Bill Gates and ICT4D

I thought I’d report on meeting, talking and listening to Bill Gates today at the ICTD2009 conference in Qatar (pitiful name-dropper though this may make me).


First, why does he matter to the ICT4D world?  Because he is financially influential via the Gates Foundation agenda, and the various relevant bits of Microsoft: Unlimited Potential, Community Affairs, MS Research Technology for Emerging Markets, etc.  And because he is strategically influential: when he talks, people listen.  His views on ICT4D therefore make a difference.


His views seem to have softened since the earlier notion that he had an “anything-but-ICTs” view towards development and the Gates Foundation agenda.  In fact, his underlying worldview probably hasn’t changed: he is very much metrics-focused, and thus will believe in, argue for, and invest in what he perceives to deliver the best quantitatively-impactful bang for his development buck.  That’s why health is a prime interest – not from any subjective or complex rationale – but simply because that’s where his money can have most measurable impact (in terms of quality of life indicators).


Back in the 1990s, when he started to become really engaged with development issues, ICTs had little to offer because the infrastructure was not in place.  Now they’ve become a more important part of delivering measurable outcomes in health, education and governance; they figure more in Gates’ agenda for development.


He, nonetheless, remains very un-hyped about ICT4D, recognising the failures, the pilots that will go nowhere, the applications that are not delivering.  And his strongly metrics-based view of development is challenging but also refreshing; particularly for those of us in an academic environment that can sometimes get itself wrapped up in a lot of qualitative and/or post-modern crap.


If I was to critique his position, that could potentially come from three directions:


i.             A metrics-based view of development can lead to various lacunae; for example, it could struggle to deal with issues like capabilities, rights, politics, and the like.  However, Gates at least has a decent grasp of governance issues.


ii.            He is focused on social and (to the extent of transparency) political development, but seems to have much less to say on economic development; despite the centrality of financial poverty to the development agenda.  We discussed this a bit and I was surprised by how antithetical he is to micro-finance, and hard to convince about ICT-enabled micro-enterprise.  It seemed to me the underlying issue here is – perhaps in line with the Jeff Sachs’ view of development – that Bill Gates is only interested in massive-scale solutions.  Again, it’s down to metrics.  Vaccines that can eradicate a disease for the entire world – good; ideas on micro-enterprise that might produce a few tens of thousands of jobs – less of a priority for his money and attention.


iii.          This is therefore a top-down, “big development” model.  It is looking for laboratory-developed, massively-scalable innovations.  There is little or no room for more bottom-up, flexible models of the William Easterly-type approach to development.  There is little room for the idea of grassroots-innovations; e.g. looking at the ICT-based adaptations that poor communities are themselves making, and finding ways to harvest, evaluate and scale such innovations.


As per my IEEE Computer article on “ICT4D 2.0”, then, the Gates’ view on ICT4D seems rather stuck in a social development/poor-as-consumers mindset; it does not yet encompass a mindset of seeing the poor as active producers and innovators with ICT.


But finally, sitting across the table, I found those 1980s photos of him as uber-techno-geek kept crossing my mind; thinking what a long, long way he’s come.  Indeed, he has really metamorphosed since stepping down from full-time work at Microsoft; from a technology guy to a development guy.  But a development guy who, at least in part, will be going round the world inspiring geeks and others to find ways to address technology to the problems of development.  Which can’t be all bad for us ICT4Ders.


A video of Bill’s keynote address to the ICTD2009 conference can be found at:


Worldwide Expenditure on ICT4D

How much money is spent every year on ICT4D?


We can calculate this two ways: top-down and bottom-up.


Top-Down Calculation: World Development Indicators


The World Bank’s World Development Indicators provide an entry for ICT expenditure as a % of GDP.  For 2007 – the latest year available – this expenditure was 5.93% for low- and middle-income countries (covering pretty well all those we tend to call developing and transitional economies; those with GNI per capita of less than US$11,455).  Given the GDP of those countries was US$14,155bn, that means spending on ICTs in all developing/transitional economies is estimated at US$840billion in 2007.


Of course this encompasses a very broad notion of ICT4D: as a random example, what Russian giant Gazprom spends on its information systems.  If we exclude upper middle income countries, and set the GNI bar at US$3,705 per capita (around the level of Indonesia, Philippines); then the figure drops to US$500bn.


Including just low-income countries (GNI <US$935 per capita; akin to Paul Collier’s “bottom billion”), we have to extrapolate, and get a figure of US$57bn: about US$44 spent on ICT per head.

WITSA data (see comments) seems to confirm these calculations.


[Note: “Information and communications technology expenditures include computer hardware (computers, storage devices, printers, and other peripherals); computer software (operating systems, programming tools, utilities, applications, and internal software development); computer services (information technology consulting, computer and network systems integration, Web hosting, data processing services, and other services); and communications services (voice and data communications services) and wired and wireless communications equipment.”]


