Technology in Developing Economies

Lending Organizations

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been lending to developing countries for decades. Recently, though, these organizations have taken dramatic steps to embrace and exploit the capacity of modern technology to deliver rapid and effective change.

The World Bank's Knowlege Economy Project in Romania is a prime example of a lending organizaion combining its established ability to fight poverty with its new technological arsenal. The goal of this project is to construct "Knowledge Centers" in small communities throughout the country, all of which are connected to a central Electronic Community Network. These efforts are very much ground-up, with emphasis on providing resources for the poorest, most technologically backward citizens. This project showcases the ability of modern information technology to provide service to so many people, with overhead costs much lower than those of constructing brick and mortar libraries or new public schools.

Private Collaborations

The Partnership for Lebanon is a project led by five major U.S. businesses: Cisco, GHAFARI, Intel, Microsoft, and Occidental Petroleum. The Partnership was founded in 2006 with the objective of providing the necessary information technology foundation for Lebanon as it moves forward into a new era of prosperity. The project's specific programs include networked community centers in remote villages, the creation of technology-related jobs, and a thoroughly revamped communications infrastructure.

The Partnership for Lebanon is putting the resources of leading corporations to work on behalf of the people of Lebanon. Renée S. Acosta, President & CEO, Global Impact

Another joint effort is that of the Internet Society (ISOC), "founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet related standards, education, and policy around the world." Of particular importance to this subject is ISOC's Developing Countries Workshop, in which participants from newly-networked nations receive education and training about implementing computing solutions in their locales. ISOC also created the framework for the U.S. government's Leland initiative, which established network infrastructure in 20 African countries between 1995 and 2000. Organizations like ISOC are committed to using their collective knowledge and the power of the Internet to share resources with as many people as possible.

Making the World a Smaller Place

Rural areas are poorer than urban areas. The relationship between a region's "rural-ness" and its poverty level is practically axiomatic, and is constantly corroborated by studies and statistics. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has established the following widely-accepted definitions:

A Rural Area

The second definition, coupled with the fact that rural regions are poor, suggests a strong relationship between locality and poverty. In developing and developed countries alike, the further an area is from the nearest populous area, the poorer its inhabitants are. This correlation applies not just to financial poverty, but to general human welfare. The barrier of sheer distance is an enormous one, and one that limits education, health, and happiness. One way that lending organizations attack the social problems facing the world's poor is to erode the distance barrier. Technological innovation has been shrinking the world for ages — from the wheel to seafaring to the railroad to the telegraph to the telephone to supersonic jets — but never so much as it has during the Information Age. Computing and the internet are moving information and bringing people closer together at exponentially increasing rates, and lending organizations are attempting to leverage this power in every possible way to combat poverty.

by Joe Cackler, Emily Gu, and Mike Rodgers
for CS 201: Computers, Ethics, and Social Responsibility
at Stanford University
on March 17, 2008