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Technology Giants Push to Alleviate African Poverty


Some of the world's leading information technology corporations are in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, for what organizers are calling a historic summit focusing on Africa's growing IT sector. Representatives of tech giants are calling for business solutions to alleviate poverty. Noel King has this report from Kigali.

Industry leaders say chronic poverty in Africa will be alleviated by investment in information technology, rather than foreign aid.

At the Kigali summit, representatives touted programs that are aimed at producing profits for both foreign investors and Africans, without using traditional models of charitable aid.

Global trade association, GSM, which represents 70 mobile phone service providers and three billion subscribers announced it will double investments in sub-Saharan Africa's mobile phone industry to $50 billion over the next five years.

Chief Government and Regulatory Affairs officer Tom Phillips spoke to VOA about programs that will benefit both investors and consumers in some of Africa's poorest villages.

"What we are doing is developing programs, which are proving already to be very successful, for shared village phone services where up to 500 people can have access to the same phone and have their own voice mail box and get connected with their family, get connected with business," he said.

Representatives of Microsoft's Unlimited Potential Group also attended the summit.

Unlimited Potential Vice President Michael Rawdings said the group utilizes business models that provide a win-win situation for both investors and local people.

"We have found that if you create solutions that are relevant, accessible and affordable then there are sustainable mechanisms for people to purchase them and then you create a viable market model," he added. "There are a variety of mechanisms that would enable the delivery of that solution and move away from an aid-oriented model."

Cisco Systems is another tech giant working to develop Africa's IT sector.

Anthony Von See is the General Manager of Cisco systems in Africa. Von See told VOA that some African leaders are still unaware of the vast benefits of advancements in telecommunications.

"We are trying to work with governments," he explained. "We provide them with success stories from abroad so they have an idea what ICT actually could mean for their country in terms of how it increases the GDP of their country or how it can create local wealth in their population, rather than waiting for funding all the time."

All tech companies stress that their interest in alleviating poverty is combined with a desire to open new markets for their products.

Microsoft's Rawdings explains.

"We have seen time and again that once those fundamental investments are made, it has a very direct impact on social and economic development," he added. "From that, there is a whole series of new customers that are potentially developed. That is the long-term approach that we have in mind."

The two-day summit was organized by the U.N. International Telecommunication Union, the African Union, and the World Bank.

Ten heads of state and more than 1,000 investors and ministers of technology and communications participated in the event.