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INTRODUCTION

From the sound of the engine, you could tell it was Mr. Lawrence’s car making for the office as if for the last time. Mr. Lawrence is in his late forties and works at the Federal Secretariat where he oversees the training of new employees. He’s been at it for over sixteen years and could even carry out the day’s duties with his eyes closed.

Arriving at the office complex, his car (which is due for a replacement that Mr. Lawrence cannot afford) goes down the slope unpowered to save some fuel. He carries the stack of files he worked on at home over the weekend and climbs up the staircase to the fourth floor since the elevator in the building never worked since installation. The first training session is in the next seven minutes. Mr. Lawrence makes for the seminar room but the phone rings. Picking it up, he said, "hello" and the line went off… the Power Supply Authority was at it again, it’s a power failure.

Undaunted by the usual occurrences, Mr. Lawrence makes it just on time and begins the training-the-trainer segment of his schedule. Taking notes as fast as they can, the trainees try their best to keep up with the fast Mr. Lawrence. At the end of the class, photocopies of the manual were distributed but not without the usual typos. Well, she can’t be blamed for the errors, what else can a typewriter do… maybe things will be better when the typist can lay her hands on the magical tool she’s heard so much about, the Computer. It’s the first day of April 2001…

The story sounds much like an ancient novel’s content but it truly typifies what goes on in most developing nations today. The information revolution and its accompanying cutting-edge tools are yet to gain grounds even now that the curtain has been drawn off the face of the 21st century. In contrast with eWorking (which is getting more popular in developed nations), business processes, industrial duties and office chores in most developing nations are as good as imposed boredom to the people, who have no choice but to repeat the routine daily. eWorking may not be a very strange word to the elite in developing nations but the percentage of people that are either Internet literate or have access to the Internet is a faint fraction of the whole. Telecommunication infrastructure, regular power supply, Secure Electronic Fund Transfer (SEFT), and other aides of the digital revolution are still debated issues in some developing countries, aside the obvious economic divide, which is a common factor.

If the New Economy must really make wholesome sense, the boundaries of the digital society must be extended beyond its present perimeter. The present knowledge-driven society must be made true to its core concept of globalization by ensuring that all races, levels and classes of people have a good participatory role in the New Economy via their inclusion in the Digital Society.

This paper seeks to establish the importance of social and intellectual capital in eWorking relationships between developing and developed nations. It should open all eyes to the various benefits of bridging the digital divide for both sides of the divide.

eWORKING

"…new technologies have forced the reshaping of business, shifting control from the corporation to the individual" – Joanne Pratt

eWorking, Teleworking and Telecommuting are interchangeably used to refer to the same concept. eWorking describes the partial or total substitution of Information and Communications Technology for the trip to and from the primary workplace (with the associated changes in policy, organization, management, and work structure) in order for work to be done at a distance from the place where the results are needed or where the work would conventionally have been done. Simply put, it speaks of moving the work to the workers, instead of moving the workers to work.

eWorking is more productive, gives more leisure time, more education, less pollution, a healthier and wealthier society, opens up wider doors and gives room for greater efficiency. Statistics reveals that eWorkers are 20% - 45% more productive, direct costs of employment (office space, travelling expenses, etc) are about $7 000 less per annum and about 30 working days are saved per annum. eWorkers can live where they like without breaking up with their family and people with disabilities can contribute their own quota to societal development and also build a fulfilling career.

The availability of key technologies such as computing, the Internet, new generation telecommunications infrastructure and the flexibility of work has made eWorking the ideal way to combine personal fulfillment with teamwork. The International Telework Association and Council (ITAC), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the economic, social and environmental benefits of eWorking says the number of U.S. eWorkers has grown from 8.7 million in 1996 to nearly 23 million in 2000. It also predicts that 30 million U.S. workers will be into eWorking by 2004.

The four types of eWorking, as identified by Kurland and Bailey (homebased eWorking, satellite offices, neighbourhood telework centers occupied by workers from more than one organization and mobile workers) all point to the options open to workers courtesy of the phenomenon of eWorking.

eWorking is actually the response of business structures and organisations to emerging technologies, business opportunities and environmental factors that model the way we live. It is more important now to think of networking the intellectual capabilities of employees rather than have their names on the daily register. The productivity of any organization is more dependent on the pool of knowledge it has acquired as a structure in addition to the various pieces of information available to its workers. In essence, the concept of a knowledge-driven society has spread its tentacles into the workplace.

