ICT Village Programme Impact in Stark Contrast to Wealth and Aid

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28Jan, 2019

It is calculated that the eight richest people in the world between them control the same amount of wealth as 2.5 billion of the poorest.

How can the massive flow of technological innovations bring development and raise the overall level of welfare, inverting the process of wealth concentration that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer than ever?

What can we learn from the previous industrial and electrical revolution, seeing that it has progressively improved social and economic conditions in countries where it originated in the 19th Century, from 90% poverty to present-day widespread wellbeing? Can new technologies defeat poverty and spur development? How does ICT (Information and Communications Technology) impact the life of the disadvantaged?

OCCAM, the Observatory on Digital Communication, was created by UNESCO in 1997 to work on these issues. In 1999, UNESCO, responding to calls by the people of Honduras struck by Hurricane Mitchel, asked OCCAM to promote solar villages by installing the solar panels in two isolated villages, San Francisco (in Lempira) and San Ramon, with the assistance of the Honduran Ministry of Technology, the Oklahoma University and the InterAmerican World Bank. These facilities permitted the experimental use of computers at a community level.

“Can new technologies defeat poverty and spur development? How does ICT impact the life of the disadvantaged?”

The program also made possible the construction of a school, a community centre and a dispensary. These efforts resulted in a connection from ONSATNET, a pioneer company for internet via satellite, which built a three-metre antenna, with considerable speed.

The newly-named ICT Villages saw increased e-learning activity in schools with surprising results; two top students became class tutors in Oklahoma. Thanks to medical consultations held between midwives and the regional hospital in the dispensary, it was possible to save the lives of at-risk pregnant women and new-born babies.

An internet point opened in the community centre showcased to the local farmers new solutions of cultivation, harvesting and storage, making use of suggestions from distant academic experts, who, working from photos and data, provided assistance and evaluated critical issues.

To share these results with a wider audience, at the suggestion of many UN organizations, OCCAM launched the first Infopoverty World Conference (IWC) in 2001, since scheduled annually at the UN headquarters in New York, organised in partnership with the European Parliament and other prestigious Institutions. The conference, declared a UN Flagship Initiative by the UN General Assembly in 2012, has enjoyed growing participation from public and private institutions and prominent members of academia, ICT companies and organisations within the UN system.

From discussions and proposals at IWC2, the Infopoverty Programme was created in 2002 with the aim of implementing ICT villages to help disadvantaged communities. The WSIS 2003 (World Summit of Information Society) in Geneva approved the ICT Villages Model, and realised, with the support of the Tunisian Government, the village of Borji Ettouil on the occasion of the second phase of the summit, held in Tunis in 2005.

Further ICT villages have been created in Meis El Jabal, South Lebanon, for a group of young refugees, in Villa El Salvador in Peru, for a community of women in difficulty, and in Mahobong, Lesotho, safeguarding a potato crop by training local experts and monitoring the harvest from afar. Other projects include one in Dagara, Ethiopia, supplying the community with didactic and special m-devices, and another setting up “ICT hogans” in the Navajo Nation.

Mission to Fight Poverty

The Observatory on Digital Communication (OCCAM) was founded with the mission to fight poverty using the new technologies, and to promote sustainable development actions in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).


The acronym stands for Observatory for Cultural and Audio-visual Communication in the Mediterranean (OCCAM). It works to support the United Nations strategies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and former Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, 2000-2015).


OCCAM was established by UNESCO in Milan in June 1996, with agreements signed by the director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, and Milan mayor Marco Formentini.


Since 2003, OCCAM has been associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information, and in 2005 it received Special Consultative Status at the UN’s Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC).


Since 2006, OCCAM has been a leader of e-service development of Community of Expertise within the Global Alliance for Information and Communications Technologies and Development (UN – GAID) initiative launched by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in Kuala Lumpur.


OCCAM is organised into five operational segments:

  1. Observatory on the phenomena of the digital revolution
  2. Research and experimentation on social-oriented ICT innovations
  3. The Infopoverty conference, which organises the annual IWC in NYC
  4. The Infopoverty programme for monitoring and management of the projects
  5. Communication and secretariat.


The observatory has two representations at the UN, one in New York and one in Geneva, and an international head of Institutional Relations.


The ICT Village project includes providing computers, internet and renewable energy sources (solar PV) to disadvantaged communities to enable them to promote their own sustainable development.

OCCAM, with many local NGOs, has activated other actions to support rural communities, orphanages and dispensaries in Ghana, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Liberia, RDC, Mozambique, Burundi, Kenya and Zambia, providing connectivity and ad hoc services in the ambit of the Infopoverty programme. At IWC3, the first announcement was made of the Millennium Challenge Corporation by Chris Israel, the deputy minister of US Department of Commerce, and, at IWC7, the first peer-to-peer money-transferring experiments by Safaricom in Kenya. At IWC8, the network for rural internet access in Somalia was promoted by Youssouf Ismail Bari-Bari, Somalian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, late and lamented victim of a terrorist attack in Mogadishu in 2015.

