Science Technology and Democracy Solutions to Poverty
Subject: Sociology | Topics:

Science, Technology and Democracy

Solutions to Poverty

Executive Summary

This paper adduces that the combination of science with the technologies it has fostered, has been successfully harnessed for the material benefit of the rich.  However, this instrument has not yet been equally applied to the plight of the poor.   Instead, the poor have differentially suffered the inimical consequences of these tools.  It is therefore, proferred that, with judicious application and a more equitable approach, science and technology (S&T) can become powerful eliminators of poverty.

It is argued that for the poor to gain from the positive transforming influences of S&T, they must fully participate both in the definition, as well as, the active resolution of their problems.  Further, it is reasoned that for this to happen the poor must have a greater influence on the affairs of their communities, and this will depend on the adoption of deeper, broader and more compassionate participatory democracies.  This paper outlines the logic, as well as, the ways and means of inculcating these strategies in the developing countries.

Contemplating S&T Application

The paper points out that poverty looms as one of the most egregious factors and inveterate realities dogging a civilized existence, and that man stands at the cross roads of his future armed with clear options, borne of his scientific technologies, attendant skills, and his accumulated knowledge.  It is argued that he lacks only the moral purpose to cross this frontier, and to achieve this, will require more ethnics in, and for, science, expressed in more democratic arrangements for societies.

It is also observed that man has the power to either close his short stay on this planet, or open up new altruistic vistas with a secure and sustainable future.  The choice now is his.  The greatest challenge which comforts him is either to continue to use science and its technologies for the short term gain of an affluent few, or harness these forces for the long term benefit of the many, most of whom are imprisoned in poverty.

With the greatest accumulation of wealth, tools, enterprises and knowledge, man has the capacity to meet all his material needs and many of his wistful wants.  Yet over one billion, or some on a third of the human race, subsist in extreme poverty, one fourth has no access to potable water, and one fifth is actually starving.  Concomitantly, science and its technologies have improved life expectancy and health, among other physical and biological indicators, leading to commendable qualities of life in many parts of the world.  But simultaneously, these tools have also occasioned enormous economic differences within societies and between regions and countries, particularly between the industrialized and developing states.  Because of technological disparities, the poor in many countries, especially disadvantages women and children, are loosing ground in income and amenities, relative to the rest of their populations.  Essentially, poverty is expanding like a cancer in the heart of humanity.

In 1998, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) report that unemployment increased in Latin America, thereby keeping poverty unchanged and in some cases making it decidedly worst.  The unemployment problem was found to be aggravated by the continued growth in the labour force and the mushrooming of a high number of low paying, labour intensive, inferior producing jobs, many of which are inexorably on the move to even poorer sites with cheaper labour and weaker worker and environmental regulations.  Along with this, are signs of serious environmental decline, as evidenced in agricultural and husbandry practices, which have, since 1945, degraded a land area larger than China and India combined, causing per capita food production in many parts of the world to worsen.  Food insecurity is now a glaring reality in many parts of the world.  The benefits of the green revolution have run their course, and to cope with present and growing food needs and environmental problems in poor societies, there are now clear indications that improved biotechnologies are vitally necessary.  These technologies are also important in balancing food self-sufficiency with the production of export crops.  It must be remembered that the poor depend largely on natural resources and biotechnologies are the best ways to handle and benefit from these resources.

Apart from poverty bought on by faulty economics and their overzealous ideologues, wars and social strife, violence of nature and violence against nature, have been major contributors to poverty.  Despite the fact that most of these occurrences can be mitigated, or even prevented, by the application of present knowledge, it is reasonable to lament that the poor have not sufficiently gained from such possibilities, and indeed, each day is further separated from this likelihood.  The challenge, therefore, is to actualise the great promise of science. In consequence, this dissertation explores ways and means of allowing the poor to harness S&T directly for their own redemption. It is, however, acknowledged that the complex nature of poverty often will require more than mere S&T to banish its appalling effects, and that other complementary assets are necessary. Nevertheless, technologies are now so flexible, varied and plentiful, and can often be tailored to suit a range of situations, that prospects for innovation are vastly improved.  Accordingly, new ways to empower the poor to eclipse many of the demeaning effects of this travesty of justice and moral disreptitude, are at hand.  Indeed, technology not nature, is the boundary which delimits social possibilities and interprets reality.

Participation by the Poor

Abundant evidence has been amassed to indicate that economic growth by itself does not cure poverty.  There are many examples of this, the most recent and strident occurred in the USA, where despite an extensive welfare system and unprecedented economic growth during the 1990’s, poverty increased in the Southern States and more children fell into poverty than what was witnessed at the beginning of the decade.

This paper points out that along with economic growth must come economic development which is sensitive to the needs of the poor. It is further deduced that this will not happen unless the poor are influential partners in the process.  Any viable strategy for poverty reduction must therefore be decentralized, participatory, self-reliant and self directed.  It is clear that the poor will not benefit from economic growth if they do not participate in its design, which must foster economic development and change.  The idea is to help the poor to do whatever they now do, they do much better, more efficiently and in keeping with environmental protection and within legal boundaries. It is accordingly recommended that remedial technologically-led projects must fully involve the poor at all stages of their creation and execution, including those of monitoring, evaluation and adjustment.

To survive, the poor have become very innovative and it is advocated that building on this propensity opens up new possibilities and options.  With this approach, support for participatory actions can reap worthwhile development rewards. It follows then that a system installed to enable and encouraged the poor to effect political, economic and social change, can fundamentally affect their existence.  Such participatory activities can be enlivened through greater democracy that will empower the poor and create an atmosphere conducive to innovative behaviour by both the governed and the government.  Needless to say, it will also help restore dignity and self-respect to those who often are largely ignored in the crafting of strategies for their own upliftment, as a result of the customary neglect by society.

Full participation of all concerned will also assist in dealing with the unexpected results of technology which can endanger lives and property.  If those who stand to suffer most from these untoward events are brought into the picture from the start, unfortunate mistakes can be avoided, while support for necessary remedial actions will come easier.

Likewise, the poors’ participation in protecting the environment is vital if further ecological dislocations are to be avoided. In this connection, it is explained that the poor will not sacrifice a decent life for their environment, and will do whenever is necessary to survive, and this sometimes means destroying their environment.  However, if the poor have faith in efforts to curtail their lot, they will be more inclined to act as responsible citizens and protect their surroundings.

Democracy for the Poor

It is pointed out that the poor occupy sizeable populations in developing countries but are often not placed in positions to exercise informed democratic choices, and many totally ignore the democratic process.  Accordingly, their best choice for higher qualities of life is to participate in the welfare of their futures, and this will come only when they have a clear democratic say in how decisions are made, especially those which will affect them directly.

Furthermore, although science does not need democracy to work efficiently, and indeed, itself is somewhat autocratic in its ideals of excellence, its fullest expression in human development will come when all are free to think, act and innovate.  However, informed democratic participation is impossible without confident scientific thinking and balanced technological assessment throughout society. In this connection it is acknowledged that the gravitation to neo-liberal approaches to development, with emphasis on the free market and the inviolability of individual choices, has lauded a democratic model of development, which has yet to achieve collective self-determination.  Hence it is argued that the old models of democratic practice must be made more participatory, and must be exercised on a continuing, and not on an intermittent basis, as presently is the case in most countries.

To be able to select from the profusion of choices rendered by scientific technologies, it is advanced that there is the demand for the fundamental capability of scientific reasoning, if individuals are not to rely mainly on the opinions of others and on their own narrow emotions.  It is further reasoned that the poor will certainly find it difficult, if not impossible, to relate to all the sophisticated principles and discoveries of scientific progress, but there is no reason why they cannot be made more scientifically aware and apply the scientific method to their thinking and actions.  It is indicated that in a sense, they already do, because they work from the logic of what is practical, although, from the limited information at their disposal, which at least ensures survival.  It is argued that a wider and deeper democratization of societies, combined with the judicious application of modern technologies, will allow a more rational use of limited resources at all the reaches of communities.

The paper also points out that the flood of electronic data, information and images, consequent on the spread of information and communication technologies, has increased the frustration and aspirations levels of the poor, as it posits additional possibilities for addressing their plight.  It is accordingly inferred that a democracy which raises hopes, as well as, the means of satisfying these ambitions, will emerge when a wider spectrum of citizens become more cognitive, more analytical, more innovative and technologically inclined.  Logically, when this happens, democracy will evolve, mature and flourish.  The challenge which then emerges is to bring about policies and provide services and products that adequately reflect the requirements and desires of all citizens, especially those most in need.  New institutions to allow for willing participation in developing and implementing policy is forwarded as necessary to confront these challenges.  It must, however, be fully realised that truth and knowledge cannot be determined democratically, and that science offers the best opportunity for the fulfilment of this elusive possibility.

Basic Needs Satisfaction

Since strategies to satisfactorily conduct technological transfers and increase capabilities to reduce poverty have been met with success in the developed countries, and in ad hoc arrangements in the developing countries, it is proposed that this strategy should become central to the economic policy of poor societies.  In this way the poor can partner with academia, the private sector and government to solve their problems.

Also, work has been cited to indicate that poverty reduction should be a two-stage process, in which the first phase would consider the satisfaction of basic biological needs, such as nutrition, health, housing and respect.  Once this is on its way, the second stage should then focus on building the education levels, skill base and productive capacity of the poor.  To make this effort worthwhile, the production of the poor should not only satisfy their peculiar needs, but should be made to find outlets, or connections, with the formal economic sectors.  The ultimate objective is to make the poor formal assets, rather than listless disconnected liabilities to their societies.

It must be said that these ideas, are not entirely new but history has revealed that they will not be given sufficient thought, nor implemented on a priority basis, unless the poor through democratic participation are allowed to influence the economic development of their societies.

In concluding, the paper presents a set of recommendations to ensure basic needs satisfaction through the judicious and focused application of S&T, in an enhanced democratic environment.



A modern fact of disturbing significance is that there is an expanding technological divide within and among nations, which separates the might of the rich from the aspirations of the poor.  This schism is destined to worsen with the increase of globalization fashioned on liberalisation of trade and open market competition.  The inequity, which emerges, is a source of great insecurity and tension, and threatens to destabilize societies while putting undue pressure on fragile ecological balances, prospects for socio-economic sustainability and a peaceful future for mankind.

This paper is an attempt to demonstrate that a bleak future for mankind can be averted if wisdom is allowed to overcome senseless greed and misdirection of power.  At the crux of this belief is the demonstrated incisiveness of science and the utility of the technologies it has created.  This argument will be developed by first placing the current dilemma in the context of what science has already accomplished, and what are the various accompanying parameters that must be considered in evaluating its success, including their underlying principles an defining characteristics.  Finally, how science and technology (S&T), the greatest generator of knowledge and practical methods conceived by man, can reduce poverty, the greatest man-made predicament through wider and deeper democratic participation and respect for a finite environment, will be adumbrated.

(i)        An Unsettling Imbalance

There is a growing disproportionality in how science is conducted and consequently how and for what, scientific technologies are generated.  Furthermore, countries with weak S&T infrastructures, and lack of an innovation culture, not only find it difficult to meet the demands of their growing populations, but also cannot successfully compete in trade and the open market, as well as, protect their environments.  Their traditional industries and commodity trade, on which they depended, have subsequently lost their viability, consequently jobs are lost, and many fall in the trap of poverty.  As a result, political systems, laws and regulations, which hold their societies together, come under severe stress, with crime, illicit drugs and lawlessness eventually curtailing both local and foreign investments and the expansion of services, such as tourism and banking, which are regarded as logical alternatives to commodities, and on which, they pin their economic hopes.

