Information and communications technology (ICT) is creating economic, social, and political empowerment opportunities for poor people in the developing wo rld. 1 Direct and independent access to information about prices and exchange rates can transform the relationship between poor producers and middlemen. Connectivity through telephones, radio, television, and the Internet can enable the voices of even the most marginal and excluded citizens to be heard, promoting greater government responsiveness. ICT can thus help to overcome poor people's powerlessness and voicelessness even while structural inequities exist in the distribution of traditional assets suc h as education, land, and finance. Although most poor people are isolated from the new information revolution, shared cellular phones, telecenters, 2 and other innovative solutions are beginning to provide low-cost ways for them to access ICT (box 1). Financial sustainability is indeed one of the main challenges for ICT projects and initiatives. Rigorous monitoring, evaluation, and beneficiary impact assessments are needed to appraise whether the benefits of ICT projects outweigh the costs. The issues of content and community participation are key to realizing the empowerment potential of ICT. To become truly relevant for poor people, ICT applications must be visual and graphic-oriented and should make content available in local languages. Before launching any ICT initiative, the information needs of a community should be thoroughly assessed, with the active involvement of the community, and software should be developed taking into account local conditions. Community participation will ensure continuity, while a top-down approach will probably lead to a waste of resources in the initial start-up of projects, endangering future sustainability. Participation itself, however, should not be introduced in a top-down, blueprint manner, and should also incorporate the local political and cultural context.
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