Spirituality: A home in ICT4D?

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,┬ákindness, 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?

26 thoughts on “Spirituality: A home in ICT4D?

  1. Hapee says:

    Thanks Ken for an article on this difficult subject.

    As a Dutch person I am as society rooted in religion but decided to say farewell to the “common” interpretation of religion as churches see them. I see myself working in the same field as you do and see myself as self-made technologist as well. The road I took, led me from the study of Theology, through political science to where I am now, including open source, open access, open internet etc.

    I think a lot of what I do now and choices we make comes from notions like what is wrong or right and these might have religious origins they are not church related anymore. To me this is part of what we call here an humanistic approach and I guess this is what motivates me.

  2. Pingback: Ken Banks
  3. Pingback: Hussain Abdullah
  4. Pingback: Deborah Elzie
  5. Pingback: Ken Banks
  6. Pingback: Shikoh Gitau
  7. Pingback: TechChange
  8. shikoh says:

    Hi Ken,
    This is an insightful post, let me respond from the other side of the fence, the so called religious angle. I am a confessing, bible believing Christian, i base my thoughts and action in and around the person of Christ. When i study His character, i have learnt that He used what He knew best to influence humanity, following from His mantra, i tend to believe that i can touch Humanity by what i understand best, and that for me is technology. I may be called an idealist, and naive, but i believe that the spirit of Christ in me leads me to make the choices i make, and to have the confidence that every action i take, whether it is teaching computing or making one, is part of giving God glory. For me, that is my main motivation, if there is a need in the world that my particular skill and gifting can meet, am usually the first to volunteer for the task because i have the confidence that it is for a greater purpose. So yes, spirituality, does play a part in ICT4D and this is beyond the recognition of what is good or bad or unfare, but also the ability, passion and will to act on them .

  9. Pingback: eDOT Geek
  10. Sunny Kay says:

    Hey Kiwanja,
    While many of the ICT4D projects are not expressly faith-based, over 90% of those techies I have worked with are committed to their religious/faith-based life. I would argue that because so much of the tech sphere is about unlearning/learning/unlearning/learning that being rooted in a faith tradition enhances that process, and feeds the part of the techie that considers every task a reflection of their beliefs!

  11. Pingback: JosephineK
  12. Pingback: Gerald Benton
  13. Pingback: davekehnast
  14. Pingback: joanna
  15. Pingback: Bill Siemering
  16. Ed Cable says:


    Great post – really makes you think. I think that spirituality occupies or should occupy a deep role in the ICT4D space. I would agree that everyone in the space shares a common set of values whether they are spiritual or not. However, in general it appears most of those (at least from the Western world) building and delivering these ICT4D solutions are less spiritual than the general public or at least separate it very distinctly from their work.

    I think a more open embrace of spirituality in the ICT4D space would be beneficial. As a Catholic, at times it feels taboo to talk about religion or beliefs with fellow ICT4D practitioners. I find this ironic when so many of the beneficiaries of these ICT4D solutions are very religious. Deeper bonds and closer relationships could be formed if there was more spiritual commonality.

    Despite the belief in these common values, I find that many of my colleagues who are not rooted in spirituality or religious belief, have a void that they are seeking to fill. They seem to be constantly searching for greater purpose and meaning in their life. While at times this may strengthen their commitment to their development mission, it becomes a distraction or stands in the way of full commitment to their cause when there is a lingering emptiness that greater spirituality might fill.

  17. Pingback: Greg Drambour
  18. Adam Fricker says:

    Great post Ken – values are such an important part of life that it’s only natural that it should feed into work. I think that work becomes depressing when you can’t see how it reflects the values that you hold true. This doesn’t have to be about the product or service but about the way in which your company behaves. So the product of ictd might not reflect your values but if the approach of your company does then you can feel connected and spurred in to achieve greatness. Again awesome post

  19. Jonathan Mativo says:

    And surely you hit the command button that linked us to your wonderful app -FrontlineSMS. Kudos Ken

  20. Pingback: Liberationtech
  21. Pingback: Wayan Vota

Comments are closed.