(ii)       Fundamental Changes Needed

Because of these developments, mankind now hovers between maintaining a civilized existence and descending into a chronic debilitating state of continued turmoil.  Man has few reasonable options but to craft ways to utilize the powerful tools of science and its technologies more effectively to allow greater percentages of people to benefit from them, and thereby, contribute more meaningfully to their societies and hence the planet.

Logically then, fundamental changes are required to first fashion more suitable technologies, and secondly, to have them serve those most in need.  Fortunately, there is now a sufficient knowledge base to begin the process. But unfortunately not enough social and political will and general acceptance to do so, apparently exist.  The message is clear, no society can survive if large segments of their citizens are left out of the process of reform and development, or feel alienated by it.

The idea that never ending growth is the only answer to poverty is repudiated by the fact that this human bane grows in face of spectacular growth (l).  Indeed a finite earth cannot support infinite growth, and furthermore, if the rest of humanity aspired just to reach present US levels of consumption, it would require four more planet Earths (2). The winner takes all philosophy is at the root of this dilemma, and must give way to a more inclusive and logical vision which gives all mortals a chance at a decent life, irrespective of talents or weaknesses.  The creeping intent to link the interests and concerns of government, business and society to try and counterbalance the heavy ostentatious view of what is success, and to ameliorate tendencies to lop-sided development, should be accelerated.  Hopes for a worthwhile future rationally dictate that what is sustainable must take precedence over what is short term and heavily consumption oriented, and ultimately unsustainable.  With some justification, one can say that a new international governance culture is necessary to nurture new national perspectives to bring those on the margins of their political economies more in the centre of things.  In other words, a people centred approach is clearly necessary, and this will depend on more democratic systems and structures.

 (iii)     The Unwarranted Concentration of Science

Selective globalization of trade, rapid movement of savings and investments in and out of countries, to take advantage of interest rates and currency fluctuations, and the concentration of scientific and technological knowledge in a reducing number of large companies and quasi-government institutions, stands to reduce, instead of increase legitimate competition on which so much of Western economic promise is anchored.  Sequestering S&T in a few centres is not only reducing the number of independent choices on an international scale, but is also affecting the sharing of information on which the scientific establishment has flourished since its inception, and indeed, on which benefits have flowed to the developing countries.

The fact that four out of the five most valuable companies in the world are in the communications industry, highlights the social power of media conglomerates (3).  The compression of time and space by these mega corporations has created conditions which crowd out local voices, which do not have access to the powerful information technologies which these companies posses.  Even conventional technologies, like the telephone, is still concentrated in eight industrialised countries which boast 75% of the world’s units.  Also, the cost of simple batteries for radios are relatively so high, that radio technology, which was supposed to have allowed scattered poor populations to be connected with their societies, is still a luxury for most of these citizens.

Industrial property rights, which are the main coersive instruments of the privileged, have been so overplayed, that instead of being a stimulus for research and development (R&D) and innovation, they threaten to shut down the exchange of information, which is pivotally crucial to the scientific process.  Current information generation is so rapid that to restrict knowledge flows is to make them obsolete before they are maximally deployed.  Needless to say, strong industrial property rights stifle innovation by increasing transaction costs. The one-sided nature of these developments is reflected in the fact that over zealous intellectual property positioning of the first world     has sought to patent knowledge once freely available to the developing countries.  While at the same time, the traditional knowledge of the poor, and the use of their biological resources, are portrayed as communal property, open for all comers (4).

The pound of flesh approach to industrial property has already begun to have untoward effects.  For example, to acquire equity and maintain fairness, the poorer countries have taken steps to protect their biodiversity and control what they consider bio-piracy by wealthy concerns.  Unfortunately, their biodiversity export laws have tended to restrict the supply of seeds to seed banks, which were valuable repositories for tropical research, and from which many important new varieties of food crops have arisen.  The green revolution, which now feeds some 500 million people, and adds some US$50 billion a year to the developing country’s food economy, appears now in jeopardy.

The old open system which has benefited both the rich as well as the poor is being overthrown without being adequately replaced.  There are several examples of the rich countries benefiting from what obtained, among these are, plant varieties taken from Central America and West Asia to North America and Europe, breeding stocks from East Africa to Australia, forage grasses from South America to almost everywhere, and African fish now are being farmed in the fjords of Scandinavia (5).  Determining the genome sequences of food crops, such as soya, which has its widest biodiversity in China, creates the potential for those who conduct the work, proclaiming dominion over the entire resource.  These excesses of the current intellectual property rights system essentially are throwing out the baby with the bath water, and the poor and the rich stand to loose significantly.

Most of the worlds S&T is presently conducted in, and for the benefit, of the rich Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.  A clear reflection of this is the fact only a small fraction of R&D expenditure and workers are engaged with understanding tropical diseases and agriculture (6).  Such efforts are of vital development importance to at least half of the world’s population.  Without adequate R&D to stimulate innovations, and the availability of adequate vital domestic statistics and standards, socio-economic development will suffer, and poverty and frustration will grow. This type of international S&T arrangement not only precipitates disturbing consequences in the tropical world, but also has unexpected and unwelcome results for the first world.   Because of supersonic travel, expanding tourism and other forms of increased personal international contacts, infectious diseases, illicit drug distribution, pollution, crime, violence, terrorism and other aberrant behaviour, have spread quite easily to and from the wealthy countries.   No country is therefore safe from these eventualities, and their resolution strongly suggest global rather than simple domestic solutions, based on sound scientific reasoning and astute deployment of ensuing technologies.

Essentially, increase in the pace of globalisation resulting from new technologies, prompts a vision of a fragile, inter-related world with limited life support possibilities.  So domestic practices, regulations and laws and emerging fortunes have profound effects on all corners of the earth, and cannot be view in isolation.  Accordingly, standards for trade, fashioned only in the industrialised countries, to suit mainly their aspirations, are counter-productive.  Standards not necessarily based on scientific information and placed artificially high, as is the case with traded farm produce and processed commodities from the poor countries (7), which are intended to protect the jobs and industries in the rich countries, at the expense of the poor farmers of the South, really threaten not only the concept of open and legal trade, but also global stability (8).   If the poor are left out of meaningful international trade with legal goods, the great temptation is to gravitate to illegal ones, with all their deadly consequences.

(iv)      Restoring the Trust of Science

With what has been outlined, for science to regain the trust it once had, it must follow a much wider and people sensitive agenda than what currently obtains, which is largely conditioned by the prevailing political and economic power structures.  For science to regain worldwide respect it must serve the urgent needs of some 60% of mankind.  Without this, it will appear irrelevant to the real demands of humanity.  Literally, science is being requested to follow a more ethical and just path, so that it can reinstil human dignity across a wider cross-section of the inhabitants of the planet.

 In light of accelerated economic and political globalization, all peoples should be allowed to participate in the decision-making process which deeply affects their lives.  The only way this is possible is to use modern technology to improve local, community, national and international governance.  An enhanced capability, underpinned by deeper understanding of those on the margins and those that are presently excluded, becomes vitally important, if this objective is to be achieved.  Science should not only be used to reduce poverty, but it must also be used to reform the state, making it more discerning, efficient and efficacious, especially in matters of how social spending and rehabilitation are monitored and managed for the benefit of the largest numbers of citizens.

The accessability and capability to use science based technologies by the poor must be seen as crucial basic needs (9).  There is a wide diversity and flexible spectrum of these technologies. For them, however, to be of use to the poor, formal structures and institutions must be erected, to make poor families the centre of their purpose, so that these individuals can become agents of innovation to uplift their own quality of life.  So deliberate government action is as much needed as the vaunted market mechanism, to attract investment and erect infrastructures necessary to achieve long-term development objectives, and thereby, reverse the present growth of poverty.

(v)       Global Governance

Political malaise and apathy are global phenomena.  The Managing Director of World Economic Forum, Claude Smadja, has ascribed one of the major reasons for this to be a representative democracy which no longer responds to the new social, psychological and economic realities produced by globalisation. He said that in the 1990’s, there was a rise in activism as a result of growing aberration and lack of confidence in government’s ability to right things (10).  Essentially, people are clamouring for a greater voice in the political equation on a global scale.  The answer to this quest may well be found in greater participation in governance, through the modernization of democracy.

Transfer of technologies, free movement of workers, and respect for a diversity of cultures, are crucially important for successful globalization as are circulation of capital and manufactured goods.  It is obvious then that world bodies, responsible for free trade, such as the WTO, must take into serious consideration the views and circumstances of the poor majority as they now pander to the rich minority.  It is not sufficient to say developing country representatives were part of global discussions, and consequently, agreements reached are binding, irrespective of their consequences.  Realistically, many poor countries do not have the depth of information, nor adequate numbers of diplomats and technicians, to equitably engage the rich in global debates.  In many fora, their presence is merely cosmetic and gives the facade of democratic undertakings.  What is important is to strengthen the negotiating and technical abilities of the poor countries, so that their voices can command the respect they deserve, not for their own sake per se, but also on behalf of the entire planet.  In other words a fairer and better balanced global governance structure is badly required.

 (vi)      Self-reliance in the Developing Countries

Reduction in official development assistance (ODA) and increase in global competition have forced developing countries to become more self-reliant.  Development strategies in these countries, therefore, will have to be reoriented to make better use of their natural and human resources.  Hard choices, such as those between social and infrastructural development, between production for domestic consumption and for export, and between industry and agriculture, must be squarely faced and democratically resolved.  The widest cross-section of society must be involved to ensure their contributions to decisions that will affect the balances between different elements of the various strategies, resulting in higher level of consensus and collective actions.  To formulate more people oriented development trajectories, approaches must be found to further communicate with, and inform and listen to, citizens.   Common learning and shared visions must be induced to empower people in their efforts to attract finance into their communities for the creation of jobs and the seizing of social opportunities.

For countries to harness the full potential of their peoples, they must be guided by principles which include meeting the basic needs of their populations.  This requires emphasis on food security and safety, health, universal literacy, education, employment and more democratic decision-making.  Without the full backing of all major segments of a population, it is all but impossible to achieve true sustainable development.  At the crux of this approach is the empowerment of all citizens to help themselves.  This will depend on universal literacy and elementary education, and a substantial increase in secondary and higher education, as well as, forward looking vocational and technical training, coupled with progressive improvement in the application of both domestic and foreign technologies.

Developing countries must find their own development paths, which fit with their cultures, experiences and their resources.  In this connection, it must be realised that the life styles and consumption patterns of the first world cannot be replicated in most developing countries without serious damage to the environment and dislocation of social structures (2).  One way flows of information from the metropole can therefore, cultivate the wrong types of aspirations, and must be offset by provision of more realistic local country reporting and engagement. There must be clear indications about what people want and aught to know.  Local media therefore have a responsibility beyond just honest reporting and political marketing, to encourage solutions to citizens’ estrangement from socio-political systems.  They must be cognizant of the peoples need to know regarding the importance of being involved in democratic initiatives.

The traditional systems that have sustained  societies for centuries must not be summarily abandoned by the lure of material success observed elsewhere.  Those who are wedded to the old ways must be consulted when important changes are being contemplated.  Building on the old structures, or keeping the virtues of the old technologies, while improving them by marriage to more modern methods, must become serious options for progress which is securely rooted in relevance to society (11).