Sambaina, in Madagascar, stands out. This ICT village was established in 1996, promoted by the President of Madagascar, Marc Ravolanama. The village’s dispensary, connected to national and regional hospitals using free public airband-width, furnished the maternity unit with e-ultrasound tools, decreasing the mortality rate. A local school, supplied with 40 computers, helped 320 pupils to find jobs by exploiting local rural and craft resources.

The municipal seat opened to internet community access. The entire population could learn how to access useful information and facilitate governance with e-documentation. Specialised assistance – in the harvesting of rice, cattle farming, pest-control and water and food security – was furnished to local farmers, as well as 85 doctors specialising in clinical imaging at the National University, able to assist with new mobile x-devices.

At its launch in 2007, a UN delegation led by Jeffrey Sachs proclaimed the ICT Village of Sambaina as a UN Millennium Village. It became the model for future projects and was planned to be cloned over all Malagasy territory, with 2,700 ICT Villages – but a coup d’état impeded this evolution. OCCAM continues to support Sambaina, and is relaunching the Millennium Village, with the support of STmicroelectronic foundation, Telma Foundation, and the courage of inhabitants and local institutions.

What can be drawn from these experiences?

  1. With the worldwide diffusion of mobile devices, everyone can acquire knowledge and skills oriented towards life improvement.
  2. Indigent peoples do not need charitable hand-outs as much as empowerment of their capacities to exploit their own human and material resources at local levels.
  3. Only adequate digital services, provided by competent institutions, permit disadvantaged communities to take control of their skills, receive healthcare, guarantee good education, use natural resources, give efficient instruments of e-governance, and supply people with identification, property rights, access to microcredit and e-commerce.

In this regard, OCCAM designed a special ICT-Village Infrastructure Module (ICT-VIM), consisting in ad hoc tech kits, oriented to upgrade the basic facilities for a Village of 1000 people (at a cost of $50K) and the IWC16 Conference, launched the Infopoverty Platform for E-Services, focalised on the achievement of the first three SDGs: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health & Well Being, restructuring Services Providers (academia, laboratories, hospitals) in a network that sustains local Services Users, able to furnish the needs of local Communities with solutions, sharing knowledge and competences efficiently to all.

The IWC18 launched the World Food and Health e-Centre, (WF&HSeC) created as legacy of Milan EXPO 2015, aimed at transferring knowledge and competences, enlarging the sharing economy to those hitherto excluded, promoting best practice and new tools, refining ICT innovations for performative solutions, and raising the standard of living to include medical care, professional assistance, and access to education-oriented job creation in an incremental process – governed by blockchain technologies.

Its network of service providers, composed of primary stakeholders (200 specialists, 40 universities and research centres, hospitals and organisations) brings together many of the agro-alimentary scientific organisations, the Smithers Foundation and the International Institute of Telemedicine to co-operate. This includes the sharing of appropriate digital services for telemedicine, food security, e-learning, and applications for new sensors and robotic devices.

This could be the new trend for sustainable social enterprises: people-centred, empowered by 5G connection, using wearable high-performing devices supported by AI and IoT, interacting with high-level service-provider clusters – to serve all 7.6 billion people.

The benefit of this trend is in an increase in the quality and quantity of food, and creating basic welfare for all. It could represent the most effective lever for development and value-creation, with a market outlook for 2020-2025 of 1.8% GDP.

All these issues will be discussed at the 19th Infopoverty World Conference, How Smart Cities can fight poverty by eliminating slums and promoting ICT Villages for rural development at UN HQ in New York on April 12, 2019, to be screened worldwide by UNTV.


Next Infopoverty World Conference will be on April 12th, 2019, at United Nations Headquarters


With the title “How smart city can fight poverty eliminating slums and promoting smart villages for rural development”, the IWC19 will be held on 12th April, 2019, at United Nations Headquarters.

Infopoverty has fought poverty for 18 years, thanks to ICTs, and it has created innovative solutions and models such as the ICT villages founded in various countries, e.g. the Millennium Village of Sambaina in Madagascar (2006) and the World Health & Food Security e-Center, which can provide telemedicine, food security and e-learning services to the poorest rural communities. Now Infopoverty pays attention to urban communities, where poverty is endemic, making it difficult to live together and destroying the basis of human values. In fact, the redemption of poverty in rural communities will be imaginable if the resources of the land are properly used, while in cities the spectre of the “human jungle” is represented by slums and favelas where millions of people and minors are left alone in precariousness and in a devastating human and physical decline.

