Information Technology (IT) is going to change the world dramatically. It has already set the stage. The way people do business globally will change beyond imagination. IT is creating a distanceless world where communication is becoming instantaneous. IT is impacting on all dimensions of life. It is helping economies expand at an unprecedented rate. Rich countries will continue to become richer and rich people will become richer faster than ever before. Within the framework of the free market economy, rich countries and rich people are calling the tune for design and application of IT to suit their own purposes. Although IT can offer the most exciting possibility for overcoming poverty, this potential will vastly remain unexplored, if we leave it merely to the market forces.
We would like to wish our readers a very Happy New Year and an exciting beginning of a new millennium. We hope that the coming new era will very soon see the end of poverty from the earth — the oldest scourge of human society. We see microcredit as a powerful weapon to fight poverty. With the new information and communication technologies we have still another mighty new tool that can give us further strength and help us quickly win this battle.
Number of people under dollar-a-day income is now 1.5 billion. This number is going to double by 2040, if the present trend continues. I firmly believe IT, if properly applied, will be able to stall and, eventually, reverse this trend. However, a coherent and global effort is needed to utilize IT most creatively to make this happen. World economy will immensely benefit if the world's poor can leave poverty behind and bring in their productivity and creativity into the market place as producers, and their newly acquired purchasing power to the market as consumers.
I propose that the world create an International Center for Information Technology to Eliminate Global Poverty. There are many resourceful people in the world with commitment to end poverty. This Center can bring them together to pool their resources and talents to design IT related activities to help poor people and the poor countries to participate in the great wave of prosperity. IT can introduce new ways of participation by the poor men, women and young people in the global economy in cost effective and poor-friendly ways. This Center can design appropriate tools, environment, and market places for the poor, and make the IT terminal to become a friend, guide, teacher, philosopher, doctor, consultant, in other words, everything a poor person needs.
This Center will:
become a brain-trust and catalytic implementor of prototypes working in all matters related to building of IT infrastructure and development of information systems, whether it be about technology or networks or stand-alone applications and whether it be desk-top or networked or mobile computing, in the service of poverty elimination (income, health, population services and educational delivery for the poor) anywhere in the world;
conduct requirement analyses for the creation of IT infrastructure suited for elimination of poverty and right delivery of health and educational products, and identify impediments to these goals that need removal by government and civil actions within particular regions;
identify the interfaces between the informational needs of the poor (in terms of what drives their productivity at work) and IT capabilities, and then proactively create the application systems that might be needed;
sponsor the application of promising voice-activated operating systems to the problem of poverty elimination and health and educational delivery;
conduct situation analyses of how the delivery of essential health care to the poor can be improved by taking advantage of network-enabled IT and mobile computing, sponsoring aplication—development in this area;
identify the imperatives for IT infrastructure in the delivery of education for the poor in the networked economy, and respond to the imperatives for IT training and skill formation among the poor youth, ensuring that tomorrow's poor can compete ably in what would be a much more integrated market, especially for services.
by investing in appropriate forms and contents of research and development (R & D), seek to supply IT-solutions that improve the poor's productivity, survivability, prevention and cure of diseases, nutritional status---thus ending poverty, hunger and malnutrition around the world.
facilitate poor women's access to IT-enabled legal help in order to protect their legal rights.
document, monitor, publicise all applications of IT around the world that directly help the poor.
create sub-networks in geographic areas (national or regional), focusing on causes and correlates of poverty (agriculture, product marketing, health, education, legal rights of women, children, destitute, indigenous people, etc.), on the basis of category of participants (individuals, civil organizations, governments, businesses) etc.
create data bases of skills, knowledge and technologies for governments, international institutions, civil society organizations, NGOs working or planning to work in poverty elimination programmes. Undertake research and action-research to develop IT facilities, ideas, modules, which will help elimination of poverty.
help the poor and the indigenous people to participate and play an active role in the democratic process.
assist in the promotion and preservation of art, culture and education of the indigenous and the poor people.
act as a clearing house to cater to the needs of individual poor persons, informing them about the opportunities available to them, connecting people to people, people to business and organizations and vice-versa.
IT Can Help Eliminate Poverty
Programs for creating quickly marketable IT skills among poor women in developing countries are crucial to empower them to compete in the emerging international division of labour. Remote production of infotech-enabled services, will be a very large and rapidly growing part of such a division of labor between nations. IT skills have become central to competitive differentiation on the part of individuals and firms, those in the developing countries included. This points to the imperative of drawing up an agenda for creating IT infrastructure and IT know-how in developing countries to facilitate the poor’s access to IT-enabled economic expansion. And this will be a tremendous source of economic expansion.