One other fact that is worth mentioning is the fact that even though it was predicted that eWorking would reduce commuting trips, it has rather transformed the journey to work principle into journey as work (Pratt 2000). eWorking has made more time available for mobility and according to Niles, telecommunications appears to stimulate travel (Niles 1994, Beyond Telecommuting)

THE NEED FOR NETWORKED eWORKING RELATIONSHIPS

"We are more than the sum of our knowledge

we are the product of our imagination" – Ferdi

The boundaries that mark the distinctive location of nations are fast fading off as technological innovations turn the whole world into a global village. The workplace, industry, education, business, governance, agriculture, automobiles, communications and all other spheres of human endeavour are not left out in this dynamic revolution.

The concept of globalisation has brought about the reality of wired societies in which all boundaries have melted and endless possibilities abound in a synergism of efforts. The present wave of mergers sweeping across the face of the earth is a pointer to the fact that men, organisations and governments have come to understand the strength that lies in sharing and cooperation.

Nations, people groups or organisations that choose to stand alone in the new Digital Society will be subjected to limited resources, retrogression and isolation. The present distribution of resources worldwide is an indicator of the need for synergism, particularly between developing and developed nations. It may be assumed that developed nations need not combine efforts with the developing nations but the section of this paper on the impacts of the digital divide would reveal the hidden truths behind the benefit of synergism. Beside the philanthropic perspective is the issue of manpower.

The United States economy grows courtesy of the contributions of various nationalities residing in the country, including those with developing nations as their native countries. An example is Philip Emeagwali (a Nigerian), who responded to the national meteorological problem and made possible the idea 3.1 trillion calculations per second.

Europe and other developed areas of the globe cannot divorce the potential market they has in developing nations from their growth in economic might. Establishing dynamic eWorking relationships between developing and developed nations would reduce the expenses of developed nations on travel, logistics and training.

If there is an equalization of knowledge, information flow becomes fluid and that would make for better communication globally, enhancing the impact of globalisation, which in turn eliminates the idea of physical distance.

 

 

 

THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

"The paradox of technology is that the people, groups, and nations that benefit most are those that are best educated, most affluent and most powerful" – William Mitchell

Participation in the digital society happens to be at two levels, some are at the topmost part and the fastest growing area of the society while the others are scrambling for space at the unfortunate end of the strata. The obvious gap between developing and developed nations does not only exist in the area of digital inclusion but this paper focuses on the digital divide, its impact and possible ways of bridging the divide.

A lack of access to knowledge, information and infrastructure is crippling the efforts of developing nations to attain economic stability and prosperity. The DSE in its discussion report, Digital Inclusion: Impact and Challenges of the Networked Economy for Developing Countries, identifies four factors that make access difficult in developing countries: absence of IT infrastructure, high costs, high illiteracy, and limited knowledge of English. While the fourth point is not totally true, due to the fact that access and literacy can grow in native languages, it must also be noted that government policies is another hindrance to access in developing countries.

Ernest Wilson III, in his paper, Closing the Digital Divide: An Initial Review, defines the global Digital Divide as a substantial asymmetry between two or more populations in the distribution and effective use of information and communication resources i.e. differential effective access to information and communication technologies. He further highlights the idea of intra-national Digital Divide (within one single country) and inter-national Digital Divide (involving two or more countries or regions), a combination of which refer to the global Digital Divide.

Africa, as a developing segment of the globe, is gaining speed in the creation of web pages but in the light of the global spread, Africa’s share of the world total of number of Web sites has fallen from 0.25% to 0.22%. Per capita telephone is declining and statistics says that about 3 billion people on earth have never heard a dial tone. As an example, Nigeria’s Vice President, on the World telecommunications day, promised about 11 million land and mobile lines by a year when the population of the nation would have hit a 140 million mark, which leaves telephone access to less than 8% of the country’s population.

