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Avoiding Wasting Food and Human Potential with ICTs

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Creative use of information technology in the South is helping to address two very different kinds of waste – of food and of human and community potential.

In Ghana, a mobile phone-driven Internet marketplace is helping to improve efficiencies in farming and selling food. Another initiative is addressing the crisis in India’s villages by drawing on the diaspora of former villagers now living in urban environments around the world.

Finding ways to efficiently trade food is crucial to keeping hunger at bay and meeting the needs of growing populations. In a report earlier this year, the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) found that more than half of the world’s food is wasted or discarded.

“There is evidence … that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, at the launch of The Environmental Food Crisis: The Environment’s Role in Averting Future Food Crises.

Ghana is a country that has already gained a reputation as an IT leader in West Africa (www.ghanaictawards.com). Now a clever technology based in the capital, Accra, is using mobile phones to connect farmers and agricultural businesses and associations to the marketplace. By using SMS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS) text messages, information from the field is gathered and collated. This can include tracking what is happening on the farm, how crops are surviving the weather, and the status of food inventories day-by-day. All the data is collected by the TradeNet website and displayed with prices and deadlines for buyers and sellers to get in touch with each other. This reduces the time and cost involved in gathering updates from thousands of people across the country.

Launched in 2007, the service recently won the Information Communication Technology innovations contest by the World Summit Award (WAS) (http://www.wsis-award.org/about/index.wbp) of the United Nations’ World Summit on Information Society (WSIS).

TradeNet is currently collating market data from 13 countries and proclaims itself the largest SMS-based market information service on the continent of Africa. It has more than 12,000 registered users and covers 500 individual markets.

The service’s full name is TradeNet: Market Information on your Mobile (http://www.tradenet.biz/?lang=en), and it tracks products like ground nuts, sesame, tomato, maize and white beans. It offers market information from Afghanistan , Benin , Burkina Faso , Cameroon , Cote d’Ivoire , Ghana , Madagascar , Mali , Mozambique , Nigeria , Sudan and Togo.

Founded by its chief executive officer Mark Davies, TradeNet is run out of the internet start-up incubator Busy Lab (http://www.busylab.com/) in Accra. Busy Lab specializes in building mobile web solutions for companies and projects involved in rural media and computing.

While in India, villages are in crisis: As India’s economy has boomed, its small towns and villages have withered. Home to the majority of the country’s population, they are suffering declining populations and high suicide rates. India’s urban slums are where people are going; they are growing 250 percent faster than the country’s population. Yet so many people share some past connection with the country’s 260,000 ailing villages.

And while the world has become a majority urban place, it is acknowledged the future for the environment and agriculture rests in the health of villages.

The social media website Mana Vuru (www.manavuru.com) seeks to connect people living in cities with the villages they were born in, or where their families came from. It is about restoring the broken connection with the village in order to enhance their future development.

As Mana Vuru declares: “Villages form the backbone of our economy. True progress, growth and prosperity can only be realized when villages become self-sustainable.”

The site points out that “most villages are suffering from crippling infrastructure and some even lack the basic amenities like electricity and fresh water. We believe that every person who migrated to greener pastures and attained success and wealth should feel some sort of moral responsibility and do their bit for their respective villages.”

A project of the Palette School of Multimedia (http://www.palettemultimedia.com/) in Hyderabad – one of India’s technology hubs – the site lets former village dwellers register and start meeting and connecting with fellow members of the diaspora. Together they can network to help the village address its development challenges.

Published: August 2009

Resources

1) A video story by CNN on Tradenet. Website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6z0ywkHPPQ

2) BOP Source is a platform for companies and individuals at the BOP (bottom of the pyramid) to directly communicate, ultimately fostering close working relationships, and for NGOs and companies to dialogue and form mutually valuable public-private partnerships that serve the BOP.
Website: http://bopsource.ning.com/

3) Afriville is a Web 2.0 service and an African Caribbean social network. Afriville is a community website along the lines of the famous MySpace. Users are free to message and post profiles. The difference is that the user is able to choose how closed or open the networks are. The site features a state of the art music management system which allows African and Caribbean artists to get straight in touch with their fans.
Website: www.afriville.com

4) Business Action for Africa: Business Action for Africa is an international network of businesses and business organisations from Africa and elsewhere, coming together in support of three objectives: to positively influence policies for growth and poverty reduction, to promote a more balanced view of Africa, and to develop and showcase good business practice in Africa
Website: www.businessactionforafrica.org

