Project Management


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Social Networking Websites: A Way Out of Poverty


Social networking websites also known as, Web 2.0 – the name given to the new wave of internet businesses and websites such as YouTube and MySpace that are transforming the way people interact with the Web – has been dubbed the social web for its power to bring people together. The label has been derided as a marketing gimmick by some, but many argue there are a number of characteristics to Web 2.0 that make it something different and a valuable tool for entrepreneurs seeking ways out of poverty.

The new Web 2.0 applications offer many free software tools stored online, from accounting and business related tools, to new multimedia ways to communicate for free. Unlike Web 1.0 sites, which offered information to passive users, Web 2.0 sites allow interaction and comment. These qualities have meant Web 2.0 can be used to build communities and social and business networks. By being able to store vast quantities of information online, it becomes faster to work and reduces the painful delays brought on by slow connections.

All these new tools are making it easier and easier for entrepreneurs to work from home, in internet centres, or anywhere there is a wireless connection, and is slashing the costs of managing a business. All the applications are online so there is no need to be hidebound by one operating system or hardware capability. The number of internet centres has increased significantly all over Asia and Africa, bringing the power of Web 2.0 to millions more people.

Linking mobile phones and the internet is also remarkable. It is becoming more and more possible in Africa to send messages to weblogs via text messaging, to post photos and videos, or to stay connected with a community, advocacy or business group via messaging to its website.

“Web 2.0 is a pre-occupation of ours that can be beneficial in fighting poverty,” said Tobias Eigan, founder and co-executive director of, a web portal dedicated to promoting Web 2.0 in Africa. “It is really relevant for Africa. It makes the internet a read and write function, it is more user-friendly – that dynamic is going to make a big difference. It is so much easier to upload content with Web 2.0. It will build the capacity of local institutions and society and that will improve the lives of people – it will be much easier to fight poverty with this connectivity.”

Two other champions of the Web 2.0 way out of poverty are Waleed al-Shobakky, science and technology reporter for, and Jack Imsdahl, a consultant and technology commentator. While they admit subsistence farmers and the illiterate will not directly benefit, those who are students or are working in proximity to computers will definitely benefit. They point out how rapidly mobile phones have been taken up by the poor and that this is being driven by the new services they offer.

There are still profound obstacles to more rapid take-up, however. Internet connection speeds will have to get better and more will need to be invested in this area. Web 2.0 tools will also need to be adapted to local languages if they hope to get past those who speak major web languages like English.

Entrepreneurs in the global South can now easily sign up to a vast array of e-newsletters that are sent to email accounts and keep on top of trends and innovations in their field. The relative anonymity of these email lists mean subscribers are less likely to be judged on their physical circumstances.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: March 2007

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP's South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South's innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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