Angela Oduor Lungati
Executive Director, Ushahidi
This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
Unequal access to technology erodes civic participation and poses threats to human rights.
Technology has helped communities hit by natural disasters and political upheavals, and non-profit organizations.
We need to democratize access, and make sure nobody is left behind.
From transport to telecommunications, technology has helped transform our lives. In Kenya, for example, the introduction of M-Pesa brought a level of financial inclusion that had not been seen before. This fintech solution opened up banking opportunities to a section of the population that was considered ‘unbankable’.
Technology has also, however, exacerbated social divisions and left some communities behind. Not only does unequal access to technology erode civic participation, it also threatens security and privacy, posing threats to human rights, governance and human agency. We need to harness, improve and make use of existing technology,while putting policies in place to harness the power of digital technology and assets for the greater good.
The solution lies in the democratisation of technology. We need to ensure that it is more affordable, easier to use and provides more access, especially to communities that are classified as marginalised, underserved and underrepresented. Digital technologies and assets can be used to bring equality, fairness and justice to societies that have been marginalised and underrepresented. In addition to this, digital advances and innovations play a key role in helping communities, organisations and governments work towards attaining the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Digital assets, for example, could tip the scales towards a more equal technological world. This has great and positive implications to human rights protection and the empowerment of marginalised communities.
Impact on crisis response
In times of crisis, societies affected often find themselves isolated from the rest of the world. In the recent Pakistani floods, Code for Pakistan launched Floodlight, a crowdsourcing initiative for collecting flood-related data. Pakistanis were able to use this platform to map all the areas that were affected by the floods. They also mapped areas where the displaced population could get access to charities and relief initiatives, housing, food, medical care and more.
In the recent Pakistani floods, Code for Pakistan launched Floodlight, a crowdsourcing initiative for collecting flood-related data Image: Floodlight
Impact on governance and civic engagement
Social media has democratised access to and the spreading of information. In the Arab Spring, technology played a vital role in holding those in power accountable for the decisions they were making. In Kenya, Uchaguzi is a partnership committed to increased transparency and accountability in Kenya’s General Election through active citizen participation. On the other hand, governments and government officials have used social media to monitor public sentiments. In some cases, debate on social platforms have shaped how governments respond to issues and formulate policies.
Impact on nonprofit organizations
With nonprofits keen to accelerate their impact and bring social good to the communities they work in, open source tools and technology have been transformative. For instance, the Ushahidi Platform is one of the open-source tech tools that nonprofits use to quickly collect and share information that enables them to raise voices, inform decisions and influence change. World Vision, through its Tana River Climate Change and Livelihoods Restoration Project in Kenya, is empowering communities to adapt and mitigate the negative impact of climate change, powered by crowd geo-tagging data collected through Ushahidi.
Open software development and contributions are crucial to creating avenues for technology to champion social good and support vulnerable communities.
Impact on political and social history
Technology has made it easier to disseminate information and correct narratives that painted communities and societies in an inaccurate light. Slavery, colonialism and civil wars are just but some of the areas where information was often lacking. Now, we see more organisations calling for educational reforms to cover these areas more comprehensively.
Technology serves as a tool to help solve social challenges and correct social injustices. Its democratisation presents a great opportunity for people and society as a whole to ensure that as we transition to new economies, no one is left behind.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.