In this day and age, writing an academic thesis without access to scholarly research or the internet sounds virtually impossible. Yet this is the reality experienced by many university students in Somalia, which has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world. The lack of digital connectivity drastically inhibits learning across the country, and can prevent the education sector from fulfilling its role as a driver of economic and social development.
In an effort to change this circumstance, the Somali Research and Education Network (SomaliREN) has brought several higher education institutions together under a single umbrella to improve connectivity in education facilities, foster digital learning communities, and promote academic content for Somali students.
Launched on July 18, the SomaliREN is currently made up of 19 institutions. It maintains its own network operations center, and has already deployed a 155 Mbit/s connection to seven universities, translating into roughly 20 Mbps of bandwidth for each institution.
Humanitarian and development efforts serve two distinct and complementary objectives. Humanitarian work focuses on responding to emergency situations in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Development, on the other hand, takes a longer-term approach that seeks to address the social and economic aspects of crises, especially as they become protracted.
Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.
Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.
Digital technologies have been transforming the global economy. Yet many countries have yet to experience the full developmental benefits of digital technologies, such as inclusive and sustainable growth, improved governance, and responsive service delivery. Given the magnitude of change in competitive advantage that digital technologies can confer on adopters, the risks of slow or poor adoption of these innovations can be dire for industries, governments, individuals, and nations. So, how can policy makers successfully harness the digital revolution for development? This is the motivation behind my new publication: Mastering Digital Transformation (Emerald, 2016).
From my long experience in development assistance, I saw how information poverty in its many forms has led to policy planning and management without facts, disconnected enterprises, inefficient markets, poor service delivery, disempowerment, corruption, and more. The ongoing ICT revolution has been long ignored in development thinking and practice. Development practitioners and ICT specialists remain disconnected. I studied the experiences of countries pursuing digital transformation, and captured key lessons and takeaways in several books.
Digital transformation is not a technological fix, a blueprint plan, a one-off event, or a one-size-fits-all strategy. Rather, it is a social learning process, sustained over time, involving diverse stakeholders. Its ultimate objective is to harness the global digital revolution to meet a country’s specific socio-economic priorities. This process is a marathon, not a sprint. It is driven by vision, leadership, innovation, learning, and partnerships among government, business, and civil society.
The world is becoming more digitized, interconnected and dependent on the Internet for opportunities and economic growth. Today, there are 7.4 billion cellular phone subscriptions in the world, which means citizens of the poorest countries can access cell phones more easily than toilets and sanitation.
The Internet of Things (IoT), which brings in the promises (and perils) of totally interconnected devices, is already mainstreamed in our everyday lives, with sensor-equipped cars, phones, utility meters and even houses. Our refrigerators, equipped with sensors, are making decisions for us, based on their capacity to analyze data and execute embedded algorithms related to dietary needs.
But how can these advances help ensure more free, open, secure and empowering connectivity rather than a host of undesirable side effects?
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which surveys the ICT sector on an annual basis through a formal survey involving regulators, operators and original equipment manufacturers – the Internet of Things (IoT) is currently composed of 25 billion connected devices around the world. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this number will grow to 50 billion devices worldwide by 2020. These devices collect vast amounts of information on industrial, organizational and personal behavior, and gathers users’ preferences that can be leveraged to improve delivery of products and services, health, education, entertainment and shopping.
Therefore, IoT will bring important socio-economic advantages to those connected – but without guidance, proper policies, legislation and globally adopted codes of conduct (“netiquette” as we used to call it), it could also bring a range of challenges.
This is your space to share your views and experiences about using information and communication technologies, or ICT, for development. Let me start by telling you who we are and why we started this blog. The World Bank Group is the largest international donor in the field of ICT for development, and the Bank Group's engagement in ICT is managed by the Global ICT department. This is a joint department of the World Bank and IFC, so we work with governments and the private sector in developing countries to help them put in place ICT infrastructure and applications.
Net neutrality is a hot topic right now in various countries around the world, with the debate over its value and its feasability being tied to discussions about broadband penetration and service delivery over the internet.
For a quick definition of the concept, here's an excerpt from Wikipedia: