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Sustainability and Mobile Technologies, New Pathways Toward Conservation

In April of 2017, Amaterra returned to the Seventeenth International Conference on Current Issues of Sustainable Development hosted at Opole University in Poland.

The theme of the conference was “Different views on sustainable development: what is really sustainable?”

The general aims of the conference were to discuss and analyse:

  • direct and indirect impacts of actions and tools aimed at sustainable development,
  • methods and tools which can be used to measure these impacts,
  • institutional and governmental framework for sustainable development, 
  • challenges for sustainable development in different sectors, e.g. transport, energy, waste management etc.,
  • the role of technology in building sustainability.

The conference hoped to address one of the most important questions: do efforts and actions aimed at sustainable development really lead to sustainability?

As a result, Amaterra prepared research and presented on the role of emerging technologies in development and conservation, and their impact on sustainability. 

Executive Director David N. Berger, presenting Amaterra’s research

Amaterra’s presentation abstract:

In today’s contentious political and economic climate, sustainable development initiatives are being both promoted – as a solution to decreasing funding levels and falling support for international development programs, and undermined – in terms of an assault on scientific methods, anti-climate change rhetoric, and reluctance to innovate because of risk aversion practices due to the same decreased funding. 

Amaterra’s research focused on the role of emerging mobile technologies to increase the validity, efficiency, and access to data, and the repercussions this increased access has on development programs. Further, Amaterra’s analysis and research explores the particular nature of opportunities presented by these technologies.  Ranging from data aggregation through the promotion of new economic opportunities, and production of and access to improved indicators in education and health care.

Despite challenges, and weaknesses observed in ongoing pilot programs utilizing mobile technologies, the promise of increased transparency, access, and validity of data offers an exciting opportunity. To not only analyze the direct impacts the technologies are having on sustainable development programs, but also to record and observe indirect impacts they are having through unexpected correlations and synergies across the private and governmental sectors (e.g. the advent of mobile money, and the use of forcasting and trend monitoring in analytics to predict/recognize vulnerability/crises based on financial behavior).

These synergies are helping us address the question of if sustainable development programs are yielding sustainability, and how we can utilize emergent technologies to support and enhance these outcomes.


The presentations were well-received, and Amaterra’s research and exploratory presentation on the role of mobile technologies and the opportunities and pitfalls they bring with them, particularly in the aspect of monitoring and evaluation within the development world, encouraged deeper conversation.

Activisms in Africa: discourses on civil society and activism

On January 11th, 12th, and 13th 2017 Amaterra’s director David N. Berger collaborated with Andrzej Polus, the president of the Polish Centre for African Studies and an assistant professor at the Institute of International Studies at the University of Wroclaw, to host a panel and present their paper at the Activisms in Africa: Discourses on civil society and activism conference in Lisbon, Portugal.

The Panel:

Titled: “Exercises in Activism and Citizenship – Trajectories of Government – CSO’s Relations in SSA.”  Focused on citizenship and activism and drew upon an understanding of political and social forces that have shaped civil society and government interaction. It built from the supposition of an ideational structure of mutual suspicion and mistrust that has adversely affected activism to encourage discussion and consideration of this structure and its effects. The panel worked to analyze the evolution of CSOs’ role and position in Sub-Saharan Africa, through the examination of structures that promote development and activism.

The panelists were asked to attempt to outline a “map” of CSOs’ positions toward the governments in the entire region. Regional or country-orientated research proposals were also included as they provide vital references on the nature of CSO-government relations. 

In an effort to map CSOs’ role in activism, submissions that addressed historical, economic, cultural, political, policy-orientated, or even descriptive aspects of the evolution of CSO – government relations, were welcomed and vigorously discussed. Additionally, David and Andrzej welcomed proposals devoted to the evolution of the Sub-Saharan political landscape in times of economic decline as well as those related to relatively new aspects of CSO activism.

These included how mobile technologies, wider access to information, and new means of communication and organization encourage mutual transparency and strengthen the social contract between government and citizens.

Additional topics that addressed exogenous factors, including aid structures (Western vs. China and the emerging powers factor), political pressure, and economic pressure, were key focal points of discussion.

Activisms in Africa, The International Conference organized by Center for International Studies of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (CEI-IUL), took place at ISCTE-IUL on January 11-13 th 2017. Fotografia de Hugo Alexandre Cruz.

The Paper:

David and Andrzej also collaborated on a paper, which pulled on David’s experience with Amaterra and his time serving with the U.S. Peace Corps in Zambia between 2011 and 2014. Andrzej brought a wealth of experience and passion to the team with his focus on the political economy of hydrocarbon management and the constantly evolving political situation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Andrzej has conducted field research in Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. 

Together they wrote “Contention and Mutual suspicion: Civil Society in Zambian Politics.” At the conference, they were able to present research regarding contention and suspicion between civil society and government.

The principal aim of their research was to critically examine the relationship of local non-governmental organisations with Zambian governments under the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), and the Patriotic Front (PF).   Their major finding is that relations between the MMD and later the PF government, and advocacy NGOs were characterized by mutual distrust, and mutual accusations of a lack of transparency and legitimacy.

The NGOs were mainly employing a ‘name and shame’ strategy whilst engaging the government, which together with the government’s suspicious attitude towards NGOs created a specific ideational structure of mistrust and mutual suspicion. This dynamic has been extremely difficult to break, and is the dominant influence on government – NGOs relations. 

Activisms in Africa, The International Conference organized by Center for International Studies of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (CEI-IUL), took place at ISCTE-IUL on January 11-13 th 2017. Fotografia de Hugo Alexandre Cruz.