old structure. If you add ICT to a community, for example, by choice of the people in the community and with the participation of people in the community – and you do this through dialogue and conversation with relatives and friends, for example – then it builds community and is ’healthy’.

o Healthy opinion change –
+ among opinion leaders
+ through natural networks
+ internationally
+ in each case opinion change about new things happens best when the change comes about because local people lead in the change – when the change comes from people in relationship in the local community or in the local community’s diaspora. “Experts” are least effective change agents.

o Creating momentum – Real momentum is not created by people, it is noticed by people. The trick is to notice it. What we notice when we notice momentum is a different level of connection. What that means in a village is that momentum starts to happen when people who live in that village begin to notice that they themselves have made a change for themselves. This is often connected to the time when ’outsiders’ begin to be seen by villagers as relatives with some funny ways. Oddly a good verbal fight between villagers and outsiders is an almost sure sign that the social system is changing and probably healthily. When that happens you have momentum. Momentum is related to denser and denser relationships more than wider ones.

* New tools

o Building practices knowledge – For example, in villages helped by MS Swaminathan Research Foundation www.mssrf.orgwith help from the One World Foundation , older people are melding old knowledge about organic farming and local medicines for farm animals with the newest scientific knowledge that is useful for that particular locality in local language databases accessible at Knowledge Centers.

o Building technical knowledge – For example, in villages helped by Datamation Foundation Trust local technically interested people who know local languages are designing wifi and hardwired networks for their neighbors and teaching young Muslim women how it is done. This knowledge will be and is put in a local database and is shared on the web and through word-of-mouth with similar villages nearby.

o Building new ways to share information – For example, Jhai Foundation has conceived a GIS/Wiki website with these attributes:

+ It starts with the GIS mapping facility developed by the Indian Space Research Organization and enhanced by other Indian government agencies that allows for very local, mapped knowledge of terrain, crops, weather, and electrical grid status.

+ It builds on this GIS searchable mapping facility with work by MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and others to include local knowledge about crops, old methods,and local weather forecasting techniques married to national and international scientific knowledge specific to that mapped region.

+ And it is meant to include two new mapped elements developed through a wiki process –

# technical data – technical data about new wifi and other radio networking, wireless coverage, landline coverage, satellite availability, and things like access to fiber optics lines and success with each of these in a mapped locality

# social information – like land records, e-government access, socio-economic data, and, most importantly, family and community stories, shared through blogs, rss, FAQs and other accessible formats always first in local language and larger language group s (e.g., Tamil, Hindi) and English, too, always second

+ And it includes access to monthly-to-quarterly machine and human translated national virtual conferences organized around topics of interest as measured by website traffic and searches from the bottom-up

+ Paid for by grants and investments to begin with and eventually by non-intrusive ads and links

+ Again, the notion is to make denser and denser the relationships among people passionate about the same things – a particular crop in a particular place, a language group, right use of ICT … anything

* Going beyond financial sustainability

o Improve trade profits by beating the first middleman – use ICT to find out, for example, the price the first middleman gets in the market village that day. Use that knowledge to decide whether to trade with the middleman in your village or travel to the market town yourself that day or hold your product until another day

o Make a real business out of village-level ICT-enhanced knowledge centres – This means, for example,

+ to use Jhai tools and methods to research nearby ICT-enhanced business successes,

+ to use state-of-the-art Jhai bookkeeping, business planning, visioning and long-term networking methods.

+ It also means to seek constant improvement of the business model decided upon for that location through self-assessment and networking with similarly situated businesses.

+ It finally means keeping the business and the knowledge centre open for 12-16 hours/day by whatever means necessary, including low-power, alternatively powered computing.

o See the ICT-enhanced knowledge centres as

+ a profit center for the community, no matter who or what owns it
+ a place where other ICT businesses are bred through differentiation by local entrepreneurs of pieces of the original ICT business (for example, computer sales, computer maintenance, printing, photography, outsourced data management, outsourced data input, others) while the original business continues

+ a place where other businesses are bred through the raising of capital through the multiplier effect, due to increased trade locally among people who have taken knowledge or information via the net and from databases that were not available previously (for example, self-help groups, new brokers of new services, others)

o See the ICT-enhanced knowledge centres as a medium that is the message. It is a tool for financial betterment for community members while it helps maintain community language, culture and traditions. Its way is to let innovation conform with conservative community values.

What all this does is build upon a worldview that is dominant in most of the world: the world is built of relationships. If you want to help people get more money what you need to do is help them, if asked, build upon and help make denser their current, safest sea of relationships, always experienced in the context of their shared community values.

There is a Haiku by the great Japanese master, Issa:

pointing the way
with a radish.

That pretty much says it all. We do not deliver product to poorer farmers. We work with our relatives … and listen to them, even follow them … and cooperate.

Here’s a Hasidic saying from the Jewish tradition:

There is no room for God in him who is full of himself.

When you trust nonlinearity in this way, you get much more than you bargained for and much more of what is needed.

For more information, please contact:
Jhai Foundation – United States
921 France Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94112
Voice/Fax: 1-415-344-0360