A new spin on corporate philanthropy, to bring technology to developing countries, has attracted three hi-tech giants as pioneer members.
Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Vivendi Universal and three other companies have pledged no less than 20 per cent of their annual corporate philanthropic budget to provide developing countries with internet and telephone services.
South Africa's MIH Group, Egypt's El Masreya, and Equitable Card Network of the Philippines have also signed on to the World Economic Forum's latest information and communications technology (ICT) initiative, called the CEO Charter for Digital Development, administered by the United Nations.
The announcement took place during a two-day meeting devoted to ICT at the United Nations.
Secretary General Kofi Annan, in his opening address, said despite commendable efforts and various initiatives, "we are still very far from ensuring that the benefits of ICT are available to all".
"The digital divide still yawns as widely as ever, with billions of people still unconnected to a global society which, on its side, is more and more wired," he said.
Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, said the market for technology - particularly PC technology - was continuing to decline.
"If companies can't develop demand they won't have any money to donate," he said. "They are reaching a level of desperation where any recourse they have is being focused into areas that could contribute to a market turnaround."
Enderle said that in a way this was similar to a person donating to charities that support the homeless during times of heavy layoffs, because they couldpicture themselves in that group at some future time.
"Right now company survival is the driving reason for much of what any of these folks do," he said.
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