5) Model Village India: An innovative concept to rejuvenate India’s villages and build economies and self-reliance. Website: http://www.modelvillageindia.org.in/index1.html

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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2011: Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

NEW: A new design template has been launched for the e-newsletter (see below). The Southern Innovator website archive of Development Challenges stories is also now online: southerninnovator.org

New magazine Southern Innovator has launched: Read and download the magazine here: Southern Innovator Issue 1 

December

Mapping to Protect Kenya’s Environment: the eMazingira Solution Development Challenges: Powerful new grassroots crowd-mapping tools have sprung up in the past few years across the global South, from Brazil’s Wikicrimes (www.wikicrimes.org) real-time crime mapping technology to the now famous Ushahidi (http://ushahidi.com) – a non-profit company making the free and open source Ushahidi software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping – from its base in Kenya. They share some common features. All draw on the widespread use of mobile phones in the global South combined with growing access to the Internet, either through 3G mobile phone services, WiFi wireless connections, Internet centres or increasingly available broadband Internet services.

Building an Interactive Radio Network for Farmers in Nigeria Development Challenges: As solar power technology has improved, new pioneers have emerged to exploit this innovation. Several decades ago, solar power was seen as too expensive for wide-scale roll out in poor countries and communities. But today, an army of solar technology pioneers has fanned out across the world to show the new wave of innovations and how they make solar power affordable.

African Manufacturing Pioneers Proving it is Possible to Thrive Development Challenges: Africa’s paradox is that it is home to the greatest share of the world’s unexploited resources, yet has some of the world’s lowest per capita incomes. History has shown that exploiting the continent’s resources alone for export markets does little to improve incomes and living conditions in Africa, which in turn does nothing to improve human development. The key to resolving this paradox is made-in-Africa jobs, in particular high-value jobs that make products.

Indian City Slum Areas Become Newly Desirable Places to Live Development Challenges: With India’s urban economy experiencing rapid growth, its slums – once seen as the most undesirable places to live in the country, if not on Earth – are attracting the attention of affluent residents and developers in India’s rapidly expanding cities. The prosperity in India’s cities has made these areas’ proximity to business and entertainment zones highly desirable. In turn, this has led to slum dwellers either upgrading their homes and in the process boosting their value, or being offered the opportunity to sell their rudimentary dwellings to real estate agents and property developers.

November

New African Film Proving Power of Creative Economy Development Challenges: A new movie is generating excitement around life in the war-torn, chaotic and impoverished Democratic Republic of the Congo (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo) – the central African nation – and proving how versatile and resilient a creative economy can be in a crisis.

Recycling Waste to Boost Incomes and Opportunities Development Challenges: We all know that green is good, but often the best way to encourage recycling and other environment-improving activities is to put in place economic incentives. It is one thing to admonish people and tell them something is the right thing to do; it is another to make keeping a clean environment pay.

Virtual Supermarket Shopping Takes off in China Development Challenges: An ingenious use of technological innovation and savvy trend-spotting is radically transforming the way people do their grocery shopping in China. Busy urban dwellers with time-poor lifestyles can now do their grocery shopping as they pass through Shanghai’s subway system and have their weekly shopping delivered to their home.

Bolivia Grabs World Media Attention with Salt Hotel Development Challenges: Tourism is a great way to attract foreign currency to a country and build local economies, especially in remote or isolated places. But the catch is finding a way to get people to go the distance and come and visit and spend their money.

October

Indian Mobile Phone Application Innovators Empower Citizens Development Challenges: With mobile phones becoming ubiquitous across the global South, the opportunity to make money – and possible fortunes – by providing ‘apps’ for these devices is now a reality.

Mapping Beirut Brings City to Light Development Challenges: As cities in the global South grow ever larger, their often-chaotic evolution can create sprawling urban mazes that would confuse even the brightest brains.

Putting Quality and Design at the Centre of Chinese Fashion Development Challenges: Awareness of the sourcing of materials for fashion has been on the rise in the past decade. Concerns about how the global fashion industry functions and its impact on the environment have given rise to savvy retailers who take care over the sourcing of their materials and the working conditions of their employees.

Cheap Indian Tablet Seeks to Bridge Digital Divide Development Challenges:India has had many false starts in innovating in information technology. While the country and its talented army of software engineers have a global reputation for innovation, the fits and starts that have accompanied attempts to create new hardware and devices have drawn a range of emotions, from amusement to frustration.

