Sunday, January 05, 2003


Lets consider three areas of ICT4D:
1. The ICT physical infrastructure, which I take to include telephone and computer infrastructure, radio and television infrastructure, and (if pushed) the print media infrastructure – including both the presses that publish newspapers, magazines and books, and the physical infrastructure involved in their distribution;
2. The ICT industries. There seems to be focus on export oriented ICT industries, such as the software industry in India, the chip manufacturing industry in Costa Rica, and IT-enabled services, such as back-office services (accounting, credit card processing). There is an argument for export-lead ICT industry development, but developing nations will also have to develop ICT industries for domestic use, including in addition to those described, wholesale and retail distribution of ICT products, ICT maintenance, ICT consulting, Internet value added services, etc.
3. Utilization of ICTs in all the other productive sectors of the society. These include the often cited telemedicine, distance education, e-commerce and e-government, but also applications of telephones, mass media, and computers to business and government that have long been common in developed nations, but are still uncommon in developing nations.

It seems to me that development for each of these three areas requires development in the others as well. Thus without ICT industries and utilization of ICTs in the productive sector, there will be little incentive to develop the physical infrastructure. Similarly, without the infrastructure, there would be little opportunity to develop ICT industries nor applications. All three areas should develop in parallel, creating a virtuous ICT4D circle.

Where in this circle does leadership matter? Probably everywhere! I suspect that there will need to be large number of individuals innovating. Business leaders will have to show entrepreneurial leadership in finding new business opportunities in building the physical infrastructure, creating and expanding ICT industries, and applying ICT to development. Government and civil society leaders must similarly become social entrepreneurs, finding new and expanding existing ICT opportunities.

I suspect that at a deeper level, it is critical to develop social, economic and policy environments conducive to such leadership, and to ICT innovation. Indeed, countries that are maintaining high rates of social and economic progress probably have such an environment stimulating to ICT leadership and innovation, and countries with poor development environments will probably not make an exception for ICT4D.

Still one must note the benefits that have come to nations that opened the Internet and telephone industries to competition, that regulated to encourage universal telephone coverage and cost-based telephone pricing, that eliminate excise taxes on personal computers, that provided tax financing for ICT investments, and that have established policies promoting ICT applications in government services. Leadership in establishing the general conditions under which others can lead and innovate is especially important.

I guess several other kinds of leadership are also especially important. Technological leadership is one; that is leadership in identifying the technologies that provide new and growing opportunities, and adapting those technologies to local needs and circumstances.

Leadership in education and training is another. Skilled people in large numbers will be needed to develop the ICT infrastructure and industries, and to apply ICT to development problems. Developing this cadre of people is a major responsibility, and will probably be needed before most people in the society recognize the need for an ICT literate workforce. Similarly, leadership in developing the policies that will encourage these trained people to remain at home (or return home) and apply their skills, rather than contributing to the brain drain.

Leadership in institution building is also critical. Thus without leaders developing the education and training institutions in which people can learn to use ICT, little will be accomplished. Similarly, leadership is needed in developing governmental ICT policy and regulatory institutions, in developing markets for ICT products and services, etc.

One of the things I have come to believe in many years of work is that leadership should be rewarded. Money is nice, but often leaders also need recognition and appreciation for the work that they have done.

No comments: