The "digital divide" is not something we can ignore as the worldwide challenge of the last century increases exponentially.
Speaking before a World Resources Institute conference in Redmond, Washington, almost 20 years ago called "Creating Digital Dividends," Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft said, "Forget it.... what can we do with technology when people are starving? The world's poorest two billion people desperately need healthcare right now, not laptops."
Maybe he was right. It is extremely difficult to fashion a technology agenda for the poorest nations in the world.
But that was then.
We have now entered the age of creativity and innovation. The thinking may be different. With the creative and innovative use of the tools of this new age, maybe the developing nations can get ahead.
Examples of what is happening in some parts of the world are encouraging.
Bernard Krisher, an American who worked as an Asia correspondent for Newsweek for decades, provides computer education and Web access to a village school attended by 400 young students, and started an Internet project supporting the creation of a small woven-silk industry in the village, which sold silk scarves and table runners on the Internet.
In the old days, Pier One or some other boutique probably visited the tiny village once a year and bought up all the scarves for a fraction of what they could make themselves by selling their handiwork. Now they can sell them at a considerable profit.
Recently we heard about Rwanda on the evening news.
Hutu and Tutsi women are coming together to weave and talk about their challenges and find that their lives are not so different from one another. Both are struggling to provide for their families and put their painful pasts behind them. Together they have formed the Rwanda Basket Company and they too, are selling baskets on the Internet.
Now, according the Economist Magazine, "developing countries are competing on creativity 'in all matter of things' as well as cost. That will change business everywhere· the rich world is losing its leadership in the sort of breakthrough ideas that transform industries."They note:
"Even more striking is the emerging world's growing ability to make established products for dramatically lower costs: no-frills $3,000 cars and $300 laptops may not seem as exciting as a new iPad but they promise to change far more people's lives."
Equally important, in the past a telecom system for a village used to require a huge and costly infrastructure. Wireless now makes connectivity -- providing voice and data -- almost a snap. At a fraction of the cost of the old landline systems, they are being replaced in some of the poorest nations in the world.
A few years ago it simply did not seem possible that developing nations can "tap into their vast reserves made easier by rapid advances information and communications technologies," noted a 2008 UNCTAD/UNDP report. The findings and recommendations are promising:
"In this era of transformation, creativity and knowledge are fast becoming powerful means of fostering developments offering opportunities for developing countries to leapfrog into emerging high-growth areas of the world economy."
As Washington Post writer David Ignatius first advocated for Iraq, maybe a Digital Marshall plan to teach entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, is a plan that makes sense everywhere in the world.
Follow John M. Eger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeger62