The New Wave of Non-Western ICT4D Aid Donors

As growing numbers of non-Western nations become ICT4D aid donors, how will this change the ICT4D landscape?

The tidal patterns of Western aid donors and ICT4D are relatively well-known.  Each individual history varies but we can chart the big sweeps from tied aid to less-tied aid; from virtually ignoring ICT to the DOTForce-type love affair to falling out of love and now back to a more considered view; and likewise the moves from “markets with everything” to the MDG paradigm and now the first signs of post-MDG thinking such as more growth-oriented aid.

But there’s another big sweep coming and new kids on the block: newly-industrialised and transitional nations are themselves setting up ICT4D aid programmes.  China, India, South Korea, Taiwan – and probably many others – are becoming players.

I’ve not found very much about this, at least with an ICT4D focus, and would welcome some pointers in comments.  With Korean colleagues, we’ve just completed an overview of the South Korean ICT4D aid programme, published in EJISDC.  By 2007, Korea had already spent more than US$120m on ICT4D aid, which formed over 10% of its total aid budget.

In one way, we could see this aid as a “throwback” to early Western ICT4D aid – tied to orders for Korean companies, techno-centric, lacking insight into context.  But in other ways, it presents an intriguing contrast to the current policies of Western donors.  The latter seem to have let technology slip somewhat from their agendas.  The new wave donors are much clearer that technology has been central to their own nation’s recent development achievements – likely they are therefore more optimistic about technology; give it a greater importance, and fund it more in their aid programmes.

The new wave donors are yet another sign of the slow shifts in global power.  As another example, we have seen “investment competition” in Africa between China and the West, with African nations often preferring the former.

It is too early to talk of “aid competition” in ICT4D, but it will be interesting to see – whatever the criticisms we might level at the new donors’ ICT4D aid – how recipient countries and users react.

2 thoughts on “The New Wave of Non-Western ICT4D Aid Donors

  1. It is worth noting that these “new wave donors” are often fronted by their private sector, wherein companies seek to assist beneficiary governments to apply for a soft-loan from the Government-backed Import/Export banks in their respective home countries. This means that what becomes an inter-Government loan application gets automatically tied to the loan being issued via the company that initiated the process, regardless of the procurement rules and regulations of the beneficiary government.

    Another issue is that the ICT4D loans have a payback period (typically 10-15yrs) that usually exceeds the life-expectancy of the equipment that is to be acquired. And the Treasury’s debt-management officers will need to be convinced that the loan will have generated added-value (whether in terms of cost-savings or of service enhancements) that exceeds the cost of the loan before they can agree to officially apply for it. However, the activities that will be undertaken with the new ICT platform often do not allow the revenues saved or generated by the project to be fed back to the process of upgrading the technologies, providing patches and service-packs, or skilling up members of staff in the future (as technologies evolve).

    In a nutshell, it is hazardous to treat an investment into dynamically changing ICT in the same manner as may have been used when investing into building new classrooms or in constructing roads and bridges, wherein maintenance is basically the only long term issue thereafter. An ICT project needs to not only pay for the loan that created it, but it also has to enable to beneficiaries and users to thenceforth keep in step with the rapidly evolving technologies that will have become mission-critical systems if the project should be successful.

  2. Based upon my experience with ICT4D Donors and the various countries I have visited as part of my ICT4D related engagements, we have to note that developed countries which have identified ICT and Innovation to be the key drivers of their economies and accepted the Knowledge Economy to be the era of competition between the developed and developing, the newly developed countries are funding ICT4D in the form of local social entrepreneurship and enterprise as well as development aid because it is a core process of the ICT model they have evolved through years of experience.

    ICT Production and ICT Consumption models are more viable as economic growth indicators when the right balance has been struck between them.
    Recently I visited Korea for some good amount of time where we were trained by the United Nations as Trainer of Trainers for the “Academy of ICT Essentials for for Government Leaders” to help change the mindset and raise awareness that ICTs are a key component of Governance and that e-Government and e-Governance are the key focus of governments like Korea where they have transitioned from a One Window Operation E-Government to Zero Window Operation and their experience has been highly successful.

    As part of our capacity building, we received the golden opportunity to study and receive first hand experience of Korea’s digital infrastructure as well as electronic governance frameworks in full action. Indeed a scarce opportunity for us ICT4D advocates, researchers and social entrepreneurs!
    Secondly, in Korea’s determination to lead with ICTs and Innovation in this century, in particular, their development organization KADO – Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, South Korea [] has focused upon the community population that is mostly left behind in developing world countries. This community is mostly the rural and physically under advantaged community and what KADO does is really amazing and a lesson for all like us in Pakistan or South Asia.

    You will be interested in understanding that for a developed or developing world country to incorporate ICT4D production and consumption models within its ODA frameworks usually occurs when they have incorporated ICT4D as a key driver of their economic growth and itself is utilizing the innovation in the field as a macro economic indicator for its own social development. The co-relation with one’s own economy and the benefit of experience it has gains from its development to be applicable to another country’s social and economic benefit are inter-related.

