Can Technology End Poverty in 3rd World Countries? – Internet Access Insights on Kids & Technology in The Philippines
Its been a bitter sweet business trip and visit to the Philippines. This country is rich in culture and beauty but yet so very poor to the core and lacks infrastructure needed to further educate the youth. In this blog I will summarize my findings around the kids and technology in the Philippines in a 3 part series dedicated to Kids & Technology in 3rd World Countries. The series will focus on Technology and Poverty in 3rd World countries as observed by myself, and various facts to support some of the observations. Our first series dives into the details of Internet Access in the Philippines, and the current status of Internet access in other 3rd World Countries.
Our 2nd and 3rd series will dive into details around Mobile and PC access within the Family structure in these 3rd World Countries. In the end we hope to answer the question on whether or not Technology can End Poverty. If your interested in what was observed in the photo format during the visit, feel free to skip to the end of this blog and check out our gallery of photos. Let us know your thoughts.
3rd World Countries & Internet Access Facts
- Fact: According to a study done by SYNOVATE, 36% of Filipinos have Internet access. This is about 37 million people of the total 105 million population. This still leaves about 68 million people in the dark from the rest of the outside world. In addition, approximately 2/3rds of the worlds population still does not have access to the Internet.
- Key Findings: In the Philippines, broadband Internet is usually available to consumers through 2 methods: cable and DSL or Satellite if your in a remote island. Most High speed connections perform at 1Mps which is just good enough to check email, social media, but wont quite cut it in terms of playing videos or playing online video games. As a result, rich internet sites and educational experiences like MIT’s Scratch website where kids can learn programming will be slow and would be counter productive to a learning environment
- The Impact of No Internet Access: It is clear that not having the right infrastructure, knowledge, tools, and internet access will have an impact on the community of people within these countries. However, the impact of not having internet access for kids and families is debatable. In countries like the Philippines where making a living is far more important than the luxury of having internet access, one can say that a families livelihood comes first and technology will not feed families. In these circumstances economists and many non for profit organizations will state that providing more jobs and money would help. But does it really help or is it a temporary bandaid to a problem?
Creating a Sustainable Culture of Ending Poverty
I personally believe throwing more money at a poverty problem in of itself, will temporarily solve a problem. It wont be a sustainable thing to impact unless there is a plan to accompany the funding with a training and certification program within the community to ensure they stay committed to leveraging tools like the internet and taking advantage of advances in technology. Otherwise, these communities would not be self sufficient in the long term. In 3rd world countries like the Philippines, people are farming and selling physical produce, animals, and products to survive and they have been doing this for years with limited change. So while you can fund more supplies and food into these communities, they benefit from it temporarily. In the end, you still will have things like the 9 year old girl I witnessed collecting bottles to feed and support her family. Or another example I witnessed was the Ati tribe member with his newborn son begging for money on the streets of Balang Island in the Philippines.
How in the world can Internet access help this? Well, the chances of changing and improving the livelihood of families can increase when tools like the Internet, and additional technology is embedded within the family structure and this is what I want to help to answer in the following paragraphs where I outline the top use cases to help end poverty by enabling internet access.
The Use Cases for Internet Access:
What most people will say is that Internet access is not going to solve for improving jobs in 3rd world countries. It won’t solve for hunger and homelessness, and that is absolutely correct. The key is to think about the cases where internet access can solve for improving the livelihood of impoverished families struggling to improve their lives. In the next couple of paragraphs I will dive into specific use cases where Internet Access for kids and families in 3rd World countries can benefit the overall livelihood of these families and potentially impact the end of poverty.
- Education & Training – Internet access in the classroom can help to modernize the current text book experience in these countries to provide richer access to information about various topics being taught in Math, Science, and in several other subjects. Learning can be done interactively, and teachers can utilize online resources to guide students in learning.
- Information Access for Day To Day Livelihood – The internet can provide families with existing businesses in agriculture a new way to stay current with farming techniques. They can teach kids and families modern ways of doing things in every day life and will open up new ideas to help families uncover new ways of doing things.
- Customer Relationship Management – Many families in the Phillipines sell products directly out of their houses to the local town consumers. Things like cakes, candies, sodas, cigarettes are also sold outside within the local provinces and it is an essential source of income for many families. The problem is there are dozens of families doing the very same thing, and the marketing of these stores are limited to the people who physically pass by these stores. If a family had a PC with internet access, these families would now have the opportunity to send email campaigns to their town customers to raise awareness about their new produce or products.
- eCommerce – Families who run local markets or stores can import products from other towns by connecting with distributors online, and perhaps can even set up an eCommerce site where both local town customers and out of town customers can order produce or products online.
The Solutions Underway:
To improve access to the Internet and technology resources in remote parts of the world, there is no one size fits all solution. There are multiple initiatives underway to expand internet access to parts of the countries like Google’s Project Loon where Google is deploying Balloons in remote areas of the world to provide low cost and reliable internet access. Other projects like Green Wifi use solar energy and a combination of a single broadband connection. Once families have access to the internet, the next step is to educate and train the skills necessary in these families to ensure they know how to execute the expansion of their existing businesses in to the digital world. This is easier said than done, but the combination of good organizations like Staging Changes combined with good people in the local provinces of the 3rd World countries can make this a reality.
In conclusion, I think that Internet access technology has a longer term impact in ending poverty in 3rd World Countries. It won’t be an immediate solution. After all in these countries, Internet access can not help feed a family. Unlike in the U.S where many employees rely on the Internet for a paycheck, in these countries the functions of their day to day jobs have little to do with the Internet. However, the Internet is critical in the future development of these countries. It can offer kids and families the tools and information to improve how they do things today by having access to modern information about farming, and their daily jobs. It can also open up newer business opportunities in the areas of communicating via email, the web, and in online communities. This in combined with programs to educate kids & families on how to leverage the internet to improve their livelihood can get 3rd world countries a step closer to ending poverty. What other ways do you think Internet access can help?