Third World nations embrace IT

Technology is dramatically improving conditions in some poor countries, but a new report warns that it could leave other economies in the dust.

Estonia has laid a telecommunications infrastructure that puts it in the top 20 of connected regions. Tanzanian farmers are beginning to trade their goods online. And in Costa Rica, 37 percent of the country's exports are computer products, outpacing both bananas and coffee.

The Digital Opportunity Initiative--a joint venture comprising the United Nations, the Markle Foundation and consulting firm Accenture--is pointing to such tech successes in an attempt to encourage more widespread adoption of what it calls Information and Communications Technology, or ICT, in developing countries.

The group released a report Monday saying that countries are at a "critical juncture," a time when information technology can either improve living conditions in developing nations or worsen poverty there.

The report, which includes case studies on several countries that are trying to embrace technology--including Estonia, Tanzania, Brazil and Costa Rica--found that regions developing technology-supportive infrastructures, policies and educated work forces will be better equipped to reap the benefits of economic development than those that don't.

"There is no suggestion that ICT can...offer a panacea for all development problems," the report said. "But detailed analysis of experience around the world reveals ample evidence that, used in the right way and for the right purposes, ICT can have a dramatic impact on achieving specific social and economic development goals as well as play a key role in broader national development strategies."

The report comes in advance of this week's "Group of Eight" meeting, where leading economically developed countries will discuss the role of technology in developing nations. The report examines efforts ranging from microfinancing technology ventures to hooking up small villages with phones.

"This is not about technology for technology's sake," Vernon Ellis, international chairman of Accenture, said in a statement.

Instead, organizers said they will pledge funds toward a series of pilot programs to help developing countries use technology not only to improve their economies but also to enhance social advancement.

"The lesson of this report is clear: Information and communication technologies have enormous potential to meet development challenges if government, business and the nonprofit sectors work together in strategic partnerships," Markle president Zoe Baird said in a statement.

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