Constant technological evolution in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is vital for developed countries to maintain their economic and scientific leadership. In developing countries, ICT is more like a heavy burden as these countries witness the gap with developed countries growing wider and deeper.
Through an analysis of national ICT implementation programmes in developing countries, we can learn and work towards supporting ICT for sustainable development, so-called ICT4DEV.
Using technology to promote development successfully depends on three pillars, the most obvious being education and capacity building. Although education is essential for a given society to progress in all fields, it is efficient only if it is intimately linked to training and capacity building. Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have bet on education for decades. But producing graduates without the practical support of the academic curriculum or the employment market is misleading. Moreover, academic knowledge alone does not provide the capacity to adapt to an economy that requires versatility and the ability to multitask. Capacity building is essential for young graduates to adapt to very different working environments and to be successful on the employment market.
This takes us to the second pillar of ICT4DEV programmes in developing countries: employment. Employment must be taken into consideration in tandem with education and capacity building. It is pointless establishing a high-quality education system if there is no clear employment strategy to absorb skilled young graduates. An ill-adapted employment market leads either to work in non-related fields or to increased immigration. Both are a net loss for developing states that bet on education. Employment should be considered as an end in itself and way more important to the state than to the young and unemployed. Employment is a guarantee of a stable society and regime, not to mention economic growth and sustainable development. Most previous models of national scale education programmes, such as in Iraq and Tunisia for example, collapsed because they lacked a vision towards employment. They pushed for using ICT without the involvement of the local economy and the employment market by simply importing technology and equipment from developed countries, thereby deepening unemployment, technological dependence, and commercial balance deficit. The ICT industry must focus on corporate social responsibility and support factories in developing countries with transfer of technology and know-how that benefit local populations.
The third pillar for using ICT as a trigger for development is the state. Governments must support such initiatives by lightening heavy bureaucracy and by fighting nepotism and corruption. They should provide enough guarantees for those projects to develop and prosper without applying too many restrictions. They should provide a supportive legal framework with incentives for local and foreign capital to invest in ICT4DEV programmes. This would guarantee that the whole chain of development is not only effective, but also equally beneficial for all stakeholders. Such an environment would support children to learn better with e-education programmes, provide jobs and skills for disadvantaged youth and profits for investors, and consolidate ruling political regimes. That’s a win-win deal.
Finally, a legal revision of international institutions is also unavoidable in order to implement the use of ICT as a trigger for sustainable development. Turkey and Brazil for instance are examples of countries dealing successfully with national debt and the relationship with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. This is partly due to full political and national support. They resisted specialisation on a single task in the global industrial chain and opted to implement a comprehensive system that would benefit all actors in society. They diversified their income, provided important incentives for international investors and tech giants to invest, and adapted education and training to the needs of their employment markets. Others could learn a lot from them.