Making poverty history: ICT4D's enormous potential unfulfilled?
Poverty: For the first time in history, humankind has the opportunity
and the means to end the grinding poverty that entraps hundreds of
millions of people across the face of the planet, the majority in Asia.
The Australia-based Foundation for Development Co-operation's
Executive Director, Beris Gwynne said that the existence of poverty on
such a scale that is evident today is an affront to human civilisation.
"By accident of birth, it sentences hundreds of millions of people to
borderline existence, without adequate food, water, clothing or shelter
or basic services in health and education, vulnerable to the predations
of richer and more powerful neighbours and with few opportunities to
break the cycle of poverty, conflict and environmental degradation," she
Gwynne said that the digital divide persists and opportunities for
digital dividends are wasted despite early recognition of the potential
of the information age to leapfrog barriers to development and
fast-track social and economic inclusion and poverty reduction.
She said this in her article "Making poverty history: ICT4D's
enormous potential unfulfilled?", published as a lead-up to the two-day
Global Knowledge Partnership International Forum in Colombo, Sri Lanka,
from 8-9 May, 2006.
She said that popular understanding of ICT4D still tends to focus on
"technology" and neglects the "information" and "communication"
components. Inefficient barriers remain in policy and regulatory
environments to frustrate the roll-out of proven ICT4D "pilot projects".
"Why is it that technologies which are proven cost effective are
still denied to large populations who reside outside major metropolitan
areas?", she added.
"If the international community is serious about sustainable
development and poverty reduction - whether motivated by altruism or
self-interest or a combination of the two - these questions require
"The Global Knowledge Partnership's forthcoming International Forum
on Cross-sector Partnerships in Colombo, Sri Lanka (8-9 May, 2006) will
provide a significant and very timely opportunity for the enthusiasm and
commitment of the assembled ICT4D practitioners from Government,
Business and Civil Society to be translated into advocacy and action on
behalf of the poor," she said.
Under the theme, "Creating Prosperity through Innovation: ICT at Work
in Development", participants in the Forum will share experiences and
learning, showcasing successful ICT4D interventions from around the
She warned that unless reasons for the relatively slow take-up of
ICT4D applications and pathways that will bring the desired extension
are identified and addressed, chances of stimulating more concerted
effort and better resourced programmes around the world will be
The main reason for the slow-take up of ICT4D is the short-fall in
resources committed to support development co-operation.
She said that aid is important as a catalyst for change and recent
commitments to increased funding still fall short of the required
amounts. Efforts to increase aid volume must be accompanied by greater
transparency in assessments of aid quality and effectiveness.
What is needed, she said, is a new paradigm of development funding
that supports the mobilisation of national resources (financial and
otherwise) and the reform of policy and regulatory environments.
It also requires the involvement of private sector stakeholders as
true partners in the development process and the meaningful engagement
of civil society including institutions of learning and research and
Gywnne said "While resource constraints are a major factor, as much
or more damage is done to ICT4D prospects by inadequate understanding of
their potential and by poor governance."
"For too long, private sector engagement has been framed by the
language of 'corporate social responsibility' and measured in terms of
philanthropic endeavour rather than on the basis of well argued business
imperatives and returns to shareholders. For this to change, informed
and impartial mediation is required to clarify objectives and increase
commitment to development goals," she adds.
Gwynne said definitional difficulties regarding the notion of civil
society result in poor understanding of the complex set of agendas
represented by non-government and non-business stakeholders, which
include academics, professional associations, trade unions, religious
and community organisations.
As for businesses, she added, mediation is required to communicate
civil society interests and negotiate space for community inputs and for
the voices of the less powerful also to be heard.
She urged for a change in thinking that would be needed to mainstream
and resource ICT4D partnerships, removing barriers, real and imagined,
overcoming scepticism with regard to development impact and
sustainability, embracing the information age and breaking down old
paradigms of co-operation.
On generational issues, Gwynne said that information technology is an
industry characterised by the youthfulness of its leading inventors and
"The young people of today will be called upon to deal with 21st
century challenges - environmental degradation and the depletion of
natural resources, the impending water and energy crises, climate
change, with increasing tension manifest in ethnic and religious
rivalries. They will need 21st century tools."
"The more rapid take-up of information technology among young people,
even in illiterate communities, points to the need for re-thinking of
traditional aid delivery modalities," she said. On gender, despite
decades of effort and claims of gender mainstreaming, women continue to
miss out on many of the opportunities enjoyed by men.
This is more than a human rights issue, she said, as it represents a
forfeiture of effective access to half of the world's human capital and
a failure to value and apply women's expertise and inputs.
"Now more than ever, we need to work across the generations, taking
what is good and useful from past experience, but discarding ways of
thinking and working that prevent us from achieving the necessary,
exponential increase in resources for development co-operation."
"Only through public and private sector and community partnerships
that capitalise on the energy and IT-affinity of youth can we hope to
develop and resource a truly global enterprise that sees sustainable
development and poverty reduction as core business rather than dreams of
idealists," said Gwynne.
Beris Gwynne is Executive Director for the foundation for Develoment
Co-operation, Australia, former Australian diplomat and aid official
whose subsequent work with World Vision Australia, Australia's largest
NGO and The Foundation for Development Co-operation has provided a
platform for significant contributions to fresh thinking on aid and
development co-operation issues.