ICT can help weak countries jump development hurdles
26 March 2008
NEW YORK, 26 March 2008: Entrepreneurship in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector needs to be recognized as a necessary ingredient for sustainable development, says Mr. Cheick Sidi Diarra, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
Innovations by ICT companies in the developed countries and their investments in the world’s weakest countries can help overcome longstanding development hurdles, while local entrepreneurship, through small-scale online and ICT-based businesses, can contribute to poverty reduction and socio-economic development.
Public policy, however, has a major role to play. “Public policy must encourage the development and implementation of these [information and communication] technologies by, among other things, providing investment incentives.” Mr. Diarra made the remarks while addressing an ICT conference at the United Nations in New York yesterday.
The conference on the role of ICTs in development, held under the theme “United Nations Meets Web 2.0 and ICT Entrepreneurs: New Media, New Entrepreneurs and New ICT Opportunities in Emerging Markets,” was organized by the Global Alliance for ICT and Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA-GAID). It attracted an impressive array of participants and speakers representing major players in the public and private sectors. The two-day event is a follow up to the 2007 conference "United Nations Meets Silicon Valley" held in Santa Clara, California.
Representing one of the largest ICT companies in the world, Arthur Reilly, Senior Director at Cisco Systems, stressed that partnerships are absolutely vital for addressing issues of development, adding that “the key is to partner with organizations or companies that are not similar to your own, so that the partner can bring something new to the table and [you] complement each other”. Reilly characterized the United Nations as being “a critical element to succeed” in the efforts to utilize ICTs for development.
In his presentation, Wireless Broadband specialist Glenn Strachan demonstrated how the private sector can bolster development and how government policies play a crucial role. Through the non-profit organization CHF International, he had succeeded, he said, to cover 90 % of the Republic of Macedonia with broadband Internet in only a few years. He explained that initially, a bidding competition to connect the schools of Macedonia to broadband Internet was launched with some additional donor funds. The company that won the bidding successfully completed its mission and eventually the broadband network was expanded so that most of the country was connected partly through using existing towers.
The Macedonian Government played a key role, quickly adopting policies to support broadband expansion and ICT company competitiveness.
Internet connectivity does not, however, guarantee coherence in development, reminded Mr. Diarra. “Efforts to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor countries must also ensure that women, men and children have access to ICTs on an equal basis. It follows that policy makers, civil society, NGOs and the private sector all have an important role to play in ensuring that ICTs are not accessible to everyone, but that they can make the greatest contribution to poverty reduction and socioeconomic development.”
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