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ICT for development in Asia Pacific: Emerging themes in a diverse region
Danny Butt and Partha Pratim Sarker
In late 2008, a series of financial shocks highlighted the risks emerging from a highly networked, information economy. Governments were forced to respond quickly as movements in one financial market overnight had unpredictable effects on investor confidence in the other side of the world the next day. While investment banks collapsed or were bailed out, governments were forced to underwrite individual deposits, and reluctantly admitted that there was little that could be done to decisively reverse their nation's market fortunes or insulate them from the radical volatility of advanced economies. When advanced economies such as the United Kingdom have over 60 percent of their wealth in real estate (Hopkins 2008), sudden write-downs in value can occur as property markets fall.
It was a reminder, perhaps, that the question of development in the networked economy is far from straightforward, and the issue of wealth acquisition requires developing economies to ask: what kind of wealth? Many commentators assume that because information and communication technologies (ICTs) are equated with higher overall standards of living, then the deployment of these technologies and associated infrastructure will automatically result in higher levels of development. However, a historical view suggests that when disruptive technologies such as the Internet emerge, it is those with substantial capital who are best placed to reap the dividends (Noe and Parker 2005), and in a networked economy, this usually means those in advanced economies.
A focus on human rather than purely technological development is becoming evident from governments in the Asia Pacific region, with the aim of making the labour force globally competitive in the ICT and related industries. Localization is a key strategy in ensuring that productive workforces are retained and developed, as this workforce becomes the most strategic asset in responding to a rapidly shifting information economy.