Page 9 of 11
As this overview and the volume as a whole makes clear, the field of ICT4D is extremely diverse and it intersects with a wide range of other issues. There are indications that ultimately, specialization and focus on the non-ICT parts of society remain critical for successful ICT4D projects. Nepal is positioning itself as a communications gateway between China and India, making use of its unique physical location between these two emerging superpowers. In the Maldives, the few software developers who have been successful have been largely focused on the hospitality industry, and they have managed to market point-of-sale and hospitality management software to other countries as well.
Policymakers have to take stock of their true situation and the resources available to them rather than following one-size-fits-all blueprints for ICT-enabled development. In developed ICT market countries, policy and regulation are concerned more with future-proofing. On the other hand, in developing ICT market countries, policy seems to be more concerned with getting up to speed than with future-proofing. It is heartening to see a number of developing ICT market countries in Asia Pacific grappling with how to increase penetration rates and technology access, not just at the infrastructure level but also at the user level via targeted education, while at the same time trying not to over-regulate and maintaining a 'light touch'.
The main challenges ahead are likely to be managing the digital divide and convergence. While we have noted features that effective regulatory and policy frameworks appear to possess, it is still the regulators and the people of a country with ground-level experience who would know best what works there. That said, appropriate policy options and advice on what to do may be available but the political will could be lacking. Malaysia's well known leadership position in ICTs must be partially a function of the high-level support required to transform ideas into action. In 1994, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad chaired the newly established National IT Council. Other countries in the region have prime ministerial-level champions, such as Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, Chair of the National Information Communications Technology Development Authority in Cambodia, and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Philippines, who initiated a National ICT Month in 2005. It is clear that many other countries in the region do not have the same levels of leadership in their government administrations.
ICTs are rapidly transforming many fields and their successful implementation requires high-level champions who can influence the strategic direction of governments, business and community organizations in response to the changing environment. However, such advocacy must remain critical, as ICTs are not simply a good, but offer a powerful capacity to disrupt long-standing markets, communities and technologies. Sometimes such disruption is necessary to enable communities to respond adequately to a rapidly changing environment, although as the current consensus on climate change suggests, we may not be able to evaluate the success or failure of our development efforts until many years into the future. For ICT4D decision-makers whose own fortunes rise and fall quickly, the only option in such uncertainty is to evaluate the situation as rigorously as possible and attempt to chart a course for the right side of history.