1 Introduction: A Global Call to Action

Despite real progress on some fronts, there remain dramatic disparities in levels of human development: one in five of the world's people lives on less than one dollar per day and one in seven suffers from chronic hunger.1 The international community has responded to the pressing need to address this state of affairs at the recent United Nations Millennium Summit by agreeing on the key development goals for the next decade: reducing poverty, raising levels of education, improving standards of health, enhancing empowerment, and reversing the loss of environmental resources.2

This consensus reflects not only the necessity of addressing poverty and other human needs, but also an emerging sense that the international community is at a crossroads in the development process. The unprecedented pace and scale of global flows in information, products, capital, people and ideas, if properly harnessed, offers the potential to create new opportunities for those who have thus far been excluded from gains in human development. But the same forces could also actually widen the gap and trap developing countries, especially least-developed countries (LDCs), in a perpetual spiral of poverty and exclusion.

The current debate on the importance of access to ICT and its value in addressing global development disparities is part of this wider discussion on the potential benefits and risks of globalization. This is because ICT is itself a key enabler of globalization: the level and pace of global flows in physical and intangible assets have been dramatically boosted by the ability to connect vast networks of individuals across geographic boundaries, at negligible marginal cost. This relationship between ICT and globalization makes ICT interventions critical to development policy.

Industrialized nations that have a high degree of ICT penetration also experience high levels of wealth (see figure 1.1) and human development. However, there is still considerable uncertainty about the nature of the relationship between ICT and development. Recent efforts launched by the international community—including the G8's Digital Opportunity Taskforce (Dot Force) and the United Nations ICT Taskforce—directly recognize the urgent need to harness ICT to contribute to the achievement of development goals. These efforts are significant, not only because they seek to develop strategies and initiate innovative and effective action on the ground, but also because they represent and encourage new forms of collaborative interaction among government, private sector, multilateral, and non-profit organizations.

As a contribution to this global effort, at the G8 Okinawa Summit,4 Accenture, the Markle Foundation, and the United Nations Development Programme formed a public-private partnership5 to launch the Digital Opportunity Initiative (DOI). The DOI aims to help mobilize, focus and coordinate action by developing a strategic approach to harnessing the benefits of ICT for sustainable development. The present report will focus on lessons learned to date about the value of ICT for achieving development goals, and will offer an analytical framework that developing countries and the international community can use as a guide for designing and implementing a more strategic approach to the use of ICT for development.

Figure 1.1   Internet Penetration and GNP per Capital 3

Source: International Telecommunication Union, 2000.


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