Technological progress is a considerable driving force behind economic growth. ICT infrastructure in particular has attracted much investment, and generated significant fiscal revenues and employment opportunities in developing countries.
The number of mobile subscriptions in use worldwide, both pre-paid and post-paid, has grown from fewer than 1 billion in 2000 to over 6 billion now, of which nearly 5 billion in developing countries. The number of Internet users in developing countries has also grown close to twenty-fold. With Internet penetration at a turning point, including in the least connected region, Africa, and with over 91 percent of the population in developing countries having access to fixed or mobile telephone, ICT networks now constitute a far-reaching service delivery and citizen participatory platform. ICTs can be used as a vehicle to increase accountability, and to transform and extend the reach of service delivery to the underserved in an innovative, fast, and cost-efficient manner.
Key remaining challenges and opportunities for developing countries include (i) improving affordability in order to reach the population in developing countries that currently lives beyond the ICT networks, (ii) widening access to more advanced, affordable ICT services such as broadband for high-speed internet, (iii) leveraging the new ICT infrastructure to improve the delivery of services and to build on it as a source of economic growth, and (iv) developing and aligning people skills relevant to the information technology-enabled services industries and knowledge economy.
In 2012, the World Bank released a new ICT sector strategy comprising three strategic directions: Connect, Innovate and Transform.
The strategy’s Connect pillar focuses on expanding connectivity infrastructure and promoting stability and predictability in regulatory systems. The World Bank has worked with over 100 countries over the last decade to support privatization and sector liberalization, as well as capacity building for governments and regulatory institutions. More recently, the World Bank has stepped up its financing of innovative public-private partnerships as catalytic vehicles to attract additional private sector investment in broadband infrastructure. This includes regional communications infrastructure programs to accelerate the rollout of terrestrial backbone networks and submarine cable systems in Africa, Pacific Islands and the Caribbean.
The strategy’s Innovate pillar develops competitive IT-based service industries and fosters ICT innovation across the economy, including at the grassroots technology entrepreneurship level – with a focus on job creation, especially for women and youth. This support includes a small but growing portfolio of IT industry development projects in Ghana, Mexico, Kenya, Armenia, Nigeria, and Bhutan.
The strategy’s Transform pillar draws on deep sector expertise and relationships with government institutions to integrate innovations into service delivery and the accountability process. This makes development more open and accountable, and improves government services to citizens and businesses in for instance, education, health, and financial services. This support includes a portfolio of eGovernance and eTransformation projects in Vietnam, Ghana, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Moldova and the Eastern Caribbean.