More than a billion people in the developing world live on less than a dollar a day. Without enough money to buy food, millions go hungry every day and more than half of all child-deaths occur due to under-nourishment. Pervasive poverty and inequality are the major threats to prosperity, stability and peace at the dawn of the 21st Century.
The role of ICT in combating poverty and fostering sustainable development has been the subject of much debate and experimentation. The contrast between the complexity and expense of the technologies and the basic needs of the poor has led to some doubts whether ICT should be a priority area for developing countries to eradicate poverty. But our experience in the last decade has shown that ICT can become a powerful economic, social and political tool for the poor and for all those who work to eradicate poverty. On making the opportunities that ICTs open up for individual and social improvement accessible to all citizens; and on applying ICTs to empower common folk and engage their participation in national and local development initiatives, ICT can be of immense help for poverty alleviation.
Here, we are going to discuss a few success stories. They have been successful in creating an impact in the lives of poor people by giving employment opportunities, bringing connectivity and empowerment. These can be taken as pointers and inspiration for others to follow.
ICT creates employment opportunities
ICT, as a sector, can create employment opportunities directly for the poor. Because of the low educational levels and skills of the poor, we can expect that there are more employment opportunities in the service sector. Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is a good example of this. It started a mobile telephone program called Grameen Phone and has become the largest mobile operator in Bangladesh, having 70 per cent of the market share and now more than 5000 Telephone Ladies in Bangladesh villages are doing roaring business selling telephone service.
Uplifting poor: Kamuli Project
Uganda is one of the world’s Least Developed countries. Uganda remains basically unindustrialised, ravaged by civil war. Structural adjustment programmes and AIDS have further increased their poverty. Kamuli project aims to help the poorest uplift themselves, in consultation with them, by providing appropriate: information to facilitate development, communication to receive and distribute information and training people in its practical applications. It imparts computer training to the youth and individuals from community-based organisations (CBOs), thus building capacity for employment opportunities.
Under Kamuli project, Development Support Centre has been developed in the Kamuli district of Uganda. The beneficiaries of this project are rural communities, primarily targeting women, youth and farmers. The project is carried out by Uganda Development Services (UDS). UDS is a non-governmental organisation whose mission is to contribute to the socio-economic development of communities in Uganda, through information sharing and technical empowerment.
At the Kamuli centre, the project provides a growing range of services, which includes training in computer skills using in-house computer facilities for micro-business women, agricultural information dissemination and training to farmers, business services like photocopying, typing and printing, library facilities for youth and public phone. The Kamuli project has identified 3 target groups: private individuals wanting IT training, local NGOs / CBOs and small-scale local businesses and government offices.
Siberian Development Net (SibDev)
The small, remote urban centres within Siberia currently face economic problems due to high levels of unemployment. Therefore, people have set up their own independent small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The overall goal of SibDev project is to increase the capabilities of these SMEs in poor areas of Siberia to attract investments for the growth and sustainability of their businesses through Internet and development of a website dedicated to the marketing of Siberian SMEs.
The project was started in June 2002, co-ordinated by a private company, Cryptos Ltd with initial funding from InfoDev. The project has run a number of training workshops, produced a toolkit to promote business marketing through the Internet called, “Attracting investments and promoting products by using the Internet” and developed a project website. The website (www.sibdev.net) includes basic regional investment information, and marketing sites in English and Russian where SMEs can post investment proposals and investors can make known their interests. The main beneficiary groups are the small and medium scale entrepreneurs of Siberia.
The Siberian Development Net project has contributed to policy decisions that are important for SMEs and ICT development in Siberian regions. One example was the decision by regional government to adopt a regional ICT development strategy, with a particular emphasis on SMEs, and to conduct an e-readiness assessment.
Rural entrepreneurship through CICs
In a country of 1 billion and more in India, the poor people of the rural areas are the last to get priority information on various subjects, which would enable better access to basic needs, educational and financial resources. Moreover, migration of young people from rural to urban areas in search of opportunities deprives the rural communities of the energies and brain resources of such young people. In Kuppam, a rural town in Andhra Pradesh, World Corps
India provides training to rural unemployed youth who then, own, operate and manage Community Information Centres (CICs). The CICs provide sustainable and affordable ways of getting information to poor communities. This is a part of the HP’s iCommunity initiative in Kuppam.
