Most modern technology is marketed towards the world’s wealthy, but that should not inhibit its potential to help the world’s poor. As prices fall and production increases, affordable and basic technology may be the solution for eradicating global poverty.
How is poverty reduced through basic technology? First and foremost, by understanding the realistic and productive uses for technology in a community and ensuring that it is relevant.
Too often there are stories of computers collecting dust in African classrooms, or new smartphone apps that can help impoverished people find work — in places where smartphones are unattainable. Despite the vast amount of information on the internet, it is hardly relevant to a rural family in a developing country and will rarely help them escape poverty. In reality, the technology that will help end poverty is more basic.
The United Nations is at the forefront of this vision, with the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) working towards the global spreading of information and communications technology (ICT). Founded in 1996, the IICD has come a long way in understanding the pragmatic strategy needed for implementing modern technology in developing countries. The IICD has learned that “it is not the technology itself that makes the difference but rather the people who own it and apply it.” Therefore, helping people get the most out of ICT is now as equally important to the organization’s mission as introducing it.
The IICD works to apply ICT to health, economic and education sectors in different communities around the world. It’s main focus is in the context of helping the U.N. meet its Millennium Development Goals — an effort that the IICD has been at the center of. In short, the IICD works to instigate large-scale social change through low-tech, relevant technology.
Other organizations, such as Kopernik, work on a smaller scale to improve the lives of many through simple technology. Kopernik connects poor, rural families with basic, life-altering technologies that not only save lives, but also save money and time. These simple technologies include water filters, fuel-efficient stoves and solar lights.
Technologies such as solar lights are affordable and sustainable, and their usage is linked to positive behavioral changes and higher household productivity. Investing and distributing this basic technology should be a major priority, for it is fundamental to increasing human development and reducing poverty.
It is not to say that computers and the internet are not infinitely useful and powerful, but we should keep in mind that the internet won’t help a child if they only have access to contaminated water. So, perhaps the question of how to eliminate poverty has a simple answer: distribute relevant, basic technology.
– Catherine Fredette