The latest development in the fight against HIV/AIDs in Africa wasn’t conceived in a lab with scores of scientists, but on a TV set with actors, makeup artists, directors and producers. What are we talking about? The MTV Staying Alive Foundation produced the entertainment education program MTV Shuga, a television drama that targets African youth. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o starred in the first two seasons of the show. The show is broadcast in over 70 countries, reaching over 750 million people worldwide.
One journalist used it as a data source for a story on solar energy in Makueni County. Another accessed the data for inclusion in a piece on sanitary napkin distribution in East Pokot. Development partners reported relying on the data to coordinate specific activities in the Central Highlands of Kenya. And this is to say nothing of the government users of the data managed by the Electronic Project Monitoring Information System for the Government of Kenya (e-ProMIS), Kenya’s automated information management system on development projects funded by both domestic and foreign resources.
But what does this look like in practice? On the surface, projects that adopt the Digital Principles may not look so different from more conventional ICT4D efforts. Consider, for instance, a new participatory monitoring program in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. MOPA invites citizens to report problems in the waste management services through a digital platform, relaying these problems via an open-source map for the city council to enlist microenterprises to collect the waste. This is far from the first community engagement and participatory monitoring program to use technologies aimed at reducing barriers for citizens to more directly inform anything, from budget allocation to policy options to service delivery. And like many other participatory engagement programs, MOPA faced a slew of familiar challenges that have caused other similar projects to stutter, including:
A UNESCO report estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle. By some estimates, this equals as much as twenty percent of a given school year.
Many girls drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating. Should young women miss twenty percent of school days in a given year due to a lack of facilities or a lack of information or a lack of sanitary products?