Using Information Technology (IT) for the development of urban poor –an action agenda
Senior Ecologist and Nodal Officer
Gujarat Ecology Commission, Vadodara
Communities in urban slums are poor in fiscal terms but are rich in terms of a variety of skills. Information technology canhelp in generating better market value for services rendered using these skills. In addition, IT can play a major role inenhancement of knowledge and specialised skills at a relatively cheap rate.While IT is a useful catalyst for leap-frogging the developmental process, the core of the issue is development of humanresources. The development and strengthening of community based organisations (CBOs) at every slum is advocated. Inaddition, a mechanism for micro-enterprise ventures for marketing of services through the use of information technology isalso suggested. These information service companies (ISCos) will become the fulcrum for the economic development of the slum communities and their faster integration into the urban milieu. A five-year action agenda has been suggested for the urban centres of Gujarat, with a focus on these two local institutions. Theaction points for the first three years include surveys, database development, need assessment, setting up of the infrastructureand leasing it and orientation and training of communities to prepare them for the information age. The action points for thenext two years include mainly technical assistance to these two institutions and their capacity building.
: development, communities, information, marketing, services, training, networking, governance.
(What is needed?)
Urban areas have the potential to generate wealth. The poor in the urban areas are generally those whomigrate from the rural areas in search of improved livelihood opportunities. The fact that most choose tostay on is a pointer to the fact that they do perceive an improvement in their living conditions – compared tothe other option available to them – return to the villages.Another important conclusion may be safely drawn from the continued presence of urban poor – his abilityto specialise and integrate with the urban economy. Either he hones up his existing skills or he picks up newskills, or both, in order to provide specialised services in an economy that is discerning enough to be able tokeenly value these.The earlier stages of our economic development have focused on restricting migration of the rural poor tothe urban centres. Realisation has now dawned that this is not viable. The focus needs to shift to thedevelopment of an enabling environment that will lead to a faster integration.Rather than considering slum communities as a mere vote-bank, at best, or a breeding ground of anti-socialelements, at worst, these communities need to be regarded as a pluralistic resource-bank that provide vitalsupport to the mainstream development of the cities and, with some support, has the potential to radicallytransform the overall economic scenario.
Setting the agenda
(What should be the focus?)
A strategy to empower the urban poor through improved economic integration will be based on recognitionof the potentials, an assessment of the possibilities and a realistic evaluation of the present policies. Some of the basic elements of this strategy, where IT can be an important tool, will be mechanisms for marketing of services, enhancement of skills and participation in development programmes.
Marketing of services
: The entire range of services, such as those of domestic help, plumber, carpenter,mason, electrician, barber,
driver etc., can be made available in a value-added modethrough a computerised database. These are the services that are increasingly assumingsignificance in the modern economy. While consultants, catering industry and even beauty parlours, have been recognised as service sector industries and have been brought under theservice-tax net, we generally fail to recognise the services of the unorganised sector delivered by