The Bottom Billion

The Bottom Billion; picture from Amazon

The Bottom Billion; picture from Amazon

The last days I read the remarkable book The Bottom Billion of Paul Collier. I learned so many relevant things on development of lesser developed countries that I really want to recommend you to read it.

Paul Collier

Paul Collier; picture from policyinnovations.org

Generally, Paul Collier is

“Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Study of African Economies at the Oxford University, and former director of Development Research at the World Bank. [from the book]”

He wrote the book “The Bottom Billion” as a contribution to research on “Why The poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It” – as also the subheading says.

The studies which he conducted over several years with some colleagues (and which are published on his homepage) are the base of the book. I like his approach to explain highly controversial and disputed political questions with exclusively statistical instruments.

Many outcomes are surprising even for people who are highly interested in the topic of development – like me. Questions such as “what causes war?” or “does aid help?” are answered by statistical research and the interpretations seem quite reasonable.

So in the following I will line out some findings that I found interesting and that also have relevance for ICT4D (or for which ICT4D could be relevant).

– A key factor for ensuring that revenues for resources or aid money is spent for the good of the country (resulting on faster growth rates of the economy) and not “lost” on the way is a free press.

In this context I thought of bloggers which, in some countries, exist, even if there is no free press. I would be interested if their inluence is similar – actually I am quite positive about that. So maybe initiatives such as Rising Voices or Global Voices Advocacy have a real economic impact?

– For landlocked countries which are dependent on their neighbours, there are two ways to escape their situation which involve ICTs.

One possibility is to become a center for e-services and attract foreign companies to outsource there. This could foster economic growth – and I even would extend that suggestion beyond the scope of landlocked countries. E-services are easy to outsource and their popularity seems to be rising and rising. Any low-wage country offering such services is attractive to companies.

The other possibility is to “create a transpartent and investor-friendly environment for resource prospecting [from the book]”. Here ICTs could help as well with tools in e-transparency and e-democracy.

– To raise productivity, labor force in less developed countries need private capital, which is always scarce in such countries.

Here I thought of microfinance and platforms such as Kiva. With Kiva, capital can be allocated directly to the ones in need. By the way – just recently the initiative into(context) has been launched to optimize Kiva, providing the lenders faster with more accurate information about the progress of the borrowers’ businesses.

– An aiding-instrument which has a very high impact compared to the money spent, is technical assistance by foreign specialists. Especially after a new leader comes into power, it pays off to send skilled workers into a country, training the local population.

Here I thought of Geekcorps, an NGO which sends technically skilled people in less developed countries to teach the local population to set up their comunications infrastructure.

– According to the book, the key medium which can bring tranparency and foster change in lesser developed countries is the radio.

Though development on the IT and especially mobile sector is advancing quickly (Nokia’s announcement was of course a big step forward), I agree that we must not forget the well-established ICTs already in place – such as TV or radio. With combining these “old” and “new” technologies a lot can be achieved.

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In the book, the possibilities of ICTs are not mentioned specifically, a more macropolitical set of policy measures are proposed. In this TED-talk for example, Paul Collier expresses more closely some of his ideas how to improve the situation of the bottom billion with policy measures.

Still, in some examples such as the ones mentioned above, there is potential for ICTs to help. The book provides a very good framework where, in which context and when certain measures should be applied. So in my opinion this is a must-read for people who are interested in development generally.

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The Bottom Billion
was published on 11.11.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
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