Another fact which must be considered is that cultural diversity is as important to the world’s capacity for ineluctable growth and change, as biodiversity is to environmental integrity and life support systems.  Cultural diversity provides the raw material necessary for societies to clearly identify and fashion acceptable solutions for local problems, and perhaps more importantly, provide the basis for cohesive behaviour which motivates and give purpose to social identity, community harmony and national vitality.  Populations informed by their own views of progress and success are less likely to be seduced by the glitter of the heavily materialistic and excessive consumption oriented life styles of the first world, and may more easily grasp the fact that this cannot be sustained in a finite world.

 (vii)     Weakening of Multilateral Organizations

The spectre of concentrated decision-making is not only witnessed at the national level but is a glaring problem at the international level as well.  Vocal protests have become a common feature at recent high profile international meetings (8) which are perceived as being autocratic and in the interest of a few.  Decision-making power at the global level, since the 1980’s, has progressively been sequestered in a small number of developed countries.  The formation of the group of seven developed countries (G7) and their annual meetings has essentially become the self-appointed directorate for managing the world’s economy. Multilateralism, and in particular the democratic institutions of the UN system, is by these developments, substantially sidelined and weakened.

There are many who believe that the ideological view of the power of the market to solve the economic crisis in the developing countries, was literally forced on the poor countries by the public and private agents of the G7, without full consideration of the their debt burdens, slumps in international commodity prices, and their weak capital positions (12).  In other words, the developing countries were being asked to bear the entire burden of international economic adjustment.  They argue that the rich countries, through the IMF, the World Bank and other surrogate private institutions, greatly influence poor country domestic choices and impose external values, policies, concessions and patterns of development on them.  The failures which ensued were however borne largely by the peoples of the developing countries (12).  Whatever the total veracity of these beliefs, a more transparent and participatory engagement of all concerned will surely assuage the current situation.

The developing countries will have to determine better ways, perhaps using information and communication techniques, to form common fronts to counter the one-sided derived arrangements emerging from the first world.  Deliberate and dedicated networking of institutions across the developing countries may be a good way to start the knowledge sharing and learning, necessary from these common ways and means to emerge.

To strengthen the multilateral system to serve equitably both the rich and poor, the support of the ordinary citizen in the G7 countries, especially the United States, will be required.  Efforts, therefore, will have to be made to raise their awareness of the importance of the multilateral approach to world governance.  The first world voices which currently call for reforms of the multilateral system, which are intended to weaken such organizations, by undermining their democratic intent and their global mission of development, must be countered (10).

 (viii)   Democratization a Vehicle of Logic

Stronger and more sensitive democracies are vital to construct a more people-oriented development. One that fits with the culture and aspirations of those it is to serve.  A democratic environment which ensures human rights, in its broadest sense, is essential for accelerating development and spreading it widely across societies.  Participation of a number of peoples’ organizations, at the grassroots, will be a good way to help express and meet the felt needs of their members and will also help to deepen the democratic process.  Democracy is based on a faith in people.  It assumes, with some justification, that with adequate education, information and institutions, citizens will do a better job of governing themselves than a few dictators, oligarchs, on even benefactors.  The equality required by democracy is equality of social power, and this largely depends on sound scientific and technological information and derived actions.


Many terms in the field of S&T are so loosely used that often their meanings become blurred and what is being applied in a practical situation becomes confused.  It is therefore prudent to state clearly what each term means in the context of this paper and place them in a setting which further illuminates their meaning and their relevance to the arguments presented.  This section is an attempt to do so.

 (i)        Science

Science is an organized system of knowledge dealing with nature, society and thought, which is structured on the accumulation and verification of facts determined by deductive and inductive reasoning.  Science, therefore, can be seen as a way of understanding our surroundings using systematic observational, experimental and logical means.  These means are based on the adoption of the scientific research method which gains its power from seeking to nullify rather than to prove hypotheses (13).  There is a tendency to see science as a mystify agent, however for its full expression, it must not only impress but also must inspire, so that it does not puzzle nor alienate those it is to serve.  It should become a democratising agent.

 (ii)       Technology

Technology is the spectrum of knowledge, skills, experiences and organizations, that is required to produce, utilize and control goods and services.  Technological proficiency depends on two sets of knowledge, those which can be codified or, “know that”, and others that are tacit and dependent largely on the experiences of skilled workers.  Although “the know that”, or codified information, is where emphasis is often placed, the widespread short-comings in knowledge application are more inclined to be found in knowing who can supply or sell information at reasonable prices, knowing how best to acquire the information, or when to acquire or negotiate for what is needed, and making others willing to supply such information, or tacit knowledge.

The acquisition of technology therefore depends on attaining learning skills.  This can be done by doing or using technology, adopting or copying imported technology, setting up production systems or designing new processes.    Learning can also take place by organizing and implementing technology training programmes, or searching for disembodied knowledge and hiring specialised staff.    Each of these technological learning strategies can be usefully applied depending on the nature of what is to be accomplished.  What however is certain, is that for successful execution of these approaches, a certain minimum of local competence and the willingness to learn and grow are absolutely essential.

 (iii)     Science Versus Technology

Today there is a very strong reciprocal relationship between science and technology.   Where science ends and where technology begins is often difficult to decipher.  Technology is increasingly becoming scientific in that technological progress rests on experimental and scientific findings, while science increasingly demands technical solutions to unravel its many questions.

 Nevertheless, clear distinctions can be made between science and technology and these can have profound influence on how one affects the other, and what can be expected of each.  Science thrives on ideas, technology, on the other hand, has to work from the least amount of speculation as possible.   Science has different starting points from technology.  Science predicts unknown end results from known starting points.  While technology starts with desirable end results; but the starting conditions to produce them are unknown.  Furthermore, technological applications are more direct and often produce faster economic results than what can ensue from waiting for scientific returns to be translated into technology.  However, modern technologies are fashioned from firm scientific bases.   Scientific research, therefore, allows facility with the knowledge platform to understand these scientific technologies, and accordingly, permit their effective modification, use and improvement.

The cost to move from scientific results to appropriately applied technology is high, and impossible without adequate local information, management and skills.  For poor developing countries, science has the clear role of permitting a reasonable level of technical comfort with the functional bases of technologies, thereby allowing the intimate understanding, proper transfer and timely adaptation for domestic purposes.  Knowledge gleaned from scientific understanding combined with local technological skills, raises the potential for innovations to improve domestic production, service and trade.

(iv)      Global Influences of Science and Technology

Before the assent of S&T, differences between the power, influence and wealth of nations were small (14).  However, with the rise of the technological age, there has been an overwhelming concentration of material wealth in a few nations, as well as, their surrogates within poor societies.  Thus creating and emphasizing poverty and what is now referred to as the technological divide.

Nevertheless, because of the fact that S&T has clearly been the driving force behind these sweeping economic, social and political changes, optimism has been heightened to use this tool to reduce poverty, and thereby materialize the idea of sustainable human development.  This notion is quite realistic, when it is reasoned that technology has changed the structure of production and prompted social adjustments, affecting both comparative and competitive advantages, division of labour, income levels, productivity, employment, skills profiles and patterns of trade and political relationships.  Micro-electronics, biotechnology, new materials, alternate energy and nanotechnologies, are among a wave of emerging methods that are flexible, mobile, easily packaged, energy and resource conserving, knowledge-intensive and available, accordingly offering a range of combinations and options for an assault on poverty and ecological stress.  With these advancements, all that seems necessary to innovatively tackle the scourge of poverty and ultimately attain sustainable development, are social and political wills, and  complementary organizational structures.

Furthermore, scientific methods from the social, psychological and physical sciences are at hand to allow a thorough understanding of the poverty problem, and subsequently, how to engage the poor in empowering themselves with the technologies which are suggested, once the parameters of poverty are clearly uncovered.  The idea to move beyond the mere increase in production to improve the lives of all concerned, is therefore attainable.

There is fifty times more consumption in the industrialized countries compared to the developing ones.  This level of consumption clearly cannot be sustained in every poor country without the over consumption problem, now being seen in the developed countries, overwhelming the planet at both the individual, resource and ecological levels (2).  A more equitable and democratic approach must now be considered to ensure that the use of the earth’s resources, and indeed, the wastes which flows from these high levels of consumption, be contained within realistic and ecologically sustainable limits.  The mind set which currently influences science and the technologies which it fashions, must be made less mechanistic and materialistic, and become more humanistic and spiritualistic, to make people and their future, primary objectives of the application of these tools.  Development must not be measured by what man has, but rather what he does and what he reaps from these actions.

The isolation and marginalisation of some two-thirds of mankind from the scientific process is clearly a big part of the poverty problem, and must be corrected, if science is really to play out its original promise.

(v)       Socio-economic Development

Socio-economic development refers to the upliftment of all citizens of a society to qualities of life which give them satisfaction and protect their dignity.   Development is a process which enables people to realise their full potential, builds self confidence and allows them to lead lives of upliftment and fulfilment.  Though development, political independence acquires its true significance.  It is a process of growth and change, which essentially springs from within a society. This usually requires social, economic, spiritual and psychological enhancement.  Development, therefore means development of human beings and not merely the accumulation of things.

All areas of human endeavour are substantially affected by S&T because it is a powerful resource, as well as, a creator of new resources.  Science and technology can therefore be made a prime instrument for economic growth, as well as, economic development.  For poverty to be effectively tackled there has to be economic development and not merely economic growth.

 Development, therefore, occasions individual and collective self-reliance, as well as, self-direction, and must rely essentially on a group’s own human and material resources to meet its own needs and aspirations.  It is an effort of, and by, and for, those involved. True development must be people-centred with freedom to try, learn, organize and say what they think, and share freely what each other is thinking.  Listening and respect are crucial attributes of the process of development.  It is often said that freedom means to speak, and democracy means willingness to listen.  The ultimate political expression is the freedom to choose who governs, and those who govern must be accountable to the people.

Democratic institutions and popular participation in decision making are therefore essential to genuine development.  Constructive interaction between those who are governed and those who govern is indispensable.  This is where information and communication technologies become important.  Though these, opportunities are opening up for the governed to become partners in government rather than passive bystanders. Development must therefore be seen as a process of self-reliant growth, achieved through the participation of people acting in their own interest and under their own control.  One of the major objectives of this process in developing countries must be to end involuntary poverty through the provision of productive employment and satisfaction of the basic needs of all citizens, as well as, the equitable sharing of economic surpluses, especially at this time when communities are more informed and more questioning than ever before.

 (vi)      Inventions and Innovations

Invention is the discovery, or devising, of new products, processes or systems.  It is the stage of technological development at which an idea has advanced sufficiently to warrant detailed plans, designs, technical feasibility or patentability.

When inventions have reached commercial, or wide-spread practical use, they are referred to as innovations.  So the introduction of new techniques, products, production methods, or distribution channels, are innovations.  One of the most important forms of innovation is organizational innovations, where new arrangements can make a          decided difference in allowing, or improving, product or process innovations.  Socio-economic development is all but impossible without innovations.

It is now widely accepted that both inventions and innovations are products of a system which serves to foster both.  The inter-relationships between institutions, individuals and organizations play a decisive role.  The systems which seem to work best are those which encourage and support the acquisition and the use of information to address problems.  The willingness to take entrepreneurial risks and embrace novel economic ventures, are also indicative of an active innovation system.  An important component of this system is the financial institutions and their ability to assess and support technical inventions and innovations.  Whereas there is often some sensitivity to fostering these types of initiatives in the formal sector, innovations for the poor are often left to their own devises and ingenuities.  There are many studies to show that the poor are very innovative in their efforts to survive, but these are limited by their knowledge and access to services and resources (15). In this connection, it is interesting to note that the poor also are responsible debtors as witnessed by the growth and success of the Grameen Banck in Bangladesh (16).

