ICT(he) Future of Development

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is an all-encompassing term that means pretty much what it says: technology that is used for sharing and/or receiving (i.e. communicating) information. This technology can be physical devices like radios, computers, phones, etc. but can also be less tangible like software, applications, networks, etc. Using ICTs in development is by no means a new concept and can actually be traced back to beginning of modern technological advances.

The Maitland Report (1984) was the first real document to recognize the power of ICTs to fuel economic growth and other development measures, as well as the huge discrepancies in global access to technology (with a focus on telephone lines at this point in time). Just over 10 years later, the report, “Falling Through the Net”, expanded these ideas to address how the spread of Internet access to the public was growing gaps between the rural and urban populations in America. These reports paved the way for past and current Internet governance forums that have been the main means international leaders have sought to address technological disparities and ensure that ICTs are unifying tools and not divisionary tools.

The aforementioned Maitland Report was drafted in response to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1982. Coincidentally, or maybe as a result of, Kenya has been a regional leader in ICT and is increasingly becoming a global leader in this arena. A recent example of this is the use of the Kenyan application, Ushahidi, in the US elections to track violence and voter intimidation. An even more important example is the M-Pesa service that has completely changed the development game in Kenya and has inspired other countries in the region and around the world to do the same. M-Pesa, launched in 2007, is a mobile banking service that allows users to access their finances via their phone. Considering the exponential increase in mobile phone users in developing countries in the past decade, this service exemplifies the power of ICTs in development practices. The service was an answer to many concerns faced by Kenyan people, as well as others around the globe, in regards to financial concerns. These concerns include mistrust in banking systems, cash theft, obstacles in sending money to family in rural areas, and also the problem of time that most people in both the developing and developed world face. M-Pesa has allowed for persons who would generally not have access to strong banking institutions a space where they can participate in the same economic processes as the most elite in Kenya.

M-Pesa is just one of many ICTs that have proven the power of these tools to transform societies. The growing literature and focus on ICTs in global development processes is promising for ensuring that these tools continue to close gaps and promote diverse participation.