Sunday, February 10, 2008

How Taiwan is bridging the digital divide

Taiwan is world-renowned for manufacturing computers, and it also tops the list of countries surveyed in e-readiness rankings by several international organisations.

But these facts do not mean that no digital divide exists on this island country.

The digital divide is a phenomenon that exists all over the world, including in more-developed countries.

In response to the growing global concern for digitally-disadvantaged groups, the Taiwan government launched a campaign to bridge the digital divide, not only in Taiwan but in other countries such as Papua New Guinea as well.

The ‘Bridging SME Digital Divide Project’ is an important project of the Small and Medium Enterprise Administration, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Taiwan, aiming to help small enterprises with under 20 employees embrace ecommerce.

The second one is called ‘Narrowing the Digital Divide between Urban and Rural Areas’, and the third is called ‘Asia-Pacific Digital Opportunities Centres (ADOC).

The ADOC programme aims at helping less-developed APEC member economies such as Papua New Guinea address the digital divide

Thanks to progress in information technology and popularity of the Internet, the threshold for small and medium enterprises to introduce e-commerce has become lower, but how to let business owners identify with and personally experience the benefits of e-business poses a major challenge for the promotion of the project.

Fortunately, under the mobilisation of the Information Service Industry Association of the Chinese Taipei, which is responsible for the execution of the project under the commission of the administration, and 21 municipal computer industry associations, staff of the 12 SME e-business assisting teams and over 1,000 information service providers have approached renowned scenic spots and remote townships to promote e-commerce painstakingly among business owners.

Their efforts have successfully encouraged tens of thousands of small business owners to make the small e-step, allowing them to begin experiencing the power of e-commerce in creating business opportunities.

From its inception in 2005, the project has assisted 16,000 small enterprises to establish Broadband Internet access and 32,000 small enterprises to embrace e-commerce, helping them to create over NT$2 billion in business opportunities and bringing business worth over NT$800 million to information service providers.

The ‘Bridging the Digital Divide of the SME Project’ aims at enabling hundreds of thousands of Taiwan micro businesses to use the Internet and e-commerce in their business operations.
This project is sponsored by the Small and Medium Enterprise Administration, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Chinese Taipei.

There are 982,000 registered business entities in Taiwan, 94% of which employ less than 20 employees.

Although Broadband Internet penetration has reached most rural areas and subscription fees are generally affordable by households and businesses, most of these micro businesses are still not active or sophisticated users of information technology and the Internet compared to larger businesses.

Answering to the needs of the vast numbers of micro businesses, the government has staged a nationwide campaign to significantly bridge the digital divide to these underprivileged citizens and businesses.
In addition to the many impressive statistics that illustrate the success of the project, behind the figures are also many touching stories of Taiwanese small businessmen and women who have successfully integrated themselves and their business into today’s digital economy.

For instance, in Central Taiwan, Kukun village is known as the only place in Taiwan for growing coffee.

The original coffee tree seeds were brought to Taiwan by the Dutch from Indonesia about 200 years ago.

On weekends, Kukun is overwhelmed with visitors to the coffee shop, buying coffee beans and souvenirs.

But on weekdays, Kukun turns into a ghost town.

Most coffee shops and souvenir stores are closed and many men and women are idle for five days out of the week.

One of the digital heroes, Mr Ma-Cheng Lin, operates a coffee shop at Kukun.

By chance, he was asked to participate in this project.

As the opinion leader in the village, he convinced other villagers to join the project to form an e-cluster.

This e-cluster has 10 members who share a common website, named, ‘The Legend of the Black Gold’.

In their minds, Kukun coffee is like black gold which brings them fortune.

The 10-member cluster with an average age of 52 started to learn how to key in text, take digital pictures and upload them to their website.

Under the leadership of Mr Lin, who has considerable technical knowledge, the group convenes every week to discuss how to improve the look and content of the website.

A few weeks after the website was launched, Mr Lin finished his coffee baking on a weekday to find a message send to the website, asking to deliver one kilogramme of baked coffee beans with payment already wired to his account.

He could not believe that a customer he had never met would wire cash to his account before the merchandise was delivered.

The email orders kept coming for Mr Lin and other members of the cluster from the website.
Now, on weekdays, they are busy with packing the orders, arranging deliveries and answer growing enquiries from the website.

“I thought those coffee orders were dropped from Heaven,” Mr Lin described of his first experience with e-commerce. or SMS 6849763.

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