Confronting the scarcity of digital skills among the poor in developing countries

Michael James

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


To describe and compare the components of a package of policies to address the scarcity of digital skills in poor countries. The package comprises an increase in the supply of these skills, a choice of technologies that make few demands on them and to find substitutes who can indirectly supply Internet information to those who need it.

Approach and methods
The approach is based on Hirshman’s distinction between trait‐making, which seeks to increase the supply of resources in short supply, and trait‐taking, which accepts those resources as temporarily given in the making of policy. The complementary approaches are explained and compared in detail with the use of numerous examples.

The brief answer of how best to respond to the lack of digital skills in poor countries is that all components of the policy package are needed, because they make different demands, deal with different aspects of the problem, use different methods and operate in different time periods. Especially with respect to the trait‐taking alternatives, I show the need to make much use of local resources, institutions and cultures, because these are what is available in poor countries.

Policy implications
Though most policies to deal with the scarcity of digital skills in poor countries seek directly to increase their supply in schools and other places, this will often be a long and difficult process. For this and other reasons, supplemental policies are also needed to bypass the shortage and yield the benefits of information technology to the poor, within a relatively short period of time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-339
JournalDevelopment Policy Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2021


  • information technologies
  • internet
  • rural areas
  • second digital divide


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