ICT for Development - Can Other Countries Learn from the Finnish Experience?

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Helsinki, 19 April, 2005 — ICT for Development - Can Other Countries Learn from the Finnish Experience?

ICT for Development has been the focus of action in international organizations and international fora during the last couple of years. As the information society or information economy is the current phase in many of the late industrial societies, the question is what will happen in the developing and newly industrialized economies. Will they follow the development of industrialized world or will they take a development path of their own in the use of ICT?

Economic and Social Wealth Through ICT

International development organizations, like the World Bank, Regional Development Banks, the EU, the UN, and the G8 have for some years focused on information society as a phase of future development of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The developing and newly industrialized economies can learn. These countries can leapfrog the technological development and benefit from earlier experiences and use the best practices. Due to the latest technology, these countries can take a new position in the international economy through globalisation of information and financial flows. At the same time the economic growth in many developing countries allows for wider use of ICT services.

ICT as a Part of Development Strategy

Some developing countries have already produced and implemented their ICT for Development Strategy. ICT4D strategy is a national policy that focuses on ICT as a means to reach development goals of a nation. To implement the strategy an action plan with some general conditions is needed.

Telecommunications infrastructure needs to be sufficiently developed, the regulatory framework should allow for competitive services at a reasonable rate, and citizens should have access to information and communications services.

Finland has recently included ICT in its development aid program and is about to formalise its ICT for Development Strategy in this program. What could other countries learn from Finland in designing and implementing of their information society or ICT strategy?

The Finnish Experience

Finland was suffering from deep economic crisis in the early 1990ís. At that time some critical decisions were made by the public and private sector. The government at that time included information society in its program as one of the key future growth areas, public investment in R & D was increased, as well as allocation of public resources in technology education and training. This coincided with Nokia transforming into a leading ICT industry company from a traditional pulp and paper, tire and cable industry company.

Competitive Environment and Human Resources

The telecommunications and ICT regulatory liberalisation started in the late 1980ís and early 1990ís with data communications, local and long-distance telephony liberalisation and later privatisation. This created a competitive environment in telecommunications as one of the European forerunners. Finland had historically non-monopolistic telecommunications markets in local fixed-line telephony since the beginning of telephony. Finland became one of the leading information societies in the world in a little more than a decade in terms of the ICT share of GNP growth and share of exports. This development required enabling regulatory environment and human resources (trained labour), and public and private investments in R & D. According to Michael E. Porter, two additional elements to successful strategy are necessary: timing and luck. This was the case in Finland.

Finland had collaborated with other Nordic countries in developing GSM (earlier NMT) standard and that supported GSM to become one of the global standards in mobile wireless telephony.

The Finnish Know-How

The Finnish information society has produced innovations and best practices in ICT. We have expertise in open source software, e-learning, e-business and in digital public sector services, and high use of ICT technology. We also piloted early on telecenters as access points to citizens to information services. It would be useful to integrate this knowledge and experience in the traditional development areas like education, rural development, equality, and environment. The ICT for Development will provide new challenges and opportunities for Finnish information society know how. We cannot export our experience as it is, but it may provide a useful case for countries integrating ICT in their development.

This article by Senior Adviser Helena Tapper from TIEKE has been published in the ICT Cluster Finland Review 2005, a semiannual publication by TIEKE Finnish Information Society Development Centre.

TIEKE has a key networking role as a neutral and non-profit organisation in Finland in promoting the information society. www.tieke.fi

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