September

Filipino Architect wants to Transform Slum with New Plan Development Challenges: A clash is occurring across the global South over the future of urban planning and the ever-growing slums of the world’s megacities. This will be a decisive clash of visions: should cities flatten slums and relocate their residents, or work with slum dwellers, acknowledge the role they play in city economies and improve their lives with better dwellings?

Model City to Test the New Urbanism Concept in India Development Challenges: India’s phenomenal economic growth rate – forecast to be 7.9 percent this year by the Asian Development Bank, after averaging 7.7 percent per year over the past decade – has been the force behind an expanding middle class population, now estimated at 50 million people (McKinsey). Forecasts see it swelling from 5 percent of the population to 40 percent by 2025.

Pulque: Aztec Drink Ferments New Economy Development Challenges:Reviving traditional foods and drinks can be an income-boosting source of new economic activity. Many cultures can benefit from looking again at their rich traditions to find new ways to increase enterprise. This can be difficult at first. Big global brands have many initial advantages: they are backed by wealthy and experienced international companies and can deploy aggressive marketing and distribution power to get products into the hands of consumers. The power of Coca Cola to reach all corners of the earth is legendary.

Ghana: Oil-rich City Sparks Entrepreneurs and Debate Development Challenges: Commodity booms can seem like the answer to a poor nation’s prayers, a way to fulfil all their development dreams and goals. The reality, however, is far more complex. More often than not, the discovery of resources sparks a mad scramble for profits and patronage, as politicians and politically connected elites carve out their slice of the new resource boom before anyone else.

August

Anti-bribery Website in India Inspires Others Development Challenges: An Indian website tackling corruption has been so successful it has inspired a wave of followers in China. The I Paid a Bribe website – motto: “Uncover the Market Price of Corruption” – was set up by the Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy (www.janaagraha.org), a non-profit organisation based in Bangalore, India.

Turning African Youth on to Technology Development Challenges: An African NGO believes the Internet is the single biggest key to rapid development in Africa – and it is working to connect youth, women and rural populations to the web, and in turn, switch them on to the vast resources stored across the world’s Internet sites.

Pakistan Simplifies Job-matching Services Development Challenges: An innovative job-matching service from Pakistan is trying to bring together people who normally live separate lives. It is eliminating the middlemen who gouge both employers and employees for job-seeking fees and opening up a new world of opportunities for the poor.

Data Surge across Global South Promises to Re-shape the Internet Development Challenges: The deluge of data gathered by the digital revolution underway in the global South continues to offer a significant economic opportunity. How this data is harvested will forge the successful Internet business models of the future.

July

Bringing the Invention and Innovation Mindset to Young Kenyans Development Challenges: A highly innovative new way to teach the basics of electronics, computing and technological innovation is being pioneered in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. Driven by the desire to counter perceptions of apathy among young people, NGO Kuweni Serious is running a training course for girls aged over 8 years in some of the poorest parts of the city to turn on a new generation to the power of technology to make change.

Arab World Domain Name Opportunity Huge Economic Help Development Challenges: With the so-called Arab Spring still unfolding across much of the Arabic-speaking world, it is easy to miss a rising new economic opportunity: The introduction of an Arabic domain name system for the Internet.

African Youth Want to do Business in Fast-growing Economy Development Challenges: Africa’s growing economy is meeting head-on an optimistic young population keen to start businesses. At least that is what a new poll of African youth says, finding that one in five Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 without a current business wants to start one in the next 12 months.

Kenyan Safari Begins Minutes from Airport Development Challenges: Many people find the prospect of staying in airport hotels dreary at best. They tend to be located in industrial parts of cities or far from city centres. They can be surrounded by roads and highways and are built to move lots of people, not to look nice. The surrounding areas can be very common to all nations – warehouses, office parks, nondescript restaurants and hotels – and give few clues to where you are apart from the weather and the languages on the sign boards.

June

Brazilian Restaurant Serves Amazonian Treats Development Challenges: The vast Amazon rainforest has inspired a cuisine pioneer in Brazil. Combining the sensual pleasures of fine dining and the joy of tasting new flavours with a pursuit of sustainable and profitable local farming, a chef is inventing a new Brazilian cuisine and showing the way to create sustainable incomes.

