Considering the future of development

“Our best decisions are made when we take not only our current needs into account, but when we consider how they will be affected by the state of the world in the future”. Or so says Gustavo Montes de Oca, an intern at London-based Forum for the Future. In this guest post, Gustavo takes us through four of his key ‘development future’ thoughts, and invites you to add more by joining their ongoing discussion

A development future...The global development community is particularly focused on the future (for example, the MDGs, or Millennium Development Goals) working to future targets of poverty reduction, health improvement and equality. But what are the factors working with or against these aims, and how will they pan out in the next 20 to 30 years?

Four trends which I think will play an important part in shaping the future of development are:

First, massive growth in ICT and applications: ICT has arguably already done more for Africa than aid. With the arrival of fibre optics this will continue. $100 dollar computers in every house eclipsed by device in every pocket, serving individual and group needs. (Further information on ICTs are available in this Database of mobile applications)

Second, the “Reaspora”: People whose origins, however defined, are in the countries of Africa and southeast Asia but who live in the West have seen where that model of development leads and are taking an interest in helping their countries and regions avoid the pitfalls – and seize on the opportunities – ahead. (See sites such as the Reaspora Blog and BarCamp Africa)

Third, South – South cooperation: Cooperation between people in different low-income regions is increasing. Since they live in the same context as each other it is easiest for them to come up with solutions, including the adaptation of technologies from the developed world

Fourth, Girl effect and women in power: A woman – or girl – will reinvest 90% of her income in her family. A man will reinvest 30% – 40%. This sense of stewardship combined with growing power (two-thirds of the Rwandan Parliament is made up of women) could see women play a growing part in leading their countries down alternative, more sustainable development paths

These are my four for starters. What am I missing?

Forum for the Future is a charity committed to sustainable development which focuses on the root causes and connections between big issues such as climate change, social inequality and environmental degradation. If you would like to find out more about their work, and join in with this (and many other) discussions, visit them online at

FrontlineSMS wins prestigious Tech Award

Yesterday the Tech Museum at Santa Clara University announced the 2009 Tech Awards Laureates. The Tech Awards is a prestigious international awards program that honours innovators from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. FrontlineSMS / was one of three Laureates honoured in the “Equality” category, and one of only fifteen in total.

Established in 2001, The Tech Awards recognises Laureates in a total of five categories – environment, economic development, education, equality and health. Laureates are recognised as having developed new technological solutions or innovative ways to use existing technologies to significantly improve the lives of people around the world. The Awards are sponsored by a wide range of partners which include Nokia, Intel, Microsoft, Accenture, eBay and Google.

Courtesy: Tech AwardsThe fact we knew about our Award a couple of weeks ago didn’t make Tuesday’s announcement any less exciting. It’s always a great feeling to have your efforts acknowledged, and if anything this shows, at the very least, that we’re heading in the right direction. A lot of work has gone into FrontlineSMS, and this Award is very much down to the efforts of a fantastic user base of NGOs big and small, incredible donors – the MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Institute and the Hewlett Foundation – an amazing team of developers at Masabi, the inspiring work of spin-off organisations such as FrontlineSMS:Medic, the faith and belief of the many bloggers who regularly write about and promote our work,  the efforts of talented designers, and unlimited encouragement from friends and supporters in the social mobile space.

This Award is for all of you.

Thanks also to the person who nominated FrontlineSMS, whoever and wherever you are, and to the judges and organisers of the Tech Awards for putting their faith in our work.


I’ve always maintained that it’s not technology that excites me, but what happens when you put technology in the hands of people. If it wasn’t for the tireless work of increasing numbers of NGOs – each of whom has adapted and applied FrontlineSMS in their own unique way – we’d simply be sitting on thousands of lines of benign code.

FrontlineSMS LogoFrontlineSMS has always been about empowerment, about lowering barriers to entry and giving people the tools they need to carry out their own social change work. This 2007 quote from the Africa Journal still spells out the ethos of FrontlineSMS better than anything:

FrontlineSMS provides the tools necessary for people to create their own projects that make a difference. It empowers innovators and organizers in the developing world to achieve their full potential through their own ingenuity

Of course, it’s also helped that we’ve been patient – the software has been over four years in the making, and remains very much a work in progress. We know more than anyone that there’s still a very long way to go. What’s also key is that we’ve remained totally focused in an industry which innovates at such a rate it’s easy to be distracted. Back in 2005 we picked a specific problem and set out determined to solve it. It’s fair to say that we never quite expected things to take off as they have, and today’s announcement is yet another highlight in what is becoming an incredible journey.

But the work goes on, and it’s all eyes back on the next big release, due out later this month. In the ICT4D world, complacency is a killer.

Finally, it goes without saying that congratulations also go out to the other fourteen Laureates. I’m looking forward to meeting them in November, and seeing what we can all learn from each others work. It promises to be an inspiring week.  \o/