Thursday 5 November 2009

UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2009: page 3

See also Page 1 and Page 2 of my notes

At the launch of the Information Economy Report 2009 in Manchester last week, following Torbjörn Fredriksson's presentation, Richard Heeks gave a commentary.

Richard started by observing that in the recent past the 'ICT4D agenda' has been tied to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but suggested that in the future the focus would instead be on resilience, because of the 'shocks' of:

- climate change
- the economic problem
- terrorism

Richard suggested that all of these would affect the developing countries most. I'm not sure this quite squared with what Torbjörn had said about the financial crisis. I thought - though I may have misunderstood - that Torbjörn had suggested that the small businesses in developing countries were not able to get credit, so had not been damaged so much by the recent financial crises, which as essentially a failure of credit. (Mind you, it seems a pretty consistent fact of life that whenever anything goes wrong, it is the poorest and least powerful that suffer the most.) Torbjörn indicated that resilience would a theme of next year's UNCTAD IER report.

Richard also mentioned 'development 2.0' as new models for development. An example he gave was of peer-peer micro-lending, in which individuals in the 'North' lend to individuals in the 'South', enabled by the internet. Despite my personal scepticism whenever anyone labels anything '2.0'... I can see that something like that fits with the ideas of 'web 2.0'. In the context of resilience, he described a picture of the web 'holding' poor countries, supporting them in uncertain times. I think that was what he was saying, but it sounded dangerously patronising to me (which is not how I think of things that emerge from the Centre for Development Informatics (CDI) in Manchester, so maybe I was not hearing it right).

The final note I have made of what Richard had to say was that he mentioned another report due shortly, the ICT4D report from the World Bank - he suggested this, light-heartedly, was a 'competing' report to the UNCTAD IER report.

Following Richards Heeks, Brian Nicholson led the general discussion.

Someone - maybe Brian himself - commented on the absence of a trickle-down effect from high-tech industries. For example, the Indian software industry only helps the well-off.

There was a discussion of the extent to which the private sector, rather than state, funds development. For example, bandwidth is being brought to Africa by the privately-funded optical fibre cables along the coast. There was a question as to whether the finance model for mobile broadband would work: do the potential customers have enough money? Richard pointed out that it was the private sector that funded mobile telephony - it might not have been thought that would be possible, so could it do the same for broadband? Is it significantly different?

More snippets from the discussion:

- what about the environmental impact of ICTs in developing countries. Torbjörn pointed to
- in the light of the financial crisis, a survey asked what you would give up. In both developed and developing countries, the mobile phone was the last to go. If you want a family to give up smoking, give them a mobile phone! (They'd rather have the money to spend in the phone than cigarettes)
- need both infrastructure and skills.
- contrast India (industry came from high skills) and China (came from the base)
- capacity building problem. Eg there are a few hundred network administrators in Africa. Thousands are needed
- Grameen, the women in Bangladesh providing a mobile phone service, are now having problems because of competition

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