Also, it must be emphasised that R&D institutions are often organized along lines of scientific disciplines, or narrow research areas, problems or orientations, while improvement of products, process, and one must add here, poverty and social needs, require more multi-disciplinary and more inclusive approaches.  Integrating S&T policies initiatives are therefore very important in the creation of national innovative systems.  There is also no doubt that S&T and R&D workers, institutions, legal arrangements, and how the private sector and the S&T community relate, are important components of successful policies.  However, granted the difference between scientific activity and technological inventions, these must be organized to gain the best complementarity from each.  Accordingly, the linear model of moving from science, to applied science, to technology and engineering, must be adjusted, for investments in local S&T to be timely and effective.  Also, the process of invention, innovation, technological change, economic growth and economic development, needs new insights to cater to the complexities which emerge when the small and the poor, with limited resources, are included.  A focused integrated approach to the acquisition and application of relevant technologies, with science playing a facilitating role, appears a better model for successful action, than the linear one.  Here the cultural, educational, technical, engineering, economic, financial, legal, organizational, social, political, environmental, marketing, historical and related factors, have to be considered to create a new paradigm.

Very seldom is technology the limiting factoring in development efforts.   The results of local R&D, and the availability of foreign technology, can be effectively harnessed only if the social, cultural and political milieu is accommodating.  The vital elements of product and process development for formal businesses, are often quite different from those which are required to cater to the basic needs of the poor to make then independent of their parlous situations.  Whereas, simple economic growth can suffice for conventional business practices, economic development is at the crux of the means to overthrow poverty.   Here not only economic management is necessary, but also new institutional arrangements and organizations at the community level, coupled with efforts to link the informal with the formal sectors, are needed. In other words, much more pragmatic and eclectic approaches are required.

 (vii)     What is Poverty?

How a problem is perceived will often determine the way it is tackled. When poverty, for example, is based on income, consumption, or capabilities, or some combination of the three, individuals or groups, which fall below an established standard, or the poverty line, are said to be in a state of penury, and attempts at resolution are focused on increasing perceived shortages.  However, seen in this way poverty may well continue after remedial actions.  If poverty is visualized as an income problem, income may be increased, yet there may be failures to ensure the fulfilment of the basic needs of targeted populations.  Income generation alone, for example, may not ensure the provision of essential services. Likewise, the notion of absolute and relative poverty, as determined from a consumption perspective, is subjective, and what poverty is, will merely depend on what goods are available.  Similarly, capable people may well hail from the ghettoes but their gainful occupation  may not be realised, simply because of the stigma of indiscipline and unreliability attached to people from these areas.

In attempts to broaden the definition of poverty, and remove some of these inconsistencies, Sen in 1987  (17), defined  poverty simply as “individuals who lack entitlements and absence of capabilities”.  This was picked up by the UNDP’s 1997 Human Development Report, which interpreted poverty as the denial of opportunities and choices most basic to human development, which include a long, healthy and creative life, a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self respect and respect for others. This definition, however, is so broad that any denial of opportunity or choice, may be construed as poverty.  This concept therefore can be rendered vague, and consequently meaningless, to the point that poverty may be seen as unavoidable.

Recently, Salmon (18) offered a comprehensive definition of poverty that separated the problem into three categories, namely chronic poverty, consumption poverty and resources or capabilities poverty.

Chronic poverty was said to exist when an individual is incapacitated, and/or, incapable of independently procuring the requisite means of sustenance.  This included those who were unable to work because of chronic physical or mental infirmity, or old age, and children without parents.  People in this category were considered the primary beneficiaries of safety net programmes.

Consumption poverty referred to the able-bodied poor, both employed and unemployed, who are unable to meet their basic consumption requirements.  Resources or capabilities poverty, included those who were deprived of access to private and public resources, such as basic healthcare, basic housing, roads, transportation, healthy environment, water and employment.

Consequently, Salmon defined poverty as follows “A multidimensional social condition in which (i) individuals are incapacitated and/or incapable of independently procuring the requisite means of sustenance, (ii) able-bodied adults who are unable to meet their basic consumption requirements, as determined by per capita consumption (iii) individuals who are deprived of access to such private and public resources as basic education, health care, housing, roads, transportation, healthy environment, clean water and employment”.

With poverty so defined, every society can establish a list of capabilities, combined with socially determined income and consumption levels, that its citizens should possess. When poverty is understood in ways to make it measurable, and there is clarity in what are its components, or strictly, what poverty really means, amelioration activities can be specifically targeted and followed.  Furthermore, any definition that attracts wide social consensus increases the probability that poverty can be eradicated.  Once this consensus is reached, scientific ways to measure poverty can be determined and ultimately used to monitor the progress being made in its curtailment.

(viii)   Basic Needs

These needs are the minimal requirements for sustaining an acceptable life for all citizens and which include adequate nutrition, health care, water, sanitary facilities, and access to education and information, enabling individuals and communities, to participate in productive activities and rational use of existing goods and services.  Also, included, are non-material needs, which are vital for attaining the material ones, such as dignity and respect.

There are many ways of satisfying basic needs and therefore a basic needs strategy, or approach, simply refers to a way of meeting these needs.

(ix)      Consequences of Poverty

Poverty is not only ethically intolerable, but it is also socially dangerous.  It affects the structure of society, its cohesiveness and its future.  The poor live under brutality and abuse and so relate to the rest of society in a similar fashion.  The rise of rage on the streets and anti-social behaviour of the young are symptoms of not only material poverty but also poverty of the mind, as a result of mal-socialization, often borne of parental and social neglect. Many are now saying that to restrain escalating crime and violence really means stomping out poverty.

The delinquency of poverty is very costly to society.  It not only forces large expenditures on policing, maintaining order and imprisonment, but it robs society of a number of precious talent and their innovations (19).  Instead of social assets, the poor have become serious liabilities to themselves and the rest of their communities.  Since the poor share the same air, water, and general environment, it is difficult to separate the consequences of their actions from the rest of society. Instead of a strategy of separation from the poor, privileged society should seek full integration. Science and technology can become great facilitators in this imperative.

Most countries are faced with the conflicting challenges of heightening competitiveness and containment of extreme poverty. The rich and the rest of non-poor society do not depend anymore to any great extent on the work or production of the poor, and therefore, the benefits from the eradication of poverty have to be seen in much wider terms, if S&T is to be supported and used remedially and effectively.  Unfortunately, the logic of modern knowledge does not feature the collective welfare of the earth, as it does the task of competitive business innovations. If it did, scientific knowledge, and the creativity it fosters, would be focused on the overwhelming poverty problem.

 (x)       Democracy

The European meaning of democracy, which is the only form being widely promoted, implies a form of Government in which the citizens of a country have a voice in the exercise of political power through elected representatives of different political parties.  This system has evolved over thousands of years, starting from the early Greek’s theorizing with the practice of this ideal, to the English Magna Carta in 1215, via the French and American revolutions in the eighteenth century and the adult political franchise in European and North America in the nineteenth century, to today, where this form of government is generally accepted to be the civilized norm (20).

In 1990 the idea of a European Magna Carta was put forward by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher supported by President George Bush, Snr.  In essence, this was a call for a  “New World Order” in which a liberal economic and political world would be built under a supra-national organization, to deal with problems of governance and democracy.  Thatcher at that time thought that a European Magna Carta could help the developing countries to shed bad government, corruption and breakdown of law and order.  The idea that democracy was under attack from renegade states which emanated from this type of reasoning was smashed by others who saw skewed globalisation as the main culprit.

Since significantly different cultures still exist, it is difficult to see how the ideas of democracy, justice and human rights can have identical meanings to all.  As a matter of fact, it has been argued that countries having individualist cultures differ from those with collectivist orientations (21).  Countries like USA, Australia, Britain and Canada and the Netherlands, are purported to be strong individualistic cultures and see representative democracy as reasonable, while at the other end, states like Venezuela, Colombia, Pakistan, Peru, Taiwan and Thailand, are strong collectivist cultures, and regard participatory democracy as normal.

In representative democracy government and the governed are separate and citizens constantly try to exercise some control over government.  While participatory democracy accommodates the notion that ruler and ruled are identical citizens and openness in deliberation is the instrument of influence.  Calls for the deciphering of different democratic approaches should not be ignored, if powerful cultural differences are to be respected, thereby, allowing for their orderly growth and change in different circumstances.

Sen (20) rightly declares that democracy is a prerequisite for sustainable development.  He argues that it enriches individual lives through more freedom, that it provides political incentives to the rulers to respond positively to the needs and demands of people, and that the process of open dialogues and debates that it allows, and encourages, aid in the formation of values and worthwhile priorities.  He believes that if faithfully and effectively practiced, it will promote equity and justice, as well as, efficiency.

It stands to reason then that the proper functioning of democracy depends to a great extent on the constructive role of citizens.  In other words, it is people centred and must be people executed.  The vigour of practice will, therefore, be much more important than institutional forms.  It is a way of thinking rather than mere symbolic action.  Political and civil rights then become inalienable rights for all.  Democracy, undoubtedly, includes honest voting and the respect for election results, but it must go further to protect the liberties and freedom of people, respect for legal entitlements, and guaranteeing of free discussion and uncensored distribution of views and fair comment. Democracy at its optimum must operate in an arena of openness.  It is important to note that information technologies are being deployed to ensure honesty in voting and in other election procedures, like preparing a clean voters list.

Democracy is therefore not merely a form of government but a kind of society.  Effective democracy requires democratic control of all social power, not merely government power.  The vote alone is relatively ineffective unless there is also equality of other forms of social power, such as, sufficient knowledge and latitude of action.

It is today clear that even after all this, more is needed to claim true democracy, as it must ensure the basis of a decent life for all.  It must work for the ordinary people and not just for expressions of elites, such as freedom of the press, or for the privilege of allowing civic demonstrations, benevolence of leadership and an occasional manifestation of free elections.  This means all people must actively participate.   Recent history has indicated that in democratic societies with skewed power structures, poverty will become a central issue only when the poor have a clear voice and when they have sufficient information to articulate options and press for their own interest.

(xi)      Ethics and Science

The greatest ethical dilemma of our time is the widespread existence of poverty and the growing divide between the rich and the poor, in the midst of the greatest wealth and an over-abundance of methods, resources, enterprises and technologies.  Unfortunately, poverty continues to be seen merely as an economic shortcoming and not a fundamental problem of values, principles and man’s inhumanity toward man.  The fact that science, which is the architect of the high standard of contemporary living, was envisioned as far back as the 1516 as an instrument capable of making a decided difference in the quality of life question for the majority, is seldom acknowledged today (22).

A major contributing factor to this benign neglect is the fact that there is a great need for more ethics in, and for, science.  A more reflective perspective, conjoining justice in the global generation and distribution of scientific knowledge with its benefits to a wider spread of human kind, clearly is required. There needs to be heightened social responsibility for directing scientific efforts towards goals that can elevate more of humanity to a decent quality of life, and a harmonious relationship with their environment.  Instead of science continuing as an excluding force and an instrument of economic dominance, it should be made a liberating tool for those most in need.

