WHO ARE DAVID ROACH AND ANDERS HOFSTEE?
David Roach and Anders Hofstee are co-founders of Catalpa International, a design and technology organization which provides innovative, accessible and effective solutions in low resource settings.
Anders has been working in the field of database-driven web application development and information science for nearly twenty years. He has led the design, development, and deployment for numerous national level information management services in both the not-for-profit and profit sectors. Among other projects, Anders is the technical lead for the Timor-Leste’s Maternal and Child mHealth project – Liga Inan, as well as, the Technical Lead for Myanmar’s Mohinga Platform, the world’s first IATI-compliant and mobile responsive aid information management system.
David has over 10 years of international development and software design experience. David has led the design of large scale technical projects with partners from UN agencies to local community-based NGOs. David has also manages the user-interface and user-experience design across Catalpa’s projects, most recently the Open Data Platform — Openly.
You can connect with David and Anders here:
IN TOR 089 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- What it’s like to be a “development for development” company.
- The ways in which creating new technologies helps international development (and the ways in which it does not).
- The power of complementary skills, or the mix of practical abilities with a vision for social change.
- How technology should still focus on the local.
- The importance of failing sooner rather than later, and build work ethic, principles and philosophy early on.
- On focus, and leverage through technology and partnerships.
- Fighting the fear of cultural and legal barriers, by uncovering the massive similarities.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Liga Inan
- International Aid Transparency Initiative
- University of Western Australia, Freemantle
- Cern, Large Hadron Collider
- Microsoft, XBox
- The Rotary Foundation
- Aid Information Management Systems
- Web and Mobile Application Development
- Telecommunications and Networking
- Open Source Platforms
- IT challenges in International Development
- IT for resource allocation and transparency
- Commercial application development
- Programming and hard, practical skills
- Computer Science
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Development agency, IT for development challenges.
8 years, many projects across several sectors.
Such as: low income setting applications for better decision making.
In Timor: National Mobile Health Program, connects mothers and health services through mobile phones, improves managers’ resource allocation, transparency, tracking of development assistance.
Road to Timor-Leste
They met in Western Australia, Freemantle.
Their university has an Emergent East Timor program. Joined out of curiosity.
Worked in rural areas, teaching English.
Kept on coming back after the program.
Acquired skills for local change, established relationships, demystified development laws.
Road to Catalpa
Got degrees, freelance work, Oxfam.
Community projects in the mountains, minor administrative roles.
Kept a link with Timor.
Master in International Development question: What would you do with 1MM?
Answer: wireless information distribution. Got $5K from rotary.
On the language gap between development and commercial applications
Ideas come and go. “Commercial” can be seen as innovation pushers, targeted, viable, desirable. It focuses on answers to: what things mean to individuals, how to make things appealing for users. It brings the idea of choice, user feedback, continuous improvement. Applied to development, not without some “business speak” push back.
Business and development sector often do the same things with different names, and sometimes names don’t mean the same thing.
Their jumping off point: their first failure. “A lot of foolishness”
Their first project established principles, philosophy of work.
It was not successful, but provided tremendous learning.
Tale: One tower on a Timor mountain provided wireless telecommunications. The solar panels were stolen. They get new panels, now batteries are gone, and so was the money.
“A single point of dependency is a single point of failure. We learned our limitations, we learned to leverage existing infrastructure. The best way is the simplest.“
Maintain integrity, yet keep removing: less hardware intensive projects, simplicity.
Bringing Internet to villages showed the great interest of children in technology, led to programming apprenticeships.
Top people should always be a goal in a great organization.
Their first hire: a former LHC computer scientist.
Others include former XBox, Google, High-Frequency Trading engineers.
The team is mostly based in Timor, Myanmar.
Software industry in Timor
A mixed bag: local companies. They bid for projects against international companies (USA, Australia).
Having to deal with local limitations is a leg up.
The idea of ‘good enough’ is very low in the developing world. Instead we compare ourselves with the bleeding edge: Facebook, enterprise companies.
Focus on incredibly useful, well designed, pretty apps, to distinguish ourselves from the market place.
Development projects are like enterprise projects in that users and buyers are not the same.
Future: growing, as quickly as it’s been
On a fast operation, success is often determined by “what not to do.”
We choose projects according to what we can do best, this shapes our organization.
Demand is increasing, projects growing scope, term.
Day to day: How to get the organization out of our heads, and not do everything.
We don’t get to do a lot of coding anymore. We leave it to better people.
Technologists’ challenges in international development
While tech is straightforward, the social aspect is not: communications, expectations.
Tech is often oversold, people end up expecting too many wrong things.
We rely on our design process. People don’t read tech specifications.
We instead focus on interface first, to “fail sooner,” manage expectations early on.
That time when you tell the client “You don’t need technology to solve that.” A goal is to make ourselves redundant.
We keep ourselves from getting too excited by technology, and not reinvent the wheel.
The special sauce? Quality first, controlled in every stage.
Also, our ability to bridge the gap between tech and international development.
At Catalpa, grassroots community work meets strong tech skills.
Is Timor home?
Yes, but Australia and Seattle are also home. Looking forward to visit every now and then.
Timor has been generous, personally and professionally. Met their Australian wives there.
Looking forward to keep going to other places.
“Spend time in the field, in communities, for extended periods of time, get empathy, embrace the situation, realize what the restrictions are, what people go through, make friends, realize people are people. Everybody wants clean water and a roof over their head, and education, food in their tummy.“
People are essentially similar in developed and developing worlds, from how they relate to commercial technology up to their ideas of social justice and development.
Everyone recognizes the value of hard technical skills, ideals are restrained without practical skills, people are always looking for them.
Having programming skills gave me a different perspective on political science and social issues. Makes you ask yourself, “how much more effective can I be?“
Please share, participate and leave feedback below!
If you have any feedback you’d like to share for me, David or Anders, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below! I read all of them and will definitely take part in the conversation.
If you have any questions you’d like to ask me directly, head on over to the Ask Stephen section. Don’t be shy! Every question is important and I answer every single one.
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