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Digital technologies are an indispensable facet of every aspect of our society. Even in the developing world, mobile phones have transformed the lives and livelihoods of average citizens. Yet, two decades ago, when there were more phone lines in Manhattan than in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, only a few visionary institutions could have imagined that computers, the Internet and mobile phones would be so prominent in poverty-stricken environments. One of these visionary institutions was the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which recognized the important but complex role that information and communication technologies (ICTs) would have in fostering human development and reducing poverty. IDRC-supported projects critically examined the ways in which ICTs could be used to improve learning, empower the disenfranchised, generate income opportunities for the poor, and facilitate access to healthcare in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Their research focused on development priorities that were defined in collaboration with researchers from the Global South, civil society organizations, government officials and policymakers. By supporting research in this field since 1996, IDRC has become one of the leading institutions and key contributors to the growth of the “ICTs for development” (ICT4D) field, specifically because of its strategic decision to focus on building the capacity of Southern researchers and policymakers to explore how ICTs can continue to change people’s lives in the developing world. Considering that most development institutions and governments are currently attempting to integrate ICTs into their practices, this is an opportune time to reflect on the research findings that have emerged from working alongside researchers in this area. In particular, this book examines how research has helped IDRC contribute to building the ICT4D field based on a nuanced understanding of the relationship between ICTs and development goals. It also discusses programmatic investments made by IDRC since the late 1990s in a wide variety of areas related to ICTs, including infrastructure, access, regulations, health, governance, education, livelihoods, social inclusion, technical innovation, intellectual property rights and evaluation. Each chapter in this book analyzes how the research findings from IDRC-supported projects have contributed to an evolution of thinking, and the successes and challenges in using ICTs as a tool to address development issues. Each chapter also presents key lessons learned from ICT4D programming and makes recommendations for future work. The book illustrates how IDRC’s focus shifted over time from looking specifically at issues of access to understanding the implications of ICTs in the lives of citizens in the developing world.
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