The answers to the many baffling ethical and social questions being raised by scientific technologies, such as those emerging from genetic engineering, cloning, profligate fossil fuel use and large sums being consumed by highly destructive military technologies, should not be left to those who are the main perpetrators of these dilemmas.  The response to these questions will affect all of humanity, and therefore, must spring from the outlook and experiences of diverse cultures and needs.  Ultimately, what will count is the sharing of knowledge and sharing of responsibilities to tackle these global challenges.

Standards of behaviour, processes and products, will determine the type of future we bequeath to posterity.  All of which should be determined by the views of different nations and peoples, of the rich and the poor, of the young and the old, and the diversity of religious and spiritual beliefs.  Such a world view will undoubtedly be constructively conditioned largely by available knowledge, most of which will come from science and its technologies.  If the vision of the future is seen only from the privileges of those now in power, and does not include the cries of the majority, the seeds of serious discontent and confrontation are being sown.  Essentially, the world can no longer afford the widening schism between two types of humanity, those that are suffering under too much, and those weaken by too little.


(i)                Science and Technology has Banished Poverty Before

As mentioned earlier, despite the astonishing rate and bewildering scope of scientific progress, the quality of life endured by most humans has not significantly improved (23).  Instead poverty, anxiety and disillusionment, have reached climatic portions.  So much so that science seems irrelevant to the throngs grasping at the travails of survival (24).  But is this situation inevitable or immutable?

All the countries which presently are considered industrial and well-developed were once underdeveloped and poor, and all have used the tools of S&T to improve the efficiency of their agriculture, making it less labour-intensive and thereby releasing most of their rural workers to gainful employment in manufacturing, services and other industrial and cultural activities.  Although not all of their poverty has been banished, it was manifest that S&T had materially lifted the economies of the developed countries to the point where today they are considered post-industrial societies.  Their lingering residue of poverty is more a matter of neglect than a consequence of the inherent character of the methods deployed.  As a matter of fact, the power and privilege which S&T has bestowed on favoured individuals, sections and regions of their societies, have created large gaps between those at the top of their economies and those at the bottom.  Similarly, those in the developing countries who are closely linked to the endowed groups also have prospered.  These growing fissures have now become flash points of agitation and tension among those largely left out of the development loop.

(ii)       Poverty in the Face of Rapid Development

The World Bank’s Human Development Report 2000 (25), says global inequalities have increased in the 20th Century to the point where they count as violations of human rights.  The gap between the incomes of the richest and the poorest countries was about 3 to 1 in 1820, 35 to 1 in 1950, 44 to 1 in 1973, and 72 to 1 in 1992.   All signs are that this trend has accelerated, and moreover between 1990 and 1998, per capita income fell in 50 developing countries, as compared to only one of the 29 developed nations.

The divisive situation within developing countries like Jamaica is not much different from what obtains globally between the rich and the poor countries.  The distribution of income between the rich and poor on the island has increased between 2000 and 2001, with annual consumption rates for the wealthiest 10% of the population increasing to 12.5 times that of the poorest 10% in 2001, from 11 times in 2000 (26).

Technologies have made firms more efficient as they have displaced workers, creating great insecurity as economic growth takes place.  It may be said that a technological and economically centred development instead of a people-centred one is in progress.  As a consequence of this, technological changes have caused a great deal of anomie in the developed economies and loss of income and jobs in the poor ones.  The primacy of gainful employment and security is in need of urgent review, and the measure of what is progress clearly needs re-examination and adjustment.  When the only way for many in the so-called post-industrialised states to maintain some form of adequate financial station is to work at more than one job to support their families, leaving little time for healthy family life or to enjoy the fruits of their labours, something is amiss.  The situation in the developing countries is very much the same but for different reasons.  In these countries loss of jobs and livelihoods are at an all time high and many have slipped back into poverty which they left just a generation ago.

The old systems seem to be people unfriendly and urgently need revamping.   But such changes will not be countenanced by those who currently benefit handsomely from the status-quo.  Irrespective of the prevailing democratic systems in many countries, the voices of the majority are still shut out from the intellectually oriented debates which call into question present values, cherished attitudes and notions of progress.  The burden of the current development paradigm in the rich countries, has become so overwhelming, that those who are responsible for the present state of over-development are literally trapped by it.  The unfortunate impression left is that there is no other way to organize human affairs in a civilized and equitable manner.

Science and technology has materially benefited the developed countries, but what of the underdeveloped or the developing countries in the proverbial South.   A few of these countries, in the recent decades, have used S&T to substantially increased their standards of living, and are referred to as the newly industrialised countries, or the NIC’s, among them are Taiwan, Korea, Singapore and Brazil.  The paths followed by these NIC’s were in many ways quite similar to that of the developed countries of the proverbial North.  And the social consequences were the same, with perhaps more destruction of their environments.  Their ecological balances were essentially ignored by them in their quest to reach levels of material progress attained by the developed countries in the short span of one or two generations.

What is however obvious, is that the larger developing countries, like China and India, cannot expect to adopt a profligate mode of development similar to what presently exists in the developed countries and the NIC’s.  The destabilizing environmental consequences would be too great for the global life support systems, and there would not be enough non-renewable resources to sustain some two to three billion extra people over any significant length of time (2).

The message is clear, the power, flexibility and utility of science and its technologies strongly indicate that they can improve the general standard of living, as well as, the quality of life, of all citizens of the earth on a sustainable basis.  This however, can only happen, if these tools are refashioned to suit more realistic and worthwhile ends and populations are held within reasonable limits. While the post industrial countries and the NIC’s have used technology to reach their advanced standards of living, the underdeveloped countries seem not to be able to even improve   their pedestrian qualities of life.  This is so despite the fact that most of world’s poverty is to be found in countries which possess most of the world’s renewable and non-renewable resources.  Clearly, more appropriate technologies along with better management and organization are necessary to suit the resources and circumstances of the poor countries.  New attitudes toward innovation and assertive use of knowledge, to provide options to socio-political insentience and narrowness, and business conservatism and corruption, must also be instilled in these cases.

Poverty is as great a cause of environmental decay as are the excesses of the rich.  Indeed, poverty destroys both individuals and their environment to such an extent that a downward spiral in qualities of life is set in train.  As pollution, malnutrition and demeaning labour destroy the health of individuals, their ability to produce become progressively less.  While in desperation to survive, the poor have crafted ingenious ways to eke out a living from their environment, but often with disturbing consequences on the delicate balances of their ecologies.  In a sense, poverty is derived from a lack of proper production and living methods – a lack of appropriate technologies.

(iii)     A Science of the Application of Science

Although many studies, conferences and seminars speak to the need for developing countries to invest more, and effectively plan, to use the vast resources made possible by the development and application of technologies, these countries are yet to make this investment (27).  Among the many reasons advanced to explain this woeful fact are national inertia, lack of vision and will in political and business circles, overt dependency on outside influences, imagination deficit among local scientists, and corruption by those who benefit from the present situation.  Undoubtedly, these are causative factors, nevertheless, the chronic and pervasive nature of technological insufficiency in the developing countries, and the problems of technological backlash and determinism in the developed ones, suggest this is not the entire story.  Mankind does not seem to know yet how to wisely use the powerful tools he has invented and perhaps the tools should be turned on itself, and science called upon to determine the best way to use the fruits of S&T.  A science of the application of science, which must include questions of the reciprocal relationships of the interactions and the outcomes of the physical, biological and chemical sciences, with an understanding of the underlying causes for values, attitudes, beliefs, and ethics, seems a reasonable way to proceed (24).

In other words, instead of a science concentrating on how to do things, it should focus on what to do among all the things which can be done.  Instead of concentrating on how to do     familiar things well, what are the new or best things to do, should be the focus.  With this approach, poverty in any humanely sensitive society will loom as a primary target.  When it is considered that the wide and widening gap between the rich and the poor, as well as, the agitated state of workers in the developed countries with fears for the loss of jobs, security and privacy, are directly due to S&T, such questions are fitting subjects for scientific investigation.

Failed Poverty Reduction Strategies

(i)        Growth

Despite the growth strategies deployed since the 1980’s (23) poverty continues to deepen and expand.  The lessons so far learned during this period is that economic growth does not help the poor unless they are direct beneficiaries of public policy.  There is abundant evidence to show that increased production does not automatically trickle down to all sections of society, especially to those who require this most.  Growth is clearly not enough, either to eliminate poverty, or even to reduce its numbers.  The United States is a classical example of this, despite sustained growth for over 200 years, it still has over twenty million people without enough to eat and has the greatest disparities between rich and poor of all the industrial countries, and consequently the highest levels of crime and violence and largest prison populations (29).

(ii)       The Market

People living below the poverty line do not have enough purchasing power to express their demands through the market, and consequently, the market alone does not channel goods and services to those involved in subsistent production (30).

Furthermore, the widening and deepening of industrial property laws have begun to shut off knowledge and technology from the poor, on the logic of the free market and globalisation of trade. In this regard, the poor countries are being forced to promulgate elaborate laws and set up extensive enforcement mechanisms, when they can ill afford them, and in many instances, have little to protect.

(iii)     Redistribution

The redistribution of income with growth approach (31) also has not worked.  Jamaican’s attempts at this, during the 1970’s, have revealed that transfer of wealth is a complex and difficult matter, and does not cure poverty.  What appears to be important is not income as such, but the ability of the poor to acquire certain essential goods, which in turn depends not only on price, but also on availability and capability and to a certain extent their capacity to influence and create these essentials.

(iv)      Working Harder

It is also not sufficient for the poor to work harder to ameliorate their lot.  There are many instances where the poor work from sun up to sun down, on a daily basis, and still can barely earn enough to survive.  Clearly, special measures are needed for this work to be made more suitable, efficient and productive.  In this regard, it must also be realised that although roughly 50% of the absolute poor live in the rural areas, their nutritional and other needs, are still being less met today, than a decade ago (28).

(v)       Charity

For poverty to be efficiently tackled, it’s alleviation and ultimate eradication, must not be seen simply as charity, rather, remedial actions must be appreciated as vital investments in social and environmental stability.  Neither should poverty eradication be seen as a national economic side issue, rather it must be a central plank of development policy, plans and actions.  Unfortunately, data on the poverty profiles and consequences in most countries are out of date, or non-existent, and therefore, more accurate indicators and new social theoretical constructs are required to under-gird sound socio-economic and technological decisions.  Following reparative actions, benchmark data are necessary to allow proper monitoring, evaluation, and learning to take place.

These strategies have failed for a number of reasons, which essentially derive from the fact the upliftment of the capabilities and capacities of the poor were not the major objectives and sustainability was consequently not assured.  Also the poor were not informed participants in their creation and execution.


(i)        The Importance of Research

Since much is left to be known about the poverty question, scientific research is a necessary element to inform policy formulation and to instruct ways to achieve improvement in living conditions.  Also, since the poor have their own knowledge system, for best results, such research should take place with them fully participating and with outsiders paying keen attention to their needs as defined by them.  With academia, local organizations and poor householders involved, a keener understanding of problems, needs and aspirations can be had, and consequently, where assistance from the outside is required, and where the poor can help themselves, can be ascertained with more clarity.  The ultimate idea is to get the poor to participate meaningfully in their local and domestic economies.  As this progresses, monitoring and evaluating systems will have to be installed to guide further actions and this effort also, must integrally involve them.  Essentially, it is being argued that those who are to benefit, or suffer, are the best to judge the outcomes of ameliorating initiatives.