    If we just look at what KADO is doing, as a specialized government subsidiary devoted to providing comprehensive support for domestic and international digital divide closure. Kado provides to the disabled, elderly and farming and fishing villagers with easy and affordable access to ICT services as means of elevating the quality of life of their citizens as well as achieving balanced development of national economy. The achievement of a balanced development of national economy indicates both the successful evolution and adoption of ICT Production and Consumption models for sustained social and economic development as Human Capital equipped with locally evolved technical and vocational skills is critical for the success of such a model.

    Within the framework of its services KADO caters to achieve this through:

    a. Information access environment creation
    b. Skills and contents development aimed at bridging digital divide
    c. International cooperation to narrow the global digital divide
    d. Public IT education to upgrade people’s IT literacy
    e. Promotion of public awareness on the digital divide
    f. Encouragement of productive information use and prevention of informatization adverse function
    g. Research and development on the digital divide and its bridging strategy.

    Reference: []

    I would also like to point out here that KADO is not only equipped for today, it has an eye into the future as well as is spreading its wings into new transitional economies. In Nepal it is setting up the governments first ICT Data Centre. It is training government leaders for use of ICTs for better Governance. As a whole, since 2000 Korean consultants, aid professionals and businesses have participated in a number of Government Automation and E-Government Programs in the Asian Region including the Financial Sector IT Reform Project at the State Bank of Pakistan. More can be read about how Hyundai Information Technology grew in Pakistan in the area of enterprise system integration and has continued to position itself in country for other projects. This is what they gave us

    You may also want to take a look at the following research that takes a critical look at how Korea transitioned and what it had to do evolving ICT Production and Consumption models supported by innovation within the business sector, titled “Technology and Korea’s Business Systems in Action” written by Linsu Kim, Korea University and D. Eleanor Westney, MIT Sloan School of Management available at though the discussion about Korea and its progress can go on an on but as one of my colleague occasionally mentions that Korea has a low population density and smaller land area to cover for its ICT4D progress. True, this is applicable to Pakistan which has a population well over 160 million and more land to cover with four different geographical and weather circumstances within the same region.

    Now in the case of my region and the above factors, Pakistan as a developing country has made remarkable progress in terms of an ICT infrastructure despite its social, political, religious and economic issues prevailing for the last six decades. It was able to develop an IT policy and action plan nearly a decade ago focusing on enabling IT adoption and production, an effort to strike the balance between ICT Production and Consumption. In terms of evolving a local ICT 4D Ecosystem, Pakistan has also acted as a donor to global ICT4D initiatives even though the world calls these initiatives biased In terms of its internal ICT business development strategy the government claims the following and this is what the CEO of the leading company in the region has to say about the sitution: This is what the government says why to choose Pakistan for Global ICT Production outsourcing

    It can be said that Pakistan created an opportunity for international Telecom players to come in and accommodate the deregularized telecom ball field that evolved the Universal Service Fund detailed in this study for which we proposed the Telecentre Movement in collaboration with the World Bank in the region: Telecenters and Community Resource and Information Centers in Pakistan and a supporting technology paper through the UNDP-APDIP This is the result of this effort we undertook as a partnership between the Government, Private Sector and Civil Society:$sitepreview/ and This document shows how technology or innovation is influencing local ICT consumption in the industrial process. However, the 67% agrarian population is still yet to embrace the productive benefits of ICT and my views as a member of the working groups for formulation of the new National IT Policy are given here

    I would like to once again emphasize that internal national development and achievement in social and economic development through sustained growth in the sectors of ICT and Innovation are a key motivation to build up other countries that a nation does business with so that it can transfer technology in terms of both better governance as well as business growth. The bi-product of such an effort is definitely social empowerment even though their are vested interests of donors in ODA.

    You may also agree that UNDP has over the past few years removed the words including ICT, e-Governance and e-Government merging them into a single Better Governance or Good Governance word. Similarly World Bank is slowly evolving all e-related social and economic development activities under the umbrella of e-Development. This is clearly an indication that what is steering ICT4D funding and its evolution or its destination around the globe. In these circumstances I would continue to evolve the terminology of Technology and Innovation for Development or simply Alternate Development where communities use technology to find alternate solutions to their problems than traditional development solutions.

    I am also of the notion that during the next five years ICT4D will be categorized as e-Development Aid in order to better characterize ICT Production and Consumption models. In terms of this influence of western countries over ODA for ICT4D, I would like to emphasize that solutions to communities social and economic problems do not lie in pumping unlimited aid money into those communities but facilitating those communities to find solutions to their needs and problems. Where the community has buyin or generated the demand, ICT4D adoption is quicker and more productive though evidence has to be gathered around this for more acceptable results.

    Just to see how western ODA deals with ICT Production and Consumption areas, the following documents are good read:

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