Mini Laptops and GPS Help Change the World

Cell phones, mini-laptops and GPS technology are helping to change the world—and not just the Western world. Today, CRS’ ICT4D Innovation Conference opened in Nairobi, Kenya. The goal of the three-day conference is to bring CRS staff together with technology leaders and solution providers to collaborate on information and communication technology for development (ICT4D).

Chris Thomas, chief strategist for Intel, noted in the conference’s keynote address the value Intel has gained through CRS’ willingness to undertake technology innovations. For the past 18 months, CRS and Intel have been working closely on a project to use ruggedized mini-laptops for data dissemination and remote learning in the field as part of the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative.

“CRS managers took the risk of innovating on the cutting-edge of technology,” Thomas said. “We wanted to accelerate the use of technology, so we set the goal of doing it in one year. We wanted to move fast and prove it’s possible.” Speeding up traditional planning cycles for technology projects in the aid industry is a win-win solution: Agencies can roll out solutions to help beneficiaries more quickly, and vendors can tap a more desirable market.

Sudan drilling

Conference participants see a demo of a pen that automatically turns whatever is written into a digital file. . Photo by Sandra Basgall/CRS

Overcoming significant challenges, CRS and Intel have now created a proven platform others can leverage to implement ICT solutions more quickly and with greater confidence—both within CRS and without, including seven new pilot projects through the NetHope consortium. Potential applications include a wide variety of data collection and exchange needs across sectors, such as compiling details on an orphan’s home environment to determine needed services, sending in evidence about the spread of cassava disease, or sharing market price information with rural farmers so they can sell high to maximize profits. The platform’s use of computer-based training modules also allows for remote education of field agents on any number of topics.

“This type of public-private partnership is providing extraordinary opportunities to increase the quality of relief and development projects,” says Carol Bothwell, CRS’ chief learning officer. “As a result of this conference, CRS will refine our approach for making the use of ICT an integral part of our relief and development programming for efficiency and financial gains.”

Follow the conference on Twitter and on YouTube, where the ICT team is posting participant videos.

—     Reported by Debbie DeVoe, CRS’ regional information officer for eastern and southern Africa

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