(ii)       Violence on Nature

The violence of man on nature is increasingly becoming a major cause of poverty.  Livelihoods are destroyed by the destruction of forests, pollution of the oceans, indiscriminate use of chemicals, and the leaching of highly toxic industrial wastes into water supplies.  Furthermore, the ravages of global warming and climate change caused largely by the rich countries, on the economics and debt burdens of the developing countries, are urgent causes for international remedial actions if poverty is not to dramatically increase (32).  The ocean and the land must be protected if poverty is to be banished.

Without more equitable distribution of the productive resources of countries, the poor will continue to over-exploit natural resources, leading to deforestation, desertfication and degradation of land.  The poor are forced to earn a living extracting as much as is possible from the little available to them.  This means that development strategies will have to be designed to favour the full participation of the poor, and high priority given to actualization of processes to ensure that the benefits of growth accrue directly to them.  Such policies will ultimately mean that there will be greater levels of environmental protection, as all citizens will be given an opportunity to be engaged in rewarding and productive occupations.  It is hardly likely the poor will wittingly destroy the base of their newfound opportunities, if such options clearly point to a better life, and trust is restored in the goodwill of their societies towards then.

(iii)     Development Index

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) idea of a development index (33), embodies a comprehensive view of sustainable human development, which is compatible with poverty eradication.  It is centered on the vision that economic growth must distribute its benefits equitably, and regenerate the environment rather than destroying it, and that people must be empowered rather than be marginalized.  Such development, it reasoned, must also give primacy to the poor, enlargening their choices and opportunities and providing for their participation in decisions that affect their lives.  As the UNDP states, “it is development that is pro-people, pro-nature and pro-women”.

(iv)      Basic Needs Satisfaction

The traditional income-welfare approach to poverty eradication has not worked, and there is now a substantial body of evidence to indicate that a refined basic needs strategy, in which appropriate technologies are called to play a central role, is the best way to proceed.  As far back as 1976, the World Employment Conference, issued a statement endorsing the basic needs approach to development.  It concluded “strategies and national development plans and policies should include explicitly, as a priority objective, the promotion of employment and the satisfaction of basic needs of each country’s population”.  The report further stated that “basic needs cannot be achieved without both the acceleration in economic growth and measures aimed at changing the patterns of growth and access to the use of productive resources by the lowest income groups”.  The report went on to say “often these measures will require a transformation of social structures, including an initial redistribution of assets, especially land, with adequate and timely compensation” (34).  These observations, over the years, have proven to be accurate, but unfortunately, have remained most intractable to implement for most countries, expect for few instances where this approach was empirically found to be true (35).  The courage to consider and act on these recommendations may be the most important steps to tackling poverty.

The idea of basic needs is therefore not new and simply stems from the view that removing deprivation should be a primary concerned of development.  Such a notion also provides a well-defined set of targets which can be measured and costed with some degree of accuracy.  Furthermore, a clear vision of where a society wishes to go can be stated in terms of the satisfaction of basic needs. In practical terms, for example, a study by the World Health Organization has shown that only a few health conditions are responsible for a high proportion of avoidable deaths in poor countries, and that if these are targeted using existing technologies, some 80 million lives per year could be saved (36).

Notably, what is being said is that the basic needs of the poor can only be met in the long run by increasing the productive capacity of the poor themselves.  And productivity is a function of technological competence.  Along with this reasoning must be included the observation that the poor knows best their opportunities for productive and remunerative work.  So what the poor actually needs are modest levels of technical and management assistance to permit them to undertake their own social and upliftment remedies.

(v)       Steps to Reduce Poverty

The most comprehensive account of steps to reduce poverty has been forwarded by the UNDP.  Although S&T may not have an immediate, and perhaps even a significant, effect, on all the factors determined to be important in poverty reduction, it is instructive  nevertheless to remind ourselves of all of them.  There are as follows:

  Basic Social Services for education and primary health care

  Agrarian reform – for equitable distribution of land and other resources

  Credit – to open markets

  Employment – for sustainable livelihoods

  Participation – to design economic, social and political development

  A social safety net – for those excluded by the market

  Economic growth – for increase productivity of the poor

 Sustainability – for reduce pressure on the eco-system

To remove the poor from being liabilities to efficient contributors to overall development of their countries, they must be gainfully employed.  The strategies contemplated for this to happen are given as follows:

  Education and skills – investment in education, training and skills formation of all citizens.

  Enabling environment – to support the market by providing fair and stable macro-economic policies, equitable loyal work force, sufficient physical infrastructure and adequate investment incentives.

  Access to assets – physical assets and means of production, such as credit and information.

  Labour-intensive technologies – to exploit labour advantages, tax and pricing policies, should be introduced where feasible, to promote labour intensive employment.  (This of course will evolve as the poor become better trained and able to utilize more intimately scientific technologies.)

  Public works programmes  – where the market falls short, government should step in to ensure survival.

It must also be recognized that nature’s violence also is a factor causing, or aggravating, poverty, because the poor often remain the most vulnerable to floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and other natural calamities.  Technologies to alert, protect and remove the poor to, and from the vagaries of nature, must be marshalled in the interest of those most exposed.

 (vi)      A Two Phase Approach to Poverty Reduction

Work on confronting poverty in the Latin America and Caribbean Region suggests that a two-phase approach may be necessary, with either phase being the emphasis depending on the nature of the poverty being tackled (37).  In the first phase, the basic needs of a society should be addressed, especially, those dealing with safety net questions, such as food, health, shelter, as well as, education, information and infrastructure.  The next phase logically should be strengthening the scientific and technological base of the community to enable more commercial and small-scale economic activities, during which the poor take charge of their own lives.  The ultimate of this phase is to deliver training, transfer technology, encourage entrepreneurship, assist with marketing and credit, and ensure that whatever the poor do is done more efficiently and more environmentally friendly.  There is substantial evidence which shows that whenever S&T is used for improvement of production along the lines being advocated, it has impacted positively (35).

Two essential ingredients in these two sets of strategies are access to relevant information and unbridled participation.

(vii      Information

Information is the stuff that will empower the poor and permit them to participate more effectively in their own rescue.   This includes, inter alia, knowledge about applying for credit, possibilities for product diversification, market conditions for their products, potential buyers, price and availability of inputs, transportation alternatives and schedules, profitable linkages with the formal sector, and options about techniques for production. Systems must be set up to receive, process, analyse, share and monitor data, collected at the local level on quality of life indicators, progress of development projects and opportunities, efficiency and continued relevance of technologies, and challenges for continued progress.

All the information avenues and techniques that are practical, must be utilized, and this may include the introduction of the most up-to-date information and communication methods and strategies. Although government must play a vital role, non-governmental organizations have proven to be reliable sources of such information and the monitoring of their use.    Multilateral organizations can do much to enable both government and non-government organizations to discharge their respective roles.

For information to be targeted and useful, there must be two-way flows.  All those involved in basic needs satisfaction must set about offering first hand information to the communities they are working with, while gaining and acting on relevant information from them.  The reputation of those who carry the messages is crucial to the surety with which they are received.

 (viii)  Participation

Participation is pivotal for the success in the identification and transfer of appropriate technologies.  The prospective users must be involved from the beginning in the definition and resolution of their problems, as well as, the selection of suitable technologies, and later adapting them to prevailing conditions, disseminating them among themselves, and mastering and improving on their effectiveness.

Another important benefit which can flow from greater participation of lay and local denizens, which often arises from the values and experiences of different social groups, is seen in the exercise of precaution, in cases where there is danger emanating from ignorance, and scientific uncertainty, as well as, in cases of obvious evidence of hazards to people and the environment.  There are unfortunate examples where such participation was less than desired and have ended with dire eventualities, notably, mad cow disease, asbestos inflicted cancer, and over-exploitation of fisheries, in the developed world.  When informed local groups were involved in such matters, the precautionary principle takes on a more urgent and rational tone with less surrender to political expediencies and contortions.  The cost of regulatory actions or inactions, can consequently be more easily seen. And more consensual public policy making, coupled with a more real world approach, are usually accounted for in regulatory appraisals.

The poor has to be organized to fully participate in such actions.  This can be difficult where individuals are fiercely independent as in Jamaica.  Organization around some entity, activity, or respected individual or leader, can be the facilitating fulcrum, such as a district newspaper which is known for honest and fearless reporting (38).  Essentially, dialogues and decision-making must be undertaken at the community level, so that formulation and execution of policies will involve both men and women.  Non-governmental organizations at the grass roots, can be of great assistance in building formal structures for this process of social integration through self-direction and control.


Democracy cannot continue to evolve without the willing participation of the poor, which are currently some fifty percent of mankind.  Those marginalized are all but forgotten by their societies and must be reconnected for democracy to regain respect.  To do so will require new visions, new organizational forms, and new technologies.  Scientific understanding of the problem may well be the way to start the process.

(i)        Science an Imperative of Democracy

Informed democratic participation is impossible without confident scientific thinking and balanced technological assessment throughout a society.  The profusion of choices rendered by scientific technologies demand the fundamental capability of scientific reasoning, if individuals are not to rely mainly on the opinions of others and on their own narrow emotions.  The flood of data and information, consequent on the spread of information and communication technologies, has made this eventuality progressively more pertinent today, as communities are more informed and more questioning than before.  Essentially, a wider spectrum of citizens must become more cognitive and analytical, if democracy is to mature and realize its potential.

The impact of science on society has grown to such an extent that the questions being posed and tackled by scientists, cannot in a democratic dispensation, be left to the scientists themselves. Here, the work of social scientists to understand and guide public inclusion become categorically constructive (39). The fact that science has been regarded the conscience of mankind (40) means also that it can become the moral authority of democracy.

Science depends on the principles of freedom of exploration and expression which are also the bedrocks of democracy. Nevertheless, the egalitarian and normative effects of democracy run counter to the elitism on which scientific excellence thrives. So in a sense, science can be endangered by invasive democracy. This is not to say that the use of science, and scientific thinking, cannot be made universal, but building scientific acumen cannot be left to the common denominator tendency of democratic practice. The ultimate objective is to make both science and democracy mutually reinforcing, and let the knowledge and power, which can be unleashed by both, work for the benefit of all in society.

(ii)       Prevailing Democracy Not Enough

In this context, it is interesting to note that Amartya Sen (20) recently declared democracy to be the most important happening of the twentieth century.  Accordingly, it was rationalized that democracy, coupled with the market industry of the West, would assure the long awaited socio-economic development of the poor countries.  Unfortunately, there is little indication that doctrinal Western materialism, and its heavy reliance on individualism, will be fitting antipathies for the satisfaction of basis needs, or the curtailer of expanding environmental degradation and disillusionment, so evident in the habitats of both the rich and poor, (41).  Current democracy, unfortunately, does not respond to the harsh realities of economic dislocation and the attendant asperities of every day life.

It is demonstrably obvious that democracy, as now practiced, has not brought adequate qualities of life to most of its adherents. This is clearly seen in a number of strong democracies, such as those of the USA, India and Jamaica, where after several decades of highly applauded democratic rule, painful and dehumanising poverty still exist.

Furthermore, the first cut of the open market has been disgustingly deep on trade, as well as, economic and financial structures, concomitantly destroying businesses, jobs and hopes, in the developing countries (42).

