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Harnessing technology as poverty eradication tool

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ICTs are now widely acknowledged as effective instruments for development. Photo by Luke Chesser - Unsplash

By: Dr. Rulia Akhtar

Development is strongly influenced by digitalization. By increasing nations’ competitiveness and lowering unemployment, digital capabilities and technology play a critical role in decreasing poverty. Nonetheless, over half of the world’s population still lives offline, and more people use mobile devices than have access to clean water, electricity, or sanitary conditions.

Dr. Rulia Akhtar

This lack of access is a serious development concern at a time when digitalization is developing quickly and widening global divides and inequality. Information can be shared during emergencies and natural disasters using ICT methods. Low-income and vulnerable populations can benefit from digital technology by having easier access to public and private services, humanitarian help, and high-quality essential amenities like water, power, and health care.

The main goal of economic growth and development in any developing nation is the eradication of poverty, and technology, innovation, and research and development (R&D) are universally acknowledged as the most significant components in this regard. It is established that programmes and approaches for the long-term elimination of poverty should be developed with an emphasis on innovation, technology, and research and development.

Over the past few decades, poverty incidence has decreased in many nations, including some extremely large ones like the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and India, even while the total number of impoverished people in the globe continues to climb. While technology has played a significant role in reducing poverty, it is not the primary reason. Institutional change has also been significant, sometimes in response to societal forces or government policy, and occasionally in response to technological advancements.

When charting the relationships between technology and poverty, it’s important to keep in mind the opposite relationships as well: those between reduced poverty and improved human capacity for technology usage. Reducing poverty will probably foster greater circumstances for the acceptance and invention of new technologies insofar as it is strongly linked to advancements in human health and education, for instance, in the calibre of human capital. In addition, technical advancements in agriculture boost human productivity and health, lower fertility and death rates, raise funding for children’s education, and improve people’s capacity to create and use new skills.

ICTs are now widely acknowledged as effective instruments for development, especially social and economic development. In many nations, the process of deploying ICTs has had a growing impact on the socioeconomic context in relation to current development in recent years. For example, the governments of many developing nations, such as Malaysia, use ICTs as a tactic to ensure that the living conditions of the rural populace are improved and to close the digital gap between rural and urban areas.

ICTs can thus support far more open, quick, and effective communication between the public, companies, and other organisations. The rural population has the chance to achieve a higher standard of living when ICTs are utilised to close the digital divide. In addition, ICTs can bring new public services to the community and revitalise outdated professions. By expanding their access to market information or reducing the transaction costs for impoverished farmers and traders, ICTs can help the impoverished people’s activities and production.

Malaysia is ranked 43rd out of 134 countries and eighth in Asia Pacific in the Network Readiness Index (NRI) for 2023.97.56% of households had Internet connection, 96.7 % of people used the Internet personally, and 78.5% of people used social media. In cities, internet use is more common. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) 2022 study found that 98.1 percent of urban households and 89.1 percent of rural households had internet connectivity.

With regard to fixed-line broadband services, the disparity was greater: in 2022, 53.3 percent of urban households and 23.7 percent of rural households had access. While these figures are by no means alarmingly low, there are some identifiable differences, particularly in rural areas. Reducing poverty continues to be a significant development obstacle throughout most of Asia and the Pacific. Technology is essential to achieving the goals of sustainable development by 2030 and eradicating poverty in a number of ways.

First off, the region’s living standards—including the impoverished ones have increased significantly thanks in large part to technology. Millions of underprivileged people now enjoy better nutrition, better health, and better quality of life thanks in large part to the ecological revolution and other advancements in modern medicine and public health.

Second, technology makes knowledge and learning materials more easily accessible. People living in poverty can improve their employability and income potential by using digital technologies and online platforms to access job opportunities, training courses, and learning resources.

Third, the underbanked and unbanked populations can now access banking services thanks to technology, especially mobile banking and digital financial services. This promotes economic stability by enabling people to save, obtain credit, and conduct financial transactions more effectively.

Fourth, increased digital infrastructure and smart city technology can boost efficiency and connectivity all around. Improved energy, communication, and transportation infrastructure will improve people’s quality of life in different parts of the world.

Fifth, by improving planning and response to catastrophes, technology might lessen the effects of natural disasters on communities who are already at risk. Technologies like geographic information systems, early warning systems, and ways to communicate help save livelihoods and preserve lives.

In conclusion, the government ought to prioritise enhancing the business setting by modifying tax and regulatory policies to encourage growth led by private companies. Additionally, entrepreneurs and their connections should be trained in innovative management, with a particular focus on the pressing need to improve ICT proficiency in rural areas. In this way, concentrating especially on grassroots initiatives will increase the chances for rural residents to benefit from ICT intervention.

There should be a more ongoing assessment of the effectiveness of broadband cables, fixed lines, mobile network services, and wireless broadband. Thus, the path to sustainable rural growth and poverty reduction in rural regions will be paved by an integrated framework for ICT interventions.

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The author is a Research Fellow at the Ungku Aziz Centre for Development Studies (UAC), Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at uacds@um.edu.my

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