May 2006

Digital divide and strategic priorities of national e-Strategy

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'Digital Divide' is increasingly being recognized as one of major obstacles to the economic development for developing countries. Needless to say, digital divide between developed countries and developing countries is becoming worse. At higher levels of education, 99.6% of the populations of Africa and South Asia were unable to avail the use of the Internet at the beginning of the 21st century. Clearly, there is a 'digital divide' that slows the growth rates in the developing economies when compared with those in developed countries. However, looking at the statistics analysed by monitoring institutions such as UN, e-Readiness shows the seriousness of digital divide between developed countries and developing countries. According to the UN e-readiness index, ranking 191 countries with scale of 0.0 to 1.0, most of the developing countries are far behind the developed country group.

CSF (Critical Success Factor) weighted by Expert Group A and B

To show the seriousness of digital divide, I plotted the e-readiness data with purchasing power parity of each nation. Surprisingly, the seriousness of digital divide is shown more critical than I thought. However, several players have shown superb achievement such as Chile, Korea, and Estonia.

National Strategy for ICT, or sometimes called as “National e-Strategy” may be in place to contribute to national growth and reduce the gap of digital divide. According to World Bank's study, a country needs to have a significant stock of ICT or users in place and perhaps be more advanced in using that stock for economic transformation. In Korea, a comprehensive national e-strategy has been a key driver in the miracle rebound of its economy from financial crisis. The ICT industry's contribution to GDP growth rose from a mere 4.5% in 1990 to an astounding 50.5% in 2000. As such, countries need to embed ICT into their overall development strategies. At the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in December 2005, leaders of the world made a commitment to develop national e-strategies. Article 8 of the WSIS Plan of Action states that the “Development of national e-Strategies should be encouraged by all countries by 2005”. It is clear that many countries have put their effort on promoting “National e-Strategy” as a way of enhancing the economic growth. Many studies mentioned the importance of national e-strategy that is vital contribution factor for ICT-enabled development.

 PPP vs. e-Readiness in 2005

Recently we conducted a survey on strategic priorities of national e-strategy. Thirty-six experts participated from eight countries and three international organisations. All of the selected experts had experiences in e-Government and national e-strategy. Based on participants' background and experiences, participants were grouped as “A”, “B”, and “C” group. Participants in “A” group were asked to survey on prioritisation of CSFs for each group of developed country, developing country, and under-developed country. “A” group participants had international experiences in consulting and/or analysing e-strategy. On the other side, “B” group participants were asked to survey for developing countries. “C” group was for under-developed countries. Both surveyed groups agreed on the need for developing countries to emphasize more on “Political leadership”, “ICT Infrastructure”, “Funding”, and “Human Capital”. These strategic priorities may differentiate the national e-strategy of developing countries from the e-strategy of developed countries. As mentioned above, national e-strategy would certainly play a critical role in reducing digital divide, but developing countries need to pay more attention on strategic priorities to practice it effectively. 



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