Civet Cat Coffee Brews Filipino Opportunity Development Challenges: In the Philippines, one animal’s call of nature has become a business opportunity.The civet cat, a member of the mongoose family, ingests the fruit of coffee plants, and expels the beans. This has created an unexpected by-product – a prized beverage for the world’s savvy coffee drinkers seeking the next taste sensation. The partially digested coffee beans are gathered from the faeces of the cat and used to make a much-coveted, smooth-flavoured cup of coffee.

Indonesia Best for Entrepreneurs Development Challenges: A global survey has unearthed hotspots across the global South for start-up businesses and private enterprise. It shows there are now many places in the South where people are actively encouraged to start businesses and engage in innovation and enterprise. The top place in the world for entrepreneurship, according to the survey for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), is Indonesia.

The e-Reader Battle Reaches India Development Challenges: The rise and rise of e-books and electronic publishing has prompted the development of e-readers: handy, portable devices that try to mimic the reading experience of paper books while offering the storage and navigation capability of computers.

May

African Botanicals to be used to Boost Fight against Parasites Development Challenges:  More than 1 billion people in the developing world currently suffer from tropical diseases, which leave a trail of disfigurement, disability and even death. Yet only 16 out of 1,393 – 0.01 percent – of new medicines marketed between 1975 and 1999 targeted tropical diseases (International Journal of Public Health).

Floating Bank Floats New Dreams for Brazilian Middle Class Development Challenges: Brazil’s booming economy has seen a dramatic increase in the size of its middle class. More and more people have been lifted out of poverty as a growing, stable economy overcomes years of political and economic instability. In 2010, Brazil’s economy grew by a record 7.5 percent, surpassing a previous peak in 1986 (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) (IBGE) (www.ibge.gov.br/english). The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) reached 3.67 trillion reais (US $2.21 trillion) in 2010, making it Latin America’s largest economy.

Indonesian Food Company Helps Itself by Making Farmers More Efficient Development Challenges: The current global economic crisis is taking place at the same time as a global food crisis. Food inflation took off at the beginning of 2011. This is having a devastating affect on countries dependent on food imports and experiencing decreasing domestic production capabilities. The least developed countries (LDCs) saw food imports rise from US $9 billion in 2002, to US $23 billion by 2008 (UNCTAD), prompting Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary general of UNCTAD, to say “the import dependence has become quite devastating.”

Indian Toilet Pioneer Champions Good Ideas Development Challenges:Access to adequate sanitation and toilet facilities is critical to making development gains. Yet this simple fact of life often gets overlooked, especially in fast-growing cities where populations are on the rise or in transit. Out of an estimated 2.6 billion people in the world without toilets, two-thirds are in southern and eastern Asia (World Toilet Organization).

April

Solar Sisters Doing it for Themselves: Tackling African Light Famine Development Challenges: A social enterprise is seeking to capture the power of the sun to bring light and economic opportunity to women in Africa. Using a direct-marketing distribution system, it sells solar lamps and lanterns to some of Africa’s remotest communities. Solar Sister (www.solarsister.org), launched in Uganda in 2010, is hoping to do for power generation what mobile phones have done for communication in Africa: make a technological leap to a model of grassroots power generation, rather than waiting for large-scale power schemes to eventually reach the poor and rural.

South Africa Innovates Healthcare with Prepay Phone Vouchers Development Challenges: Pioneers in Africa are experimenting with new ways to fund the delivery of healthcare that is affordable and sustainable and not dependent on foreign aid and donations. A South African company is prototyping the selling of pre-payment healthcare services through mobile phones with a range of vouchers that can be bought and downloaded at the tap of a keypad.

Indian ID Project is Foundation for Future Economic Progress Development Challenges: India is in the midst of the biggest national identification project in the country’s history. The aim is for every Indian to receive a voluntaryelectronic identification card containing his or her details and a unique number. Called an Aadhaar, it is a 12-digit unique number registered with the Unique Identification Authority of India (http://uidai.gov.in) (UIDAI). The project joins a growing trend across the global South to map populations in order to better achieve development goals.

Ghana’s Funeral Economy Innovates and Exports Development Challenges: The West African nation of Ghana’s funeral economy is attracting innovation and grabbing attention outside the country. The nation’s elaborate – but expensive – funeral rituals provide craftsmen with a good income. And new products are being introduced to handle the financial consequences of this unavoidable fact of life.

March

Bolivian Film School’s Film Scene Paying Off Development Challenges: A film school in Bolivia shows how a creative hub can become the start of something much bigger. The school is inspiring a new generation of young people to get into filmmaking. And one of its lecturers is already experiencing global success acting in an award-winning new Spanish film.

