From 1999, I worked as a consultant for United Nations (UN) missions in Africa, Asia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, for USAID Mongolia and for a UK-based international development consultancy.
Was the United Nations being effective and reflecting the potential for change in the mobile and information technology age? What needed to change? Who were the policy innovators?
This work included overseeing various digital media projects, including the strategic re-development of the UN Ukraine web portal, aiding in the rolling out of the media campaign for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Mongolia, including the first use of infographics in the Mongolia UN mission, advising on strategies for youth engagement in development goals in South Africa, and support to the UN mission in Turkmenistan as it finalised its United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) with the government and also work with UNICEF there. What I learned during this period proved crucial to the insights and thinking reflected in two highly influential United Nations publications, e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions, and Southern Innovator magazine (developed in 2010).
This period was particularly advantageous because I had a front-row seat to the unfolding digital and mobile information technology revolution sweeping across the emerging markets and the global South. I also had insight into what worked and didn’t in international development as well as the UN system. I also learned a great deal about development challenges first-hand in highly varied countries, how the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were actually being rolled out, and met amazing people who were challenging existing precepts on how to do development. All of this work proved very useful later on.
I have either travelled to, or worked and lived, in many countries, enhancing my global perspective and affording me a valuable trove of knowledge that has in turn informed my work in international development. I have always paid attention to the level of development in the country, how it has organized itself, the quality of its design, and how it interacts with other countries for trade and relations. The countries visited to date include: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, China, Cuba, Denmark, Domenica, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guadalupe, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Montseratt, Morocco, the Netherlands, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Vatican City. A fascinating mix of countries – some holders of top place on the UN’s Human Development Index – and others where human development is at its worst. Seeing with your own eyes what works and what does not is highly illuminating, while knowing first-hand how human development can be improved is critical for giving informed advice.
1999/2000: USAID Mongolia (design and publicity strategy for business development brochure, US Mongol (Mongolia) Construct and US tour, work with Riverpath Associates in the UK on communications strategies and the drafting of papers for the American Foundation for AIDS Research, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNCTAD, Harvard Institute for International Development, and the preparation of the report and launch strategy for the World Bank’s Task Force on Higher Education.
2000: UN Ukraine: strategic re-development of the UN Ukraine web portal and incorporation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
2004: UN Mongolia (media campaign for MDGs) and UN South Africa (evaluation of youth NGO associated with the University of Pretoria and its projects and providing a strategic marketing plan).
2005: UN Mongolia (media campaign for MDGs) and UN Turkmenistan (finalising its United Nations Development Assistance Framework – UNDAF).
2006: UN Turkmenistan (work with UNICEF).
“I highly recommend Mr. David South as a communications consultant who gets results.” Brian DaRin, Representative/Director, USAID Investment & Business Development Project, Global Technology Network/ International Executive Service Corps-Mongolia, 23 September 1999
working as a communications consultant for UN missions – Ukraine, South Africa, Mongolia, Turkmenistan
redeveloping mission websites, preparing content, reports, advising on communications strategy
working with local designers on new ways to present development data through inforgraphics (2005/2006)
in the course of travel and work, seeing the unfolding impact of the global communications revolution, in particular the rapid roll-out and take-up of mobile technologies, and the urgent need for the UN system to take this on board. Also witnessed firsthand the grassroots solutions revolution brought about by information and mobile technologies and the Internet, which needed to be fully embraced by the UN
A Marketing and e-Marketing Strategy – the New SASVO, Prepared from December 2004 to February 2005 for the Southern African Student Volunteers (University of Pretoria).
A Moment in Time: AIDS and Business, American Foundation for AIDS Research, 1999
Closing the Loop: Latin America, Globalization and Human Development, UNCTAD, 1999
It was 10 years ago this month that Southern Innovator‘s first issue launched in New York during the UN’s General Assembly week (UNGA). It focused on mobile phones and information technology for a reason: these connectivity transformations were re-shaping how people lived their lives, even in the poorest and remotest places on earth.
The content was based on global research, beginning in 2007, funded by the United Nations.
“What a tremendous magazine your team has produced! It’s a terrific tour de force of what is interesting, cutting edge and relevant in the global mobile/ICT space… This is great, engaging, relevant and topical stuff.” Rose Shuman, Founder & CEO, Open Mind and Question Box, Santa Monica, CA, U.S.A.