Bottom-Up Calculation: Individual Organisations/Groups


A bottom-up approach would look at the ICT4D expenditure of individual organisations or groups.  We can identify four main spenders: development agencies; developing country governments; the private sector; and consumers.  Unfortunately, data here is a threadbare patchwork.


I will present the data I have available: if you have other/new data, please comment in order to update.


Donor/Development Agencies


Data from the World Bank Group shows it invests around US$800m per year in specific loans and guarantees on ICTs and development, and US$1-1.5bn per year on projects with ICT components (at present, it cites a total of nearly US$8bn invested in such projects).

Some very rough estimates from personal contacts with USAID suggest perhaps something like US$800m being spent on all ICT components of development work per year.  Even rougher estimates from JICA’s annual reports suggest it is spending at least US$200m per year, and probably significantly more.


Data from various bits of the International Telecommunication Union Web site suggests an expenditure of around US$60m per year on its development activities (c.20% of total expenditure).  The EU’s 9th European Development Fund (2000-2007; focused on Africa, Caribbean, Pacific development) included about US$20m per year (c.US$150m in total) for ICTs.  There is also expenditure on ICT4D as research collaboration under the EU’s Framework Programmes.


Canada’s IDRC spends 15.8% of its budget on ICT4D; that budget spending was C$190m in 2008, meaning a total spend of around US$25m per year on ICT4D.  Korea’s International Cooperation Agency seems also to spend around US$25m per year on ICT4D; about 13% of budget.


SIDA appears to be spending around US$3m per year on ICT4D.


Delivery agencies with a specific focus on ICT4D have similarly small budgets, and will not make a significant dent on the overall figures.  Examples would include IICD which spends around US$6m per year, and the Global Knowledge Partnership which may spend about half that.  Quite a bit of this money would come from donor agency funds.


Developing Country Governments


Few if any developing country governments appear to compile comprehensive figures on their ICT investments.  Instead, they quote expenditure that is specifically identified as “ICT”; for example, the budget of the Ministry of ICT.  This will probably exclude the majority of what the government spends on ICT.  For example, Ghana seems to budget ICT spending on health and education under health and education respectively, not under ICT.


Quoted annual government expenditures on ICTs via this narrow definition for some “typical” medium-/large-sized developing countries are in the few hundreds of millions of dollars.  E.g. Indonesia (US$340m); Thailand (US$300m); South Africa (US$130m).  These are about 0.5% of total government budget; and just under 0.1% of total GDP.


Extrapolating that latter figure, for low and lower-middle income countries, that would suggest investments of about US$7.5bn per year, but the actual figure must be significantly higher than this.  As one example, the Indian government in the mid-2000s was already in the process of increasing its total spending on ICTs (i.e. not just that specifically allocated to the ICT heading) from 2% to 3% of budget: a figure of around US$3bn.  By comparison, its direct spending on ICT (mostly allocated to e-government) was around one-tenth of this.


Private Sector


Private sector investment levels in mobile telephony are, according to the GSMA, around US$10bn per year in Africa; very roughly US$10 per capita.  If at least that amount is also spent in the other developing country markets, that suggests a total investment per year of at least US$50bn.


Other ICT investments in computers, software, non-mobile-based Internet connectivity, and so forth, would be in addition to this figure.


The private sector also has specific development-oriented activities.  Examples would be Microsoft Research India, and parts of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential programme, or Intel’s World Ahead.


Consumer Expenditure


Individual consumers spend money on ICTs that are part of ICT4D; for example, the amount they spend on mobile telephony, and on use of telecentres.


Extrapolating figures from Nigeria, which suggest an average per capita spend on all telecommunications of US$55 per year, would indicate spending of around US$55bn per year on telecoms in Africa.  Much of that, of course, would be spent by business rather than individuals, and that money then recirculates for further private sector investment.  If those same figures could be extrapolated across all developing countries, they would suggest a spend of around US$300bn per year, but that is likely a significant underestimate since Nigerian expenditure will be below developing country averages.  That US$55 per year is actually MORE than the US$44 figure indicated from the World Development Indicator figures, and yet it only covers telecommunications.


Alternatively, Mpogole’s work in Tanzania found rural mobile phone owners spending around US$22 per month (US$270 per year) on their mobiles.  Using ITU’s 2007 figures (21% subscription rate) and the corrector discussed in a previous blog, we arrive at a spend just on mobiles of US$43 per person per year.  At least, then, all these figures are not wildly dissimilar, given that spending on mobiles will be by far the major expenditure on ICT4D in developing countries.




The figures here cover some very different things.  Some cover a lot of what many would regard as outside the boundaries of ICT4D.  Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to conclude that hundreds of millions of US dollars per year are invested in ICT4D projects; and that tens of billions of US dollars per year are invested in ICT4D infrastructure, with consumers in developing countries spending even more on the use of ICTs, amounting on average to a few tens of US dollars per person per year.


As noted above, additions and updates are welcome.


Note: the SIDA source cited above contains, in its Chapter 4, a quick review of some of the main actors investing in ICT4D.