Conceptualizing IT for development and social change

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There is a wide belief that information technology can have an important role in development as well as in social change more specifically in transforming economies (by making them more efficient and effective) and societies (by making them more open and democratic). However, whenever this topic is raised I ask myself: What kind of technology? Is it enough to have computers and access to Internet, or is it rather necessary to use technology in a specific way? Finally, I always wonder what is the role of the IT industry in a country in fostering development and change?

Let’s look at the IT sector of Kosovo. According to IDC In 2008, the Kosovo IT market totaled $98.23 million. The total includes both private and public sector spending. IT market year-on-year growth was 15.3% in U.S. dollars. Measured in Euros, the market expanded 7.8% year on year in 2008. IDC expects the Kosovo IT market to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.1% over the five-year forecast period to $144.84 million in 2013.

However, majority of this market is oriented towards hardware and networking equipment purchase and distribution and there is a very small percentage that is composed of software products. Furthermore, about 30% of this market is driven by government purchases, with additional 10-15 % being driven by international organizations currently operating in Kosovo. As such majority of IT providers target the government and international organizations as their main source of income. There are very few companies or individuals that develop tools or provide service to market segments that are smaller, like the NGO sector.

On the other side most of the NGOs complain that the mainstream IT providers are too expensive or that they provide services, which are not necessarily useful in their day-to-day operations.

Another interesting finding from talking to NGOs is that many of them could use some training, in general IT but also in topics that are more relevant to their work. But, if we look at the IT training providers offers in Kosovo, we can find all the mainstream courses, Cisco Academies, ECDL training and so on. These training are not a great help to most of the NGO community members.

So what is apparent from Kosovo case is that developing IT sector can foster some economic development (through taxes, jobs etc.) however, despite potential,  not necessarily it always impacts innovation and social change. 

I would like to hear experiences from other countries. What were the incentives or drivers that promoted “technology in use” to drive innovation and change? Are there cases that are replicable to other contexts?
I hope to get some hints on these and other questions during next weeks first meeting of the Community Driven Innovation initiative here in Kosovo. In the meantime, I look forward to any ideas coming from elsewhere.

This post is part of a series exploring social innovation in Central and Eastern Europe. We hope you'll follow the series, ask questions, and share your experiences! To view all posts in the series, follow the tag cee-innovation