How can young people’s enthusiasm for new technologies be harnessed for social good?
Moderator: Uju Ofomata, Programme Director, Mobile4Good at OneWorld UK which is increasing access to sexual health information for young people through mobile phone and Facebook information services and computer-based school curricula.
Sunil Abraham, Executive Director at Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, which conducts research and policy work around how the internet is shaping society. Among other things, their research highlights technology’s crucial role in the practices of producing knowledge in classroom teaching.
Rodrigo Baggio, CEO and Founder of CDI, which uses technology as a medium to fight poverty, stimulate entrepreneurship and create a new generation of change-makers.
Susan Kariuki, CEO of Youth Agenda (Kenya), which aims to harness and nurture young people’s personal, community and national development. They have developed an SMS interface which empowers citizens for informed participation in governance, and in democratic and development processes, including corruption reporting and constitutional reform.
With young people typically adopting new technologies more quickly than the rest of the population, information technologies are fast becoming important mechanisms for reaching and empowering this demographic to take part in civic life. As teaching is increasingly being delivered via digital platforms, information technologies also present opportunities for improved educational outcomes for young people as accessing these services and knowledge is becoming easier and cheaper. In Kenya, over 78% of the population is under the age of 34, and those earning the lowest incomes are among the most avid consumers of new technologies. The potential for using information technologies to reach young people in the developing world is therefore huge.
Lessons from the field
- Developing services with stakeholders is vital – services must be, at least to some extent, user-driven and owned.
- However, when a good service is user-driven and owned by the community, an organisation must invest in moderators to ensure that the service remains of consistent quality and true to its mission.
- Often, peer learning is better than a top-down “imposed” strategy.
- Working toward a culturally-appropriate service is important – what works in one country might not work in another. This can even be the case for countries that are geographically close to each other.
- If a service is built so that specific features can be adapted to the local context – such as the way the characters in a programme look or speak – then the model can be easily replicated.
- Safe spaces must be built both on- and offline. Sometimes this can be more complex a task than we think: anonymity in groups can feel ‘safer’ than accessing services individually, for example. This is of particular importance in situations where the subject of the information provided – for example, accurate information about sex and contraception – is culturally sensitive.
- Other factors like the atmosphere in internet cafes also contribute to young people’s experience of using technology.
- Sometimes we fail because we look to the most popular or newest technologies – often existing older technologies can be the most cost-efficient or appropriate.
- Initiatives will frequently yield unexpected but positive results. Rodrigo Baggio’s example of the ex-offender who changed his life by learning technological and entrepreneurial skills through information technologies and is now a successful social entrepreneur, highlighted this very clearly. Sunil Abraham suggested that often we are too obsessed with managing projects, and we do not see unintended results as good outcomes.
- A huge number of young people already use the technologies anyway, which means that organisations are already at an advantage in trying to reach young people through these channels.
How can we motivate young people using technology? Should we appeal to dreams or feed fears?
In the panel’s experience, explicit messaging is often less effective than those that are implicit or integrated into a product’s design.
Sunil Abraham argued that if a message is conveyed respectfully through an information technology platform, then it will be acted upon.
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Thanks to Daisy Wakefield, Aphra Sklair and Deanna Laforet of the Institute for Philanthropy for producing these notes.