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General Assembly: Development Aid and Technology

“Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only
by its absence, not its presence.”

Nicholas Negroponte, Founder of the
One Laptop per Child Association, 1998



With the rise of digital technology, the world is transforming at a steadily increasing pace. While international cooperation has been the key concept of the United Nations systems since its establishment, the concept of globalization is not the same anymore. Every person living on this earth has been directly or indirectly affected by the internet. The use of smart phone apps gives inhabitants of remote areas access to services such as online banking – something which unthinkable not long ago. Also, people connect with each other through the internet without any regard to geographical distances or political borders. Messages and ideas are spread around the world instantly. At Heidelberg National Model United Nations 2018, the General Assembly will look at a particular aspect of technological development: The effect of technology on development aid.

Today’s international development aid system is heavily shaped by the postcolonialism of the cold war. It focuses on existing problems mostly aiming at margining poverty and increasing the health situation, building infrastructure for housing, transportation, and education, and creating a so-called “Good Governance”. However, when considering the digital revolution, nearly all these aspects need a rethinking. Only to name a few examples, devices like small drones could deliver food and medicines to rural areas, education apps could decrease the need of traditional schools, and money transfer or micro credits via online banking could ease trading and reduce corruption.

Children gather round to get a glimpse of the drone used by UNICEF for assessment © UNICEF Malawi/2017/Andrew Brown
Children gather round to get a glimpse of the drone used by UNICEF for assessment
© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Andrew Brown

Still, when taking an in-depth look into the situation, most developing countries and their population do not lack in interest and devices, smartphones are already wide-spread. However, barriers to internet access include signal availability, device ownership, education, digital literacy, and electricity – and these are arguably far more basic, elemental, and consequently urgent.
Facebooks “Internet.org”, the “One Laptop per Child”-Initiative, or various approaches of the use of unarmed aerial vehicles, e.g. “drones for development”, have raised questions of how far the influence by the western world should reach in this issue. Does the so-called “digital divide” between the first and third world lead to misunderstanding the needs of the developing countries, does it even lead to a new form of “digital colonialism", when dealing with restricted website access, limited internet connection, and uncertain data storage? On the other hand, are there possibilities for developing countries to independently take on this revolution and use the huge chances it preserves?

Delegates of the HNMUN General Assembly 2018 will have to examine the effect of technology on development aid with the goal of innovating the system and will have to find solutions to pressing issues. How can the usage of technology make development aid more efficient – particularly regarding educational, social, and medical services? Is the role of developed countries only to supply developing countries with digital products or must the underlying technology and infrastructure also be made accessible? Or should developing countries take the next step by being their own “start-up” and limiting possible influence of global western states and companies?
Development Aid needs a turnaround.

Further entry points to the topic (alongside the GA Study Guide):

www.theguardian.com - 'It's digital colonialism': how Facebook's free internet service has failed its users

www.csoonline.com - Re-thinking development aid in the digital age

www.voanews.com - Civilian Drones Raise Hopes, Questions in Africa

www.wired.com - NEGROPONTE

 
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