In an effort to spread information technology literacy and make the Internet more accessible to the masses, Hong Kong based Asiatotal.net has launched iT, a stripped-down version of a personal computer which will be distributed free of cost to lower income individuals and small businesses. iT is a compact, portable desk top computer equipped with Windows CE (operating system for hand-held devices) complete with everything necessary to connect to the Internet, and has home entertainment devices, a printer, a USB card reader for reading memory cards of digital cameras and many other USB peripherals.
It seems there is a new attention on how to squeeze business opportunities out of the poor, since they are so many. In fact how will this firm (the one giving away computers for free) make money? This device has a conventional keyboard with 14 additional keys, 10 of which will be sponsored by firms that want to tap rural markets, like a firm selling seeds or crop insurance. By pressing the relevant “hot key”, farmers can directly access firms’ websites where product information will guide them to making the right purchase.
I’m a bit skeptical about this approach (especially about the choice of Windows CE that means no real endogenous development can spark) but I don’t have too much experience about the topic, even if these days I’m reading a lot about ICT4D, Information and Communication Technologies for Development (more about this later).
Related to the “economic opportunities at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, I would also like to share that a new economical thinking seems on the rise patronized mainly by C.K. Prahalad. I keep finding his ideas, in particular the ideas presented in his book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits“.
This is a purely capitalistic approach to reach one of the millenium goals: halving extreme poverty by 2015. I can see why International Economic Agencies (WTO, World Bank, …) and the rich countries who govern them like this approach: the new mantra might sound something like “no more need to donate percentages of the GDP to poor countries, just let keep our corporations trying to maximize their profits and everything will settle down by magic”.
I have no idea if C.K. Prahalad’s approach can really work, surely it is very realistic and not abstact, it argues about a possible way to eradicate poverty. It is not serious to criticize without proposing an alternative and I don’t really have experience on macroeconomics. I’m more for approaches like global redistributions of richness but at the present moment they are politically totally unviable and unproposable.
Going back to the rural computer for free, I would like to underline that from 16 to 18 November 2005 there will be in Tunis the World Summit on Information Society. Surely one of the topic will be if and how ICTs will help in reaching the millenium goals and reduce global poverty. I’ll try to keep an eye on it.