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Negawatt Challenge tackles urban energy efficiency

Anna Lerner's picture
The challenge gets underway at Nairobi's
iHub. Photo: Anna Lerner/World Bank
The Negawatt Challenge is is an open-innovation competition that will leverage a variety of cities’ rich ecosystems of innovative entrepreneurs and technology hubs to surface software, hardware and new business solutions. Together, these components – and the innovators themselves – are capable of transforming these cities into more sustainable places.
 
Nairobi (Kenya), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Accra (Ghana), and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) are participating in this year’s competition.
 
Cities are the engines of growth
People congregate in cities to share ideas, create businesses and build better lives. Urban centers have always been the hearts of economies, driving growth and creating jobs. But cities also strain under the burden, their transport and utility arteries often overloaded with the pressure of supporting rapid urbanization and development. While only around 30 percent of Kenyans have access to electricity, around 60 percent of all electricity is consumed in the country’s capital, Nairobi.
 
As a result, access to energy can be both costly and unreliable. In many fast-growing cities, the demand for energy outstrips both total supply and the capacity of the grid to deliver that energy to businesses and households. Blackouts are a typical result and they are costly and dangerous. Energy generation is also often very inefficient. As such, energy efficiency holds a big opportunity for reducing wasted energy resources, freeing up financial resources for private and public actors, and reducing the carbon footprints of the mentioned cities.

Can urban innovation ecosystems be developed with little broadband infrastructure?

Victor Mulas's picture
We are witnesses to the surge of tech startup ecosystems in cities around the world, in both developed and developing countries.

In my previous blog post, I showed this trend and the studies that confirm it. Among the questions we are researching to map urban innovation ecosystems is whether there is a minimum set of requirements for these ecosystems to emerge — for example, in relation to infrastructure or the population's technical skills. What we are encountering is that, although you need a minimum level of infrastructure (e.g., at least some broadband connectivity and mobile phone networks), this level is much lower than many people expect. 

A city does not need to have 4G mobile broadband or widespread fiber-optic fixed broadband widespread. It is enough to have broadband connection in some key points (particularly hubs and collaboration spaces) and basic mobile phone coverage and use (such as 2G mobile phone service). A similar conclusion is applicable to the skill level of the population. The results of the study of New York tech ecosystem shows that almost half of the employment created by the ecosystem does not require a bachelor’s degree.

In this blog post, I present the case of Nairobi and the tech start-up ecosystems emerging in Africa. I'll also explore how these ecosystems can not only surge, but also compete internationally despite having limited broadband connectivity (both mobile and fixed). 
 
Map of Accelerators and Collaboration Spaces in Nairobi. Source: Manske, Julia. 2014. Innovations Out of Africa. The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem.

How did New York City create one of the world's largest and most vibrant urban tech innovation ecosystems?

Victor Mulas's picture
Photo credit: Roman Kruglov / Flickr
As part of our research of urban innovation ecosystems, our team has been working in New York City to identify successful policies to develop sustainable tech innovation ecosystems in cities. 

New York can seem a very far-away example to many cities  — after all, it is one on the largest cities of the world, has a high per-capita GDP and is very well-connected internationally, making it easier to attract talent. However, when New York began developing a tech startup ecosystem, it faced similar problems to any other city: there was not enough critical mass or community to form the ecosystem, talent was not adequate and, believe it or not, there was no financing (seed capital) for investment in tech entrepreneurs. The policies the city subsequently applied, which focused on creating bottom-up organic communities to sustain and grow the ecosystem, have succeeded. 

Today, New York hosts one of the largest and most vibrant tech startup ecosystems in the world. In this blog post, we summarize the case of New York and the lessons we have been finding, which is part of a paper I am working on. In our research for urban innovation ecosystems, we are doing a deeper analysis of the policies applied in different cities, and we will continue providing findings.

Rishikesh Kumar: Best Grassroot Innovator

Onno Ruhl's picture
Rishikesh, Best Grassroot Innovator has made a hearing aid out of electronic waste“What is that, on this side?” the Chief Minister asked.  “It is the earphone connector of an old cellphone Sir” Rishikesh said. “What do you use it for?” the Chief Minister asked. “It is like the ear Sir”, Rishikesh said, “It is where the sound enters”.

I was standing behind the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, and I was amazed as he seemed to be. This young man from a village in Bihar had actually made a functioning hearing aid using electronic waste. He even designed his own Styrofoam cutter to quicken the production process. And the cost of the hearing aid is only 75 rupees ($1.20)! The cutter costs a few dollars only.

Nitish Kumar was making a tour of the Innovation Expo at the Bihar Innovation Forum (BIF). For me, Rishikesh was clearly the most amazing talent, but there were good innovations in many, many areas. Recycling groundwater for irrigation, thus slowing the depletion of scarce groundwater resources; using rice husks to generate electricity in the village; an Internet platform that allows small investors to contribute to grassroots loans; a platform to harness traditional culture to create jobs; I could go on.

The BIF is organized by Jeevika, Bihar’s flagship livelihoods program, which has empowered over a million women already and connected them to banks. I am proud to say that the World Bank is a long term supporter of both Jeevika and BIF.

Many people associate innovation in India with big cities like Bangalore and Chennai. Bihar decided seven years ago to see what innovation can come from its villages. This year they looked again, not only within Bihar but across India and found innovative rural solutions from 16 states. And it does not stop at a forum. The Chief Minister announced the same day that Jeevika will create an Innovation Center to support the grassroots innovators with handholding and technical assistance and to make sure that what works gets scaled up in many villages. This could transform the rural landscape!

How Youth Saved Bananas in Uganda

Ravi Kumar's picture
Bananas

Imagine yourself living in Uganda, a landlocked country in East Africa, where more than 14 million people eat bananas almost daily. In fact, as a resident in Uganda, chances are you and everyone you know is consuming 0.7 kg of bananas per day. Citizens of no other country in the world eat more bananas than Ugandans.
 

Only Home-Grown Solutions Need Apply

Maya Brahmam's picture

Mulling over the whole “solutions for development” concept the other day, I was struck by what Ken Banks, founder of kiwanja.net and creator of FrontlineSMS, said when asked about what made for successful mobile technology development projects: “The single most important thing is starting with the problem and not the technology. It is quite common for people to grab the latest smartphone or iPad or whatever happens to be hot at the moment and try to figure out how it could be used in a development context. I think that the correct sequence should instead be problem-people-technology. By ‘people’ I mean the individuals at the grassroots who usually understand the problem better than anybody else. Pick just about any development project and there will be a local organization or group that is already trying to achieve the same goals. Gaining a full understanding of conditions on the ground – and properly defining the role that technology can and should play – is really important and the projects that do not make the effort to do this have a much harder time in the long run.”

#4 from 2012: Openness for Whom? and Openness for What?

Soren Gigler's picture

Citizen consultations in Bolivia.Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012

Originally published on April 9, 2012

The emerging concept of “Open Development” has become a topic of keen interest to citizens, policy makers, and development practitioners alike.

Opening data to enhance transparency, accountability and development outcomes sounds great. However, two main issues remain unclear: Openness for whom? And openness for what?

Two weeks ago, I participated in a fascinating panel, entitled ‘Does Openness Enhance Development?’ at the ICTD2012 Conference in Atlanta. At the center of the discussion were the following issues: (i) what do we mean by open development? (ii) Can openness close the ‘accountability loop’ between citizens, governments and international donors? (iii) Can openness lead to a more inclusive development? (iv) What is truly open and what not? and (v) What are the main barriers to opening up the development process?