Asia Pacific is home to around 3.74 billion people—about half the world’s population—yet, a staggering 60 percent of the world’s poorest people are found in this region. While efforts to tackle poverty has paid off tremendously, with the number of people living on only $1.25 a day halved from since 1990, this figure still stands at 772 million. That is a lot of people who are living on practically nothing.
This is an example of how pervasive poverty is, but innovation in technological advances can help to reduce it significantly; not just in Asia, but around the world. For instance, the growing affordability of smartphones and tablets can lead to development opportunities for those living in rural area. A farmer in Sri Lanka can start a simple online business, which helps him to support some of his poorer neighbours in the village. If such innovation takes an upward trend over the years, the United Nation’s goals of eliminating all forms of poverty by 2030 may just be within reach.
Despite these advances, the poverty cycle is notoriously hard to break, but like what our co-founder Bill Gates suggests, we can all work together to ease this process. This can be possible by helping the poor empower themselves with readily-available information and knowledge. One way is to offer them Internet access—now a basic human right as declared by the United Nations just a few years ago.
It is not hard to see why connectivity has become such an indispensable technology. For some, the Internet has offered them access to education, jobs and other opportunities. Take a look at these examples: Sam Saba, president of telecommunications company Ericsson, recalled how his organisation met a young mother during a market study trip in the Philippines. Not only was she able to make ends meet by selling cosmetics on Facebook, she was even earning more than her husband, the breadwinner of the family. They also met a Bangladeshi man, who shared how his children could now look for better jobs online—an opportunity that he himself was not privy to when he was younger.
Lack of education is a key factor in perpetuating poverty, but with technology, we as a global community have the potential to change this. On our end, we have been hosting a series of IT events and trainings. For instance, our colleagues in New Zealand actively supports the High Tech Youth Network, a local nonprofit, in providing underserved local youth with opportunities for digital education and IT training. Microsoft Nepal also endeavoured to bring digital literacy across the country, visiting dozens of rural communities and teaching more than 8,000 Nepalese basic IT. This affords them various opportunities to pursue a career—a showcase of how technology can be used to offer the less fortunate access to education.
Microsoft has also helped Karen refugees prepare for life after resettlement through IT training courses. Find out more.
Finally, a common trait of children growing up in poverty is a low sense of agency, in which they feel that they have no control over the highly volatile situations they are placed in—often the cause of, as well as the result of, the lack of information. By giving the poor access to information they can use, technology can help them take charge of their circumstances more effectively. One app that is doing that is Poverty Spotlight, a tool that helps poverty-stricken families assess their level of poverty by prioritising their problems, and helping them overcome these issues through existing resources that can be found in the community.
Poverty is a complex issue, and is usually the result of a set of factors and events that is difficult to break out of. While there is no silver bullet to completely eradicate poverty, we can gradually stamp it out, perhaps by 2030—and technology might just be what we need to accelerate this process.