May 17, 2012

What is the Value of the Cloud for CSOs in the Developing World?

There has been a lot of talk lately about the benefits of Cloud computing to the nonprofit sector, but many CSOs in the developing world are unaware of how important this technology is quickly becoming. This is in part because developing countries face additional constraints which limit its adoption, though the benefits that can be derived from its use are somewhat unparalleled. CSOs in developing countries may arguably not be as worried about security and privacy, (though this too is by no means of little importance!) because infrastructure problems like lack of a reliable electricity supply, limited internet access and slow broadband are issues they must still overcome if they want to adopt many ICT services and truly take advantage of services like the Cloud.

On the other hand it is worth emphasising that NGOs and the many community based organisations, small businesses, educators and researchers they support can realise massive cost saving on software and ICT support, which can translate into developing countries having the competitive edge needed for a community region or country to emerge from poverty.

The Cloud is channelling the creativity of developers in the developing world despite the absence of sufficient infrastructure. Wilfred Mworia, a young engineering student created an application for the iPhone that shows where events in Nairobi, Kenya are happening while also allowing others to add further information about them even though he did not possess an iPhone, which was also not available in Nairobi. He used the iPhone simulator… hosted far away … in the ‘Internet Cloud’ to develop the app. Decreased costs derived from the use of the Cloud provides tremendous potential for the nonprofit community in collaboration with well intentioned technologists and philanthropists in the developing world to develop apps that can be utilised to help with their work.

Moreover, research and education are two areas that are of vital importance to many NGOs located in the developing world, and the Cloud provides an opportunity for NGOs and the research and education centres they support to access the same information that those in developed world possess. It also provides an opportunity for increased collaboration and sharing of information. For example, Elastic-R is a Software platform that provides a collaborative virtual research environment in the Cloud. It enables African scientists to utilise digital vouchers subsidised by civil society organisations to pay per use.

As low cost smartphones and netbooks are increasingly made available in the developing world this also provides increased opportunity for CSOs operating there. Though many developing countries still struggle with lack of high speed broadband and related infrastructure problems, Cloud Computing has the potential to help them utilise the Cloud via their mobile phone to get services they need cheaply, easily and in some cases free. Cloudphone is one service that allows those who can’t afford the mobile handset to still have a mobile number and assess the information from any phone through the Cloud. As more Cloud based applications tailored to the constraints of the developing world are made available not only to individuals, SMEs and governments but also to CSOs, they will increasingly depend on such technology to carry out their work efficiently and cost effectively.

The Cloud is even being utilised for mapping crises. Ushahadi, is one nonprofit technology company that developed a free cloud based platform called Crowdmap. Crowdmap helps to crowdsource information needed to aid disaster and emergency response efforts. It was used to aid relief efforts following the Haitian earthquake and the platform has been recognised as useful beyond the nonprofit sector.

If cloud computing is seen as vital for the growth of a developing economy more resources may be allocated to ICT infrastructure. Michael Nelson argues in The Cloud, the Crowd, and Public Policy that the Cloud may force governments to provide subsidies or reform their policies in a way which promotes the use of broadband and helps to bridge the digital divide. This will serve to increase not only the use of the Cloud, but also the use of other related ICT products and services and help to engender greater creativity, another ingredient vital for development.

As problems related to lack of reliable broadband and an inadequate power supply are more quickly and hopefully surely overcome in developing countries, the Cloud can level the playing field and facilitate maximum efficiency for many local CSOs as well as some of the small businesses and public services they support.

This article was previously published at http://blog.guidestarinternational.org/2011/03/01/what-is-the-value-of-the-cloud-for-csos-in-the-developing-world/ and is reprinted by permission.

Keisha Taylor
Keisha’s interests lies in the use of ICT and data for development, data communications, digital inclusion and data privacy and protection. She is a Communications Manager at TechSoup Global, and its GuideStar International programme in London. In 2011 she completed her studies of Internet Governance and ICT Policy through the IGCB Programme hosted by the DiploFoundation. She participated in the 2010 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Vilnius, Lithuania and 2011 Forum in Nairobi, Kenya via fellowship. Other programmes she has worked on included a web based project, which encouraged community groups to think of resources as more than money by using an asset based community development approach. She has an MA in International Relations from the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands and a BSc. in Sociology from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.