O’Reilly has an interview with Ethan Zuckerman of Geekcorps, a volunteer organization dedicated to helping developing nations meet their IT needs. Says Ethan about its efforts to build an “IT business ecology” in Third World countries:
We often use the phase “digital independence.” We want to help countries get to the point where they’re self-sufficient with their own IT needs. My feeling is that almost every country in the world is going to have IT needs in the near future. Whether that’s e-government–trying to make governmental systems more transparent–or whether it’s integrating your economy into the global economy, there is an IT need within literally every economy.
One of the key challenges facing a lot of governments is, if you don’t have the local talent to do this, and if you wind up importing that talent, it’s very expensive and becomes a vicious cycle. You brought in people to build your system and then they break and you have to bring in more people to fix them. Unless you stop at some point in the process and say, “Wait a minute, this is too important to outsource, we really need to build this competency ourselves,” you can wind up with what a friend of mine in Rwanda refers to as “poison-pill IT systems;” systems that people are locked into using but they have no way to maintain themselves. Digital independence is getting nations to a point where they can take on these needs. And being good, free-market capitalists, our belief for how to do this is that countries are going to need a group of competent IT companies that can take on this problem.
. I think what’s become shockingly clear is that, to do business in the 21st century, you need to understand that a global business culture is an Internet-connected culture. And that’s as simple as, if you’re going to export to someone, you’re going to have to tie into an Enterprise Resource Planning or Supply Chain Management system. Or here’s something even simpler: If you’re running a hotel in Ghana, people want to see your rooms on the Web, and they want to send email to you and get an answer. And that requires some sort of local IT ecology to support it.