ICTs, enterprise and the poor

The 2010 Information Economy Report from UNCTAD focuses on ICTs, enterprises and the poor. It examines the ways ICTs are being used to assist those with low incomes. The report includes a conceptual framework classifying different types of ICT use and their impact on poverty (figure below). This includes non-economic and economic uses. The report features several examples of economic uses of ICTs among lower income populations:

• In Kenya, farmers are using Kilimo Salama (Swahili for “safe farming”) to insure against the weather. Already home to the popular M-Pesa mobile money system, Kilimo Salama introduces a new financial application for mobile phone users in Kenya—an example of “direct economic use of ICTs by the poor” in the UNCTAD framework.  Whenever a farmer buys agricultural inputs such as seeds or fertilizer, they can choose to also purchase insurance (5% of what they paid for the inputs). Confirmation of the insurance contract is sent by SMS and the mobile is also used to check coverage details and receive compensation.
• In Bangladesh, managers of Internet cafes supported by Grameen—the country's largest mobile operator—are generating incomes of $3-4 per day where over half of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day. The Community Information Centres use Grameen's high-speed wireless network for their Internet connectivity. This is an example of “direct use of ICTs by poor in ICT sector enterprises” in the UNCTAD framework.
• In southern India, "Fisher Friend" provides a variety of information to those who fish for a livelihood. It uses mobile phones to send weather information, prices and information about where schools of fish have been located. Signals can be reached up to 12 km out to sea. This example illustrates UNCTAD's "Direct use of ICTs by poor in enterprises."

“An important lesson emerging from available research is the need for policies to reflect the diversity of ICTs, enterprises and the poor. ICTs vary in terms of their accessibility to the poor, their functionality and requirements of users. Many people who run micro-enterprises in low-income economies cannot read or write. Therefore, programmes need to make innovative use of voice-based telecommunications interfaces and of proxies such as infomediaries. Moreover, the need for information and other inputs varies depending on the size, industry and market orientation of enterprises. As a result, so does the extent to which different enterprises may benefit from improved access to certain ICTs. The poor similarly differ in the degree and nature of their poverty, whether they live in urban or rural areas, with regard to literacy and other capabilities, by gender and in terms of the natural and political environment surrounding them. All these factors mean that policy interventions – to be effective and reach intended beneficiaries – must be demand-driven and context-specific.”