ICT in Employment and Income generation
ICT manufacturing sector can provide some direct employment for the poor, although their educational and skill levels are usually too low. There are better employment prospects for them in the service sector. For instance, the sales of IT Products has provided employment for youths offering various services. Presently the internet has covered far and wide and most businesses now hook up to the internet rather than use the existing media for adverts. Most youths has therefore taken to the design and hosting of websites and other web applications as full time or part time jobs. Training and retraining of interested youths and workers in various areas in ICT also provide jobs at various levels.
ICT can be used to increase efficiency, competitiveness and market access for developing firms. An InfoDev-sponsored organization called People Ink, for example, has established an ecommerce programme allowing local artisans in developing countries to bypass middlemen and market their products directly to first world customers. Its success is based on the business development applications that were grounded in local language and relevant content.
Poor people are often unaware of their rights, entitlements and the availability of various government schemes and extension services. Through infokiosks or even with the help of mobile phones farmers can access information on market prices or on extension services. Workers can get information on available jobs. Timing is often crucial when it comes to the sale of produce. Such interventions, however, can only be successful when accompanied by other supporting infrastructure such as access roads, storage facilities and competitive markets, including the global market.
ICT can also play a major role in helping to monitor food security related issues (weather, droughts, crop failures, pests etc.), and to inform government on impending food scarcities and famines. According to Amartya Sen and Jean Dréze, information plays a key role in preventing food scarcities from turning into famines.
ICT in Promoting Democracy
According to the Okinawa Charter on Global Information Society “everyone, everywhere should be enabled to participate in and one should not be excluded from the benefits of the global information society. The resilience of the society depends on democratic values that foster human development such as the free flow of information and knowledge, mutual tolerance, and respect for
ICT can, indeed, play a major role in supporting a culture of democracy, democratic processes and civic values that uphold a democratic system. Interventions on the so-called ‘e-democracy’ usually involve processes on electronic interaction between Government and the citizens. The aim is to (i) provide for citizens access to information and knowledge about the political process, services and available choices, and (ii) facilitate transformation of passive information access to active citizen participation by informing, representing, encouraging to vote, consulting and involving the citizens. ICT can have a major role in (1) creating a more well-informed and active citizenship; (2) undermining closed and undemocratic regimes; and (3) supporting the watchdog role of citizen groups.
Participation by the poor in development that affects them is very important. Often the poor know their problems, but they lack knowledge of the wider socio-economic context of their poverty. They also lack information on various solutions to improve their situations. This is where technical experts can help the poor. Experts, too will benefit of having a better understanding of the living and working conditions of the poor people and hearing their views. In Honduras, the poor used ICT to prevent the destruction of their habitat. An organization of small-scale fishermen sent Congress a video of the illegal destruction of their mangroves by politically powerful commercial farmers, raising awareness of and protesting against the loss of their livelihoods and habitat. As a result, in the future, there will be virtual 14 committee rooms for the citizens to testify on various issues. (UNDP 2001).
ICT can facilitate speedy, transparent, accountable, efficient and effective interaction between the public, citizens, business and other agencies. This not only promotes better administration and better business environment, but also saves money in costs of transactions in government operations (IICD 2001).
The lack of systematic and transparent recording and public documentation of government data that the poor need has a negative effect on development outcomes. This is the case, for example, with land records. As documented by Hernando de Soto (2000), even if the poor have lands, without records the capital is ‘dead’. Without land records as collateral, they cannot apply for loans, and often they cannot get assistance from government poverty alleviation programs intended for small farmers. (Warschauer 2003).
For the poor, getting access to even the most common type of government information or documentation can be a nightmare requiring multiple visits, waste of time and bribes. ICT, as described below, can be used to get rid of such malpractices and to speed processing of documents.
Examples on ICT’s role on Improving Governance in Andhra Pradesh, India, networked computers have been used in the reform of processes to register deeds and stamp duties. Using traditional methods, this took 13 cumbersome steps in a highly opaque process that invited bureaucratic delay and corruption. It took from three to as many as 15 days—and the process involved the registration of over 120 million documents a year. Using a new networked system, the same task can be accomplished in just over two hours, with far less opportunity for graft. Again in Andhra Pradesh, a program to computerize the issuance of caste certificates, essential for obtaining government service vacancies and access to educational scholarships, managed to decrease the time for certificate issuance from 20 to 30 days to only 10 minutes. (Source: World Bank 2001)
Top-down provision of information is not sufficient, without an opportunity for feed-back. Citizen feedback to government provides a check on bureaucratic abuse and corruption, alerts the government to citizen’s needs and concerns, and gives citizens a sense of having a voice in society. (Ibid) ICT can assist people in monitoring development programs that they produce what they promise to do.
Examples on the Feed-back Role of Information: (A) When residents of a district in the poor desert state of Rajasthan heard of a road building scheme, of the money spent on it and of the wages that were claimed to be paid to local hires, they demanded to see the payrolls and hear an account of where the money went. It turned out no road was built. (B) A pressure group in Rajasthan exposed corruption in government projects and forced the state Government to agree to make public all documents related to such projects at the village level, to allow citizens to make photocopies of them, and to punish those responsible for corruption. (C) The residents of a town heard on official radio that children were being immunized. They demanded form health officers details of the scheme, including how many children had been immunized and how much medicine was bought. They were told the local health board was not obliged to reveal any information. (Source: South China Morning Post 4.9.2000)
Broad based Poverty Reduction Program with Holistic ICT Approach
A comprehensive poverty reduction program is required to turn the vicious cycle of poverty into a virtuous cycle of well-being. It would need to include: (i) sustainable and pro-poor growth with investments in both physical and social infrastructure; (ii) inclusive social development programs that promote equity and empowerment of the poor; (iii) efforts in good governance with effective policies and institutions, efficient and accountable public sector management, and legal and judicial reform; and (iv) efforts in promoting participatory decision-making. (ADB 2002).
Economic growth needs to be broad-based and pro-poor involving the sectors that are most important for poverty reduction. There cannot be a one-fit policy for all, but the most effective strategy needs to be worked out in each country taking into consideration historical trajectories and the socio-economic and political context of the country. Benefits of growth need to be distributed as evenly as possible, across the regions and social groups. Any strategy will not succeed if it bypasses geographic areas or sectors where the poor are concentrated, or if it fails to make intensive use of the unskilled labour of the poor. (Lustig 2002).