Fighting poverty: it’s not just about promoting economic growth any more. It requires a cross-disciplinary approach that increasingly includes cutting edge technology and social media tools.
As Senior Development Technologist + Media Advisor for the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Center of Excellence for Democracy, Human Rights and Governance, Joshua Haynes (MIB 10) is applying technology and social media to advancing human rights and democracy around the world.
Haynes is at the nexus of technology, media, civil society, Internet freedom, information security and democracy. “Technology is never the silver bullet,” he says. “It is only an amplifier or agitator.”
For example, according to Haynes, “In some countries, such as Nigeria, Twitter may be a great tool to help spread democracy and transparency because of the increasingly connected critical mass of people.” He says, “However in others, such as South Sudan, a simple SMS-based application has more widespread potential for advancing the well being of its citizenry.” Meanwhile, in the Arab Spring, many have cited Facebook and other social media as important tools used in the uprisings.
The biggest challenge, according to Haynes, is keeping up with ever-evolving innovation and figuring out how to best catalyze it, if appropriate, within the confines of each country’s context. “There is great innovation and creativity in the developing world—organic, local solutions using tools like crowdsourcing, social media or mobile phone apps that are being created by local actors.”
The issues Haynes faces in his work at USAID are vast. But he attributes some of his successes he’s enjoyed to his time at The Fletcher School where he studied the cross-functional nature of the world and how it relates to technology.
Prior to attending Fletcher, Haynes was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco and did technology development and consulting in the private sector. Initially, he sought the Master’s in International Business degree to advance his career in technology and international development with an eye to working in the private sector. However, his experience at Fletcher changed his perspective.
“Before I went to Fletcher, I thought ending poverty was as simple as promoting economic growth,” he says.
His research taught him that there is nothing simple about poverty. Instead, he found, it must be attacked through a multidisciplinary approach requiring skill sets in technology, business, law, politics and human rights. Fletcher provided that global perspective through coursework, but it was the practical experience Fletcher delivered that ultimately shaped his path and his journey into the public sector.
Beyond the classroom, Haynes worked with Jenny Aker, assistant professor of economics at Fletcher, in creating an app for farmers in Niger. That experience led him to work with Kim Wilson, a lecturer at Fletcher and a fellow with the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises and the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, who was working on microfinance in Haiti.
Haynes spent time in both West Africa and Haiti. As a direct result of his research in Haiti and the aftermath of surviving the devastating 2010 earthquake, Haynes and a team from Fletcher produced a business plan for a suite of feature-phone applications that assist people living in the developing world, a plan which won the Tufts Business Plan Competition in Social Entrepreneurship. These experiences shaped Haynes’ thinking about the potential for technology tools as it relates to all the players in poverty-reduction: businesses, donors, customers and governments.
It’s a quintessential mash-up of Fletcher experience, and it informs the advice he would offer for Fletcher students contemplating the future: be open to novel experiences beyond what you go to Fletcher for.
“Do something random,” he says. “Take advantage of the real world experiences that Fletcher has to offer through its faculty and peer group and your career path will expand tenfold.”