One of the three organizers behind the Stockholm Internet Forum 2013 is Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
Sida sees internet based communication as a tool to be used to empower resource poor people in the developing world. That is why Sida is using the term for development (ICT4D) in its operation. But for the Internet to be used for development it has to be open, available and secure for the user. Sida hopes that SIF13 will contribute to this, particularly in the developing world. This is why Sida supports the participation in SIF13 of almost 200 participants from low- and middle income countries.
Great potential for mobile phones in the developing world
Sida has supported information and communication technology in developing countries for almost 20 years. A few years ago the agency officially started to use the term ICT for Development (ICT4D) for the use of modern technology as a tool in development cooperation.
“We can see the enormous potential of mobile phones and internet for development in low- and middle income countries today”, says Jens Karberg, in charge of Sida’s participation in SIF. “And particularly the extensive breakthrough of the mobile phones has created new conditions for the use of Internet. Today 90 percent of the use of Internet in countries where Sida is active, takes place through mobile phones”.
Internet is no miracle solution
But Jens is keen to add that Sida doesn’t see the Internet as a miracle solution to all problem and challenges.
“Internet is a tool that can be used for almost all kinds of communication, even to oppress people. There is also a risk that the globally unconnected are becoming an even more peripheral part of the globally connected society. That’s why we talk about ICT for development. Our aim is the same as for all of Sida’s development cooperation: to create conditions for people living in poverty to improve their lives”.
ICT4D can be used in a multitude of areas. In Sida-supported development programs it is used for instance to provide access to Internet and mobile communication for women and girls to strengthen their position when it comes to education, health, agriculture and other economic activities. It also helps to increase the rural population’s access to markets and training opportunities. One such example is the iCow project in Kenya which supports cattle farmers with information of how to treat diseases, providing them with market prices of milk and setting them in contact with other cattle farmers. In this way famers have managed to increase their income.
Access to mobile phones boosts economy
Statistics indicates that ICT has an effect on economic growth. A recent World Bank study shows that if ten percent more people in a country get access to a mobile phone it will result in a national GDP growth of 0,8 percent.
That is why Sida has supported m-pesa, a mobile payment system that evolved in Kenya and now is distributed over Africa and the rest of the world. Sida continues supporting the expansion of mobile financial systems to include saving, assurances, pensions and other services that poor people need.
In slum areas of Nairobi, the organization Akirachix trains women entrepreneurs how to use mobile technology. Sida provides indirect support by financing a wide range of mobile hubs and mobile laboratories that aims to build the capacity of social entrepreneurs within the mobile technology.
Holistic approach for increasing dialogue
Sida also takes part in a global ICT-venture, called Making All Voices Count, in order to support innovative solutions for the dialogue between citizens and government authorities.
“In this project we aim at a holistic approach”, says Ola Pettersson in the ICT4D group at Sida. “The project applies to both parts: to the citizens who lack information and influence and to the authorities that lack resources to deal with the demands from the citizens. All actors in society, including the private sector, are invited to bring innovative solutions that we can support.”
Internet and mobile solutions can also be used to fight corruption. In India the service ipaidabribe was started and today it’s spread over the whole world. Here citizens can inform how they were forced to for instance have to pay a bribe to the police. This is a support for those forces in society, including governments that try to end corruption.
Free delivery to those who need it most
The second day of SIF13 will be particularly devoted to discussions on how an open and free Internet can promote economic empowerment and development for countries and individuals to lift themselves out of poverty. The question is: how can civil society, governments, companies and the international development sphere work together to create efficient markets that deliver free, open and cheap connectivity to those who need it the most?
Sida is also hosting a dinner for all participants on the first day of the conference.