The Internet is much utilized in North America and Europe but 98% of Latin Americans, 98% of Asians and 99.5% of Africans are not connected to the Internet. Two of the three richest men in the world (as at December 2000) gained their money through the digital economy and the sum of the wealth of the three men is greater than the Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 47 nations in the world combined. Watching the available facts, I think it is not erroneous to agree with Alan Lawson’s conclusion that "… the digital divide is not a problem about technology, it is a problem about the economy".

The widening divide, if unattended, will render the upcoming generation in developing countries globally irrelevant because as technology grows astronomically, they do not have access to the dynamic revolution but would have to compete in the same global market with the 3G generation of the developed nations.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reveals that "73% of Australian adults with incomes of over $80,000 used the Internet in 1999, compared to only 34% of Australians with incomes of less than $40,000. 52% of households with incomes over $100,000 had Internet connections, compared to 31% of households that earned between $50,000 and $75,000. Only 6% of households with an income of less than $25,000 had Internet access. 54% of employed adults used the Internet while only 19% of unemployed adults did. The following table compares the 1998 and 1999 Internet use figures. It reveals the widening tendencies of the digital divide and suggests that Internet use is becoming a mass-market product which is more available to people on above-average incomes but leaves the low-earners behind.

Income Range

1998 Internet use (%)

1999 Internet use (%)

Under $25,000

5%

6%

$25,000 - $50,000

12%

17%

$50,000 - $75,000

21%

31%

The US Department of Commerce also added another dimension to the factors influencing the digital divide when it revealed in its Digital Economy 2000 that the growth of internet use had been most rapid among those households with higher incomes, more education, computers at work, white or Asian backgrounds, and headed by persons aged 35 to 50.

From various studies, I have found the factors influencing the widening of the digital divide to be:

  1. Income or economic might
  2. Educational background
  3. Work conditions
  4. Race or biological background
  5. Age
  6. Gender
  7. National or regional policies and politics
  8. Leadership

All these factors must be considered if we must do anything like bridging the digital divide.

 

 

 

BRIDGING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

" … take computer literacy to the women ,,, and multiply access and diffusion for the youths. " – Chris Uwaje

The issue of bridging the digital divide plays a fundamental role in establishing eWorking relationships between developed and developing nations. It forms the foundation on which a viable structure of economic exchange and information flow can be built without the fear of incompatibility.

Bridging the digital divide is not a case of giving access to tools and Internet technologies but involves improving existing knowledgebase, formulating necessary policy, creating flexible structures and an environment that supports creativity, enhanced information exchange, equalization of processes and effective use of synergies for national development and global competitiveness.

Presently, various governments and organizations are busy at tackling the issue of bridging the digital divide. The US government has put up a Web site (http://www.digitaldivide.gov/) that focuses on government, industry and community efforts to bridge the divide. British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, pledged to get everyone in the UK online within five years and said that the knowledge economy must be an economy for the many and not the few. The European Commission’s eEurope initiative aims to bring the benefits of the information society to all Europeans. The Australian government has put in place several programs aimed at improving Australians’ access to telecommunications. The various budgets have also reflected the keen interest in conquering the looming danger of the digital divide.

Africa, and other developing regions, must maximize the present global opportunity in order to successfully bridge the digital divide and at least be on a level where safe and effective eWorking relationships can be established with the developed nations and regions. I believe we must tackle the issues that contribute to the widening of the divide by building a strong intellectual base, attaining to a level of economic stability, creating legal frameworks and policies that encourage digital participation, adopting regional cooperation and integration, ensure regular power supply and a dynamic telecommunication infrastructure. Other issues like Secure Electronic Fund transfer (SEFT), proper educational structures and awareness must also be addressed.

 

 

AGENTS OF CHANGE

"The continuity of any technological innovation is assured when the youths are empowered with appropriate skills" – ‘Gbenga Sesan

The widening of the digital divide is further influenced by the exclusion of a major percentage of the total world population. The fact that society and other factors exclude women from active participation in the digital society only shows that we have limited the pace of change. In the ILO’s report on World Employment (2001), it includes a section on closing the gender divide. It says that even though ICT has the potential to provide jobs for women and improve their lives, women generally continue to earn lower incomes, suffer higher unemployment and are often concentrated on less skilled jobs. It also reveals that only 38% of Latin American Internet users are women, the European Union’s figure is 25%, 19% in Russia, 18% in Japan and 4% in the Middle East.

