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Colombia is using technology to solve the most important problem: poverty

Colombia is using technology to solve the most important problem: poverty

Posted by Adrian Pelaez on March 17, 2014

Colombia isn't rich. The South American nation tracks six socioeconomic brackets, and 88 percent of Colombians fall into the lowest three rungs. The bottom of the economic pyramid in Colombia lives on less than $2 a day. Yet the country is racing to build what, even by U.S. standards, would be considered bleeding-edge technology: Its leaders are extending fiber-optic Internet access to 96 percent of the country's cities and towns. If all goes as planned, soon all Colombians will even have their own storage space in the cloud — a little piece of digital real estate provided by the government.

Unlike in the United States, where technology has helped create new divisions between rich and poor, Colombia wants to use the Internet to close the wealth gap. Its program appears to be working,  according to Diego Molano, Colombia's minister for information and communications technology. In the last three years, he says, the program has helped lift 2.5 million people out of poverty. But there's still an international digital divide, Molano says, because the majority of the world's apps and services aren't built with poor people in mind. They're built for the rich.

I spoke with Molano by phone this week. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.

Brian Fung: You were in Washington this week to discuss Colombian technology in connection with your country's effort to join the OECD. What did you talk about?

Diego Molano: The main objective we have in Colombia is using technology and ICT [information and communications technology] to solve the most important problem in Colombia — and that problem is poverty. Three and a half years ago, when this government started, more than 38 percent of Colombians were living under the poverty line. The government has focused on helping people to leapfrog. We've taken 2.5 million people out of poverty in just three years.

What's the role of technology here, exactly?

There is a very strong correlation between Internet penetration and the reduction of poverty. I see that every day. When we connect, for example, a rural school to Internet, when we connect a small school in the middle of the jungle to Internet, those kids in the middle of nowhere have effectively the same opportunity to access the whole of information society — just like any kid in New York, London or Paris.

 

 

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