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altSixty students and teachers from Vi’s Russian affiliate member, the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), took part in  a videoconference presentation on the latest UNCTAD Information Economy Report (IER) on May 12.

Published by the Division on Technology and Logistics (DTL), home of the Virtual Institute, the IER 2010 examines information and communication technologies (ICTs) as an avenue toward poverty alleviation, goal number one of the Millennium Development Goals.

"Progress in poverty reduction has been uneven," said DTL's Scarlett Fondeur Gil, who presented the findings of the report. "In fact, even if the target of cutting global poverty in half by 2015 is met, almost 1 billion people are likely to remain in extreme poverty. Every avenue needs to be continuously re-examined."

IER findings show that there are now new possibilities for ICTs to help improve the livelihoods of people in low-income countries. An enormous difference can be made by ensuring that information many take for granted, is made available.

"Poor people often lack access to vital information," Fondeur Gil said. "They may need weather forecasts, market price information, information on what pesticides and fertilizers to use, and where to find jobs. Without such information, people are more isolated and more vulnerable. This is where ICTs come in."

About a quarter of the population in the Least Developed Countries have mobile phone subscriptions, according to the International Telecommunications Union, and are using their phones not only for voice and text messaging, but more and more to access the Internet. Moreover, in countries where banking services are lacking or hard to reach, mobile money services allow people without bank accounts to make person-to-person payments, transfer money and make pre-paid purchases. As of early 2010, there were 61 known mobile-money services in 35 countries, of which 13 LDCs.

The IER encourages enterprises to exploit the potential of ICTs, and to do so in a manner that emphasizes affordability for the consumer. The model to follow is that of South Asia, with India leading the pack with the most affordable mobile user charges, generating revenues through low tariffs and high volume.

"Micro-enterprises in low-income countries are rapidly adopting mobile phones as key tools for advancing their commercial activities," Founder Gil said, citing an example in Bhutan, one of the world's poorest countries. "Mobile phone use has transformed the everyday lives of dairy farmers. The phones help them obtain information about market prices and to stay in direct contact with customers. Farmers can then sell their output for higher prices and ship only sufficient milk to meet demand, with increased income and less waste as a result."

Other innovative applications, using a combination of technologies are also bearing fruit: in Africa, for example, some community radio stations connected to the Internet offer so-called "radio browsing programmes," through which rural enterprises get indirect access to resources available on the Internet.

The session ended with questions from MGIMO students, two-thirds of whom are taking e-commerce classes this year, on regulation and control of the ICT sector, piracy, and intellectual property rights.

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