Technology is major lifeline for world’s poor, finds UN report

14 Oct 2010

Digital technology is likely to become a key tool for reducing global poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals, according to a United Nations report launched at The University of Manchester today (14 October).

UNCTAD's 2010 report was launched today
UNCTAD's 2010 report was launched today

The 2010 Information Economy Report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says millions of poor people are finding income-generating opportunities in the ICT sector.

The poor, it says, are benefitting from trickle-down effects as well as being directly involved in both production and the use of information and communication technologies.

There is also growing evidence, it adds, of a 'digital provide', allowing those without internet and mobile phones to benefit from those who do.

However, problems remain, warns the report: half the rural population in the poorest countries still lives outside the range of mobile phone signals.

Less than one in ten microenterprises in developing countries make use of the internet and those in least developed countries are 600 times less likely to be a broadband user than those in developed countries.

The Brooks World Poverty Institute and Centre for Development Informatics, both based at the University will today host Torbjörn Fredriksson, Head of ICT Analysis Section at UNCTAD, who will present the report.

Mr Fredriksson said: "Thanks to the mobile revolution it is becoming possible - for the first time - for poor people to have immediate access to interactive communications.

"In a few years, mobile penetration in the world's least developed countries has surged from 2 to 25 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants."

Professor Armando Barrientos, Research Director at the Brooks World Poverty Institute said: "This report shows that digital technologies are a way for the poor to make money, and also to get money from outside sources.

"Both will help as we try to achieve the 2015 poverty alleviation targets."

Manchester's Centre for Development Informatics contributed extensively to the report.

Its Director, Professor Richard Heeks, added: "Even with current high growth rates, our calculations show that it will be 2019 before the poorest countries achieve the internet usage rates reached by the richest countries in 2002.

"That's a 'digital lag' of 17 years so governments and private firms must work together to improve access.

"We have to change our view of the world's poor from one that sees them as passive consumers of ICTs, to one that sees them as producers of and innovators with the technology.

"This will mean creating an environment that recognises and scales up the technology adaptations and innovations, and the new technology-based business models, that are already arising within poor communities."

Notes for editors

Torbjörn Fredriksson and Professors Richard Heeks are available for comment.

The UNCTAD 2010 Information Economy Report is available, embargoed until 17.00 on October 14.

Mike Addelman
Media Relations
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567


Torbjörn Fredriksson on +33 687 018 199