Knowledge management and poverty reduction

The West is overwhelmed by wars and addressing its own political and economic challenges.

TO confront challenges arising from global wars, economic challenges, climate change and others, now requires a deliberate investment in knowledge management. The situation the world is in today requires innovative ideas and new ways of living. The longer the world waits, the sooner life on earth becomes not so business as usual.

Knowledge management is a broad discipline that entails a deliberate and integrated approach to identifying, acquiring, capturing, evaluating, retrieving and sharing essential information on the day-to-day life of a society to spearhead improvements and development.  It entails the collection of methods relating to creating, sharing, using and managing the information of a society to expedite progress by making the best use of knowledge.

While knowledge management has not been taken seriously, mainly by countries on the periphery of development, it has always been at the centre of major economic transformations and growth. This spans from the period of the industrial revolution, between 1760 and 1840, when the West experienced a transition from creating goods by hand to using machines, to the recent Asia, mainly China’s economic rise as well as the technological advancement the world is currently experiencing.

At the centre of the industrial revolution was the use of knowledge management to enable the invention, acquisition and circulation of knowledge among and between organisations to come up with new ways of improving productive efficiency and addressing life challenges.

The outcome of each stage was subjected to research to identify new ways of perfecting machinery. The growth of capitalism and economic development was an outcome of these processes and yet today they are not prioritised by developing countries, which rather choose to rely on what is being provided by the West and now Asian countries.

Once China established its economic growth strategy, one of the next steps was a massive acquisition of Western industrial knowledge between the 1980s and 2000. This helped to drive and expedite their economic development.

The real power to drive an economy and development lies in an efficient knowledge management system. The reason societies keep doing the same things and yet not achieving better results is simply the lack of an effective knowledge management system. The mind needs to be constantly fed with new ideas.

As Yukon Huang of the Carnegie Asia programme writes: “Economists see the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge as key to sustainable economic growth. That is true for both developing and developed economies, although they differ greatly in their abilities to generate innovation. It is only natural, then, that developing countries would primarily seek to upgrade their stocks of knowledge and technology through acquisition rather than invention. China and others see such efforts as vital to evading the middle-income trap.”

China could have chosen to ask for money as is the case in Africa, but it chose to seek knowledge on how things are done and how it can do that better. This powered its economic growth to what it is today. According to reports, Chinese intellectual property acquisition — legal or illegal — costs the United States US$225 billion to US$600 billion a year. This became one of the dominant political issues between China and the US during Donald Trump’s administration. 

Why is knowledge management more crucial for Africa now than before? The Africa we know today is a creation and dependent of the colonial system. Since the 1960s when African countries started to attain political independence, their entire social, political and economic systems remained linked and dependent on former colonial administrations. It is for these reasons that economic development has remained stunted because the colonial system that they still use today never intended to allow them to develop but maintain dependence and easy access to raw materials. So, the need to be completely sovereign and independent remains begging.

Secondly, the world is deeply troubled today. The West is overwhelmed by wars and addressing its own political and economic challenges. It now needs to prioritise, and this has seen development aid dwindling. Developing countries depended on this aid for many decades, and they now need new ways to survive without it.

Third, the climate change crisis is moving faster than initially projected. It is altering lives and livelihoods but, in many cases, it is leaving many people more vulnerable due to lack of preparedness. There is an urgent need to act now, and this includes using all the tools available to societies, especially local and acquired knowledge to mitigate its impact and achieve development.

Knowledge management is one of the most crucial tools of stimulating local innovation that can address poverty directly. For instance, new knowledge on agricultural technologies can help farmers to increase crop yields, manage pests more effectively and enhance food security, directly helping to address poverty.

However, for this potential to be realised, it is essential that investment in knowledge management systems is prioritised and that innovations are accessible and affordable to those who need them most. Central and local governments can work together to ensure unhindered access to knowledge and facilitate the dissemination of life-changing technologies.

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