Report from Davao, Philippines: Part 1

Davao’s city government would like to transform the city into the IT hub for the region. During a meeting with the office of the Mayor’s lead IT team and other representatives, we heard how one of the Mayor’s top priorities is to ensure computer and Internet access for all. As part of this plan, the city administration is getting ready to build a brand-new public library downtown, complete with an entire floor dedicated to IT services. Brimming with enthusiasm, the team described how Business Process Outsourcing is becoming one of the city’s leading industries, and their strategy was to capitalize on it. Already nearly 20,000 people work in call centers in the city.

Skills development remains a challenge. In order for the industry to grow, Davao needs to be able to provide companies with workers with strong IT skills. And while we’ve heard over and over that the Philippines leads the world in Facebook penetration, there is still a concern about the level of skills required by international business. Public access computing is part of the answer. Davao wants to place public access points in all of its 184 barangays (neighborhoods), weaving technology into every corner of the city. With a population that frequently settles on low-paid, low-skill work abroad in the absence of local opportunities, Davao sees technology as a way to give young people a meaningful and rewarding reason to stay in the city.

The current city library – located on the 3rd floor of the city administration building – shows evidence of an institution that endeavors to provide the most on a tight budget, and has all the sections expected in a public library – a kids section, public access computers with Internet, an “American Shelf”. It looks relatively worn, but the city librarian – Ms. Alajar – strives to bring her services to the community. During the summer, her mobile library reaches out to disadvantaged neighborhoods throughout the region. She maintained a bookmobile donated by the Japanese in 1981 until last week, when its engine finally gave out. But she’s extracted a pledge from the mayor to replace it, as well as build a new library in the center of town.

As Davao seeks to become a 21st century technology center, libraries equipped with the right equipment and librarians with the right training will have a central role in the plan.