In 2009. Ministry for Foreign Affairs contracted VTT to prepare a back-ground brief policy strategies and concepts to employ ICT for poverty reduction in Africa. The project carried out a desk study and short field visit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

It produced a background strategy paper, “From ICT towards Information Society Policy strategies and concepts for employing ICT for reducing poverty”, which has been employed in preparation of the Finnish and Tanzanian cooperation programme on information society. The paper will be published shortly by VTT and made available here.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF THE REPORT: From ICT towards Information Society Policy strategies and concepts for employing ICT for reducing poverty:

Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) play an increasingly important role for development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, we have good reason to believe that the region as a whole, and in particular selected regions, is set to witness rapidly accelerating deployment of ICT across society and economy. This progress, underpinned by advances in key technological infrastructures, regulatory reforms and innovative uses of ICT, is triggering fundamental questions about the relationship between ICT and Sub-Saharan development challenges, such as: What role will ICT play to address poverty? How well ICT is employed to deliver direct aid to the most needy? What impact will ICT have on building civil society? How, and through what processes, will ICT contribute to industrial and economic strength of the region and individual nations?

As truly ubiquitous technology, ICT has an impact on societies in multiple and extremely complex ways. Difficulties of monitoring, evaluating, and assessing the relationship between ICT and society are aggravated in the context of development and poverty, as pronounced regional and local differences establish highly fragmented landscape and thereby undermine efforts to apply single conceptual framework. The need and demand for improved understanding of the ICT, and indeed Information Society, in the broader socio-economic context of Sub-Saharan Africa is the basic point of departure of this study.

A credible ICT strategy, whether developed for corporate needs or government policies, must be based on clearly argued and concise conceptualization of the technology and its social and economic dimensions. In the case of ICT, there are several different alternatives, but this discussion in this paper is limited to the framework advanced under the concept new ICT ecosystem.

This paper approaches the possibilities offered by ICT in development specifically from the vantage point of the new ICT ecosystem and its underlying sectoral innovation system. While this may be un-orthodox and unaccustomed perspective in the context of development and poverty alleviation, it enhances our understanding how different stake-holder groups, even regions and countries, can relate and employ ICT.

Regions, countries, organizations, communities and people differ greatly in their capacity to create, adopt and use new technology. Economic, social, cultural and technological factors determine to a great degree how people can access and shape new technologies and their applications. These varying factors are well identified in literature on development on ICT in Sub-Saharan Africa, but less attention has been given to how hierarchically organized ICT ecosystem, consisting of technological, economic and social elements, shapes these opportunities. This is one central aim of this paper.

Comprehensive discussion of ICT and Information Society in the Sub-Saharan Africa in beyond the scope and limits of this paper, as they are towering and complex issues deserving broad based attention. Nevertheless, this paper focuses upon discussion of the theoretical and conceptual issues of ICT strategies in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa. The basic observations are conclusions can be summarized as follows:

Need for African model. There are no off-the-shelf solutions for building information society in Sub-Saharan Africa or delivering on the promise of alleviating poverty with ICT. If there are individual prescriptions, best-practices or models, these are at the best at the level of project objectives and management, not on the scale of regions or nations. The imperative to develop truly “African model of Information Society” is decisive for continent’s digital future.

Success to build upon. Sub-Saharan Africa has excelled over the past ten years in addressing the digital divide. Progress in building national, regional and international ICT infrastructure has been breathtaking, as well as capacity building in human resources and institutions. In most countries, also regulatory reforms have given birth to enabling environment that is conducive for ICT and its growth. Consequently, infrastructure, regulatory reforms, and capacity building have dominated policy strategies and provide the backdrop for next generation ICT strategies and developments.

Africa in the emerging global ICT ecosystem. ICT and Information Society strategies are developed and implemented mostly without explicit conceptualization of what is the emerging global ICT ecosystem, within which Sub-Saharan nations are embracing and acting on ICT. Elaboration of the regional and international dimension of ICT and Information Society strategies in the context of emerging global ICT ecosystem is critical in order to identify tactics that secure the long-term sustainability and viability ICT efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Enhanced appreciation of users is critical for success. Users, including people, communities, firms, organizations and the government, are the “last mile” of Information Society by actually implementing ICT and putting it actually to work. Despite of increasing awareness of their critical role, users appear to be neglected across the board in ICT and Information Society strategies and program planning. With advances in the quality and coverage of ICT infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa, the role of using and users is set to proliferate as critical success factor. Much more needs to be done to create solid understanding of the needs of regionally, socially and economically fragmented user groups and their integration in strategy and planning processes. Moreover, in the case of the poor, both in rural and urban setting, without Sub-Saharan effort to generate an understanding of user needs, no knowledge will be available at all.

Poverty alleviation and ICT. Current understanding of how ICT contributes to economic growth is inadequate, and is especially so in the context of Sub-Saharan economies. The difficulties are magnified when it comes to the relationship between poverty alleviation and ICT, where the economic and social processes are highly distinct and specific. Without doubt ICT is somehow positively correlated with GDP growth at aggregate level, but in order to foster improved ICT policies, there is clear need to go beyond the assumption of ICT benefits trickling through the economy. Much more is needed to assess through what processes direct and indirect benefits of ICT unfold in Sub-Saharan economies, whether it is a case of capital intensive ICT infrastructure building, education of technologically advanced work force, erecting eServices for improved civil society, or employing ICT in support of pro-poor iniative

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