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05 March 2003

U.S. to Help Poor Countries Access Information Technology

(Digital Freedom Initiative viewed as innovative public-private
partnership) (1180)


The United States March 4 launched an initiative to bring the benefits
of information and communications technology (ICT) to entrepreneurs
and small businesses in developing countries.


The Digital Freedom Initiative (DFI) -- a joint program of the
departments of Commerce and State, U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID), Peace Corps and USA Freedom Corps, and business
partners Hewlett Packard and Cisco Systems -- will place volunteers in
small businesses to share business knowledge and technology expertise.
The program will be piloted in Senegal, a democratic secular nation
whose population is 94 percent Muslim, according to a USAID press
release.


At a White House meeting announcing the initiative, Commerce Secretary
Don Evans called DFI "an exciting new model of how different parts of
the federal government, the development community, the private sector
and developing nations can join forces for progress."

The DFI reflects President Bush's commitment to encouraging innovative
foreign aid policies that "encourage wealth creation, economic and
political freedom, the rule of law and human rights," Evans said. The
initiative "builds an environment for technology-led economic
development," he said.

Senegal was chosen as the first DFI country because "it is one of the
best-run countries in the developing world," Andrew Natsios, USAID
administrator, said at the meeting. Planners expect the program to
eventually help more than 360,000 small businesses in Senegal, he
said.

"There is no better tool for Africa's great leap forward than ICT,"
Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade said by video at the meeting.

Volunteers will come from both partner companies and Peace Corps.

"Peace Corps has a long history of information and communication
technology-based projects, Gaddi Vasquez, the agency's director, said
at the conference. The Peace Corps currently has more than 1,500
volunteers working on ICT and many more involved with information
technology through education programs, he said.

DFI will focus on promoting productivity and business process
innovation, creating a financial infrastructure for entrepreneurs,
building a foundation for growth and ownership, and developing a
framework for policy and regulatory reform, according to a Peace Corps
press release.

"Technology can help unlock the potential of individuals, communities
and countries," said Carley Fiorina, chairman and chief executive
officer of Hewlett Packard. She also appeared at the meeting. She said
the company has learned that to be effective helping poor communities
it must donate talent as well as money and equipment.

Fiorina said only 10 percent of the world's population can afford to
buy the computer company's products. By making technology more
accessible, the company is also hoping to develop future markets, she
said.

Types of DFI projects Hewlett-Packard envisions include helping
communities develop publicly owned "cyber cafes" and partnering with
local entrepreneurs to develop "local relevant [Internet] content."

Vasquez highlighted another example of the project's possibilities. He
described a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa who helped a group of
artisans develop a web site that they use to market their products
worldwide.

Cisco Systems Chairman John Morgridge at the meeting talked about
another possibility. He said it can further his company's program of
providing classes over the Internet to developing countries on how to
use information technology.

"Information technology is changing the world," Hernando de Soto,
president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima, Peru,
said at the meeting.

Following is the text of a USA Freedom Corps fact sheet on DFI and an
excerpt from the Digital Freedom Initiative web site (www.dfi.gov):

(begin text)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2003
FACT SHEET

The Digital Freedom Initiative

Action

Today at the White House, Secretary Evans, USAID Administrator
Natsios, USA Freedom Corps Director Bridgeland and Peace Corps
Director Vasquez launched the Digital Freedom Initiative (DFI). The
goal of the DFI is to promote economic growth by transferring the
benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) to
entrepreneurs and small businesses in the developing world. The
approach is bold and innovative, leveraging the leadership of the US
government, the creativity and resources of America's leading
companies, and the vision and energy of entrepreneurs throughout the
developing world. The DFI will be piloted in Senegal, a democratic
secular country in which 94 percent of the population is Muslim, and,
as it proves successful, could be rolled out to additional countries.

Key Elements

-- Placing volunteers in small businesses to share business knowledge
and technology expertise;

-- Promoting pro-growth regulatory and legal structures to enhance
business competitiveness; and

-- Leveraging existing technology and communications infrastructure in
new ways to help entrepreneurs and small businesses better compete in
both the regional and global market place.

Supporting the Developing World

One third of the world could be left behind if more is not done to
provide developing countries with the skills, knowledge, and access to
markets necessary to compete.

-- In globalizing developing countries, per capita income increased 5
percent a year in the 1990s.

-- In other developing countries, per capita income decreased by 1
percent over the past decade.

Appropriately designed ICT in developing countries can provide
inexpensive and critical access to domestic and global markets,
allowing the invisible hand of the market to be a helping hand to the
poor.

Objectives

Enable Innovation through Volunteer-led Business and Entrepreneur
Assistance

The DFI will place volunteers from the private sector and NGOs with
small businesses and entrepreneurs to assist in growing their
businesses through the application of technology and the transfer of
business expertise.

Drive Pro-Growth Legal and Regulatory Reform

The State Department, Commerce, USAID, FCC, and other public and
private sector organizations will assist DFI countries in developing
pro-growth regulatory and legal structures to enhance business
competitiveness

Leverage Existing Information and Communications Infrastructure to
Promote Economic Growth

The DFI will identify opportunities to leverage existing
infrastructure (e.g., in-country cybercafes and telecenters) to
generate information and services (e.g. financial services, commodity
price information, etc.) to help entrepreneurs and small businesses
better compete in both the regional and global market place.

Measuring Results

At regular intervals, DFI projects will be evaluated based on
performance benchmarks that measure small business growth, market
efficiency gains, business integration with international partners and
markets, and job growth.

The Senegal Pilot

The Senegal Pilot will:

-- Place over 100 volunteers to assist small businesses and
entrepreneurs in growing their businesses through ICT, and the
government of Senegal with regulatory reform;

-- Leverage nearly 200 cybercafes and 10,000 telecenters to generate
information and services that provide business opportunities for small
businesses and entrepreneurs;

-- Benefit over 360,000 small businesses and more than half a million
Sengalese; and

-- Train and equip Peace Corps volunteers in Senegal who require
laptops and other technology to perform their service duties. Peace
Corps currently has 130 volunteers serving in Senegal.

Public-Private Sector Partnership

The DFI is designed to be high impact, but low cost. Leveraging off of
volunteers and partners in the private sector, the budget for the
Senegal pilot is estimated at $6.5 million over the next three years.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)