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It Takes a Wired Village

It Takes a Wired Village

Sun, along with other companies including Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, realize that there's more to their corporate humanitarian work than giving money or delivering palettes full of computers to some distant country

It's impressive that there are 2 billion people connected to the Internet, but having 4 billion not connected is a social issue.

Technology companies are reaching out to those 4 billion people to connect them to the Web and its advantages of better education, a stronger economy, more political power and a better life. And, not surprisingly, the side benefit is higher sales and profits for the companies.

"I don't think there's a doubt in anybody's mind that technology has the capacity to change the world," said Jonathan Schwartz , CEO of Sun Microsystems, on stage at the company's JavaOne Conference in the US.

Sun, along with other companies including Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems, realize that there's more to their corporate humanitarian work than giving money or delivering palettes full of computers to some distant country. Instead, they are providing educational programs and wiring developing countries that are, so far, excluded from the Internet economy.

With all the resources we have in this world, it's just unconscionable that 1.5 billion people will go to bed hungry every night

Jibril Diallo, director, United Nations Office of Sports for Development and Peace

At JavaOne, Schwartz introduced Jibril Diallo, director of the US-based United Nations Office of Sports for Development and Peace. The Office of Sports for Development and Peace promotes youth sports as a common interest to encourage education and empowerment of young people in many countries. Sun supports the program and sponsored the Global Youth Leadership Summit in November 2006 at UN headquarters in New York. The UN promotes technology, education, social and economic development in poor countries.

"We need to create opportunities for young people," said Diallo to the audience of software programmers, Sun employees and others. "With all the resources we have in this world, it's just unconscionable that 1.5 billion people will go to bed hungry every night."

Schwartz, along with Sun Chairman Scot McNealy, proposed creation of "Engineers Without Borders", an organization of computer engineers that would help bring technology to underserved countries much like "Doctors Without Borders" brings health-care. A Sun spokeswoman later cautioned, though, that the idea was only discussed briefly by Schwartz and McNealy moments before they went on stage.

Companies with millions of dollars in profits have as many, or sometimes more, resources to bring IT to poorer countries than the countries themselves, said Brooke Partridge, CEO of US-based Vital Wave Consulting. Although she mostly helps companies sell into markets in developing countries, the firm also advises them on their philanthropic strategies.

Of the 100 largest economies in the world, about 50 of them are corporations, Partridge said. "When you are looking at large Fortune 50 companies, they have the kind of power that a lot of countries have in terms of economic capability."

Philanthropic efforts in developing countries also dovetail with their business efforts, she said. Technology growth rates are slowing in mature markets so companies need to expand into new ones.

Sun's Schwartz, for instance, acknowledges that if Internet service is extended into countries without it, there will be more demand for Sun's server and storage products.

HP expects to spend $US50 million on philanthropic projects this year. As a company selling in 170 countries and deriving 65 percent of its revenue from outside the US, HP is clearly a global corporate citizen, said Sidney Espinosa, director of philanthropy programs.

In many communities in which it operates, HP assesses local needs and focuses its grant giving on educational and economic development and environmental protection, Espinosa said. "You look at what in particular you bring to the table and then you look at what needle you can move. What impact can you really have to make a difference and to change things?" HP also supports a Micro Economic Development Program that provides small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Like many tech companies, HP realizes people in developing countries are more likely to access the Internet on wireless devices than PCs because landline phone networks are inadequate or nonexistent.

Cisco has operations in 80 countries, but its Cisco Networking Academy operates in 165, said Amy Christen, vice president of corporate affairs. The academy delivers technology training programs through high schools, universities, and technical schools in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria and elsewhere. Cisco establishes the curriculum and local instructors teach it. The academy serves about 500,000 students worldwide.

Cisco's routers and switches helped build the Internet and will likely be used to extend it to developing countries, Christen said. Still, Cisco chose education over just donating its products because if developing countries are to grow their Internet economies, they'll need a knowledgeable workforce.

"We quickly found that equipment's not the solution. Knowledge is the solution," she said.

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