A good friend of mine recently asked me – What role can open source software play in solving the problems of developing countries?
FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source software) or propreitary really does not matter as long as a piece of software is delivering value to the right set of masses.
I believe firmly that software and technology can in fact add significant socio-economic value to the industry (yes, I am refering the development segment as an industry). It has been proven that may it be information or transaction, people in the developing areas are eager + curious + willing + dedicated to adopt/learn something new even if it shows them a glimmer of hope to raise themselves to the next level (in terms of knowledge, income or lifestyle.) So, there are more and more early adopters of any new technology/service in this market segment.
Typically people build open source software to solve their own problems or to get kudos from the so-called "community" of FLOSS developers. My personal gut feel is that open source developers will have less incentives to develop sustainable software solutions for the developing areas/segment.
However for-profit/ "proprietary" software vendors have higher incentives to develop solutions to increase the knowledge/income of people in developing areas at a lower cost or free of cost and then hope that when people become more literate/knowledgeable/wealthy they’ll use the proprietary software due to brand loyalty and familiarity. More and more large software companies including Microsoft/Google/IBM are working actively to address this market. Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid is starting to get more and more lucrative.
Regardless of the incentives, I believe firmly that technology is indispensable for developing areas in many ways.
You may find these two videos interesting:
Negroponte on $100 laptop: http://www.ted.com/index.php
Iqbal Quadir on using mobile phones for poverty alleviation: http://www.ted.com/index.php
Let’s do something about poverty.