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Author's profile photo John Ward

Information Technology is a Basic Human Right

For many parents like me, it is hard to imagine our kids without a laptop or smart phone in their hands. But the reality is that equal access to these technologies is not universal.


Many people believe that information technology is an essential need for the world’s children – not unlike safe drinking water or modern immunizations.

Nigel Chapman is one of those people. Chapman is the chief executive officer of Plan International, a global nonprofit that is one of the oldest and largest children’s development organizations in the world. Plan International works in some 50 developing countries to promote child rights and lift millions of children out of poverty.

Chapman believes technology for the developing world is about survival rather than entertainment.

In a thought-provoking blog Why technology is the future for girls, he writes that in many countries, “technology is about solving problems rather than sharing social trivia . . . the developing world is making pragmatic use of technology to drive growth, reinforce rights, and break the cycle of poverty.”

Closing a Gender Gap

But Chapman sees a real disparity along gender lines.

“In the developing world, nearly 25% fewer girls and women are online than boys and men,” he writes, “with this gap climbing to 40% in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa.” He points out that discrimination, lack of confidence, and lack of basic language skills can all affect a teenage girl’s access to computers.

Chapman thinks, “If we can change these gender stereotypes and transform attitudes to technology, we will see girls in the developing world attain their human right to technology, and make massive leaps in both their private and their working lives.”

Supporting a Global Mission

Chapman and Plan International see the power of information technology firsthand in their own global programs and emergency response efforts. Plan International, for example, uses a cloud-based HR solution from SuccessFactors, an SAP company, to help manage and deploy its teams of specialized employees and freelancers.

A dramatic demonstration of this capability was Plan International’s response to Typhoon Haiyan when the storm slammed into the Philippines and displaced more than 800,000 people – many thousands of them children. “Being able to qualify our employees against certain skills allows us to choose the right people to respond,” says Plan International’s Global CIO Mark Banbury in a recent interview.

In fact, with real-time visibility of employee data and skills, Plan International can react better to virtually any situation.

Last year alone, Plan International worked with 78 million children in more than 90,000 communities. And the NGO takes a broad and holistic approach to protecting these boys and girls. This includes ensuring they have the basic resources needed to survive natural disasters and the fundamental skills and rights required to thrive in this modern world.

Read more about cloud-based HR solution from SuccessFactors, and please join me on Twitter at @JohnGWard3.

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      Author's profile photo Jason Boyer
      Jason Boyer

      John thanks for the writeup. Totally support efforts to expand IT to the poor and developing world so that they can be lifted out of poverty. Think that is great that there are non-profits pursuing this. My only challenge is a philosophical one about the usage of the term human right for something beyond life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights do not infringe on others and when they do they are no longer rights. Making tangible goods a right creates entitlements that means that some entity will have to forcibly take from one person to meet the obligation of that right, trampling on others' rights in the process. I hope this NGO is successful. Have a great day!

      Author's profile photo John Ward
      John Ward
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I really appreciate your perspective.

      I’ll grant you that my definition of human rights in this blog extends to include access to tangibles such food, water, and information technology. And that characterization, as you suggest, might be too broad for many. But in any event, I certainly agree with you that addressing one person’s needs or interests should ever come at the expense of someone else.

      Thanks again for sharing your views.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Here's an interesting perspective on how Mark Zuckerberg's "enlightened self-interest" to build out global Internet access can change the world in unexpected and positive ways, the way Bill Gates' "enlightened self-interest" did years before.

      And look at what the Gates Foundation has done since!

      I don't believe that technology access is a right at all -- but its power to enable health and quality of life are absolutely worth taking some responsibility to support humanity in general.