Development Sector Interventions

Beyond Markets for Mobiles: The Development Sector and Pro-Poor Impacts of ICTs

Posted by MarkWeingarten on Mar 07, 2011
Beyond Markets for Mobiles: The Development Sector and Pro-Poor Impacts of ICTs data sheet 1248 Views
Garside, Ben
Publication Date: 
Dec 2010
Publication Type: 
Report/White paper

The supply/demand nature of market-based models (led by the private sector and consumer level uptake) is argued by some as being a better form of introducing new technologies that benefit the poor than direct interventions from development actors. This so called passive diffusion view is based on the way mobile telephony has spread so rapidly. The approach holds that if ICTs do have developmental value for the poor, a combination of private firms’ search for profit plus the poor’s search for value will make it happen. Development money is best spent elsewhere.

A long history of failures in national government rollout of telecentre networks across Africa to the village level along with a spike and lull in donor driven ICT projects is perhaps reason and evidence for the passive diffusion view becoming popular. Particularly evident is how a top-down supply push for perceived ICT ‘needs’ of the poor does not always match on the ground demands and realities.

Today services delivered via mobiles that have widespread availability and use at the base of the pyramid are predominantly left to market forces to deliver. There are of course a number of notable and innovative exceptions to this and it is certainly true that private sector mobile based services have often been less ambitious in terms of pro-poor outcomes than development sector pilots – as might be expected. Yet many of the innovative case studies involving development interventions have remained niche, difficult to replicate, and have often not been sustainable over time.

This paper seeks to give a brief overview of the history of development sector interventions of ICTs and where this positions ‘ICTs for development’ going forward. A key question to ask as we move into the second decade of the 21st century is how the impact of ICTs on the poorest can be improved – and the role of the development sector and government in achieving this in what is today a predominantly market-driven approach to mobiles and more broadly to ICTs.