Panoply Digital came to be through a shared desire to work towards the common good and do so efficiently. First and foremost, we banded together as we recognized a need. We felt that there were many consultancies and individual practitioners working out there broadly in this field of communications technology, but very few with the practical expertise that we have acquired through our work. Each of us spent years acquiring expertise in our respective fields: gender empowerment through technology, mobile learning, monitoring & evaluation, higher education, ICT for development, to name a few. We spent years working towards what we believed to be (and still believe to be) a common good. We saw projects thrive and we saw projects wither on the vine. We saw project proposals, bids, and overheads skyrocket as a result of institutional bloat and predatory pricing. We saw well-intentioned projects die as a result of a lack of expertise; others perished as a result of lack of scalability to sustain it. We saw technology airdrops masquerading as projects for the public good when they were PR more than substance. We saw a lack of localized expertise, capacity, or stakeholder buy in to thwart any good that might have come from a project. We learned that an unused project or technology is, for all intents and purposes, useless. For all the successful projects, we found the failures to be more and more difficult to shake off. We knew that the need was still there; it was tangible and transparent. The projects just hadn't been conceptualized or executed properly. We saw a lack of commitment to follow a project through as key people lost dedication or drive, leaving it to crumble. Passion for the purpose or the project wasn't enough; expertise and competency, not surprisingly, mattered.
We all saw and still see the potential in the use of technology for social development, particularly mobile technology. It remains and will continue to remain the (digital) technology of greatest penetration. It is used daily and globally to improve gender empowerment, education, literacy, agriculture, medical care. It allows organization to disseminate their information, communities to develop around the critiquing of that information, exchanges of significance to take place. All who participate have the potential to evolve and iterate their capacity for self-efficacy in the wake of this process. Yet, we are mature enough to know that some do not participate in this process, or do so unequally; some are left behind and continue to be despite the promise of all this technology and access. We are mature enough to know that technology isn't, nor can ever be, neutral. It encapsulates the values and cultural structures of those who created it; without proper care, it can undercut or disinvest participation in the local community. We know that the technology represents, in some contexts, the tip of a much larger process of commercialization, of markets, consumers, and access to capital. We fully acknowledge that. We also know that people need to read and write, need to be empowered to participate in their communities, to engage in knowledge exchanges, organizations need to develop and so on.
That is the paradigm we seek to challenge. We are not starry-eyed towards the technology. When used properly, we see it as a tool in a toolkit, a mechanism for achieving a particular aim. More often than not, that aim is a greater network of connections, more active networks, a shared purpose and resilience. We recognize that development, individually, organizationally, and regionally, is a human equation. The technology brings that to the fore for us. Connections matter, people matter, expertise and competency matter. So here we are as Panoply Digital, bringing our expertise and competency and passion into the equation.
*And we are nice people who like working with each other. There is that as well.