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Democratizing technology

Ike Sereñes

FROM God comes our intelligence, and from our intelligence comes the technologies that are meant to benefit mankind in general, up until the concept of private property came along. At that point, the concept of intellectual property rights (IPR) was also born, and so the technologies that came out of human intelligence entered the private domain, made available only to those who could afford to buy the products derived from them.

I first entered the realm of science policy when I became a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), at the time when Development Diplomacy was considered an important thrust of the foreign relations process. I started with Science and Technology (S&T) policy, but I eventually got involved with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) policy, because at that time, ICT policy was still considered to be a subset of S&T policy.

In the practice of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), officers assigned to do substantive work are not assigned administrative work, and vice versa. Due to another practice that only officers could handle sensitive positions, duty prevailed upon me to head the communications and computer services unit of the DFA, an administrative assignment that was on top of my substantive work in S&T policy and ICT policy.

Given the nature of Development Diplomacy, my superiors at the DFA trained me to always look for technologies from abroad that would serve the interests of our country. Every officer of the DFA will tell you that the purpose of the Department is to pursue and protect the national interest, and indeed, it was in the best interest of the nation to acquire the technologies that would solve our national interests.

My experience at the DFA prepared me for my later assignment as the Director General of the National Computer Center (NCC). The work of the NCC is both substantive and administrative in nature, a balanced blend of ICT policy work and ICT service provider work. It was at NCC where I saw the need to democratize technology, so that more people could take advantage of technologies, both the rich and poor people alike.

Many years after my stint at the NCC, I am still challenged by the cause of democratizing technology. This is the challenge that inspired me to write about soliciting and reformatting old computers for distribution to the barangay level, an idea that gave birth to the organization of Our Barangay, Inc. OBI is now a very active advocacy group led by my friend Ms. Elsa Bayani, aiming to connect all the 42,008 barangay units to the internet.

Thanks to another friend Dr. Benji Teodosio, I had the opportunity to meet several leaders from the indigenous tribes and from the rural settlements of former armed rebels. To my pleasant surprise, all of them had a longing to gain access to technologies that could possibly improve the quality of life of their communities, by way of improving their livelihood on one hand, and their productivity on the other hand.

While most of us are fascinated by the new high tech gadgets that come our way through a steady stream of advertising and promotions, these leaders only needed a means of being able to communicate with each other using any affordable means, and to be able to reach out to the rest of the world to sell their products, using these same means.

As agreed with these leaders, I am now going to introduce them to OBI, so that they could get their share of the reformatted computers for their trading offices and cooperative stores. On top of that, I am going to build a system for them that would enable them to submit production data to a central server, using ordinary cell phones as data input devices.

As they told me about their need for farm-to-market roads, I suggested to them the idea of using asphalt that is produced as a by-product of the process of recycling used engine oils. Using their own local community labor, they would now be able to build their own roads without relying on anyone else. As an added advantage, they could also make asphalt shingles for roofing.

We discussed many other technologies that they could use, but I have no more space to write about it. The point is, we were able to prove to each other that there is always a technological solution to each economic problem, and the use of these solutions would make life better for them.

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