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Posted at 5:21 PM ET, 01/23/2011

Technology, access and the emergence of an empowered global middle class

By John Bruno

Five years ago, an NCR manager, C. Sivaramane, transformed what previously had been little more than a cow shed into a state-of-the-art facility in Puducherry, India that just recently produced its 40,000th ATM. This success story is about technology, innovation, financial inclusion and economic empowerment, and it is being replicated across the developing countries of Asia, South America and Africa.

Now with the Internet, mobile phones and ATMs making information, money and goods exponentially more accessible, we are at the precipice of a critically important historical transition that may well rival the 19th century Industrial Age and 20th century Mass Production Era in its transformational potential. This sounds dramatic, but if we stand back and take a close look at what is happening in country after country, we are seeing the emergence of a massive middle class and with new ways of doing virtually everything.

The challenge for companies, governments and non-profit organizations from developed nations is finding how to harness those forces that are disrupting traditional patterns of commerce and behavior everywhere. They need to embrace the decentralized business models and dynamic institutional frameworks currently being utilized throughout India, Brazil and more recently in Turkey and Indonesia, and discover how people in these countries are using relatively small amounts of capital to achieve very ambitious goals.

While the tendency is to focus entirely on breakthrough technologies, more efficient supply chains and new markets, we need to understand that at the center of all these activities are hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide who are relentlessly pursuing previously unavailable economic, professional and social opportunities.

What this means is that entrepreneurs in isolated areas are able to use cloud computing and inexpensive laptops to compete for attention; that a huge segment of the so-called unbanked population will -- with the introduction of new mobile devices, using SMS and broadband delivery systems -- finally have access to financial services and that there will be countless new opportunities on both sides of the supply and demand equation.

There is, of course, much that can be done to help these intrepid entrepreneurs. Governments all over the world need to focus their efforts to create policy-driven growth initiatives. The private and public sectors will need to work together to ensure that the genius, creativity, and energy of a whole new segment of the global population is finally released. They will have to recognize that what worked in 1995 or 2005 may no longer be applicable. If they are able to intellectually and emotionally embrace this new future, by the end of this decade, we may witness the largest increase in the global standard of living in a very long time.

John Bruno is executive vice president of NCR, a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business.

By John Bruno  | January 23, 2011; 5:21 PM ET
Categories:  John Bruno  
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