Information and Communication Technologies are one of the pillars of society, Gary Fowlie, from the UN explained at a meeting to discuss “Co-operatives and the Role of ICTs” on June 6.
The meeting was set up by the Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD), and discussed the use of ICTs to alleviate poverty, create sustainability and enhance social integration.
Three panelists from different areas in co-operatives and the UN, explained the issues facing co-operatives and their use of ICTs, as well as how they can go forward in the future.
“ICTs are transforming co-operatives by expanding the scope of potential networks and deepening existing relationships through more consistent communication, thus enhancing the potential for sustained interactions and co-ordination,” explained the chair of the event, Ms. Felice Llamas, from DSPD.
ICTs cover technology from radio, television, the internet and mobile phones.
There has already been substantial work in improving co-operative ICTs since the evolution of the internet. The domain name dotCoop has existed since 2002 and is used by co-operatives across the world.
Carolyn Hoover, from dotCoop said: “ICTs enhance co-operatives at many levels from operations to marketing. dotCoop works at many levels to make those jobs easier, the dotCoop domain functions as a shorthand for co-operative identity.”
Carole went on to say that dotCoop has even created their own awards celebrating co-operatives across the world and their work online. The winners include the Co-operative Press, who won an award in 2011 for it’s link shortening website.
The overall message of the meeting was that ICTs allow co-operatives to better work within the global market.
”Co-operative members’ access to and use of technologies should be improved, in order to increase their efficiency;” said Ms Lila Hanitra Ratsifandrihamanana, Director, Food Agriculture Organisation, Liaison Office, “ultimately, they can help in achieving poverty reduction and fulfill social development goals.”
In Kenya, an electronic money transfer system based on SMS messaging has changed the lives of millions of Kenyans including the rural poor. ‘M-PESA’ allows immediate payments for those who live in remote areas miles from conventional commercials banks.
Gary Fowlie, from the Head of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Liaison Office said: “The missing link between the developed and developing world is access to communication. ICT networks are a catalyst for the achievement of all three pillars of sustainability; social, economic and environmental and ICT infrastructure is taking on a utilitarian function on par with water, energy and transportation.”
Though almost all countries now have access to mobile phones, many rural areas do not have access to broadband or mobile broadband.
Gary Fowlie believes that this will make the biggest difference: “For smaller co-operatives, as mobile broadband comes up, they’re going to be able to penetrate markets that they couldn’t before.
ICTs can improve the quality, quantity and access to services. It goes without saying that if you have that ubiquitous mobile broadband, everybody is able to share information on a similar platform.”