A lot has been happening in the ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) sector around the world lately. It often takes me by surprise the leaps that some developing nations have taken in harnessing the potential of the all-powerful Internet and the ubiquitous mobile phone. Some of the most amazing and innovative ideas have come from the smaller nations of the world. Necessity really is the mother of invention (or innovation).
My job, until recently, required me to keep a close eye on what is happening in this sector around the globe. Though I am not in the same job at this point of time, I have always loved technology and the habit of keeping an eye on the ICT4D trends has now become a part of my everyday life. I have been fortunate enough to have come into contact and learn from a lot of people who have dedicated their lives to the ICT revolution. There is a lot of excitement on the ground, and rightly so, there is a lot that we need to do.
Okay, some of you might be thinking, what is it exactly that I am talking about? I am talking about using the Internet and the mobile phone to bridge the service and information delivery gaps that exist among the rural poor, among the population that live in remote locations around the world.
Can you imagine how much time it would save if every village has its own ATM? How helpful it would be to a villager if s/he could just walk up to this machine/person they can trust and deposit the little money that they save every week and withdraw it whenever they need it? And all this without incurring any additional expenses? We city-dwellers do this everyday don't we?
Many of us have stopped referring to our dictionaries and encyclopedia because we have access to Google and we don't think twice before asking people to 'Google it'. But have you thought how helpful the same technology would be to a farmer who loses his entire crop because he could not get information about the right kind of pesticides to be used against an unfamiliar pest?
No, this post is not about sending you on a guilt trip. I was just trying to explain to a lay person how helpful these technologies are to those who do not have access to them, as yet.
The bone I have to pick, is something that a very learned colleague of mine has already deliberated on (you can read the post here). I have another (localised) thought to add to Roxanna's thoughts.
Mobile phones have opened up a lot of avenues for the people that we are serving, but I see something fundamentally wrong here in India.
One of the biggest problems is, as Roxanna pointed out, there are too many projects that for a variety of reasons don't go beyond the pilot stages. This is something that we all need to think about, the development organisations, the private sector and the government sector.
But in India, a bigger issue that has been troubling me for years is the absence of mobile broadband. This is the year 2010 with 2 nations and networks* having rolled out 4G (LTE) networks and most of us (I am referring to the urban Indians here) haven't seen what a 3G network is like. Why? Because for another set of reasons that only Zark can understand, the government had been dilly dallying over the launch of 3G in the country.
Did they fail to foresee the impact that mobile broadband could have on the rural and the remote populations of the country for whom the same government has launched myriad other schemes for employment generations, rural infrastructure development etc? Yes, sure they did launch 3G through the two government-owned telecom companies but the services are much below par. And I speak from experience.
Here we are struggling to meet the promises that we made to reach the MDGs and on the other hand we delay a crucial link that could have helped us fulfill the promises that we made to our people, to ourselves. What do we have to say for ourselves?
*Source: GSM World