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Internet for SMEs in Developing Countries?

The World Bank’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Department promotes local small business growth in developing nations. As noted on the World Bank Group’s website:

Out of the four key ways that the World Bank helps SMEs, one of them is through helping smaller enterprises obtain access to the Internet and information technology. The World Bank aims to help SMEs leverage technology and the Internet to discover market information, link up with suppliers and sell to global customers.

It is surprising to find that the World Bank places so much emphasis on the Internet and information technology — so much so that it’s one-fourth of their SME strategy.

Without a doubt, the Internet has increased the pace of globalization dramatically. And it has become an indispensable tool for businesses in the developed world.

But are most SMEs in third world countries really ready to do business using the Internet? Or do they have more pressing needs? We are reminded of the Gates Foundation, which announced in 1997 that it would donate computers to third world countries in an attempt to bridge the digital divide, only to change its priorities a few years later to focus on health care. Why? Because of Bill Gates’ realization that third world countries had more immediate and urgent needs than access to computers and the Internet [1].