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No. 1 (January 2001)
Information and communication technologies connect more people every day. But do they also help the poor? What progress do they bring for the underprivileged majority of the world's population?
A cartoon by the famous Indian humorist Laxman captures the image of a progress that is nothing but a modernization of promises. It shows a politician on a campaign among village folk, and the text line says: "All the time you ask for drinking water. Don't you ever want progress? I'm telling you I'm giving you telephones."
Telephone and Internet connections, by themselves, don't bring water, electricity, roads, schools, health care or other facilities, which typically top the list of ´felt needs´ of rural and urban communities in poor countries. On the other hand, modern information and communication technologies have a strong potential. In combination with other development efforts, they can play an important role to help promote equity, transparency, self-initiative and informed decision-making in poor communities.
So far, modern information and communication technologies have failed to filter down to the grassroots level. They are still either unavailable to the poor, or unadjusted to serve their needs. Well-known experiences still appear to hold true: Instead of bridging the gap between the privileged few and the poor, technology often serves to deepen it further. The term "digital divide" has been coined to describe the information age version of this phenomenon. However, there are always exceptions to the rule in the form of initiatives showing potential for positive change on a larger scale. And here too, we've encountered individuals, groups and organizations trying to implement modern information and communication technologies in ways that benefit the poor.
This issue of our Newsletter concentrates on the opportunities created by digitization and the efforts being made to make them available to the underprivileged.
How important is the "digital divide" in the total picture of disparity between the privileged and the poor? What happens when targeted efforts are made to close it: for example, by providing internet connection at places that so far did not even have a telephone line - and may lack much more basic facilities as well? Can communities be empowered to improve their situation by such initiatives? What do such initiatives achieve, and what does it take to make them work? And if there are success stories, can they have an impact on a larger scale? Is it worthwhile to invest funds for aid and subsidies in such initiatives - and who should pay? The featured article attempts to share information and views on these issues.
Don't hesitate to get back to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas on the subject - or any other ideas or feedback that you may have on these pages, and the concepts presented here. Helping increase the joint effectiveness of efforts for human and societal development is our goal.