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New WBCSD Issue Brief on How Business Can Scale Development through ICT

Summary

By Katie Sarro, WBCSD

“Information and Communication Technology: An enabler for inclusive business solutions”, the newest publication produced by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), looks at the opportunities for information and communication technology (ICT) to facilitate and scale the private sector’s contribution to development. The report displays best practice cases and highlights opportunities for and barriers to achieving further scale.

The brief is the final output of the WBCSD’s Technology Enablers Initiative which, under the leadership of Vodafone, provided a platform for companies from different industry sectors to explore opportunities for catalyzing inclusive business models using the power of technology, particularly ICT.

The initiative facilitated a series of discussions and events with WBCSD member companies and Regional Network partner organizations. It aimed at creating successful partnerships and facilitating collaborative action around how ICT can expand the breadth and depth of economic activity in developing economies and improve the delivery of a range of essential public services.

The report presents a number of case studies across sectors and along the value chain that highlight the power of ICT-enabled solutions. WBCSD member companies featured include Accenture, Grundfos, IBM, ITC, Nokia, Novartis, Syngenta, TNT Express, and Vodafone.

As the case study examples demonstrate, ICT-enabled services deliver a wide range of benefits for low-income communities, local businesses, and large companies alike. Potential benefits of ICT enabled services include: better, faster and easier access to information, improved interaction and two-way communication, cost efficiency and lower transaction costs, automation and standardization, economic and other opportunities, and improved data visibility or transparency.

To date, lessons from the implementation of ICT-enabled ventures point to a number of factors that still need to be addressed to further increase the benefits:

  • Infrastructure: ICT cannot replace investment in infrastructure. In some cases new, innovative ventures are less effective as a consequence of poor infrastructure. For example, ICT can be used to access more accurate price information, but goods cannot be transported to market without a functioning road system.
  • Legislation and public policy: Regulatory frameworks can play a significant role in supporting ICT as a development tool and in fostering innovation, for example by encouraging a competitive telecommunication environment or by incentivizing convergence of services toward a single network. Appropriate license prices and taxation levels are also important factors in fostering investment and rapid spread of ICT networks.
  • Inertia and resistance from traditional models: It is important for other industry sectors to familiarize themselves with examples of business opportunities that can be developed by leveraging technology in emerging markets. At the same time, new technologies and business models often threaten incumbents in the market by providing better value or even making existing solutions redundant. Mobile money services, for instance, compete with traditional financial services offered by the banking sector.
  • User interfaces: If users are not able to use ICT at a level that allows them to benefit, the impact on development will be undermined. Examples of solutions addressing this challenge include voice-based systems and iconic user interfaces.
    Apart from addressing existing obstacles, collaboration between stakeholders will be a key aspect in transforming ICT opportunities into success stories. As the examples of M-PESA and SMS for Life illustrate, partnerships between private and public actors often catalyze the initial co-investments in long-term, sustainable models.

Through the work of its Development Focus Area, the WBCSD will continue to document, catalyze and advocate for ICT-enabled business solutions to sustainability challenges in the developing world.

For more information, please contact: Filipo Veglio, Director, Development Focus Area World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) or click here.