Digital Innovation by Displaced Populations: A Critical Realist Study of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh

Faheem Hussain, P. J. Wall, Richard Heeks

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


We are living in a time of unprecedented human displacement both within countries and across international borders. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) notes that the number of displaced populations are on the rise, both internationally and within individual countries, with this resulting in a wide range of significant international development challenges. If some of these challenges are to be addressed by technology, an understanding of the manner in which displaced persons access and interact with technology and the conditions necessary for digital innovation in such contexts is vital. This paper adopts a critical realist-based philosophical approach and associated methodology to seek the underlying generative mechanisms that both enable and restrain digital innovation by Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The majority of these Rohingyas have severely restricted access to technology as well as practically non-existent access to the Internet. Despite this, innovation in the form of creation and sharing of digital content in mobile phone repair/recharge shops has flourished. This paper provides mechanism-based explanation of this particular form of digital innovation, with a total of three mechanisms being hypothesized as follows: 1) the communications and technological infrastructure built around the mobile phone shops; 2) the motivation and social, cultural, and political belief structures of the Rohingyas themselves; and, 3) the legal and technical infrastructure which applies to the Rohingyas in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInformation and Communication Technologies for Development
Subtitle of host publication16th IFIP WG 9.4 International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, ICT4D 2020, Manchester, UK, June 10–11, 2020, Proceedings
EditorsJulian M. Bass, P.J. Wall
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9783030658281
ISBN (Print)9783030658274, 9783030658304
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2020

Publication series

NameIFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology
ISSN (Print)1868-4238
ISSN (Electronic)1868-422X


  • Rohingya
  • ICT4D
  • Critical realism
  • Myanmar
  • Bangladesh
  • Refugee

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global Development Institute


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