Back in the early 90’s, when I started to take a serious interest in international development, I spent many weekends flicking through mail order booklets and “Working Abroad” publications that I had to order by post. Back then there was nothing relevant on the World Wide Web to speak of – actually, there wasn’t really much of a World Wide Web to speak of.
One thing that struck me back then were the number of overseas placements being offered by church- and faith-based groups, and how in most cases you had to be a practising ‘this’ or a practising ‘that’ before you’d be considered. To put it mildly, this bugged me a little.
Almost twenty years later and I’ve been fortunate enough to fulfil my ambition to work abroad – helping out with hospital and school building, and numerous conservation projects – although in the end I found a home in the ICT4D field. Having made that journey, one thing strikes me. While religious-based placements are still commonplace in “generic” development, they seem glaringly absent in ICT4D. In fact, religion or faith full-stop seem almost entirely absent from our discipline.
Is there a reason for this? Are technologists generally less religious or spiritual than those who work in health, or agriculture, or human rights? Or is it that technology-based work attracts an entirely ‘different’ crowd?
Speaking personally, my work represents something of a mirror image of how I think life should be led. Values I strongly believe in – unconditional help, kindness, the need to be respectful, humble, polite, responsive and so on – are also characteristics I try to embed in much of what I work on. The problem is that many of these characteristics are largely intangible, and although I feel spiritually driven by what I do I struggle to explain exactly what that means or what it is.
When I think of all the different career paths I could have taken, and the many others working in ICT4D could have taken, I can’t help but wonder what drives us all. What common values do we share, why do we do what we do, and does spirituality play a part in many – or any – of our stories?