I was talking to my colleagues the other day and we were debating, well, actually we were just discussing about how technology can reduce poverty and change lives, especially in this continent, Africa, where the poverty levels of normal people might surprise you.
I know this has been said and heard many many times, but it is actually true and let me repeat that some people live on just under 1 USD/day. Hard to believe? You better believe it.
In this new generation, where technology is evolving and changing day in-day out, how can technology and globalization help reduce poverty in the poorest of our African societies? Down to the regular guy – a farmer in the village or a laborer working at the port carrying bags of cement from morning to night? How can technology as itself help this guy? How can it help improve his life, and have him say one day, if it wasn’t for the so and so something…I would have been poorer than I am now?
We continued to argue, and at the end, we came down to a few main points, affecting the regular guy:
- How can one learn & help themselves and others?
- What is the significance of information being readily available?
- How much has technology simplified communications and its impact on reducing poverty?
- What are some of the processes technology has simplified, e.g payments, sending money?
We could not answer all of them, but I took a shot at trying to elaborate some of them.
Learn, help yourself and others.
Technology is a wide area so this article will be based on computer technology, and how it can help reduce a person’s poverty level.
Take this scenario, our guy, who works as a laborer at the port, carrying cement bags morning to night can save some money, go to a computer school, learn with his whole heart, find a better job, get higher pay – creating for himself live a better life.
Another scenario – with technology, the farmer who works hard all year long, selling his crops at a loss to the business men who will continue to bargain for the lowest of prices, can go to the internet, research current market prices and sell his crops at a better price.
Another example of how technology can help people at the grassroot of society; the livestock farmer can go to the internet, communicate and network with buyers and resellers, sell his goods and make big profits.
Let me tell you a story about one friend of mine. And this is a true story, not fiction, not Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood. A very true story.
You know in Africa, we have poverty levels, and someone you consider poor at one place, in some other areas they may be well off. There are those poor families who can not even afford medical care; they would rely on the local herbalist for treatment when they are sick or they just wait and hope that the illness disappears. Some die, some get help from relatives, friends or neighbors and survive. Then, life continues to go on.
So, it was that this guy was born to a poor family, not entirely poor but a “better” family. They had all the essentials, like second-hand clothing, shelter, and they could sometimes afford at least two and a half meals per day, that is, breakfast (which was actually the remains of yesterday’s dinner) lunch and dinner.
They could afford healthcare for minor illnesses, and by that, I mean a malaria dose. If someone needed an operation – bad news. They would just pray and hope that all would be fine, or a miracle would happen, and they do happen I’m telling you!
Women and children
The good thing was that his parents managed to put him though school, though school fees was not always there. Relatives intervened and contributed sometimes, and he managed to complete primary, secondary and high school, and went on to college, passed. No! Wait a minute, he didn’t go to college, not at first.
After high school, he had to work, because he had young brothers and sisters, who needed to go to school too. Now that he was grown up, 19 going on 20, he had to lend his parents a hand with the younger ones; otherwise there would be no school for them. This meant no college for now, work first, college later.
So he got a job as a daily clerk at some NGO. This NGO was paying a high salary, which is US$4 per day. Not per hour, per day. And trust me when I tell you this is nothing to some people but for this guy and for some of the people currently getting paid the same, it is a lot. From that money he had to rent a room, eat, send some money home for siblings school fees, and most important of all, save for school.
One good thing about my friend is that he is smart. Show him something once and he got it. So at the company he had access to a computer. And he discovered the internet. And his life has changed since then.
He got his hands on all the tutorials he could get, he self taught himself microsoft office programs like Word, Excel, Access and powerpoint. He would print tutorials, read them at night, practice during the next day, whenever he got an opportunity at the computer, went in on Saturdays and Sundays, put in a lot of effort and he became really good in the end.
Some of the people at the office started to ask him for help, on simple computer things, and he would solve their problems with a smile on his face. Slowly he was being noticed by management.
Let’s fast forward to one year later; he took the Microsoft office specialist exams, passed and became a Microsoft Certified Office specialist. Then, in came his promotion. He was made assistant database administrator at the company, with a salary of up to $20 per day. $20 per day!!! Imagine what you can do with that, and I mean it literally, that is a lot of money for these parts of Africa.
To summarize, because his story is too long for this post, he was able to help his family, started a small business for his family, run by his father, put his younger brother through school up to college, got him a job, put his other younger relatives through school, built a house for himself, renovated his parents house, bought a car, you know…life changed completely for him and the ones close to him.
Latest news I have from him is that he later went to college, got some advanced diploma in computer science, got certified as a Professional Database Administrator, got a better job at a bigger company, got married, and lived happily ever after….well I’m not sure about the “happily ever after” to be honest.
So you can see how simple, self computer training changed this guys’ life.
So my advice to whoever wants to improve their living standards, via technology would be this
- Be willing to learn new technologies, and put some real effort in the LEARNING. Save some money, take computer classes, go to the internet cafe, learn to use the internet, send emails, mess around.
- After this you can get a job as a help desk assistant, or as an internet cafe attendant, or a secretarial job, or something. There are a lot of opportunities if you are willing to learn.
Another short story! There was a clerical job opening at the company where I work, and this guy came in for an interview. Trust me, he could not work with even the simple programs like Excel. I mean in this world of technology evolution, do you expect someone to apply for a clerical job, and not know how to open an ms excel file? Please forgive me but I think that is total incompetence.
Take some time to learn even the basics of everything, at least simple office applications, internet communication, take a two week course or ask a friend to teach you. Be willing to learn new things. That is the first most important thing.
- Take advantage of the availability of information. The internet is a great help. No matter which field you are based on, the internet is a great source of information. Be it medical, mechanical, industrial, agricultural. Take advantage of this and improve whatever it is that you are doing.
- Children during a break at school
Well with all this efforts from the individuals, still there are times when people completely can’t afford even the smallest amount you can think of. And this is where I think our governments should intervene. My advice to the government on improving the lives of its poor people would be this:
- Introduce free workshops in every village, educate the people on technology related issues, offer free computer classes, a few used computers per village could be enough.
- Provide employment opportunities to the ones that complete these courses. Positions like data entry clerks at hospitals, or at government offices, schools etc. Even if they are part time, they could help a lot.
- Educate the people on the importance of technology, how it simplifies life, how it could help them in combating poverty. Convince them to want to learn. The media (Radio & TV) is a good medium for this.
- Offer scholarships, to bright students in the villages who are willing to learn, but their parents just can’t afford to take them to school. Consider equal numbers from all the villages, so every small village can have at least one technologically educated person.
In the end we will have one society that can compete with other societies, in terms of technology and innovation, and after a while big countries like the US and the EU can start to even outsource some tech related jobs to Africa, like they have been doing to India and China.
Till next time, yours truly. Thanks to Winifred Valentine-Nah for editing.