For the last twelve years, the World Economic Forum  and INSEAD  have been publishing The Global Information Technology Report (GITR), which features a Network Readiness Index (NRI)  that measures the ability of countries to leverage information communication technologies (ICTs) for growth and well-being. This year’s GITR , which focuses on jobs and growth, covers 144 countries. The assessments are based on a broad range of indicators that include Internet access, adult literacy, and mobile phone subscriptions. As noted in the report, the growing availability of technology has empowered citizens of both developed and developing countries with good access to the digital world. However, this year’s GITR has some sobering news about the state of ICTs in many parts of the developing world. Despite some positive trends, the report shows a sharp digital divide between impoverished nations and richer economies.
On the top ranked economies, the report notes two groups of countries that dominate the NRI: Northern Europe and the Asian Tigers. A total of four Nordic countries are featured in the top ten. Finland, the top ranked country, is followed by Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. But, as pointed out in the report, the gap between those countries and the ones in Southern and Eastern parts of Europe is profound. The second group of high performing countries includes Singapore (ranked no. 2), Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. These countries are characterized as the most digitized and innovative nations with strong government leadership in promoting the digital agenda. This is in sharp contrast to some of the poorer Asian countries that that are featured in the lower parts of the rankings, including Nepal, Bangladesh, and Timor Leste.
Other countries with notable lags in rankings include those in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. Among the bottom twenty countries, twelve are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where challenges remain with costly access to ICT infrastructure, low levels of skills and educational attainment, and unfavorable business environments.
The patterns of disparity that exist throughout the report are grim; however, as several case studies in the GITR demonstrate, there are also a lot of notable technological achievements taking place in the developing world. There are three case studies in this year’s GITR that highlight these successes, including one on Rwanda’s Metamorphosis to a Knowledge-Based Society , Colombia’s Digital Agenda , and E-Government in Latin America: A Review of the Success in Colombia, Uruguay, and Panama .
These case studies tell inspiring stories about how countries have overcome a number of obstacles to achieve remarkable success in their ICT agendas. In Rwanda, despite a shortage of highly skilled ICT personnel, high costs of energy, and low broadband and internet penetration, the government embarked on the extraordinary journey of transforming its agrarian economy into a knowledge based one that is globally competitive. Similarly, Colombia faced a number of obstacles to achieving gains in its digital agenda, including negative perceptions on the usefulness of the internet, the high costs of ICT infrastructure, and limitations in Colombian’s purchasing power. In spite of these challenges, the government developed Vive Digital, an ambitious plan to achieve widespread use of the internet. Vive Digital has already made some notable gains. During the last two and a half years, Colombia went from 2.2 million internet connections to 6.2 million. And in 2014, Colombia is expected to reach 8.8 million connections.
In all, this year’s GITR presents fascinating data, rankings, cases, and country profiles that clearly demonstrate the promise of developing strong national strategies that foster ICTs along with the pitfalls of low connectivity, limited capital, and costly ICT infrastructure. But even with the more stark numbers and challenging circumstances, the case studies in this year’s GITR also show that countries have enormous potential to leapfrog their way into more technologically advanced futures and create real opportunities for competitiveness, jobs, and growth.
Photo credit: flickr user Mishel Churkin 
- ICTs 
- INSEAD 
- leapfrog technologies 
- Network Readiness Index 
- Rwanda Metamorphosis to a Knowledge-Based Society 
- The Global Information Technology Report 
- World Economic Forum 
- Information and Communication Technologies 
- The World Region 
- Denmark 
- Sweden 
- Norway 
- Finland 
- Uruguay 
- Rwanda 
- Panama 
- Colombia 
- GITR 
- Digital Divide 
- Colombia’s Digital Agenda 
- and E-Government in Latin America