Happy Nigeria: West African Nation Has Good Attitude Development Challenges: In the last 10 years, an increasing amount of attention has been paid to the concept of national happiness. The notion was first developed in the tiny Asian Kingdom of Bhutan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhutan), whose advocacy of ‘gross national happiness’ (http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/) as a measure of national achievement just as important as Gross National Product (GNP), has been met with equal parts ridicule, respect and research.

Cambodian Bloggers Champion New, Open Ways Development Challenges:  The Southeast Asian nation of Cambodia has had a very difficult history over the past few decades. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was seen as a glamorous and vibrant place. Dynamic, ambitious and newly independent from French colonial rule, Cambodia embarked on an extensive programme of building that is now called “New Khmer Architecture.” It is the most visible legacy of this modernizing time.

China Consumer Market: Asian Perspective Helps Development Challenges:The rise of China since 1989 has been the most remarkable development story of our times. The number of people lifted out of poverty is historically unprecedented: 65 percent of Chinese people lived below the poverty line in 1981; in 2007 it was 4 percent (World Bank).

February

Disaster Recovery, Ten Years After: The Gujarat, India Experience Development Challenges: In the past decade, there have been many devastating natural disasters, from Iran’s 2003 Bam earthquake and the Asian tsunami of 2004 to Hurricane Katrina in the United States in 2005 and the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti in 2010. All of these events received extensive media attention and drew a large aid response. Those who track natural disasters have noticed a serious increase in frequency over the past decade (http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article26290.html).

Chilean Eco-Buildings Pioneering Construction Methods Development Challenges: Across the global South, the search is on for new ways to build without extracting a high price from local environments.More and more people are recognizing the advantages of energy-saving methods like prefabrication. Prefab building techniques involve assembling a structure from pre-assembled parts or modules made in a factory, or transporting a completed, factory-made structure to a site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefabricated_building).

Model Cities Across the South Challenge Old Ways Development Challenges: Pioneering thinking about how resources are used and how people live their lives is taking place in the dynamic economies of the global South. Facing a vast population surge to urban areas, these include attempts to build “green” cities and low-waste, smart and digital communities.

Indian Newspapers Thrive with Economy Development Challenges: The onslaught of digital media in the developed countries of the world regularly brings pronouncements of the death of the traditional newspaper. But this assumption of digital triumph misses out on the reality in countries across the global South.

Extra story: 2011 Trends for the South Development Challenges: The world has been through a dramatic and fascinating period since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008. While the wealthy, developed nations of the North have been pitched into one crisis after another, the countries of the global South (many of whom are well accustomed to crises) have been part of a powerful new economic phenomenon: the rapid growth of South-South trade, investment and exchange. Its effects include stronger ties between Asia and South America and between China and Africa.

Download the February 2011 issue from Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49693714/Development-Challenges-South-South-Solutions-February-2011-Issue

January

Africa’s Consumer Market in Spotlight for 2011 Development Challenges:While other parts of the world will spend 2011 worrying about their debt levels and how to spur economic growth, many factors are pointing to Africa potentially following a different story. A frenzy of activity has been building around Africa’s market opportunities and its growing middle class consumer population.

China’s Booming Wine Market Can Boost South Development Challenges: A great South-South opportunity has emerged with the recent boom in wine drinking in China and the pursuit of quality tastes. Matching high-quality wine producers from the global South – including South Africa, Chile, Morocco, and Lebanon – with China’s thirsty wine drinkers could deliver a major income boost.

Food Inflation: Ways to Fight It Development Challenges: Food inflation has taken off at the beginning of 2011. As the global economic crisis enters its next phase, both developed and developing countries are experiencing inflation. There are many factors fuelling the rise in prices – inefficient distribution and storage systems, lack of investment in agriculture, devaluing currencies, high demand, natural and man-made disasters, use of food products like corn to make biofuels – but there are also ways to counter the effects of food inflation that have been tried and tested across the South.

Turning Animal Waste Into Paper Development Challenges: Animal waste is a messy fact of daily life in rural communities across the global South. This byproduct of life has many uses – but an ingredient for making writing paper is probably not the first that springs to mind.