In 2010, as we prepared to launch Southern Innovator, the branding and website for David South Consulting was re-visioned by Icelandic graphic designer and illustrator Sólveig Rolfsdóttir. David South Consulting has been working with clients around the world since 1991.
One Indonesian industrial designer has pioneered an innovative business that has rejuvenated the economy of a farming village and improved the sustainability of local forests – and he’s doing it all with wood.
A range of wooden radios (wooden-radio.com) hold pride of place for the Magno brand (http://www.magno-design.com/?id=wr01a), which has carved out a niche as a maker of high-quality, crafted products that marry traditional skills with modern design. Magno is creating jobs and skills while also creating a unique, exportable product that commands a good price.
Indonesian designer Singgih Susilo Kartono developed the radio design concepts while at the Faculty of Fine Art and Design in Bandung, Java, Indonesia in the 1990s.
He takes an organic approach to designing, enjoying the journey and not necessarily being sure where he is going.
“I never start my design according to the market research or demand. I design by absorbing events, global or local events and even mundane daily life things that happen around me. Consequently, I start to think what will be good and better for these people,” he explains in his brochure.
The workshop in which the radios are made is a handsome wooden-roofed building and craftspeople sit at long wooden tables to assemble the models.
Each radio is made from a single piece of wood and takes a craftsperson 16 hours to construct, drawing on traditional woodworking skills. The radios are made from Indian rosewood, which is often used to manufacture many musical instruments because of its excellent sound resonance.
The radios are made in stages, with more than 20 steps involved in assembling each one. The individual parts are precision cut by machines before being assembled using a tongue and groove (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tongue_and_groove) construction technique.
Some radio models have a chunky, retro appearance and mix dark and light wood to give an eye-pleasing contrast. Others are more modern designs with a sleek profile. There is a large version, a ‘Mini’, a sleek modern Cube’ version and a rectangular version. There is also a round clock and a wooden desktop office set with various essentials like a wooden stapler.
The radios sell for between Euros 99 (US $124) and Euros 220 (US $276), and are shipped to Europe via Singapore to Hamburg in Germany.
“To me, wood is somewhat a perfect material – especially if I compare it to synthetic ones,” Kartono said. “In wood we could find strength and weakness, advantages and disadvantages or roughness and also softness. Wood is hard and solid but yet it is 100 per cent eco-friendly as it is degradable and leaves no waste materials on the earth.”
Great care is taken in selecting the wood and ensuring it is from local, sustainable plantation sources. According to its website, Magno used 80 trees in 2010 for its radios but in turn planted 8,000 trees around the village. This regeneration has become part of the process of creating the radios.
Magno has won numerous awards, including the Brit Design Award (UK), Design Plus Award (Germany), Good Design Award/G-Mark (Japan) and the Indonesia Good Design Selection Awards.
“The wood I use for the manufacturing process may need as long as 50 years to reach maturity,” Kartono said. “I want people not only to think about exotic or precious woods but likewise about the fact that good things require time. All objects that surround us should be thought-provoking. Craftsmanship originally was the art of dealing with raw materials in a sensible and economical way.”
As Kartono tells it, he faced the typical university graduate’s dilemma about his career path. Should he work as an in-house designer in a city or return to his home village of Kandangan and start a business? His choice was unusual. Once somebody with a university education leaves a small village, it is rare they return. And at first, Kartono did not.
But he was drawn back by the dire situation in the village, and decided to apply his knowledge of product design to revive its economic fortunes. He started by visiting just twice a year because that was all he could afford. This had the advantage of giving him perspective on the situation in the village.
“At first glance, these changes (happening to the village) were seen as a ‘progress,’” he said. “But when I looked more closely I concluded that it was only the ‘surface’ which experienced change. The basic structure of the village did not undergo any changes; moreover, some was actually deteriorating.”
He concluded that the village was being damaged by various government attempts to modernize agricultural practices. The debt problems this caused meant many farmers lost their farms and were forced to seek work in the city or look for another way to make money.
Craft work seemed to be the answer to this problem. It has many advantages, as Kartono sees it. It is something that can grow and fits well with village lifestyles. It is labour intensive, doesn’t need sophisticated technology and can use already existing local resources.
