- Bridging Divides with Inclusive mCommerceCreating Shared Value
Innovations Case Narrative: Dialog Tradenet
Sri Lanka is often referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Resplendent in natural beauty and diversity, the island nation is richly resourced in terms of its highly literate and connected population of 21 million and an economy that is growing annually by more than 8 percent. Sri Lanka’s mobile penetration rate is near 100 percent, while the literacy rate and level of awareness of information and communication technologies (ICTs) are approximately 91.9 percent and 50 percent, respectively, as of 2010.1 Sri Lanka joins the nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan to form the geo-economic region of South Asia.
Despite its intrinsic structural strengths, sustainable social and economic constructs, and the presence of an emerging powerhouse in the form of the Indian economy, the South Asian region nevertheless has a low Human Development Index (HDI) rating.2 South Asia’s lagging performance in terms of raising its HDI [End Page 43] rating somewhat belies the long-term competitiveness of a region that has shown strong potential in terms of emerging economic prosperity. The median Gini coefficient for South Asia of approximately 40 underscores the assertion that the region’s HDI is the result of the economic inequalities prevalent in South Asian countries, which in turn dilute the positive factors of globally competitive literacy levels, connectivity, and economic growth.3
With its vastly unequal income distribution, South Asia is home to approximately one-half of the world’s illiterate adults and a nearly equal proportion of the worlds’ poor, defined as those living on less than US$1 a day. Policymakers, civil society, and public-and private-sector organizations in the region are actively implementing both orthodox and innovative strategic interventions that confront the challenges referred to above and leverage the potential of the region’s embryonic markets to create a more egalitarian and competitive society in South Asia.
South Asian markets are typically bipolar in nature, in that they have a substantial cosmopolitan and globalized top of the pyramid (ToP) segment, which exists alongside but in great contrast to the numerous middle of the pyramid (MoP) and bottom of the pyramid (BoP) communities, which tend to be heterogeneous and complex in terms of structure and diversity. The divide between these segments of society are typically multidimensional, and they manifest as asymmetries across many essential areas of human development, including but not limited to education, health, commerce, and information. Given the economic disparity prevalent in such social constructs, innovative intervention clearly is an imperative and will require energetic and decisive leadership from both government and the private sector.
On the flip side, the existence of globalized (ToP) segments, connectivity infrastructure provided through mobile telephony, and an increasing affinity for the use of ICTs provide a fertile and opportunistic backdrop for the achievement of quantum advances through innovative interventions. There is a ripe opportunity to leapfrog the HDI by exploiting enablement platforms based on ICTs in general and on the ubiquitous “mobile ecosystem” specifically. In this context, the omnipresence of the mobile device in its various and pervasive manifestations as a potentially life-changing tool should be viewed as an epochal social innovation. The mobile ecosystem undoubtedly has the power to drive the transformation of economic outcomes through the consumption of socially empowering services, such as mobile services, and to contribute significantly to the achievement of development goals.
The underlying movement toward sustainable development derived through ICTs implies that information is power. Nowhere is this aphorism more appropriate than in developing countries, where innovation and investment can work together to eradicate socioeconomic asymmetries in the drivers that promote economic development. The eradication of asymmetries in trade and commerce through the innovative use of mobile technology in particular presents an opportunity to deliver sustainable social and economic dividends in the South Asia region. A pre-requisite for the efficacy of such an approach would however be the [End Page 44] presence of a constituency at the ToP which is competitive on a regional and global scale, presenting the eradication of asymmetries...