On the one hand, especially in Africa, the demographic pressure applied from the countryside to formless urban areas, makes agricultural production poor. On the other hand, it increases the mass of marginalized people, due to the absence of work in urban area: this risks the onslaught of “social time-bombs” capable of destabilizing very fragile governance structures and provoking other strong waves of migration affecting all the developed countries.

The digital revolution has, to some extent, accelerated these dynamics, interconnecting everyone and opening virtual frontiers. This revolution should address such issues, not orientating its solutions to the wealthy classes but principally to all those possessing a mobile phone (practically everybody) and can take advantage of the immense potentialities in terms of services of health care and distance nutrition support. If this prospective does not appeal to stakeholders (“the poor do not produce profits”), we must record an extraordinary impulse towards Smart Cities, which are the object of very strong investments, research and exciting innovations. The digital revolution is striding ahead: starting from mobility, with the prospect of automatic driving, arriving at the management of infrastructures, domotics, energy sources, e-governance etc. It is changing socio-economic structures through processes of disruption, which, for the new generations, are destabilizing. In this context, where the search for short-term loans causes systemic crises in various classes and territories, we need to relaunch the question posed at our IWC12 “Who drives the digital Revolution?” If only private enterprise leads, inevitably the needs of billions of indigent people will continue to be neglected and have in consequence unimaginable repercussions globally.

Therefore a new vision is necessary in order to give the digital revolution concrete perspectives and to be more adherent to human emergencies specified in the SDG, proclaimed by the UN in 2015. Governments must lead this process aimed at directing innovation towards solving the problems of the masses (in need), indicating priority objectives and appropriate forms of incentives, and absolutely avoiding the well-known distortion already acted out in the previous industrial revolution, where the delirium for power of the few led to the creation of new and devastating weapons employed in wars that criminally caused the humanitarian tragedies of the twentieth century.

This premise well introduces the topic of the 19th Infopoverty conference: how smart city can fight poverty, eliminating slums and promoting smart villages for rural development. In the agenda of the conference that will take place at the UN headquarters in NY, the topic of Smart City at the UN is not presented as the “apotheosis of new super technologies”, making lives of the wealthiest people more pleasant and stimulating the consumption of luxury goods, but is presented as a challenge to eliminate slums, replacing them with possible, foreseeable building and housing solutions. Furthermore, Smart Cities should be aimed at integrating towns and territories, transferring technologies, knowledge and services from towns to the surrounding rural communities in order to provide citizens with necessary sustenance. Thus, they represent a circular economy model, which can create great working and development opportunities.

Creating an organic relationship between the ICT-Villages (the models for which have already been successfully tested in Borji et Touil, the model village of the WSIS of Tunisia in 2005) and Smart Cities means recommending highly effective development policies, especially in Africa. Such policies can eliminate the need for charity and attract solid investments, both in terms of facilities and commodities and in terms of infrastructure and housing. They can also contribute to the growth of these countries, aiming at enhancing their raw materials and human resources, and at the creation of forms of welfare that ensure primary health care, education and support for food development for everyone, as well as forms of economic exchange through digital solutions already validated thanks to the block chain. This is the challenge that the 19th Infopoverty World Conference sets at the UN Headquarter, involving the best thinkers (innovators, heads of public and private institutions, universities and research centres, large companies) in order to focus on convergent and easily applicable solutions at minimum cost, as a concrete and feasible contribution of the digital world to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs of the UN.

XVIII Infopoverty World Conference


OCCAM, with its partners, is launching the 18th edition of the Infopoverty World Conference, and focuses the debate’s attention on the high inequality of the development of ICT innovations which are generally destined to wealthy end-users’ markets rather than to social growth, failing to offer solutions to fight poverty, hunger, health and to solve the most pressing global issues such as the migration and refugees crises, and to achieve universal education as stated by Sustainable Development Goals, cornerstone of the Infopoverty Programme.

How to overcome this situation is the main theme of the 18th Infopoverty World Conference, which will provide concrete facts and best practices able to prove that digital services, designed in line with the socio-economic development needs of the most disadvantaged populations, could lead to relevant results in terms of health, food security, education and climate change. In particular, the focus of the 2018 edition of the Conference is to find possible solutions taking a collective perspective to promote the highest participation by acting as a mediator between public and private sector to encourage the widest possible collectivity development.

ITU’s 2017 Report has shown that there has been a continued progress in connectivity and use of ICTs. Though, there are significant digital divides between countries and regions, and between developed and developing coutries, as mobile-broadband subscription rates are higher in Europe and in the Americas than they are in the other regions of the World.