Volunteers from US companies and the federal government will soon head to Senegal to help the country improve its technology industry and economy, according to the White House.
The creation of the Digital Freedom Initiative, a program designed to help developing nations grow their technology industries, has been announced by the White House and the US Department of Commerce.
Mostly Muslim Senegal will be the first participating country in a three-year pilot program and if the experience is successful the US government will send volunteers to 20 countries in the following five years.
Senegal was chosen because its political leaders understand the importance of technology, and the country also has some technology infrastructure in place, senior advisor to the undersecretary of commerce for technology, Connie Correll, said. The country has about 10,000 telephone centres, where residents can place phone calls. About 200 of the centres are Internet capable.
It also doesn’t hurt that Senegal’s population is mostly Muslim, as President Bush faces public relations challenges with the Muslim world over his threatened war with Iraq.
“It’s good foreign policy, and it’s good economic policy,” Correll said. “The country is enthusiastic about the program.”
Bush has budgeted $US2 million for the program in his proposed 2004 Federal Budget but organisers expect Senegal will get another $US4.5 million worth of volunteer work and computer equipment during the year.
The program will send volunteers from technology and financial services companies, as well as members of the US Peace Corps and other agencies, to work with small businesses on technology issues. The program will also promote “pro-growth regulatory and legal structures.”
Representatives of HP and Cisco attended the White House program kick-off ceremony and IBM is also thought to have expressed an interest.
The US Department of Commerce hopes to recruit more companies. Other federal bodies involved include the US Agency for International Development and the USA Freedom Corps.
An initial organisational meeting has already taken place and another is expected within a couple of months. Operational details are still being worked out.
One of the program’s missions was to help developing nations “bring people out of poverty,” Correll said. “The overall goal is technology-based economic development. We’re sending our human capital over to Senegal to help them develop their economy.”