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UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Professor Tim Unwin
Professor Tim Unwin
Professor of Geography and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D
Tim is also Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. In 2007-2008 he was Director and then Senior Advisor to the World Economic Forum's Partnerships for Education programme with UNESCO. From 2001-2004 he led the UK Prime Minister's Imfundo initiative based in the Department for International Development, creating partnerships to deliver ICT-based educational initiatives in Africa.
Since returning to Royal Holloway, University of London, he has created an ICT4D Collective, which undertakes research, teaching and consultancy in the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development.
How important is it that the countries of Africa close the digital divide with the rest of the world?
"It seems very clear that richer countries of the world and the middle income developing countries are all pulling away in terms of ICT, e.g. internet connectivity and the number of people who use mobile phones"
What are the main challenges in closing this global digital divide?
"There are a whole range of subtle and complex issues, it is not just physical infrastructure, but also the ways in which people want to use this technology, how certain people want to manipulate its usage and gain profit from it."
How can digital technology such as mobiles and computers have real social and economic value to the countries of Africa?
"These technologies enable people to get access to information and communicate in ways that they previously weren't able to do.
"There is a myriad of ways in which ICT's can transform people's lives"
Are the benefits of digital technology out of the reach for the poorest most vulnerable people in African countries?
"If only all digital devices were actually designed with emphasis on accessability then perhaps we might find ways in which technology is being used to reach the poorest and most disadvantaged at the moment in Africa."
Technology, however good it is, doesn’t work everywhere. Do you agree?
"Can people use technology anywhere? Of course they can, but at a price. The trick is actually going to be to enable the costs of services and access to be made available at the price poor people can afford."
"It is not just economic development, but social development which can be transforming to people's lives."
Top-down or bottom-up? Which do you think is the best approach for ICT development in Africa?
"It is important to bring together the private sector, civil society, governments and international donors - a range of different pertners to actually create solutions that will be in the interests of the poorest people"