Ken Banks: The dos and don’ts of ICT4D

Ken Banks is the founder of kiwanja.net which helps social innovators, entrepreneurs, engaged citizens and non-profit organizations make better use of communication technology in their work. This profile was first published on August 6, 2014. Banks will be the keynote speaker at the 2015 Game Changers Summit hosted by United Methodist Communications, Sept. 17 - 19, in Nashville, Tennessee. This year’s focus will be harnessing the power of information and communications technology (ICT) for global good. The aim is to demonstrate how ICT can be used to improve all facets of life throughout the developing world. Join us for this exciting event.

Much like the people he chronicles in his book, The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator, Ken Banks didn’t set out to be a pioneer in ICT4D. After seeing poverty and inequality on a massive scale while traveling and living in Africa, Banks asked himself how he could contribute to fixing such injustice. Seeking an answer to that question led him to design Frontline SMS, a text messaging service that blended dual passions for technology and international development. 

“In the beginning no one knew what to do. No one knew quite what best practices were, no one knew what other people were doing and nobody knew what other people were trying to do. It was a bit of a Wild West, I suppose,” Banks said.

Knowing that throwing ideas at a wall to see what sticks wasn’t going to solve the problem, Banks spent time living in the communities he hoped to serve, getting feedback and learning firsthand the needs of the residents. He encourages similar immersion whenever possible and cautions “developing solutions to problems we don’t understand.” He prefers to design tools that each community can use to address their specific issues.

“When I wrote Frontline SMS I didn’t write it to be a tool for me to take to people to solve problems,” he said. “I wrote it so they could use it themselves to solve whatever problem they were trying to solve.”

Almost a decade after introducing Frontline SMS, Banks is pleased to see the broader global interest in mobile for development, but still sees room for growth.

“I think we’re still a bit stuck on what the impact of the technology is,” he said. “We know it’s useful, we know it can do great things but we don’t always know precisely what they are.”

Since 2003, Banks’ website, kiwanja.net, has offered tools to help those in the international development field to advance their cause. And to budding social entrepreneurs, he offers advice gained from personal experience: “Be humble and honest and respectful in how you go about helping people. Often these people don’t see themselves as needing help; they just see themselves as needing a chance.”

*Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications.

Be a game changer! Register for the 2015 Game Changers Summit, Sept. 17 - 19.


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Bishops
United Methodist bishops process into the opening worship service for the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis. The five U.S. jurisdictions have made public their episcopal supervision plans outlining where U.S. bishops will serve in this interim time before elections scheduled for next year. File photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

US bishops take on expanded assignments

With 11 United Methodist bishops retiring or stepping into new roles ahead of next year’s elections, all five U.S. jurisdictions will see changes in episcopal supervision in the interim.
Social Concerns
The Rev. Jason Stubblefield. Photo courtesy of the author.

United Methodism's crisis of authority

United Methodists need the stability of established doctrine and the means to uphold it. Emulating the Catholic Church’s magisterium could serve that purpose.
Bishops
The Holston Conference’s Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor embraces the Rev. David Graves following his election as United Methodist bishop at the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference in 2016. On April 30, the Council of Bishops affirmed its decision to delay electing any new leaders until after the postponed General Conference. File photo by Annette Spence, Holston Conference.

Bishops’ election plans draw mixed reaction

Many General Conference delegates praised the bishops for retracting an earlier recommendation of four-year hold on United Methodist elections. But some still have misgivings about a delay until 2022.