Since the “information society” concept was introduced in the seventies, the correlation between access to information and poverty has been widely acknowledged. The main propositions given were as follows: information leads to resources; information leads to opportunities that generate resources; access to information leads to access to resources; and access to information leads to access to opportunities that generate resources. In an Information Society, the information-poor have also become the resource-poor. This paper attempts to explore the relationship between information and communication technology or ICT and poverty. In Southeast Asia, in particular, the correlation is unmistakable. The higher the human poverty index, the lower the number of ISPs, telephone lines, PCs and TV sets per 1000 persons. The higher the value of ICT indicators (as in the case of Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia), the lower the poverty index.
The paper outlines four major paradigms used in analyzing poverty, namely: the technological paradigm, the economic paradigm; the structural paradigm; and the cultural or values paradigm. There are ICT interventions for any of these four paradigms. Technologically, there are small independent initiatives being undertaken by nongovernmental organizations and governments to help bridge the Digital Divide. The most common of these initiatives is the actual introduction of low-end information and communication technology to impoverished areas. ICT can improve economic policy and facilitate the policy-making process. An array of ICT tools is available to the policy-maker and decision-maker. Foremost in this list of tools are poverty maps, which are made possible by geographic information systems (GIS). ICT can be used for policy advocacy, local governance and educational development. However, the optimum solution that ICT can offer to any undertaking, even poverty alleviation, is knowledge management, a newly emerging discipline that combines organizational dynamics, knowledge engineering and technology to manage the intellectual assets of a system. Central to knowledge management is the concept of knowledge networking.
The paper offers the following recommendations: efforts should be made to develop viable ICT Poverty Alleviation programs; a regional approach to program development should be adopted; small, spontaneous but fragmented initiatives among private agencies and nongovernmental organizations to bridge the Digital Divide should be mainstreamed and coordinated through an ICT for Poverty Alleviation Grants Fund that can be micro-managed by regional agencies; technological interventions should be supplemented by strong content provision and development program support; agencies within the same region should initiate dialogues to determine standards, platforms and protocols for information and knowledge exchange and re-use; the use of poverty maps should be fully exploited; and the educational applications of ICT should be fully supported.