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Broadband has the ability to elevate entrepreneurs and SMEs

 By Armen Orujyan 

Armen Orujyan, Commissioner - UN Broadband Commission

Armen Orujyan, Commissioner – UN Broadband Commission

The Global charitable efforts and the economic Aid slated for Developing Economies over the past half a century, though very useful, have produced only marginal impact in helping those countries transition into mature economies. Currently, over 80% of the countries around the globe are still either in developing or transitioning states. The UN target of at least 0.7 % of the gross national income (GNI) of Developed Countries to be spent on Official Development Aid has not fully materialized. Only five countries: Norway, Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark and the UK, have reached those targets. On an average about 0.3% is presently allocated to ODA, with an aggregate share going to the Least Developed Countries standing at about 0.1% of GNI.

A larger question begs an attention – is Aid in the current form is really the answer? In the age of exponential technological growth, both in high-tech sector and online space, global priorities warrant a review. The analysis should take into consideration the reality of today’s entwined and connected world, where access to technology is no longer a privilege but a right.

There ought to be more attention paid to the arrival and growth of Broadband technologies and its diffusion in developing economies. Broadband penetration in these societies is really an impact investment rather than just another development item. According to the Broadband Commission report, a 10% increase in broadband penetration generates approximately 1.4% additional GDP growth in Low and Middle Economies. But Broadband penetration by itself is only a part of the solution. The industrial revolution in the United States was shaped not only by establishing a vast and growing railroad system, but also with the state-of-the-art Engines that were used to transport great amounts of resources from one part of the country to another. Similarly, for effectiveness, the Broadband technologies must be complemented by smart online applications and solutions that will bring resources to the doorsteps of people around the clock. For a start, Broadband can be leveraged to empower global youth by connecting schools and students to the Internet. Many can learn from countries such as Macedonia, which offers one Web-enabled computer for every 1.45 children. Additionally, Macedonia empowered its rural citizens by building free Wi-Fi clouds around its villages and small towns, enabling those citizens connecting to the rest of the country, and more importantly to the global opportunities.

A critical aspect of Broadband is its ability to serve as a continuous and untiring stream of important resources in terms of intellectual, network, and financial capacities. Those connected either directly or through public access are a click away from finding these resources. Online access extends people’s reach exponentially, providing real-time data and critical knowledge about crops, diseases, and competitors to farmers, doctors, and local shops respectively.

Broadband also has the ability to elevate entrepreneurs and Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs). Eight out of ten first-time entrepreneurs fail and not necessarily because of bad ideas or funding shortages. Most rather fail because they simply do not know what to do. Broadband access can improve their fate by providing access to free project management tools and free online educational resources, such as Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, and other Massive Open Online Courses.

New startups and SMEs generally lack sufficient access to their customers. Broadband makes their connection with the rest of the world and their local and global customers possible and easier. These businesses, when connected, would no longer be limited in their reach. The access would empower them to actively seek new customers beyond their vicinity.

SMEs’ also require skills and funding to reach sustainability and to grow. Access to skills is considerably improved when connected to task and transaction enabled solutions such as Odesk and TaskRabbit. These and similar virtual solutions provide opportunities not only to new business Founders but also to people with practical skills. The two populations can easily connect, collaborate, and transact without moving away from their desks. And if these individuals or their startups require funding, online solutions such as Crowdfunding enable new and fun fundraising opportunities. They can secure funding for hiring new employees, building prototypes, or simply acquiring operating capital.

Broadband is critical today for people from all walks of life and the overall global economy. It powers people and businesses to their core. It enables problems to be turned into opportunities. It is the yes to every no in a fragmented society. From physical health to financial well-being, Broadband brings e-health solutions and digital funding instruments. My next venture, still in stealth mode, will bring many of the listed opportunities into one screen, actually into one unique and fun online Augmented Reality, giving a new home, a powerful digital residence for all, and especially to those who felt marginalized for too many years. It is exciting to be part of the world where in the foreseeable future every citizen on this planet will be digitally connected.