Kartono was inspired by one of his teachers at university, an advocate of the ‘New Craft’ approach, which applies modern management techniques to traditional craftsmanship. The idea is simple but very effective. It begins with making sure every step of the manufacturing process is standardized to ensure consistent quality and materials. A new product or design is first broken down into steps and a product manual is put together. Only then is the manufacturing process carried out.
While the New Craft method sounds simple and obvious, many craft makers do not take this approach. By following this methodology, it is possible to quickly train new craft workers and start up manufacturing in a new village or community. Craft is increasingly being seen as a good way to re-employ people who formerly worked in farming. The New Craft approach can create high-quality products that would sell well in the export market. A common problem with crafts is either poor quality control or inconsistent manufacturing methods. This can feed stereotypes of craft products and make them look second-rate in comparison to machine-manufactured products in the marketplace.
“Design for us is more than just creating a well-designed product that is produced and consumed in colossal amount,” Kartono said. “Design must be a way to solve and minimize problems.”
1) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. It is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Website: http://www.mcdonough.com/cradle_to_cradle.htm
2) Rio+20: At the Rio+20 Conference, world leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups, will come together to shape how we can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet to get to the future we want. Website: http://www.uncsd2012.org/
The coming years will see a major new force dominating development: Big Data. The term refers to the vast quantities of digital data being generated as a result of the proliferation of mobile phones, the Internet and social media across the global South – a so-called ‘data deluge’ (UN Global Pulse). It is an historically unprecedented surge in data, much of it coming from some of the poorest places on the planet and being gathered in real time.
Big Data will have a profound impact on how the cities of the future develop, and will re-shape the way the challenges and problems of human development are handled.
Estimates by Cisco (cisco.com) foresee 10 billion mobile Internet-enabled devices around the world by 2016. With the world population topping 7.3 billion by then, that will work out to 1.4 devices per person.
Some estimates say 90 per cent of the digital data ever generated in the world has been produced in the past two years. It is also estimated that available digital data will increase by 40 per cent every year (UN Global Pulse). This digital transformation is being accompanied by another trend: the largest migration in human history from rural to semi-urban and urban areas.
This presents an unprecedented opportunity to make this rapid urbanization and social change smarter and more responsive to human needs, and to avoid the failures of the past, from over-crowding to crime, disease, pollution, unemployment and poverty. Some believe data collection can radically alter development by flagging up problems quickly, giving cities the chance to respond and correct negative trends before they get out of control. In short, to build in resilience by way of digital technology.
The latest region to see rapid industrialization and urbanization has been Asia – in particular China, a country that since the 1980s has simultaneously lifted the largest number of people in world history out of poverty and undertaken the biggest migration ever from rural to urban areas.
And now Africa is beginning to follow in Asia’s wake.
This 21st-century approach to urban growth is at its most sophisticated, and utopian, in so-called “smart cities.” These are built-from-scratch cities that use the “Internet of Things”, where everything, from lamp posts to garbage bins to roads are embedded with microchips and radio frequency transmitters (RFID chips) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio-frequency_identification) to communicate data in real time. By analyzing this data, cities can be responsive to human needs and mitigate problems – improving waste collection and traffic management, reducing crime and pollution. Services can be customized to residents’ needs and liberate them to spend more time on things that matter such as their own health, family, work and hobbies. Examples of these cities include Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) in China, Masdar (masdar.ae) in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Songdo International Business District (songdo.com) in the Republic of Korea.
These experimental smart cities are springing up in the East, and it will be the East – as well as Africa – that will see most of the action going forward. As the global management consulting firm McKinsey noted in its report Urban World: Mapping the Economic Power of Cities: “Over the next 15 years, the center of gravity of the urban world will move south and, even more decisively, east.”
Cities in the global South will be generating the new prosperity of the 21st century. And it is widely accepted that people living in cities have the potential to become very efficient economically while rapidly driving prosperity higher.
The McKinsey report says that “by 2025, developing-region cities of the City 600 (a list gathered by McKinsey) will be home to an estimated 235 million middle-class households earning more than (US) $20,000 a year at purchasing power parity (PPP).
The world’s future prosperity is going to be found in the urban, the digitally connected, and the middle class.
Tracking all this digital change is the UN Global Pulse. UN Global Pulse (unglobalpulse.org) was started by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2009 with a mandate to study these changes and build expertise in applying Big Data to global development. UN Global Pulse functions as a network of innovation labs where research on Big Data for development is conceived and coordinated. It partners with experts from UN agencies, governments, academia, and the private sector to research, develop, and mainstream approaches for applying real-time digital data to 21st-century development challenges.
