May 2004

ICT’s at works in the hands of the poor:Innovation and research in South Asia?

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Understading poverty, reduction and role of ICTs
Poverty and ICT use is extraordinarily diverse and mediated through local circumstances and social networks. Rather than trying to isolate specific and direct impacts of ICTs on poverty, we look at the broader processes and conditions in which they are operating and make comparisons across sites. The analysis has been shaped by the important themes that emerged from a preliminary look at the data. Some of the themes are empowerment, learning and education and social networks

What is poverty?
Researchers work to develop detailed pictures of how poverty is understood, experienced and lived in their locality. They do this by investigating the question 'What is poverty?' throughout their research, using methods such as interviews and conversations, observations, diaries, mind mapping and PRA (participatory rural appraisal) exercises. The focus is on how people expressed their own understanding and experience of poverty. Many local understanding of poverty are contentious, either for participants or project workers or both. For example, in numerous cases poverty is identified as having too many daughters and not enough sons, thus incurring dowry costs and forfeiting income.Project workers,whose centres represented a direct intervention in such social norms, are implicitly contesting these views of poverty. In this context, local definitions of poverty are not uncontested truths; they become part of the learning processes around the ICT centres through group discussions, research, changes that arise from centre activities, training and general social interaction.

It is also important to recognize that poverty is always relative poverty. The programme was remitted to explore ICTs and poverty reduction among the very poorest communities but participants themselves drew many distinctions between different kinds and degrees of poverty. Moreover, poverty changes over time, and insecurity is itself a crucial aspect of poverty. Different kinds of poverty cannot always meaningfully be ranked quantitatively into poorest and less poor, while official poverty classifications and people's declarations of poverty are not a reliable guide to who is and isn't poor. Finally, people at different levels or kinds of poverty do not generally live in different worlds

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