With the figures from the US Department of Commerce and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, it is obvious that Internet use and active participation in the digital society does not favour the 12 – 25 age bracket. The mistake that we may make would be to neglect the roles that these two agents of change, women and youths, in bridging the digital divide. If we make true the concept of taking computer literacy to the women and multiplying access and diffusion for youths, we would be building a digital army that would join forces with the present workforce to battle the duty of bridging the digital divide.

The women can build successful careers that allow them to contribute to the digital society alongside raising a generation of kids whose secondary language (second mother tongue) is digital inclusion. The youths would help multiply awareness and build a strong intellectual pool of information that would prove effective in bridging the digital divide. The population census of Chat rooms and statistical details of email, text, SMS and voice calls would reveal the role that youths can play in spreading awareness on the need to close up the digital gap.

The agents of change needed for a successful bridging of the digital divide thus consists of youths, women, adults, men and every member of the global community.

 

 

 

INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL

With the stated need for networking to establish dynamic and productive eWorking relationships between developed and developing nations, we can not underestimate the fact that the rationale of organizations is the creation and deployment of knowledge (Choi and Karmanos). Sine the established relationship would produce an organization out of the networked nations or regions, we cannot but consider the importance of intellectual capital.

Intellectual Capital is a product of the dialogue between researchers and practitioners seeking a more complete representation of the visible and invisible assets and processes that constitute a firm’s capacity to create value (Bontis, 1999). In Strategic Management of Intellectual capital & Organizational Knowledge, intellectual capital is conceptually said to consist of human capital and structural capital. "Human capital is a function of the competence, intellectual agility, and attitudes of the organization’s members. Structural capital refers to the learning and knowledge that is enacted in processes (process capital); knowledge that is codified as documents, objects, and intellectual property (intellectual capital)."

Thus, the strategic management of the (collective) intellectual capital of networked nations (or regions) is not only concerned with the identification and assessment of their knowledge-base, but also with the control and alignment of flow of knowledge across regional/national levels in order to enhance productivity and innovation. If we see Grant’s discussions in Knowledge-Based Perspectives of the Firm under the light of eWorking relationships between developing and developed nations, we can identify the following points:

 

 

 

SOCIAL CAPITAL

Social capital is referred to as the set of social resources embedded in relationships (Burt, 1992). It encompasses many aspects of a social context, such as social ties, trusting relations and value systems (Tsai and Ghoshal, 1998), which are necessary items when it comes to establishing relationships within organizations, groups, nations or regions.

In an empirical study conducted by Tsai and Ghoshal on an electronics company, it was discovered that social interaction and trust were significantly related to the extent of interunit resource exchange, which in turn had an effect on product innovation. This points to the fact that established eWorking relationships between developing and developed nations would make for better information interchange that would help produce better innovation.

Building on isolated social capital to form a network of social resources promotes the growth of intellectual capital, which means that both ends of the digital divide stand to gain from the relationship. New intellectual capital is created through combination and exchange of intellectual resources, which may exist in any form of knowledge. Ghoshal and his colleagues identified four conditions that affect the deployment of intellectual resources and engagement in knowing activity involving combination and exchange. In the light of the relationships established, the conditions would mean that:

In the book, Relationship-Based HRM Practice: Social Capital and Network Theory Perspective, Tomoki Sekiguchi argues that combination and exchange of knowledge are complex social processes and that much valuable knowledge is fundamentally socially embedded. Thus, social capital in the established relationships will stimulate the development of Intellectual Capital. He also identifies three dimensions of social capital that affect the creation of new Intellectual Capital (structural, cognitive and relational dimensions) which suggest the possible outcomes of established relationships between developing and developed nations or regions.

In conclusion, beyond the superficial integration of intellectual and social capital in eWorking relationships between developing and developed nations and the bridging of the digital divide, global digital opportunities abound that can change the face of economic landscapes and geographical values. These applications of Internet technologies that build on bridging the digital divide (eCommerce, eLearning, eGovernment, etc) would be dealt with conclusively in the full paper.