The World Bank and Oxfam India co-organized a high energy event earlier this week - Joining Forces to End Violence Against Women. It was an intense two days – about 200 participants from diverse backgrounds gathered to listen, to educate each other, to speak up, and to build alliances; in short, to join forces towards the next step. Several of them congratulated the “movement” on progress – on having coopted unlikely allies, on the fact that more men were involved than ever before, and that public outrage against violence is widespread in South Asia. Surely, this will lead to change, is the implicit hope. But long-time warriors like Flavia Agnes, voiced angst and discouragement, as only those who have spent a lifetime of struggle are entitled to. Finally, the anger came from 21-year old Urmila Chaudhary – freed from bondage as a Kamalari – “where were you all when I was pledged to a family as a maid at the age of six”, she asked a somber audience?
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
"The country that gave the world two groundbreaking innovations in technology: M-Pesa, a mobile banking system, and Ushahidi, a platform for crowdsourcing information during disasters, is now taking its technological talents to new heights. The East African nation of Kenya has just started construction on a 5,000-acres piece of land in Konza, about 60km south of Nairobi, to turn the savannah area into ‘the most modern city in Africa’.
Using the same company that designed Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in New York City, SHoP Architects, Kenyan authorities want to transform Nairobi’s Konza City into Africa’s technology hub, dubbed Silicon Savannah, similar to California’s Silicon Valley. The designers told the UK’s Financial Times that ‘the scale of the project compares with creating another Manhattan, central London or inner-city Beijing.’" READ MORE
Can factivism push us closer to the edge of ending extreme poverty? This was the subject of Bono’s latest TED Talk on ending poverty. Simply put, according to Bono, technology can help us end extreme poverty in a variety of ways, from creating new drugs for AIDS to empowering people via openness and transparency. And numbers from the World Bank’s Research Group show this shift: 22% of the developing world’s population – or 1.29 billion people – lived on $1.25 or less a day in 2008, down from 43% in 1990 and 523% in 1981.
So how do we accelerate this progress? One answer may be in moving the focus to empowering people to develop their own solutions using new technologies and using data to make better decisions. We’re hoping that the Data Dives for our “Big Data Exploration” this weekend—being done jointly with UNDP, Global Pulse, and Qatar Computing Research Institute – will help us get a little bit closer to solving larger development questions. This pilot will explore whether the Bank and other development organizations can use big data to deliver better operational results and increase development effectiveness.
A recent Poverty Matters blog post in the Guardian noted that mobile technologies and social media are creating cheap ways for citizens to interact with their governments and that development projects are trying to tap into these technologies. It gave a plug to the Bank’s new Open Finances mobile app that lets users find and monitor bank-funded projects near where they live, using mapping and GPS technology.
With the advent of the New Year and given the on-going work in the Bank on the open agenda, here are three things we may accomplish in 2013:
The newest trend in Big Data is the personal touch. When both the New York Times and Fast Company have headlines that trumpet: “Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.” (The Times) and “Without Human Insight, Big Data Is Just A Bunch Of Numbers.” (Fast Company) you know that a major trend is afoot.
So what’s up?
The claims for what Big Data can do have been extraordinary, witness Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s seminal article in October in the Harvard Business Review: “Big Data: The Management Revolution,” which began with the showstopper: “‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’” It’s hard not to feel that Big Data will provide the solutions to everything after that statement. As the HBR article noted: “…the recent explosion of digital data is so important. Simply put, because of big data, managers can measure, and hence know, radically more about their businesses, and directly translate that knowledge into improved decision making and performance.”
For the development community, the focus on ‘data’ has been very much on open data: making public where aid dollars are being spent. This is no small task, and I welcome the rise of platforms and initiatives such as The World Bank’s Mapping for Results, DFID’s Project Map, aidinfo and the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Transparency about aid is very important - it raises public awareness of development work, it enhances accountability among both the givers and receivers of aid, and it can drive out waste, bureaucracy and corruption.
But we can do much more with data. Big business already gets this: companies from Tesco to Facebook have been using the data they collect to gain valuable insight on their users and drive efficiency for years. It’s time for governments and the third sector to catch up. In many cases these groups, such as microfinance organisations, local government and community health centres, already collect plenty of data, but don’t make much use of it.