ISSN Portal.
Summary of Impact.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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UN Ukraine Web Development Experience | 2000

In November/December 2000 I worked in Kyiv/Kiev, Ukraine for the United Nations mission on the strategic re-launch of the mission website as a portal, whilst also advising the UN Resident Coordinator/UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Gardner on communications strategy. It was an extraordinary experience on many levels. It was a time when the Internet was fast evolving and required quick thinking and an ability to innovate; it was also a key moment in Ukraine’s history. 

The dangers at the time for communicating on the Internet were starkly clear: on September 16, the Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze was murdered. In 2013 Aleksei Pukach, former head of the surveillance department in the Ministry of Interior, was convicted of the murder. 

But despite those dangers and clear threats from the government of the time, there was a flourishing and inventive Internet and digital economy. The magazine Internet UA (whose editor I enjoyed meeting) gave a great overview of the scene in Ukraine and its creativity. Just as now, the creation of Internet stars who can exploit the medium (in this case sexy videos: a very large online market today) was driving viewers and subscribers. But there was also a vibrant online news media, blogging, commerce and gaming presence as well.

Internet UA magazine: Sex sells and the sex industry has always had pioneers seeking new ways to get eyeballs for their content. The Internet from its early days has been driven by the search for nude pictures and sex videos. In this cover feature, “Internet + TV: Double Impact”. That content mix has become the foundation of websites such as Pornhub etc.

According to ain.ua, the Ukrainian digital economy today is ” … ‘local’ only just figuratively speaking. Ukrainian startups are initially focused on international markets. Product companies are included into international industry ratings. Outsourcing works with clients from all over the world. Global players enter Ukrainian market, opening R&D offices, acquiring and investing into local companies. There are no boundaries.” 

A magazine feature on ‘Natasha’s’ Internet content offering.

It is easy to take digital freedoms for granted now but there was great resistance at the time and, unlike today, many governments were openly hostile to digital technology, online communications and e-commerce.

50 websites to bookmark in 2000.

The UN itself was evolving and embracing the communications and design revolution being driven by digital change. This was the first “dot.com” boom, which had begun in 1997. I had played a key role in pioneering online content for Mongolia (1997-1999) and could bring this experience to Ukraine. In particular, I launched an award-winning web portal for the UN Mongolia mission in 1997 (www.un-mongolia.mn) and also the country’s first web magazine, Ger

The UN Ukraine brief involved creating content that was accessible to users with low bandwidth, dial-up connections (few had mobile phones in 2000). I had been building new media experience throughout the 1990s, tracking the cable and satellite TV and mobile/Internet revolutions for the Financial Times as a journalist, as well as launching websites for various media clients. 

The Terms of Reference for the UN/UNDP Ukraine assignment.
The assignment business card.
The UN/UNDP Ukraine website before launch as a portal.
The first iteration of the new UN Ukraine portal.

Key content created and launched on the UN Ukraine portal included critical information on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Ukraine, UN Ukraine’s first online magazine to explore perceptions of volunteering and NGOs in the post-communist period, and content preparing for the visit of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, by showing how Ukraine was engaging with global development priorities, for example the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and bringing together UN agencies and entities into a cohesive web and “One UN” experience.

The first UN Ukraine online magazine.
Bringing together UN agencies and entities into a cohesive web and “One UN” experience.

One highlight of this assignment was working with the “UN Chornobyl Programme” to develop its web content. This included visiting Pripyat (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pripyat),an abandoned city because of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986. I have visited many abandoned and “secret” cities and towns in the course of working with the United Nations but this particular visit had the added dimension of an environmental and human health disaster hanging over it (and as a former healthcare worker at Canada’s top cancer hospital and research institute, I couldn’t forget the impact of high radiation levels on the body).  

UN Chornobyl Programme website in development, 2000.
UN agencies in Ukraine.
UNDP in Ukraine.

The power of the Internet and the digital economy to engage people, especially the young, despite living in a country with significant political repression of free speech and even physical intimidation and murder, stuck with me. This work also contributed to laying the foundations for Ukraine’s growing freedoms and greater engagement with Europe. 

As this chart shows, increasing connectivity had a profound impact on living standards in Ukraine and Mongolia post-2000. The extreme turbulence Mongolia experienced in the 1990s – after the collapse of support mechanisms from the Soviet Union – calmed down as Mongolia integrated with the global economy, especially a booming China.

Read about my work in Mongolia in the late 1990s:

High Impact Communications In A Major Crisis: UNDP Mongolia 1997-1999 | 18 February 2016

CASE STUDY 4: UN + UNDP Mongolia | 1997 – 1999

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052

© David South Consulting 2022