Is technology really the solution for developing countries to prosper?
The World IT Forum (WITFOR) concludes that technology will help developing countries prosper, but without the infrastructure, how could this succeed?
Technology is crucial for nations to survive globalization in the 21st century; however, before new technology is thrust upon countries that don’t have the necessary education, access to electricity, healthy employment, or stable governments, the building of infrastructure is of even greater importance.
Imagine you are sleeping on a make-shift cot under a corrugated tin roof and the floors are made of dirt. You have never gone to school because you were forced to look after your family since the age of 12, and all you know is how to sell various bric-a-brac on the street.
Now imagine someone hands you a piece of hardware like a modem and tells you this is the key to your prosperity. You look around your “house” and find no place to plug it in. Even if you have access to electricity, you know that the power company is inefficient and corrupt and that rolling power blackouts happen on a daily basis that last for hours.
What good is this technology to you if you don’t know how to use it, you don’t have access to electricity — let alone clean water, and your elected leaders in government are only in the business of exploiting all of your resources before their terms in office run out?
That is something that many people in developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Indus Valley have to face every day of their lives. How can technology be the solution to their development if there is no education, no infrastructure, and no government willing to adapt?
In his keynote address at WITFOR in San Jose, Costa Rica last week, Dr. Robert Atkinson, founder and president of international think tank, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), said Latin America and other developing nations must digitize as many processes as possible.
“Firms in developing nations must adopt more ICT and digital business practices are essential for driving productivity and growth,” said Dr. Atkinson.
His three strategies for companies in developing countries to develop growth include: putting enterprise first by using the Cloud, enable scale (because larger firms are more productive than smaller ones), and to embrace disruption.
Dr. Atkinson also refuted claims that technology and automation will have a negative impact on the number of available jobs, saying that new technologies will translate to more positions and new job opportunities.
However, what Dr. Atkinson did not mention was how to educate workers so they actually know how to use the technology.
“Absorption and competitive deployment of ITT depend on an adequate supply of engineering and management skills, making domestic education and training policies important,” according to a report published in collaboration by the World Bank, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the Southern Methodist University of Dallas, Texas.
Dr. Atkinson is right that technology will help developing countries, but before the technology is implemented, it must first be understood by those who are using it.
Before that even happens, though, governments and businesses must be complacent in effectively applying the new technology in their respected countries.
Peter Thorpe wrote for the International Service for National Agricultural Research, and he outlined back in 1984 six factors to consider about the Impact of New Information Technology in the Developing Countries, which are still true today.
Thorpe listed the six factors as being:
- Economic – Low availability of capital, lack of internal competition, problems with foreign exchange regulations, etc.
- Manpower – Shortage of available trained manpower, lack of continuing education, etc.
- Physio-ecological – Limited resources, geographic isolation.
- Cultural, Demographic, and Social – Many unskilled workers, language barriers, inaccurate expectations of technology, etc.
- Political – Unstable governments, lack of scientific impact at highest levels of government, constantly changing priorities, etc.
- Existing Information Infrastructures – Inadequate and unreliable telephone, postal and electrical supply services, inability to join telecommunications networks, absence of sufficient information flow, etc.
All of these factors and more must first be addressed before technology can come to save the day.
However, the final keynote speaker at WITFOR, Dr. Chrisanthi Avgerou, raised concerns about the potential impacts on jobs, saying that large parts of the population in developing countries are unable to take advantage of digital technologies because of limited access or a lack of skills, and could get left behind.
She also highlighted three areas where governments should develop policies designed to boost economic growth and development:
- A strong focus on education, particularly in the area of exercising critical judgment.
- Regulation (and deregulation) to safeguard against the risks relating to privacy and cybersecurity.
- International negotiations to alleviate the problems of jobless growth.