(iii)     Science and Technology for the Poor and Powerless

Consequently, what is now accepted as democracy, and what is seen as the virtues of the open market, are patently not enough to secure a decent life for the poor. For sufficient economic development to take hold, there is need not only for justice, but also for social security, buttressed by technological upliftment and innovation. Greater ranges, levels and numbers of skills, vital information and communication, more production and jobs, as well as, a spirit of creativeness and meaningfulness, are clearly needed, to allow those at the bottom of the social spectrum, to better control their lives and willingly participate in affairs of society. Only then can orderly development reasonably be expected. If a democracy does not offer these minimum essentials, it will contemptibly be ignored, and civic and environmental responsibilities will be conceived as unnecessary burdens. Many consequently will simply remain liabilities instead of assets to their societies.

There has to be a paradigm shift from the prevailing notion of democracies defined mainly in terms of political expression and freedom of speech, to those, which seek to empower all to participate fully in the market and socio-political management of their communities (42, 41).

It is foolhardy to ignore the informal sector, which often is a major plank of struggling economies, and thereby leave them to languish on the fringes, with archaic and obsolete technologies, separated from formal S&T structures and their services. Clearly, democracy should not be identified with majority rule alone, and succumb so willingly to the terror of the elite.

(iv)      A New Democracy

Democracy has to mature to a state where individual freedoms, as well as, technological and pertinent knowledge access, are accepted as fundamental and equal correlates of its satisfactory practice. Without this, the gap between the privileged and the powerless will widen, fuelling seeds of decent, and attacks on democratic institutions. A broad base of independent, creative and productive citizens is critical to a properly functioning modern democracy. It should be recognize, however, that technological access is such a powerful force, that it does not require democracy to be effective, and indeed, technological progress has been quite effective in establishing growth and a measure of equity, in authoritarian states, as exemplified by some of the Asian tigers (44).

Likewise, scientific and technological exclusion and ultimately loss of livelihoods and jobs, can act to disenfranchise major sections of society, as is currently happening with farmers across the Western World, where large corporations continue to merge, forming mega- multi- purpose enterprises, which dominate and displace small producers (45). People without meaningful occupations have very little interest in the present calls for democracy, as a matter of fact, disillusionment with political processes is rampant, and retreats from it are at an all time high in most Western countries. So far, democracy has been inconsequential in relieving the growing numbers locked in poverty and desperation, and it can be said that democracy has been the mainstay of the incestuous status quo. This, coupled with the unforgiving market mechanism, and the acceleration of an insensitive and one sided globalisation process, have seriously aggravated poverty instead of reducing it.

Present democratic institutions are undergirded by anachronistic values and attitudes, which essentially do not speak to the needs of the weak and emasculated. This is so, despite the fact that the underprivileged are often the majority in many democratic societies. In essence then, there appears to be no direct positive relationship between economic growth with equity and currently practiced democracy.  Certainly, there is no relationship between the betterment of the lot of the poor and current democratic rule.

To make democracy work, for the ordinary people, special policies and strategies, especially those involving the creation and use of S&T, must be invoked to empower them to contribute to the betterment of their lives, and ultimately the development of the rest of their societies. There is no better way of doing this than to place literacy (both verbal and scientific), knowledge and relevant techniques in the minds and hands of the disenfranchised (46). Chief among these are the technologies to allow the underprivileged to have a voice and influence in what determines their well being as citizens.

Well-placed technologies can act as countervailing forces to the power and privilege of favoured minorities, which are buoyed by present democracies.  In this way, development and democracy can go hand in hand to balance the mal- effects of the market, which so far has acted to shut down widespread participation in the democratic process, by the alienation of many in the developing countries.

The market mechanism is much too slow and unpredictable to equitably and timely allocate sufficient resources to S&T, and other more direct and progressive democratic means must be found to ensure adequate distribution of these essentials to raise the quality of life of those most in need. In many societies, democracy must be redesigned, so that in a much more deliberate and predictable fashion, it stimulates the delivery of the benefits of S&T across a wider cross-section of developing societies; a more participatory democracy if you will.

 Democracy must not only allow more people to vote, hear and vocalise, but it also must provide real opportunities for proper nutrition, affordable health and housing, anticipated respect and reinvigorating dignity. By better grasping how science and its technologies can be used to tackle the conditions of poverty and alienation, these indispensable can be refocused to more humane ends (24). For example, information and communication technologies can be better deployed to build direct consensus democracy. While the inculcation of scientific approaches to attaining efficiencies and relevancies, in the informal and small farm sectors, can proffer new ways to link these sectors with their formal counterparts. Peaceful sustainable development can then be expected to follow.

(v)              Protecting Democracy

The democratic principles and institutions gained by countries is constantly subjected to destabilizing forces, especially in situations where democracy does not seem to benefit the majority, and where poverty flourishes, and where criminality often goes unchallenged and even gain support by those in dire need.  In these situations, the state must be placed in positions to protect the legal and moral rights of individuals, and must secure the best technologies not only to prevent crime, but also must be able to quickly solve crimes, as well as, apprehend and rehabilitate perpetrators.  Likewise, citizens must not only be encouraged to protect the rights of neighbours, but must be given the necessary encouragement and wherewithal to speak out against excessives of the state and the inimical behaviour of their colleagues.  It is hardly likely that the poor will protect systems which seems to offer so little, while giving others so much.

Protection of democratic institutions therefore is a responsibility of all citizens, and in a technologically led world, forthcoming knowledge must be harness for this purpose. The function of the media and their use of modern reporting technologies is a large part of informing public opinion.  The media must see itself much more than businesses and must become respected bastions of fearless  truth and protectors of individuals’ right to know.  One of the responsibilities of the media should be to help the poor to participate more in their national economies, and this often means bettering the efficiency and efficacy of public institutions.   How the poor feel about the state should be given similar news coverage to the games and parties of the rich.

Reporting in language understandable to the poor also will bring them more into the centre of things.  Promoting cooperation to strengthen grass roots channels of bottom-up communication and vision, will help to give the them voice they deserve. Unfortunately work at Sonoma State University in the USA has revealed that non-sexy, complex stories, or those that may hurt the financial interest of news organisations, often go unreported.  Such corporate media censorship undermines democracy by creating a well entertained but poorly informed electorate.

(vi)      Electronic Democracy

Electronic democracy is the new thrust to use information and communication technologies to improve socio-political management of countries and communities.  It has two important components e-government, or the improvement of internal management of government structures and the delivery of the services expected of them: and e-governance, or the bolstering of citizen’s communication and popular participation in government.  Vital to these initiatives are attempts by municipal governments to establish information networks, to inform citizens, as well as, facilitate the administration, communication and interactions with established government structures, and indeed, among the citizens themselves.  By these information and communication technology connections, not only the responsiveness and reliability of government institutions are expected to be improved, but also how the average citizen can become more aware of their responsibilities to participate, will be fostered. With such developments, citizens will help make difficult decisions, and of course, anticipate and accept their consequences, or if needs be move to have them altered.

Already the information revolution has empowered poor people, as instruments like the Internet, have allowed easier civic cooperation to strengthen grass roots channels for bottom up and horizontal communication.  For example, in Latin America and Africa the internet has been used to improve respect for human rights, in Indonesia, web casting is being used as an alternate to state media, and in Mali, democratisation is being forwarded, while in Bangladesh low cost banking is at work.

It should however not be forgotten that conventional technologies, such as the newspaper, radio, television and cable, relayed in local languages, can have profound effects.  Pro-poor content is as vital as being able to connect.  And to connect without being able to use the system must also be taken into consideration.  This may mean using solar and other affordable alternate energy sources because the cost of the energy from national grids is an insurmountable problem for the poor.  What, however, has started to emerge, is the fact that as the Internet, radio and television coverage is deregulated, traditional public service broadcasting is loosing its market share to commercial media, which often exclude the poor.  Also, the fact that information and communication technologies, unlike radio, require continual updating and expertise, means excluding people at the low end of the economic spectrum.  These emerging issues must be further investigated and corrected to allow the poor to fully participate in national development

Among the most important requirements for information and communication technologies to have a desirable effect must be the training of citizens to navigate the Internet. Their access to information tools, whether in their homes, or through Internet centres, or in other public facilities, like post offices, is essential. There must be relevant information of high quality available to them, and there must be reciprocity with social agents and other key government bodies and officials. The idea is to have greater transparency, efficiency, accountability, predictability, integrity and trust.   This can only be established if the voices of ordinary citizens are heard and acted on.

The e-governance process has to be reciprocative, participatory and distributory, thereby dispersing government powers and actions among a wider range of institutions and individuals than currently exist.  The responsibility of citizens to participate, in both the making of decisions and the orderly conduct of agreed actions, is the crux of successful e-governance.

The quintessence of the e-governance idea is summarised in the following quote by John Uhr in  “Insight”, a Commonwealth magazine;  “the hope is that more people will participate if they can see real value in their contribution to public affairs.  One criticism of existing systems of representative government is that the value of public input is diminished when elected political representatives assume full responsibility for the outcomes of public consultation.  Responsibility, like power, can suffer from too much concentration.”

Information and communication technologies, undoubtedly, have, and will continue to wield, radical influences on most aspects of public and private intercourse, including government and governance.  Their use and effectiveness in poor societies need close monitoring and the sharing of experiences resulting from their application in different circumstances.  The ultimate idea is to build a body of reliable  knowledge for the betterment of those suffering at the bottom of society.


From what has been presented, it is clear that billions of dollars and other resources have been spent on poverty reduction with little positive effect, either on the rate, or on the actual numbers, of people mired in poverty.  It is fitting then for a thorough review of the poverty dilemma and an assessment of what has been done to reduce it.  This is an attempt to survey the S&T and allied implications of the problem.

In this paper it is argued that the poor has not shared in the progress of S&T and instead has suffered its inimical consequences, and therefore, it is being proposed that a new more participatory democratic model of development should be adopted.  This approach must go beyond the prevailing forces of free market capitalism, private sector competition and globalisation of trade, to help the poor in a direct manner to become more willingly participants and contributors to their societies.  At the centre of this notion is the provision of relevant information, better communication and other technical and management tools, to provide credit, self-help technologies and restored dignity and pride to allow the poor to help themselves.  Direct transfer of technologies, such as bio and information technologies, through partnership between academia, the private sector, government and the poor, is presented as a logical way to proceed.

Because, on the one hand, the poor is becoming too expensive for the rich, and on the other, they present a market, as well as, sources of innovation, it seems best to bring them into the main productive stream of their economies and national governance.  To do so, the type of democracy being practiced will have to be improved to include the full satisfaction of basic needs with the uncompromised participation and support of the poor.

If the poor is left out of the democratic process, except for intermittent elections, this institution will loose its appeal, and other more inimical values will creep into the struggle to survive. E-governance to complement e-government appears then a good opportunity to enable the poor to determine the type of society they wish to create and in which to live. The satisfaction of basic needs, which should be approached by employing the most effective technologies, stands not only to build local content into information and quality of life parameters, but also will inculcate more acceptable and lasting physical and psychological structures in communities.  With this in mind, it must be realised that the social returns on education and training are much larger that simple individual and private returns, therefore, government and the entire society is best advised to see that this important basic need is met on a priority basis.

It was also stressed that the involvement of the poor in the formal economies of their societies should also not be seen as the holding down of low paying jobs, to pacify illiterate and frustrated individuals, rather, it should be regarded as an attempt to make every citizen as productive as possible, using steadily improving skills and technologies.

Further, the paper points out that the migration of low paying jobs from one poor country to another with more laxed working conditions and lower wages has put paid to the notion of the sustainability of low technology strategies for development.  A more advanced technological approach to socio-economic development, based on enchanced human capabilities and capacities, is therefore, being advanced as a more reasonable way for poor countries to proceed.


