For Blog Action Day 2008 ...
People have long accepted the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." (Not this similar quote here) It sounds great, as long as you are not the owner, shareholder or worker on a factory fishing ship. Then the newly-trained fisherman could be seen as a threat.
This isn't just being trite, taking people out of poverty isn't an isolated action that will have no impact on the rest of the world. My example of industrialized fishing isn't accidental. Here's a frequently brutal use of technology that provides us with cheap food, but can also be blamed for destroying the livelihoods of thousands of people and cultures.
There are alternative routes to development such as tourism. Ibiza, the island where I live, used to be the poorest place in the poorest country in Western Europe, Spain. In 30 years Ibiza has become one of the wealthiest provinces in Spain, a country which now has among the best living standards in Europe. And the root of its prosperity are the invisible exports represented by tourist foreign-currency spending.
Other countries are using the money sent back by emigrants to develop local economies. For instance, when I've visited Silicon Valley I've always been struck by the numbers of South Asians. Most I've met have been sending money home to India and dream of returning to set up their own businesses. On a lower-paid scale the labor camps of the Middle East are teeming with building workers with similar plans.
The problem with all these methods of regeneration is they're not exactly appropriate when the world's economies are in turmoil and we're confronting global warming and other potential environmental catastrophes. Most of all, migrant working will tend to improve the economy of the place of work, rather than the countries of the families left behind.
The internet however, offers a route to both education and paid work, without the need to travel. The technology and infrastructure available, which is steadily becoming more accessible, could provide millions with the equivalent of 'virtual fishing rods' - not just aid, but the ability access work from anywhere in the world without having to travel.
Access to telecommunications is improving everywhere, both in the developed and the developing world. For instance, the Common Services Centres (CSC) project run by India's central government is bringing 100,000 telecenters across rural areas as the first stage of a 600,000 telecenter program. Of course this won't make India's population of over a billion instantly literate, but it will give millions of the country's knowledge workers access to world markets. That could mean giving western corporations access to a huge source of cheap intellectual labor or it could be used for something fairer.
Through an online marketplace such as ki work, colleagues can collaborate across national boundaries to bid for outsourced projects. It's 'fair trade' because the bidding process is transparent. Instead of working for a local outsourcer or a western corporation people are working for themselves to create businesses and, of course, spending the proceeds locally.
Of course, It can't be denied that this represents a threat to the better-paid knowledge workers of developed countries. Currently outsourcing frequently means companies simply firing more expensive employees and replacing them with cheaper alternatives. But it also offers opportunities.
The ki work platform (and there are others) enables those who could otherwise be thrown on the scrapheap to use their local contacts and specialist skills in areas such as project management, communication, IT and web development to create virtual businesses online. Potentially this is a great win-win situation. Every individual can make the most of their combination of skill and price no matter where in the world they are.
This post was written for Blog Action Day, "an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day. [The] aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion." Over to you...