CPDS Comment on Foreign and Regional Aid via the Internet (2001)

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Foreign Aid

"Australia will take the leading role in an international effort using the internet and other information technologies to reshape the delivery of foreign aid as part of a $1.5bn world bank plan. The Virtual Colombo Plan ... will use technology to improve access to education and information for the world's poor" (Forbes C and Garran R 'Aid goes to cyberspace', Australian, 3/8/01)

The Colombo Plan provided high quality education and training to students in Australia's region, and also provided spin off benefits to donor countries (both through exposing students to different cultures, and building useful contacts). Australia and the World Bank are now to support an extended Virtual Colombo Plan - which will involve taking education to people in developing countries. Under a 'virtual' plan many more students can be supported for the same cost. There are further benefits (outlined) for participating Australian institutions (O'Kane M 'Reaching out, virtually',  Australian,  16/1/02) 

At the same time: 

Methods whereby the latter might be achieved could be those suggested in relation to Queensland (see Direct Action). 

Thus noting that small Australian firms appear increasingly to be successfully using the Internet to gain a presence in global markets through the use of the Internet, it is possible that even small well-networked Australian organizations that were committed to a long term approach and prepared to do their homework, could gain an effectiveness beyond their size in helping potential leaders in disadvantaged communities to obtain the information and support required to make a difference to their prospects in economic and other terms. 

Gain Internet access in poorer countries is an issue.

Many are concerned with the digital divide. Half the world has never made a phone call. And Africa has little international bandwidth. Some people feel they have more fundamental problems (eg electricity). But they may be wrong. India has developed a budget-priced battery powered simple computer. IT and communication does matter. poor people need food and medicines more, but the Internet may help them get these more easily. It may, for example, provide access to weather forecast that are critical to fishermen. India has a major software industry - and does a lot of back-office work for western companies. Doctors in poor countries can use the internet to keep up to date with latest research.  Individuals can borrow to obtain communications equipment - and then recover the cost by hiring it to others ('Casting the net wide',  Australian,  11/12/01)

The existence of the US Internet for Economic Development Initiative may also be noted.

Regional Aid

A similar process could be applied by small organizations through developing partnerships in regional communities which have experienced difficulties coping with economic change, and have thus experienced social stresses leading to political instabilities (see Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation).