Development is a package deal. It happens not because of just one thing but due to the collation of many things working together. Policy, institutions, capacity, technology and many more factors impact development. (So, a linear relationship between only ICT and development may not be that direct to extrapolate!)
Conversely, lack of development is just a manifestation of many deeper root causes (– and not the reason thereof). For example – the digital divide – like hunger is not a problem in itself (poverty is!), but an indicator (– and definitely not the cause) of more critical issues – dipper socio-economic divides.
Therefore, caution is warranted here! The efforts in the ICT for Development arena, too, should attempt to tend to the underlying causes and not the symptoms directly. The efforts to bridge the digital divide for that reason should not only limit to ‘having IT there’ but also ‘getting IT used’ because the sense of ‘use’ per se relates to a ‘purpose’ and focus thus remains on the basic ideas of information needs, voice and participation of communities which enables citizen’s stakes in the process of development.
Ensuring usages by the communities of the ICT is the key to (sustainable) development. To make that happen, the strategies required need to address simultaneously the issues of access (in terms of physical, social, economic and political), awareness (in terms of knowledge of its availability and possibilities it can offer, i.e. value proposition), and interface (in terms of medium, devices, language etc.) of the tools and technologies with the communities.
Take the case of ‘Grameen Village Phone’ in Bangladesh. Through this venture, mobile phones into the hands of the poor have been made possible through innovative practices which have enabled poor people to exploit the technology to attain hitherto unknown benefits.
When a micro-entrepreneur buys a phone with a loan from the Grameen Bank and then sells the use of it on a per-call basis – it is nothing but fall of an economic barrier to access. Also, the fact that these entrepreneurs are women makes access socially much easier for other women in a comparatively conservative setup. Physically, access is eased by the roaming telephone ladies taking mobile phones door to door.
However, all this would not have worked had it been not made known through various means to the villagers that this facility now exists and that what value it can create for them.
Furthermore, a mobile phone is a simpler device – fewer buttons, less clumsy – at least simpler than a bulky computer. Also, the helpful guidance of the telephone ladies helped bridge the gap between up till now, an unknown device – the mobile phone – and mostly illiterate users.
With adequate thrust to issues pertaining to access, awareness and interface, Grameen Village Phone is a success story not only from the social venture side but also from a business perspective. Today, Grameen Phone is the largest cellular phone company in all of South Asia, with over 8.5 million subscribers.
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