The internet may seem like a luxury enjoyed only by people in prosperous Western nations, but in fact it’s the backbone of a revolution taking place across the planet. Far from being useful only to those who are already financially comfortable, it’s enabling ordinary people in some of the world’s least developed areas to pull themselves up out of poverty and do business on an equal level, improving economic and social prospects for everyone around them.
Doing business worldwide
The key to this lies in what the internet can do to facilitate international trade. Currency conversion has never been cheaper or easier, shipping has never operated so effectively on a global basis, and it has never been so easy to learn a language for free – or find help with translation if you can’t. Most important of all, however, is online networking. This means that manufacturers in developing nations no longer need middlemen but can sell their products directly to customers or retailers in more prosperous countries.
The Middle East
One of the first regions to make dramatic progress based on the opportunities offered by online communications was the Middle East. We tend to think first of the glittering skyscrapers of places like Dubai and Kuwait City, but its empowering effect has been felt everywhere. Afghan Wireless founder Ehsanollah Bayat recognized that while it was challenging to achieve widespread internet access in his mountainous country, it was a vital step in enabling his country to move forward, meaning that even people in isolated villages could potentially trade internationally.
Although only 20% of people in India have internet access thus far, its economic impact has been considerable. India has been particularly strong when it comes to the technology sector, with software design and support services booming. Where networks have been extended into the countryside, usually through mobile phones, they have helped to enhance literacy and learning opportunities. As it continues to develop its infrastructure, India is creating solutions to the problem of overcrowding in the cities and economic isolation elsewhere.
African nations have been particularly swift in getting to grips with internet technologies and have learned lessons from elsewhere as they have set about developing infrastructure. The consequent growth of business opportunities has been a huge factor in helping nations like Kenya and Nigeria to compete at the very top level, while simply having access to news and up-to-date information about the world has transformed many village economies and created pools of localized prosperity which are gradually spreading.
For too long, poor communications infrastructure has restricted the life opportunities of billions of people in developing countries. Now that’s beginning to change, and as it does so, whole countries and regions are seeing economic growth like never before. It’s not just business people who benefit, but all their citizens, and that in turn makes it possible to bring more people online. Everybody is a citizen of the internet.