From what has been outlined a number of priority actions present themselves.  It ought however to be pointed out that no one action by itself can deal with the complexities of poverty, and not all recommendations are relevant to each situation. While some can be undertaken with expected results in the short to medium terms, others are more long term and require significant social and attitudinal changes.  With this understanding, the following recommendations are made:

  1. Each country must map its poverty situation and should identify its basic needs priorities and national strategies to satisfy them.
  2. A study to sharpen existing poverty alleviation indicators including the true cost of poverty, to societies, should be undertaken to provide better ways of monitoring and evaluating remedial actions.
  3. A review of existing national policies and plans should be undertaken, to ensure that they do not work at cross purposes to basic needs strategies.
  4. Countries should be urged to include S&T resolution models for poverty eradication as integral parts of their industrial development and trade policies.
  5. Local S&T communities should be called upon to implement plans to help satisfy basic needs as an important part of their mandate, and consequently, they should be provided with the necessary incentives to assertively undertake this task.
  6. New organizational forms and collaborative arrangements, which call upon the skills and expertise in R&D departments, S&T bodies, as well as, in social and financial institutions, government policy and implementing machineries, with the full cooperation of the productive private sector and philanthropic organizations, should be considered.
  7. Transfer of technology units should be set up, or technological workshops regularly held, in the poor rural and urban areas, to work directly with the poor, to upgrade the technologies on which their survival now depends.
  8. Firms and enterprises should target the youth in the poor areas for special assistance in obtaining education, training, jobs, sports outlets and opportunities for recreational activities, to bring more economic meaning  and hope to their lives.
  9. Schools in the poverty stricken areas should inculcate in their teachings attitudes which can help to reduce the psychological burden of poverty on their students. Access to computers and the vast array of information they convey are attractive ways to reach the emotional side of students.
  10. Governments should set about revitalizing defunct or abandoned businesses in the poor rural and urban areas, including shops which have been closed, because of competition from more favoured entities in the formal sector and because of other social problems.
  11. All poverty alleviation, or eradication programmes, should be closely monitored, especially where novel technological mixes are introduced, so that keen learning can ensue.
  12. Such lessons and reports should be shared with other countries undertaking similar missions.  This is perhaps best done through central sorting houses, or distribution centres, rather than informal ad hoc arrangements.
  13. At the hemispheric level, existing multilateral institutions should be called upon to articulate and assist in the implementation of comprehensive basic needs programmes, and accordingly, a review of present official development assistance should be done to improve support for the contemplated projects.
  14. A more detailed account of the experiences gained in the basic needs assault on poverty in and outside the hemisphere, should be completed, and related to programmes currently being, or which will be, undertaken, in the region.
  15. Hemispheric dialogue to ensure binding agreements and consequent financial support on the use of S&T to banish poverty should be initiated.
  16. A roster of expertise on the subject and a listing of poverty alleviation programmes in the hemisphere should be compiled and circulated.
  17. It may also be useful to construct regional programmes in which several countries are involved, to allow not only for the best use of resources, but also for on the job training and transfer of technologies.
  18. Whatever efforts are being made to eradicate poverty they should be given wide publicity in the hemisphere, so that hope can once more spring into the hearts of those who for so long have been forgotten.
  19. A hemispheric prize should be inaugurated for the best programme, or the best individual contribution, to the field of poverty eradication and social upliftment.
  20. Steps should be taken to evaluate the democratic principles, which currently undergird the models being practiced to uncover new and more concrete ways to deepen and expand participation of the poor in decision making in their societies.


1)     This has become common knowledge, see for example, statements made at the Conference on Democracy, Market Economy and Development in Seoul, Korea, February 1999, abstracted in Development Outreach – Putting Knowledge to Work for Development, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1999.  The World Bank Institution, Washington DC.

A poignant case is that of the USA during the spectacular economic growth period of the 1990’s, and despite its welfare system, there were increases in poverty in the Southern States and in children, see US 2001 Census Report.  The US understandably has the largest prison population in the world, while Bill Gate’s wealth alone amounts to some 100 billion US dollars, or just less than the total income of nearly 600 million people living largely in poverty in the least developed countries.

2)                 Skuse A., 2000. Information Communication Technologies, Poverty and Empowerment.  Background paper commissioned for DFID, White Paper, entitled “Eliminating World Poverty:  Making Globalization Work for the Poor”, London; and Wilson, E.O. 2002.  The Bottleneck. Scientific American, 286: 70-79.

3)                 The Report of the South Commission 1990.  The Challenge to the South.  Oxford University Press, New York, pp 254-255.

Also Ronald J. Herring in Earth Times News Service (2002), argues that the reason for strong patents has been turn on its head because it actively reduces innovation because of transaction costs.

4)                 Mooney, P. 1995.  The Invisible IARCHY.  Who Will Control the South’s Agricultural Biodiversity Now?  South Letter No. 2,  South Centre, Geneva. pp 10-12.

5)                 This was emphasised at the World Conference on Science – Science for the Twenty-First Century.  A New Commitment 2000, see for example, Mervat Badawi – Science and Agriculture:  Mobilising Society for Food Security, UNESCO, Paris.   pp 200-203.

6)                 Report of the South Commission 1990.  The Challenge to the South, Oxford University Press, New York.  pp 92.

7)                 Golden, I. and Odin, K. 1990. Agricultural Trade Liberalization: Implication for Developing Countries.  OECD, Washington, DC.

8)                 The WTO meetings in Seattle and in Genoa have been the object of serious protest with mayhem and death.

9)                 Such as biotechnologies which will allow the poor to better harness natural resources on which they largely depend.

10)            South Letter. 1995. The 50th Anniversary of the UN : Under A Cloud?  No. 22,  South Commission, Geneva.   pp 1.

11)            Bhalla A.S. and James J. 1998.  New Technologies and Development: Experiences in Technological Blending, Lynne Rienner, London.

12)            Cooper, M. 2001.  Argentina Blame the IMF Crowd, One-size-fits-all globalisation model just didn’t work.  Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles.

13)            Ventura, A.K., 1993. Elements of the Scientific Research Method – A Way to Think.  A Way to Live.  Jamaica Information Service, Kingston.

14)            The Grem of this idea is to be found in Society and Science, edited by Maurice Goldsmith and Alan Mckoy, 1964, especially in the chapter by Joseph Needham,  Simon and Schuster, New York.   pp 127-149

15)            The poor by the nature of their circumstances are forced to use the little they have in creative ways, see for example, Ventura, A.K., 1992, Elements of Innovation and Technological Development in Jamaica, UNESCO, Port of Spain.

16)            Yunuis, M., 1998.  Lessons from the Grameen Bank.  Economic Development. Institute Forum, vol 2. World Bank, Washington D.C.

17)            Sen, A.K., 1987. Poverty and Farmers.  An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Clarendon Press. Oxford, UK.

18)            Salmon, J.U., 1998. Defining Poverty for Public Policy in Jamaica, PIOJ, Kingston.

19)            Ventura, A.K., 1998. Water and the Environment for a Commonwealth Science Council / National Resources Conservation Authority Seminar, Kingston, Jamaica.

20)            Sen, A.K., 1999. The Value of Democracy – Development Outreach Putting Knowledge to Work for Development.  The World Bank Institute, Washington D.C.

21)            Goleman, D. 1999.  The Group and the Self:  New Focus on a Cultural Rift. Individual in the West is at Odds with Values in much of the World.  New York Times.  December 25, New York.

22)            More, T., 1516. Utopia was the start of the idea of an ideal society based on the expansion of knowledge.  One hundred years later Frances Bacon in his Sylva Sylvorium (1627) provide a list of what should be expected, many of which have already been realised.

23)            A series of UNDP’s Human Development Reports starting in the 1990 and  continuing to 2001, attest to this fact.

24)            Ventura, A.K., 2000. What are the Limits of Science, Interciencia: 25: 210-212

25)            World Bank, 1990. World Bank Development Report, Washington, DC.

26)            Planning Institute of Jamaica and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica figures 2002, Kingston, Jamaica.

27)            UNESCO and the OAS has been providing S&T indicators for over a decade and their assessments show that investments in S&T in the developing countries have remained at levels below 0.4% of GNP.

28)            .Ventura, A.K. and Henry, M.E.D., 1995.  Technology for Basic Needs: The Forgotten Strategy, chapter 4, in IDRC/UNCTAD, An Assault on Poverty, Geneva.

29)            Poverty in North America is quite visible, especially in large urban centres and in rural communities, 2001, Census Bureau figures confirm that 19-23% of children lived in poverty despite the USA’s record economic expansion 1993 to 1998.

30)            Bhalla, A.S. and Reddy, A.K.N., 1993.  The Technological Transformation of Rural India.  Intermediate Technological Publications, London, UK pp 1-20.

31)            Stewart. F., 1985.  Basic Needs in Developing Countries.  The John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

32)            Heller, P.S. and Moni, M. 2002.  Adapting to Climate Change. Finance and Development.  29: 1-7.

33)            United Nations Development Programme, 1994. Human Development Report, New York, USA.

34)            International Labour Organization 1976.  Meeting Basic Needs:  Strategies for Eradicating Mass Poverty and Unemployment.  Conclusion of the World Employment Conference, Geneva, Switzerland.   P 24

35)            Bhalla, A.S. 1984. Internal Technology Transfer in China in Managing Science Policy and Technology Acquisition, edited by R. Lalkaka and W. Mingu. Tycoola International Publishing Ltd., UNFSTD, New York.

See also experienced gained from Techno Net Asia in Modern Technology:  Its transfer and diffusion to small enterprises, by L.V. Chico, in book entitled Research and Development.  Linkages to Production in Developing Countries, edited by M.P.  Williams Silvera, 1985, UN Science and Technology for Development Series, Westview Press, London.

36)            WHO, 2002, Commission on Macro-economics and Health, Geneva.

37)            Ventura, A.K., 2001, A New Scientific Approach for Poverty Eradication. World Federation of Scientific Workers Millennium Symposium, Regina, Canada.

38)            A Rural Jamaica Newspaper – “The Mandeville Weekly” has become a powerful vehicle for organizing the rural poor, as individuals look to this paper for information about local happenings and ways to access community offerings.

39)            Anizpe, L., 2000. Science, Discernment and Democracy, World Conference on Science Report, UNESCO, Paris pp 412-413.

40)            Sarton, G., 1956.  The History of Science and the New Millennium.  George Braziller, Inc., New York, pp xxii.

41)            Ventura, A.K. 2001. Science and Technology. Vital Correlates of Democracy. Interciencia 26. 81-84.

42)            Nader, R. 2000. Introduction to the WTO – 5 Years of Reasons to Resist Corporate Globalisation by Wallach, L.  Sforza. M.

43)            Joyner, C. 1999. The United Nations and Democracy Global Governance.  A review of multilateralism and International Organization.  Lynne Rienners Publishers in co-operation with ACUNS and the United Nations University vol. 5. No. 3.  July to September, pp 333-357.

44)            The NIC’s even today are still largely autocratic, see for example Science and technology in Japan by Sigurdson. J., Dufour P.K. and de la Mothe J. 1995 Caterhill Publishing U.K. p.30.

45)            Halweil, B. 2000. Where Have All the Farmers Gone.  World Watch Institute September / October, Washington DC, pp 12- 28.

46)            Sachs, J, 2000. A New Map of the World, The Economist, June 24, 99-101.


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