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Digital Solidarity Fund
Jamais Cascio, 17 Mar 05

We've talked quite a bit about the value of information and communication technology as a tool for development. While certainly not more important than basic literacy, health and nutrition efforts, ICT can play a significant role in both local empowerment and accelerating economic development, especially mobile and free/open source technologies. A recurring question, however, is how to pay for such tools; while proposals to bring down the cost of individual devices can be helpful, broader-based efforts may also be necessary.

That's the goal of the Digital Solidarity Fund.

The DSF is a newly-inaugurated program to finance the expansion and availability of information and communication technology in the developing world. President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal is behind the idea, which proposes that 1% of the profits companies make on "public technology projects" be voluntarily donated to the fund, which will be used to underwrite the acquisition of computers, mobile phones, and network access, with a focus on health and educational services. The DSF will also provide microfinancing services, with a focus on ICT.

The cities of Geneva, Lyon and Turin are founding members of the Fund, and Geneva has already taken steps to put it in practice: as of January 1, all companies bidding on ICT equipment and services for the city agree to contribute 1% of the transaction profits to the DSF.

The big question with a project such as this will be how much of the fund actually gets used to help developing countries, and how much goes to "administration" and "overhead" and various forms of petty corruption. The DSF could work quite well, of course, and be run in an admirably transparent fashion, but large institutional efforts like this don't always have the best track record. What we need is a new model for this sort of project -- something completely transparent, with a real focus on recipient empowerment, and greater opportunities for collaboration. Are there projects out there with similar goals that work? If you were running the DSF, how would you structure it?

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