Opinions Thu, 7 Sep 2017

Crowdsourcing: Using ICT to bring Diasporan Solutions to Ghana

A month ago, the Diaspora Homecoming Summit was held in Accra with the aim of mobilising Ghanaians living abroad to invest in the country and contribute to national development. This is a clear indication that Ghana recognises the benefits diasporans offer in our quest for development.

Ghanaians and persons with Ghanaian ancestry living abroad present a huge untapped economic resource. Diasporans remain a source of great ideas as many of our people living abroad have acquired knowledge and skills from top educational and corporate organisations. They are also a source of money as they remit funds back home to their families.

Today, the pervasive nature of the internet and other forms of new media technologies presents opportunities where diasporans can be engaged in the area of problem solving and innovation by exploiting the collective intelligence of a large number of people. Though, leaving many thousands of miles away from the homeland, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has made it possible to eliminate the challenge of distance and time.

According to Darren Brabham, the author of “Crowdsouricng”, the internet provides a perfect platform for soliciting ingenious ideas due to its “speed, reach, temporal, flexibility, anonymity, interactivity, low barriers to entry, and ability to carry every other form of mediated content”.

Crowdsourcing, a term coined by Jeff Howe in his 2016 article entitled “The Rise of Crowdsourcing” is any participative online activity where an organisation (the crowdsourcer) can solicit ideas and solutions from a group of volunteers (the crowd). This approach offers shared value as Ghana will benefit from the work, money, knowledge and experience of diasporans and in return the participants may gain economically and socially. It can also serve as a platform to develop skills. Crowdsourcing can be applied to a variety of areas in both public and private sectors. These areas include product design, project financing, Science and technology, policy formulation, etc.

Diasporans are usually exposed to concepts that may not be common in their home countries. Crowdsourcing offers the opportunity to create an online community to design products that are less expensive but will offer value to our citizens who are mostly low income earners. This can help in utilising the potential market offered at the bottom of the economic ladder.

We need innovative solutions for food preservation, water purification and healthcare and we can increase our chance of getting these solutions by involving our people who live abroad. In places like India, alternatives have been created for the refrigerator and incubator. These products which do not require electricity are sold at low prices but they offer similar value to the rural dwellers. This will lead to the creation of an inclusive innovation ecosystem and help us to achieve a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As I have previously mentioned, diasporans are a source of money. According to the World Bank, foreign remittance received in Ghana was almost $5 billion representing 13% of GDP. With the right opportunities, Ghanaians in the diaspora will be willing to invest. Crowdfunding, a form of a crowdsourcing where organisations seek funding from a large number of individuals, has the potential of financing projects in both the private and public sector.

In recent times, crowdfunding has been used in raising capital for technology start-ups in the US particularly. This is an area worth exploring in our quest to seek funds that have low interest rates to develop infrastructure. At least the example of government to raise part of the money from ordinary citizens through the sales of lottery tickets, music concerts and bonds to finance Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam must inspire us to look for innovative solutions and crowdfunding maybe one such opportunity.

Another area where our brothers in the diaspora may have more exposure is Science and Technology. Developed countries are at the forefront in the area of research and development. Funding is therefore available for the training of personnel including postgraduate students, some of whom are our compatriots. Since we are usually consumers after the technology has been developed, our diasporan brothers and sisters can help by sharing their experience on how to adopt, manage and regulate these technologies.

They can be helpful in helping to localise Science and Technology solutions and to make them affordable to our citizens. Furthermore, they can help in the formulation of policy in the area of Science, Technology and Innovation. As the government of Ghana works to involve Ghanaians abroad in our development effort, e-governance must not just be reduced to web portals that offer information to citizens.

Crowdsourcing offers a cheaper but effective way to involve citizens in decision-making, create economic opportunities and improve services to the public. With the help of online platforms, Ghanaians abroad can contribute ideas that will help in the management of our cities in areas such as energy, sanitation, built environment, etc.

These methods are not new and have been implemented in other parts of the world. For instance, crowdsourcing projects such as ‘Change By Us’ and ‘Big Ideas’ implemented in Philadelphia and New York respectively, connected the general public with city officials. Through these project proposals for improvement of the cities were developed.

Despite its huge potential, crowdsourcing comes with its challenges. Individuals may participate for various reasons including gaining recognition or financial reward. It is difficult to motivate all the participants who join in order for them to stay active.

Also, crowdsourcing is seen as a threat to ‘professionalism’ as crowds usually consists of people from a wide range of backgrounds and most of the participants may not be professionals in the area under discussion. Furthermore, legal issues have been raised about who owns the solutions that emerge from a crowdsourcing activity. Is it the crowdsourcer or the members of the crowd? In the case of crowdfunding, systems are needed to eliminate fraud.

Inspite of the above challenges, crowdsourcing still offers the potential to connect to ideas, skills and resources that will positively impact our country. It can complement the Diaspora Homecoming Summit where ideas can even be discussed prior to the summit. This, I believe, will make the summit more productive.

Columnist: Kuuku Sam