Leapfrogging Technologies by Developing Countries

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Leapfrogging Technologies by Developing Countries
Anneke Zwart, Moderator
Leapfrogging is a way for developing countries to benefit from earlier skills and advancements of the developed world by skipping altogether a technological stage. For example, many developing countries have implemented mobile technologies by going wireless directly while skipping 20th-century fixed-line technologies.

However, there seem to be limits to the success of leapfrogging new technologies by developing countries. An example of a failing leapfrogging project can be found in Ethiopia, where the country aimed to provide all Ethiopian hospitals with internet connections. It turned out that the need to invest in more basic needs in hospitals made the project quite irrelevant at the time. As a result, the project was abandoned.

This example brings forward the following question: Should investments of developing countries rather be spent to the more basic needs that are often lacking in the developing world, such as schoolrooms, basic forms of infrastructures and intermediate technologies. Sometimes, the gap between the new technologies and the existing capacity (technologies / resources / infrastructures etc) in developing countries could be too large for new technologies to be successfully diffused.

A World Bank report argues that in order to successfully leapfrog advanced technologies, a country needs a solid foundation of intermediate technologies. Without that, new technologies will only be diffused to a small minority of people in a country instead of being widely diffused. In such cases, the benefits of those new technologies will not become generally available, only the richest will benefit. This, in turn, may even contribute to increasing inequalities.
In other words, intermediate technologies are essential to go high-tech. A country’s capacity (resources; basic forms of infrastructures; intermediate technologies) is an important factor that determines the potential of new technologies to be successfully absorbed and diffused.

⇒ What are your experiences with or thoughts about leapfrogging new technologies?

The Economist (2008) “The Limits of Leapfrogging”


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