Public library in Colombia providing free internet access to educate and empower citizens (Source: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
NEW YORK –The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released a report Wednesday showcasing the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in enabling private sector development. Finland emerged at the top of a list that ordered countries by the portion of domestic economic activities occurring within the ICT sector, with data showing that ICT in the country employs almost a tenth of the country’s non-agricultural business workforce.
Information and Communication Technologies have represented a substantial growth industry globally, in both developed and developing countries, over the last two decades. The UNCTAD report points out that in the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), labor productivity grew faster in the ICT sector than the entire remainder of the business sector between 1995 and 2008.
Developing countries are also increasingly benefiting from ICT-sector employment within their countries, but are yet to reach the levels of penetration that countries such as Finland, Israel and Sweden are currently seeing.
Although UNCTAD research shows “that a thriving ICT sector can make a major contribution to economic growth in low-income countries,” the lack of data on these market proportionalities in the Global South shows that the ICT sector is still “nascent in many developing economies” according to the report. From the 57 countries that UNCTAD has compiled data on, not one country classified as a ‘Least Developed Country’ has statistics on the size of their ICT sectors.
At the Arab Telecom and Internet Forum earlier this month, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union, Dr. HamadounToure, pointed out that some technologies are expanding rapidly throughout the developing world while others are lagging behind.
“The mobile phone penetration rate has risen from a mere 3.2 percent in 2001 to around 90 percent at present, above the global average. However, internet penetration remains low, giving room for more growth in the sector.”
Closing the “digital divide” between developed and developing countries has been a focus of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who recently reiterated the importance of the private sector in driving economic growth.
“Private-sector development isessential for inclusive and equitable economic growth, and Member States are actively engaged in promoting enterprises capable of creating jobs, raising incomes and productivity, diversifying the economy and generating government revenue,” wrote Ban Ki-moon in the preface of the UNCTAD report. “Our challenge is to accelerate progress and ensure that our efforts reach the poorest and most vulnerable in particular.”
Key issues and development challenges relating to finance, technology, investment and sustainable development will be discussed at the thirteenth session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIII), occurring from the 12st to 26thof April in Doha, Qatar.