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World Bank president James Wolfenshon
"It's an essential part of poverty reduction"
 real 28k

Monday, 14 February, 2000, 08:34 GMT
Internet boost for Third World

child with computer The project aims to spread the benefits of the web

By Jonathan Head in Tokyo

The World Bank has announced a $500m project to stimulate the use of the internet in developing countries.

The bank has joined forces with a Japanese company, Softbank - one of the world's largest and most successful internet companies - to create a fund which will help new internet businesses in the developing world to get off the ground.

No-one, it seems, wants to be left behind by the internet revolution, not even the World Bank, which in the past has been associated more with poverty reduction and building infrastructure than with high technology.

But the bank's president, James Wolfensohn, argues that access to the internet is just as important to the world's poorest people as more basic necessities like housing and clean water.

"My experience in poor communities is that they don't want a handout of money, they want a chance to learn and to be able to develop themselves, and there is no more efficient mechanism to convey knowledge and to get knowledge back than the use of the internet," he said.

Partnership project

This is not a traditional World Bank-style project; rather, it is a partnership between the bank's private investment arm, the International Finance Corporation, and the Japanese internet giant, Softbank, to make sure that capital and expertise are available to high technology entrepreneurs starting up in developing countries.

Companies like Softbank are already scouring emerging markets to try to acquire the next internet success story.

But the World Bank argues that so far, only the better-off developing countries like Brazil are benefiting from this interest.

It believes there is an appetite for the internet, even in many impoverished African countries, which it hopes the new fund will help to satisfy.

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See also:
14 Oct 99 |  Information rich information poor
Bridging the digital divide
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Is the web widening the poverty gap?
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