Developing countries can leapfrog their development pursuits by leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs). Such technologies have demonstrated the capability to facilitate the flow of information, vital for the marketing of goods and services by developing countries to potential customers that may be thousands of kilometres away, through the establishment of websites and telemarketing. Transactions can be concluded online without the need to travel or wait for physical documents to be dispatched which could take weeks or even months to arrive. Billions of dollars are remitted in online transactions from developing country diaspora to their home countries, opening doors for the integration of marginalized persons and communities into the global economy.
Access to such services has been made easier by the rapid growth of communication technologies and falling prices due to high competition. There are almost 7 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide; developing countries responsible for over three quarters and have the highest growth rates in mobile-cellular subscriptions. This growth rate is also being recorded in other areas such as Internet and broadband. At the end of 2014, there were over 3 billion Internet users, two-thirds of them coming from the developing world and the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions reached 2.3 billion globally – 55 per cent of these were in the developing world.
Mobile services greatly contributed to the ongoing efforts of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in goals and targets such as health, education, poverty alleviation and many other areas recognized as being pivotal to sustainable development. Current discussions by the international community have shown that the post-2015 development agenda and the achievement of the newly drafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be driven by ICTs to a greater extent.
Developing countries, riding on the wave of ICT innovation, have made giant leaps in creating a competitive market place. The development of ICT incubators and highly popular applications have already been deployed in sectors ranging from banking, health and disaster management. To promote ICT innovation, ITU has been running a number of competitions for youth engagement. In December 2014, eight winners of ITU Telecom’s Young Innovators Competition presented their innovative ideas on how ICTs can help cities to slow down or mitigate the effects of climate change.
Working in developing countries for the past 40 years, I have seen great potential for developing countries to become exporters of ICT services. Some examples include mobile money services; Kenya’s M-PESA service which enables people on incomes too low to qualify for a bank account to participate in monetary services, is one of the most well-known. The idea has taken off in Bangladesh too. There, people used to spend up to four hours travelling to banks and paying to pay utility bills; by using mobile payment series, they avoid travel, save time and money. Other countries signing up to mobile money include the Philippines, Afghanistan, Haiti, Tanzania and India. EcoCash is a mobile money service launched in 2011 by Zimbabwean mobile provider Econet Wireless. The service involves banked and unbanked members of society being offered a range of services from basic person-to-person (P2P) transfers to enhanced mobile wallet services.
ICTs have also expanded employment opportunities. Developers can be anywhere in the world and still work as teams; parts of software can be produced in Africa and completed in India or Brazil. Developing countries can partner among themselves and become a force to be reckoned with, particularly in the area of information technology. Governments in developing countries should be commended on incorporating information technology modules in the low grades of children’s studies. ITU has been rendering support through various initiatives that include the ‘Connect Schools – Connect Communities’ initiative. Continued innovation by developing countries will no doubt lead to a better future for their populations.
This blog was adapted from Mr Sanou’s article in the UNA-UK report ‘Global Development Goals – Partnerships for Progress’. The original article can be found here.
Mr. Brahima Sanou was elected Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau by the Plenipotentiary Conference, 2010 in Guadalajara, Mexico. He was re-elected at the 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Republic of Korea in October 2014.