MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 25 December 2004
MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation called an expert group meeting on “Up-scaling ICT for Poverty Reduction”. The event was held in Chennai, India, from 17–19 November 2004. APC Women’s Networking Support Programme (WNSP) Asia Pacific Coordinator, Cheekay Cinco, was among the participants.
“One of the most interesting points raised during the meeting was the need to focus on up-scaling poverty reduction and not ICTs,” she said. “A distinction was made between ‘poverty reduction’ and ‘development’, largely in reaction to the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) on decreasing poverty worldwide by 50%”.
The meeting was organised by M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and the Swiss Development Cooperation, in coordination with and supported by the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), One World South Asia and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Prior to the meeting, Gerster Consulting in Switzerland was commissioned to draft a research paper titled, "Up-scaling Pro-Poor ICT-Policies & Practices: A review of experiences in low income Asian countries and Sub-Saharan Africa". Gerster Consulting is active across a large range of development issues, committed to international cooperation through research, policy analysis and advocacy as well as the dissemination of information.
The main purpose of the paper was to deepen understanding on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for poverty reduction (potentials and limitations) by identifying parallel and different ICT for development (ICT4D) initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and Low Income Asian Countries (LIACs). Through this, they also aimed to define a poverty-reduction-oriented agenda for the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Principles and Action Plan.
The paper defined the connections between and among ICTs, the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and poverty alleviation in the context of developing countries in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The main agenda
The first day, 17 November, was spent visiting the MSSRF Village Knowledge Centre Project in Pondicherry. “We started with the main centre in Pondicherry where the project managers presented the history, status and future plans of the MSSRF Village Knowledge Centre Project,” said Cheekay Cinco. “Then we visited four Knowledge Centres in the area, including the one in Embalem which was being run by an all-women team and a fishing village. We had a chance to interact a bit with the volunteers running the knowledge centres. In a lot of ways, the MSSRF visit served as a backdrop to the meeting, where the MSSRF experience was often cited as a model for up-scaling of ICT4D initiatives.”
There were three main agenda items for the meeting:
1. To provide input into the Gerster paper by discussing case studies and examples that addresses the five key questions:
- The role of ICT (environment, sector, facilitator) in national poverty reduction strategies (PRS).
- The role of pro-poor ICT regulations and policies (including free and open source software) in poverty reduction.
- The use of ICT to give poor people a stronger voice at all levels of decision making affecting them (empowerment).
- The use of ICT to enhance income generation by the poor (opportunity).
- The use of ICT to enhance formal and informal education of the poor (security).
2. To come up with a "Chennai Statement" that would capture the discussions and recommendations made during the meeting.
3. To identify appropriate and strategic venues (conferences and meetings) where the Gerster paper and the Chennai Statement should be presented.
The meeting, held from 18-19 November, was a mix of presentations on the five key topics and discussions within the working groups.
“Initially, there was supposed to have been five working groups that would correspond to each of the questions,” says Cheekay, “but given that there were only about 20 participants, we decided to have three working groups”.
Working Group 1: To address the role of ICTs in national poverty reduction strategies and empowerment.
Members: Indrajit Banerjee (Asian Media Information Centre, Singapore); Robert Chapman (Overseas Development Institute, Great Britain); Gerolf Weigel (Swiss Development Cooperation); Cheekay Cinco (APC, Philippines); Senthil Kumaran (MSSRF, India); Radhika Lal (UNDP).
Working Group 2: To discuss the role of pro-poor ICT policies, specifically open source software, in poverty reduction.
Members: Tenzin Chhoeda (Department of Information and Technology, Bhutan); Mike Jensen (South Africa); Randy Spence (IDRC); Jaya Chittoor (IC4D, India); Sonja Zimmerman (Gerster Consulting, Switzerland).
Working Group 3: To discuss the use of ICTs in income-generation and to enhance formal and informal education.
Members: Namrata Bali (SEWA, India); Richard Gerster (Gerster Consulting, Switzerland); Nazneen Sultana (Grameen Group, Bangladesh); Subbiah Arunachalam (MSSRF, India); Stuart Mathison (Foundation for Development Cooperation, Australia); Pavan Shakya (WorldLink Communications, Nepal).
The first day of the meeting was spent discussing the Gerster paper and the five key questions. The second day centred around coming up with a Chennai Statement and planning how to disseminate the statement and the Gerster paper.
Content highlights and recommendations
According to Cheekay, one of the most interesting points raised during the meeting was the need to focus on up-scaling poverty reduction and not ICTs. A distinction was made between "poverty reduction" and "development", largely in reaction to the MDG on decreasing poverty worldwide by 50%. "Poverty alleviation" should impact on the poorest in each community, and any efforts to upscale should have this approach.
Another interesting point made was that up-scaling is easier said than done, and that there are real challenges in up-scaling projects and initiatives:
- Coming up with an effective and sustainable business model for up-scaling.
- Addressing the expanded infrastructure, technological and human resource needs that up-scaling will require.
- Changing roles of stakeholders in up-scaling, including the need to have more stakeholders in up-scaling projects.
- Addressing the potential and threat of competition from other projects and technologies in up-scaling.
- Ensuring that there is continued support and investment for projects during its transition phase.
The idea of choosing not to up-scale was also brought up. Successful ICT-for-development pilot and /or small-scale projects are effective in addressing development and poverty reduction because they address a particular audience / need / context / reality, and up-scaling such "model" projects may not necessarily lead to up-scaling effectivity and success.
There is a need to look into national poverty reduction strategies (PRS) and determine the role the ICTs can (and will) play in implementing the PRS and in achieving their goals.
Also, ICTs can be used to facilitate an inclusive and participatory process in drafting national PRS, as in the case of Ghana, where the media was integral in the process of encouraging broader participation.
The meeting came up with a group of pro-poor ICT policy recommendations:
- Introduce competition in infrastructure provision (breaking up telecommunications monopolies – both state and private) in order to have affordable access.
- Fast-track licensing for innovative solutions, Voice Over IP (internet telephoning), WiFi (wireless internet connections), VSAT (satellite internet connections), and to provide licenses for community-based electronic media.
- The use of free and open source software by governments and the strengthening of open source user groups.
- Create an enabling policy environment with more deregulation in favour of local communities, particularly in licensing and representation of grass-root level institutions in regulatory bodies.
- Develop content relevant to local communities.
- Develop ICT applications for grass-root level planning.
Post-meeting follow up and plans
Upcoming events to watch out for (a.k.a. venues where the Gerster paper and Chennai Statement will be presented):
- WSIS Economic Implications of ICTs Conference (Guatemala, January 2005)
- Pacific Telecommunications Conference (Hawaii, January 2005)
- World Congress on Communcation for Development (Rome, 2005)
- Financing for Development Conference (June 2005)
- Radio Asia Conference (Singapore, June 2005)
- I4D Seminar (Jakarta, August 2005)
- Asian Media Information Centre Conference (Beijing, July 2005)
- MDG+5 Conference: Five-Year Review of the Millenium Development Goals (New York, September 2005)
- World Economic Media Forum (November 2005)
- WSIS Phase 2 (Tunis, November 2005)
Richard Gerster and Sonja Zimmerman of Gerster Consulting will finalise the Chennai Statement and the Gerster paper by the end of the year. The drafts will be sent to the participants and their organisations for verification and endorsement.
A panel session to launch the statement and paper will be held during the next WSIS PrepCom in February 2005.