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By Prof Abel Usoro

President, IITEDA

In any part of the world, developments in information technologies (IT) and economic development are moving targets. It is well established that there is a close relationship between the two and that the former often acts as a catalyst to the latter. For example, the recent rapid penetration of smart mobile phones in developing economies has been linked with improved government and business services e.g. ebanking such as large sums of monies do not need to be carried by citizens from one location to another thereby avoiding the risk of robberies. Citizens can perform direct transfers using their mobile phones and can get instant messages from their banks through alerts on their phones. Notwithstanding the disparity in the world, economic development continues to be experienced. The developed economies are obviously far advanced in their use of information technology for development. Artificial intelligence with robotics, internet of things, big data management are applied in advanced ways to create smart communities and cities inhabited by smart citizens. Being a moving target, there is still huge investments in research to continually improve the use of ICT for developments of these parts of the world.

For developing economies like in sub-Saharan Africa, technological successes in developed economies have been replicated sometimes with little success. An example is the smartphone technology already alluded to. Without contextualising these technologies to the physical, cultural, human environment, they either failed or had limited success. An example is the medical incubators that were imported to a hospital in Africa. The high cost of importing replacement parts and the high ambient temperatures of the environment meant that the equipment did not last. It took an ingenious local researcher to come up with substitute spare parts made with locally sourced materials capable of withstanding the harsh environment that made the project succeed and become sustainable.

Even with technologies that work in developing economies like the mobile phone, research has to be carried out on how it can aid local economic development given the context. How can it help agricultural development and governance that is known to be less transparent? It quickly becomes obvious that it is not merely the presence of the technologies but the cultural and attitudinal factors that determine its use. It is therefore part of research to examine adoption factors pertinent to each location. Knowledge of the effects of the factors can be transformed to local policies that would increase adoption of useful IT in developing economies. To what extent can IT eradicate poverty? How can we contextualise the existing IT and expand their value in developing economies? These are big questions and covers different disciplines including health, education, agricultural science, city developments, finance, business and internationalization. This is why research in ICD4D (ICT for development) is an interesting and progressive field.

While it may look like ICD4D is only for developing economies, it should be noted that development even in developed countries is a moving target and therefore, research done there either on their own or as comparative studies with developing economies are still relevant. It is therefore the goal of International Information Technology and Economic Development Association (IITEDA) to be involved in and encourage such research for the economic development of any society.

Why do I have to do research? This is a question that psychology students often pose when considering what courses to take and how to complete the requirements for their undergraduate degree. Although it is easy to dismiss such a question as patently obvious, it is in fact an interesting and valuable question that students should be encouraged to raise.