The CIC project focuses on training promising young leaders from rural areas different areas like computers and Internet, developmental english, community outreach and development skills, entrepreneurship development, business management, marketing and communication skills, personality enhancement and value education. It launches the youth entrepreneurs into community-based businesses called as Community Information Centres (CICs) providing information, communications and other allied services on a ‘fee for service’ basis. It provides partnership of the youth entrepreneurs with existing government agencies, private businesses and community-based organisations for effective dissemination of ICTs in underserved communities. It also plans to replicate the CIC model throughout India to reach a larger number of unemployed rural men and women. In 2002, 15 individuals were selected from 127 applicants and trained to establish five Community Information Centers (CICs).
The complete case study can be read in the September issue of i4d: http://www.i4donline.net/sept04/wci.asp
ICT increases access and connectivity
The poor people lack access to knowledge, which is a source of income earning opportunities and to political visibility and influence, which increases their social and economic vulnerability and force them into social exclusion, powerlessness and poverty traps. ICT, such as radio, telephone, and email, can be of great value in bringing people together, bridging geographic distances and providing relevant information to the poor. ICT can improve the access of the poor to health, microcredit and government services and support the rural poor in the production, storage and marketing of farm and non-farm products. Through infokiosks or even with the help of mobile phones, farmers can access information on market prices or on extension services and workers can get information on available jobs and minimum wages. Developing countries could benefit from e-Commerce through easier access to markets in developed countries and higher income resulting from these new trading opportunities.
PEOPLink is a US-based non-profit organisation involved in training and equipping grass roots artisan organisations all over the world to market their handmade craft items using the Internet.
From 1996-2000, PEOPLink trained 55 trading partners in 22 countries representing up to 100,000 handicraft artisans and equipped them to capture and publish digital images and to maintain simple web pages to promote their craft products to enhance B2B (business-to-business) marketing. The most popular CatGen artisan web sites are regularly attracting between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors a month, generating sales of tens of thousands of dollars. PEOPLink’s main target group is grass roots artisan organisations who need help to access overseas markets, such as Europe and the USA, for their products.
The sales revenue directly supports the livelihoods of poor artisans, especially women, and their families. Ten trading partners in Nepal have set up a small artisan portal (http://www.catgen.com/nepalcraft) that has achieved on-line sales of $6528 in the first six months of operation. The Chennai-based trading partner IFFAD (International Foundation for Fairtrade and Development), which markets craft products from 49 producers in Southern India, reports that their CatGen-based web site enabled them to find a new professional buyer in Australia, directly generating sales worth $2,200 in May 2003.
Gramin Information Centre, Gomukh Trust,
Founded in 1995, the Gomukh trust works in 4 main sectors (Water resources, Environment, Agriculture and Livelihood). Their main ICT-related project is the establishment of Information Centres in different villages. The first Information Centre was established in the village called Chale in Pune district in the state of Maharashtra by Gomukh and Mahratta Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA), another NGO.
Farmers can walk into these Information Centres for help on various problems including prevention of disease, control, treatment of crop diseases, cropping patterns and even information on weather, rainfall etc. In addition, the project will also link farmers with potential markets across the country and overseas so that he gets a better price for their produces and escapes the clutches of middlemen. The local agriculture graduates from villages, who are generally well aware of the agro-climatic conditions, soil conditions of that region are involved to manage these Information Centres. A ‘rice programme’ using the facilities of Information Centre and the registration onto www.agriwatch.com, have increased rice yield from 1.5 tons to 7 tons per hectare in the area.
Tata Kisan Sansar: One-stop shops for complete farm solutions India
http://www.tatatkk.com The Tata Kisan Sansar (TKS) set up by a private company Tata Chemicals provide farm extension services helping farmers in North India change their lives. The TKS, 421 of them, currently operational in the North Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, provide end-to-end agricultural solutions to farmers, while using sophisticated technology such as satellite mapping and geographical information systems.
The network of farmer centres is divided into Tata Krishi Vikas Kendras (TKVK) and franchisee TKS. The TKVK serves as a resource centre for both the TKS (franchisee) and the farmer. Each TKVK spans a radius of around 60 km and 20 TKS. Each TKS spans a radius of around 8 km and 60 villages.
Currently, 18 TKVKs and about 421 TKS are in operation. This will be expanded to 40 TKVKs and 500 TKS, by 2005, to cater to the needs of the 14,000 villages in the command area.
Each TKVK contains the entire infrastructure necessary to work as a comprehensive resource centre to fulfil the needs of the TKS network. Every Sansar is equipped with an administrative office, a training hall, a crop clinic, a soil-testing laboratory, a research and development farm, a storage godown, an exhibition hall and a TKS retail outlet, all under one roof.
Staff at each Sansar provides farmers with solutions to every agriculture-related problem. TKS act as one-stop resource centres, offering cultivators a wide range of agri-services and solutions