Foreign Policy Blogs

International Development: Shifting Our Focus From iGenius to eDevelopment

“Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons”
~ R. Buckminster Fuller

Much has been made about how the late technology giant Steve Job “changed our lives”. The Discovery Channel, not to be outdone by all the media hoopla surrounding his death, will air a one-hour documentary on Sunday 30 October entitled, iGenius: How Steve Jobs Changed the World. The program description states, “Steve Jobs was a creative and technological visionary who quite simply changed society as we know it. As co-founder and CEO of Apple Computer, Jobs ushered in personal computing to the masses, which in turn led to new innovations which completely changed our way of life.”

International Development: Shifting Our Focus From iGenius to eDevelopment

(Source: Google photos)

With praise like this, surely we will be seeing this tech demi-god’s face on Mount Rushmore in a few years. No, I am not a Steve Jobs or Apple “hater”.  Truth be told, I consider my IPad to be my most trustworthy non-human companion and I am enamored with all the other ultra-cool products in the Apple products pantheon. However, I have grown frustrated observing the extent to which our tech obsessed society celebrates “cool” gadgets and the super-rich entrepreneurs who bring them to market. Is it just me, or are we missing the real story and opportunity that contemporary tech breakthroughs offer to a world that confronts chronic challenges that threaten our collective prosperity and security? While the developed ‘West’ distracts itself with innovative gadgets, reality T.V. shows, new means of connectivity, and the other toys of modernity, the ‘Rest’ of the world (you know, that large swath of humanity in the blind spot of much of the West’s consciousness) wallows in the muddy waters of poverty, disease, exclusion, and hunger all while staring at a blank wall of hopelessness.

Friends, when will we see a shift in focus from iGeniuses and their gadgets to eDevelopment solutions that promise to transform the way the world feeds, shelters, cures, educates, and shares? Here are a few statistics related to the Rest that should serve as warning flags for us in the West.

  • According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world.
  • Number of children in the world, 2.2 billion – The number in poverty 1 billion (every second child).
  • Close to half of all people in developing countries suffer at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.
  • Indoor air pollution resulting from the use of solid fuels [by poorer segments of society] is a major killer. It claims the lives of 1.5 million people each year, more than half of them below the age of five: that is 4000 deaths a day. To put this number in context, it exceeds total deaths from malaria and rivals the number of deaths from tuberculosis.
  •  Survival for children Worldwide:

– 10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France,   Germany, Greece and Italy)
–  1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation

(Source: UNICEF)

Indeed, there remains lots of work to be done to create a more equitable world. Can some of the tools we take for granted in the West be leveraged to help to ameliorate some of these problems? The answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.

International Development: Shifting Our Focus From iGenius to eDevelopment

(Source: Google photos)

Thankfully there are non-profit organizations and even public ones like the U.S. Department of State that appear committed to harnessing all types of technology to help partner countries to confront the most vexing global challenges. Last October, at a Science and Technology event in Bogota, Colombia, Ms. Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affair  stated,   “We live in a world of increasing interdependencies and thus of shared global challenges- the challenges of economic development and growth, of providing our youth with a promising future, of improving health care for all our citizens, of sustainable agriculture, of energy security, of clean accessible water, of environmental conservation and of climate change effects. We live in exciting times where the scale of challenges being discussed here today is being matched by human ingenuity. Investment in S&T to provide joint technological and policy answers that mitigate the impact of global issues is therefore imperative. Every country’s competitiveness, development, prosperity, and stability will depend on having the capacity to fully participate in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century.”

Bravo U.S. Department of State! I hope in the near future our increasingly tech centered society will begin to open our eyes to how technology can be used to bring about profound “society altering” transformations throughout the world. Perhaps private business, indeed all of us, will awake to the reality that it is good business (and good global citizenship) to extend a helping hand to the Rest as they struggle up their respective development Mount Everests. I am hopeful that all tech producers, as well as consumers, will collectively form a global coalition of partners, indeed a network, to harness technology to really “change the world”.

By the way, although I will be watching the iGenius documentary I plan on helping to write the eDevelopment story – its so much cooler!



Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).