The analysis of ICT initiatives targeting key development imperatives suggests that, while individual ICT interventions can have a positive impact on social and economic development outcomes, many initiatives experience barriers to scalability and sustainability under current conditions. The following is a synthesis of the common lessons found among initiatives that have thus far exhibited a substantial and sustainable development impact.
1. Initiatives should be explicit about their development goals and how they will directly impact the target population. Initiatives that clearly identify development goals within the needs and context of the target population are more likely to develop effective operating models and deliver tangible results. For example, one of Grameen Phone's explicit goals is to have a significant impact on poverty through the economic empowerment of women in Bangladesh. PEOPLink has clearly determined its role of helping talented artisans in developing countries to market their products directly to buyers on the Internet, cutting out the middleman.
2. Initiatives should be driven by user demands, identified and realized through direct participation and ownership. Experience from many initiatives, such as Pride Africa in providing micro-finance, and the African Virtual University in meeting demands for skilled and knowledgeable workers, demonstrates the importance of designing initiatives to be demand-driven and locally-owned. Technology imposed on a community of users who have not independently identified a need for it is unlikely to flourish. SANGONet in Southern Africa experiences high rates of local use because local people and NGOs, who are interested in development and human rights, participate in shaping the service to meet their own needs.
3. ICT solutions should be "built to last." Initiatives that are planned and managed using a business model are likely to be more sustainable and have a more substantial impact. Initiatives need to include mechanisms for growth and replication into their operating models from the outset, so as to offer scalable and sustainable solutions. SatelLife established a business model for HealthNet to deliver email and electronic information resources for better health and medical services. The model provides for training both end users to effectively use the system and technical staff to manage and operate the system so that local operations can be sustainable. On the other hand, some Digital Villages in South Africa have not been successful because operations did not include components such as a solid business plan, a cost recovery system, a marketing strategy, or emphasis on local community services to make the initiatives sustainable.
4. Initiatives should be sensitive to local conditions and limitations. Technology employed should be affordable, physically accessible, easy to use and maintain, and flexible enough to accommodate user demands for new services. Similarly, initiatives demonstrating a capacity to embrace adaptive and flexible solutions are more likely to be sustainable. For example, PEOPLink provides CatGen software, which enables local artisans to easily capture and transmit digital images of products over the Internet with minimal training and in conditions of poor connectivity. The solution is feasible due to the existence of public access points such as cybercafes and telecenters.
5. The interests of key stakeholders must be broadly aligned with each other and with the goals of the intervention. Identifying or engineering "win-win" situations is critical to securing lasting commitment from all necessary parties, including participation from the local community, private enterprises, non-government organizations, multi-lateral organizations and governments. Strong public and private institutional support and leadership is required to maintain commitment and alignment from all parties. This requires clear vision and direction, defined roles and responsibilities for all partners, adequate funding, sufficient technical and administrative means, and integration with existing local institutions. As an example, in the Madhya Pradesh State Initiative in India, roles and interests among stakeholders are well coordinated: government is responsible for content, farmers own their computers, and educated local citizens operate the information services. In another example, NIIT, a leading software service and education provider in India, formed a partnership with state governments and private sector companies to provide student loans promoting the Internet and computer-based education. All partners have defined roles and well-aligned interests in the initiative.
6. Initiatives with the most impact have approached development problems in a holistic and coordinated way, not only through the provision of ICT. HealthNet, for example, has focused on infrastructure and connectivity by providing low cost access, and also on building human capacity through training of both users and technical operators, transferring enterprise capability including management and operation skills, and creating effective partnerships with both local organizations and medical institutions in developed countries. While the Grameen Phone initiative faces a scalability challenge because of its technology choice and the telecommunications policy environment, a similar initiative undertaken by the TeNet Group in India uses more adaptable technology and works within national telecommunications policy guidelines to overcome this challenge. The Indian initiative has chosen a multi-point wireless technology which is more functional for rural areas (with greater transmission range), integrates easily with the national system, and meets regulatory standards.
These examples suggest that ICT interventions focusing on development goals must address a variety of interrelated dimensions to secure an enduring impact. The limited scope and scale of many of the initiatives described through Section 2.2 has prevented them from achieving even greater impact since, as stand-alone initiatives, it is difficult for them to address the policy and infrastructure issues necessary to ensure their success. While grassroots entrepreneurial activity is to be universally encouraged, the potential impact of these ICT interventions would be far greater had they been conceived as part of a comprehensive national ICT strategy for development imperatives. Pursuing ICT interventions in this manner would enable the creation of synergies that standalone initiatives cannot achieve by themselves.
In fact, successful initiatives have not only effectively coordinated efforts in different areas, they have leveraged the synergies created by the complementarity of aligned ICT interventions. These successful initiatives can provide useful lessons on how to better coordinate national "ICT for development" strategies. The next section is devoted to the analysis of how ICT has been leveraged in different countries.
© 2001 Accenture, Markle Foundation, United Nations Development Programme.
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