Unlike major technological trends of the past, this one is not restricted to the industrialized, developed world. Through the spread of mobile phone technology, billions of people are now using a device that constantly collects digital data, even in the poorest places on earth.
From an international development perspective, Big Data has five characteristics, according to UN Global Pulse: it is digitally generated, passively produced by people interacting with digital services, automatically collected, can be geographically or temporally traced and can be continuously analyzed in real time.
Sources of Big Data include chatter from social networks, web server logs, traffic flow sensors, satellite imagery, telemetry from vehicles and financial market data.
The key to using Big Data is combining datasets and then contrasting them in lots of different ways and doing it very quickly. The purpose? Better decision-making, based on an understanding of what is really happening on the ground.
This data exceeds the capability of existing database software. It is either too much, or comes in too quickly, or can’t be handled using current software technology. Tackling this problem is creating a whole new wave of opportunities for those working in information technology.
As technology and processing power continue to improve, the cost of wrestling with this data and putting it to use is coming down.
The data can be analyzed for patterns and hidden information that before would have been too difficult to gather. This approach has been used by big companies such as WalMart (walmart.com), but it has cost them a large amount of money and time.
Pioneers in Big Data include search engine Google, email and search provider Yahoo, online shopping service Amazon and social media service Facebook. Many supermarkets use Big Data to analyze the way customers behave when they are shopping, combining it with their social and geographical data.
But new developments in hardware, cloud architecture, and open-source software mean Big Data processing is more accessible, including for small start-ups, who can just rent the capacity required on a cloud-based service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing).
In the past, governments and planners had a ready excuse as to why they could not keep on top of ballooning urban populations and the chaos they brought. They could just throw up their hands and say “We do not know who these people are or what to do about them!”
This excuse does not work in the age of the mobile phone. It is now relatively easy to deploy the power of the networked computing inside mobile phones to map urban slums and identify the needs of the people there. Parse that data, and you have an accurate account of what is happening in the slum – all in real-time.
Making sense of all this information is creating its own new industries as innovators, entrepreneurs and companies step forward to chart this brave new world.
Historically, significant improvements in human development have occurred only after large-scale gathering of data and information on the actual living conditions of the population. For example, prototypes of today’s infographics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infographic) – informative visual representations of complex data – were created during the great attempts at tackling poverty and disease in Europe in the 19th century. Today’s masters of this technique include the Swedish doctor, academic and statistician Hans Rosling (gapminder.org), whose dynamic infographics are renowned for changing people’s perceptions of global problems.
UN Global Pulse notes “much of the data used to track progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) dates back to 2008 or earlier and doesn’t take into account the more recent economic crisis.
“While this may feed a perception that there is a scarcity of information about the wellbeing of populations, the opposite is in fact true. Thanks to the digital revolution, there is an ocean of data, being continuously generated in both developed and developing nations, that did not exist even a few years ago.”
UN Global Pulse believes Big Data can be used to protect social development gains when crises strike. Rather than undoing decades of good development work and human development achievements, Big Data can help to create agile responses to crisis as it happens.
UN Global Pulse believes the same data, tools and analytics used by business can be turned to help the public sector understand “where people are losing the fight against hunger, poverty and disease, and to plan or evaluate a response.”
1) Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity, Publisher: McKinsey Global Institute. Website: mckinsey.com
2) United Nations Global Pulse: Global Pulse is an innovation initiative launched by the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General, in response to the need for more timely information to track and monitor the impacts of global and local socio-economic crises. The Global Pulse initiative is exploring how new, digital data sources and real-time analytics technologies can help policymakers understand human well-being and emerging vulnerabilities in real-time, in order to better protect populations from shocks. Website: http://www.unglobalpulse.org/
11) Hadoop: Is open source software for handling of large data sets across clusters of computers using simple programming models. Website: http://hadoop.apache.org/
12) Pivotal: Pivotal develops software applications for big data. A testimonial on the Pivotal website sums it up: “With the ability to load a day’s worth of data for a million meters in under fifty (50) seconds, we are able to keep up with the tremendous amount of data generated and start experimenting with many useful smart grid analytics.” Website: gopivotal.com
13) TotallyDot: A way to centralize all the social media people use into a single page. Website: totallydot.com