Investing toward an ICT4D Impact

By Colle, Royal D. | Journal of Development Communication, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Investing toward an ICT4D Impact


Colle, Royal D., Journal of Development Communication


During the first decade of the 21st century, information technology became a major force in the lives of much of the world's population. We once spoke almost wistfully of having phones in the villages of Africa and Asia, but that reality is already upon us. In 2010, a BBC report indicated that there were five billion mobile phone connections worldwide, with the estimate of six billion by 2012 (BBC, 2010). The BBC quotes Ben Wood, mobile phone analyst at the UK firm CCS Insight, saying that the mobile phone may be "the most prolific consumer device on the planet". He adds: "This device has become part of the fabric of society, whether a teenage girl taking a Blackberry to bed with her, or a farmer in an African village trying to find out the latest crop prices." The rapid and widespread diffusion of information and communication technologies in general prompted ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure to claim that ICTs have the potential to act as catalysts to achieve the 2015 targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In this paper, we will examine some steps that are being taken to turn that perception into a reality.

Since the 1990s, there has been widespread recognition of the increasing importance of ICTs in improving the everyday lives of people across the world. Many international gatherings during this period have reinforced this point. Here are just a few examples. In the early part of this decade, the eight major industrial nations (the G8) acknowledged that information and communication technology "is one of the most potent forces in shaping the twenty-first century [and] its revolutionary impact affects the way people live, learn and work, and the way government interacts with civil society" (Colle, 2007). Emerging from the G8 meetings was the Okinawa Charter on the Global Information Society. Its framers announced that "this Charter represents a call to all, in both the public and private sectors, to bridge the international information and knowledge divide." The Charter also renewed a commitment of the G8 nations "to the principle of inclusion: everyone everywhere should be enabled to participate in and no one should be excluded from the benefits of the global information society." The G8 launched a major effort to strengthen all nations' potential to be part of this Information Age starting with a Digital Opportunity Task Force. The DOT noted the relationship between high priority international development goals (such as the MDGs) and communication, and emphasised that "Harnessing the power of information and communication technologies can contribute substantially to realising every one of these goals; either directly (e.g. through greater availability of health and reproductive information, training of medical personnel and teachers, giving opportunity and voice to women, expanding access to education and training), or indirectly (through creating new economic opportunities that lift individuals, communities and nations out of poverty."

The World Summit on the Information Society--held in two parts, first in Geneva in 2003 and then in Tunis in 2005--underscored the role of ICTs in promoting social change. It presented a vision of Connecting the World. This could happen by providing digital connectivity to 800,000 villages by 2015. The Summit also reaffirmed the potential of communication and information in promoting the MDGs, and emphasised the importance of ICTs for political, social, and economic development. Since the G8 meetings, various summits, and a host of documents, books and reports, we have seen the emergence of the e-World and the m-World: e-Government, e-Health, e-Commerce, e-Education, m-Agriculture and others.

Implicit in these various declarations is the assumption that ICTs can have an impact by enabling people to become better informed, better trained, better connected, and to be participants and not targets in development programmes (Mozammel and Odugbemi, 2005). …

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