Rural economic development – is ICT the missing link ?

Rural economic development – is ICT the missing link ?

It is a well known fact that the rural parts of South Africa is far worse off economically than the more populated city areas. This is especially so today, as the cities are developing at a ever increasing pace, leaving the rural country side further and further behind every day.

How can this ever widening gap be brought back under control?  Why should we even care?  What has this got to do with ICT?

South Africa is compromised of large multinationals, corporations, SMME’s and countless formal and informal entrepreneurs.  It is especially the last category that is found predominantly in the rural areas. This is not often out of choice, but due to necessity.

This large group of active contributors to the economy is still only the tip of the potential iceberg. Imagine if we can double, triple or even quadruple the number of active entrepreneurs in our rural landscape.

If we can somehow enable those that are willing but unable we can turn around unemployment in the most hopeless of places, our forgotten and often overlooked ‘platteland’.

Now where does ICT come into the mix? Often local suppliers of services (informal entrepreneurs) are overlooked simply because they are not aware of the opportunities that arise. Another hurdle is the red tape before one can even be considered to be fulfilling all the criteria of a service provider. There are countless others.

  • Imagine if people in the middle of back and beyond could create products and offer services, and match these with people that actually wants or needs it.
  • Imagine if we could harness the idle capacity of the rural workforce, and match it with the ever growing demands of the bigger world.
  • Imagine if people could shrug of the cloud of despair and hopelessness and swap it for a feeling of optimism, knowing that they could make something, sell it, earn a living, or make a meaningful contribution in another way.

Sure, we can create databases, websites, wireless networks and all sorts, but how will this help the people that do not have an education, electricity, access to phones or transport? There are other big issues that are holding up progress, like alcohol addiction, drug addiction, lack of basic services, poor educational services, poor access to health services, etc.

How can ICT ever hope to make a difference in these people’s lives, let alone turn it around?

I do not have the answer yet, but want to find it. The journey to get to there will require lots and lots of research, experimentation, patience and determination.

The Garden Route is well suited to being the right location to get the ball rolling. We have all the ICT we could ever need, we have the rural landscape, the unemployed and the hopeless, the informal entrepreneurs and the people that can make the difference and possibly find a way to unlock the vast hidden potential.

One thought on “Rural economic development – is ICT the missing link ?

  1. Sadly this reply is typical and an indictment of why local Govt is so reluctant to push technology as a solution. We are often mis-sold solutions that do not fit the need, and become white elephants.

    Simply providing wireless infrastructure is not the solution. People need to have the ability to access the network, the skill to know how to do it and the opportunity to do something useful with it.

    Training and real world usability is often overlooked if favor of closing deals. What we need is a bottom up solution that provides a means to an end, not a top down approach.

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