Friday, October 17, 2008

The Role of a Telecom Operator in Poverty Alleviation (-in Sri Lanka)

“A 10% increase of mobile phone penetration in a country will contribute to the Gross Domestic Production (GDP) growth by 1.2%” – Dr. Hamdoun Toure, Secretay General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Poverty can be described as the inability of enjoying the minimal standards of living. Poverty has many dimensions to it and one way it can be explained is by using the following diagram, the ‘deprivation trap’ (Chambers, 1983).

All the aspects (pentagons) are tightly interconnected and any development initiative can address one or more aspects of it depending on the programme as well as the core competencies of the institution implementing the programme. A telecom operator can mainly focus on the isolation section and drive their development initiatives as part of their business expansion.

Due to Isolation,
- Little participation (not part of the mainstream)
- Less informed (not aware)
- Few contacts with important people/institutions (such as markets, other services and extension workers)

Though the approach is with more focus on isolation, there will be positive impact on other dimensions too. People will be empowered with information such as on micro credit facilities, markets and public services, allowing them to make decisions that are better informed. Physical weakness will be countered with more awareness on diseases and health problems, preventive actions, etc.

Most of the poor communities are living in disaster prone areas, and more vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. Communication facilities will make them more resistant and minimize the negative impact of those. Powerlessness always leads to exploitation, but a more connected community is harder to exploit and will have the power to negotiate on terms such as labour and production.