For the first time, the combination of Internet technology and distributed production of services has opened up a real opportunity to tap into what experts believe would be a rapidly growing globalization of white-collar services. These services range from human resources to translation to remote-ticketing to monitoring business and home networks for security in real time. Outsourcing of Infotech-enabled white-collar services exports to mainly the developed country markets is believed to be worth a staggering $ 180 billion by 2010. A large part of this can and will be located in poor countries of the world. And the poor can take full advantage of this coming opportunity, provided an organized effort is put in place to promote their interest and explore the full potential of IT to get them out of poverty in a sustainable way.
Telecom Brings Real
Benefits to Real People!
"Until recently, in village Chandryel in Bangladesh, anybody who wanted to make a phone call had to travel 8 kilometers to the closest regular payphone, which often didn’t work. But then Delora Begum got a $ 350 development loan and invested it in a cellular phone, the first phone of any kind in the village.
Now the people of Chandryel come to Delore Begum’s hut, and for a reasonable fee her phone connects them to rest of the world. Village farmers can call the capital to check grain prices; medical help is only a phone call away. And for the first time, a mother in Chandryel can talk to her emigrant son who just happens to drive a cab in New York.
This is all possible because a non-profit lending institution in Bangladesh teamed up with the Norwegian phone-company ‘Telenor’ to build a rural wireless network. They sell airtime to people like Delora Begum who’s known in her village as ‘the phone lady’
Like most developing nations, Bangladesh still has a long road to travel in terms of creating telecom infrastructure as well as a competitive market. But ‘the phone lady’ represents one small pocket of progress. There is much more coming".
Chairman CEO, AT&T.
Opportunities Created by IT
Firstly, IT opens up a window of opportunity to integrate knowledge based techniques of production and distribution into the work and survival options of the poor in the world. Those who want to eliminate the curse of poverty from the face of this earth are witnessing an opportunity of a lifetime unfold before their very eyes. This would be too precious an opportunity to miss.
Secondly, IT can help improve the productivity of the working poor, both women and men, at work.
Thirdly, IT is of great importance to the poor by helping them cope more effectively and cheaply with survival hazards and access healthcare delivery systems.
Fourthly, there is need to put the accent within the poor-country on educational curricula and technology. Education can be made enjoyable, life oriented, promoting social and environmental consciousness through IT. It can help a backward country or community leap-frog into a society fit for the new millennium.
The Center will build strategic partnerships with leading IT companies and their staff, research and academic institutions, social activist groups, financial houses, financial intermediation institutions, development agencies, health and educational institutions, and professionals around the world.
The Center will be a network of institutions and persons around the globe. There will be a Core Network which will keep the Center dedicated to its mission and in achieving the objectives in the most efficient way. The Center will be a federation of many institutions, programs, and individuals.
The Center will provide a global framework for all initiatives directed towards the goal of eliminating global poverty. This will help the stand-alone initiatives to enjoy the benefits of a global support system. The Center will create room for everybody who wants to get connected with others in this global effort. Each participant will retain his/her individual identity and freedom of action while enjoying the company of all others around the world.
The head office of the Center may be located in a city which is recognized as the world leader in IT creativity.
The Center will have a Management Team headed by a President. The President will be responsible to a Board of Directors/Trustees. The Board would include some of the most celebrated women and men who have distinguished themselves by championing the cause of the poor or the disadvantaged, the persecuted, the statesmen known for their compassion, social activists devoted to elimination of poverty, IT personalities, and leaders from other spheres of life.
The Center would have at its disposal, services of IT and management professionals who can combine professional expertise with a first-hand familiarity with the problem of poverty. There will be paid staff of the Center, but the true legitimacy and moral authority of the Center will come from many high-powered imaginative people donating their time and money to carry out specific experimentations in designing, developing, testing, implementing, marketing IT solutions. There will be a number of volunteers and paid interns devoted to the Center’s work as well.
- An endowment fund can be created by a consortium of donors and contributors to support the core program of the Center.
- All businesses producing and marketing IT products and services may contribute to the endowment fund each year.
- The Center will receive project grants from governments, IT industry, other businesses, foundations, individuals, etc.
- The Center can earn money by selling its services, publications and products.
This proposal was presented at a recent meeting convened by the World Bank on the subject of Network Economy: What is at stake for the developing world? in Washington D.C. , November 9-10, 1999.