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Technology can help spring workers from the informality trap

Kristalina Georgieva's picture
Women stitch handicrafts at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. © Peter Kapuscinski/World Bank
Women stitch handicrafts at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. © Peter Kapuscinski/World Bank

Technology and what it will do to change how we work is the driving obsession of the moment. The truth is that nobody knows for sure what will happen – the only certainty is uncertainty. How then should we plan for the jobs that don’t yet exist?
 
Our starting point is to deal with what we know – and the biggest challenge that the future of work faces – and has faced for decades – is the vast numbers of people who live day to day on casual labor, not knowing from one week to the next if they will have a job and unable to plan ahead, let alone months rather than years, for their children’s prosperity. We call this the informal economy – and as with so much pseudo-technical language which erects barriers, the phrase fails to convey the abject state of purgatory to which it condemns millions of workers and their families around the world.

What will be the future of work?

Jim Yong Kim's picture


Do you wonder if the good fortune and opportunities that you’ve enjoyed in your professional life will be available to your children, and to their children? At a time of strong global economic growth, it may seem paradoxical that we face an existential crisis around the future of work. But the pace of innovation is accelerating, and the jobs of the future – in a few months or a few years – will require specific, complex skills. Human capital will become an ever more valuable resource.

In short, the changing nature of work – and how best to prepare people for the jobs of the future – are some of the toughest challenges countries face, which is why they’re the subject of this year’s World Development Report.

Because the future of work matters to all of us, we decided to give this report an unprecedented level of transparency. For the first time since the World Bank began publishing the WDR in 1978, the report is completely transparent throughout the writing process. Every Friday afternoon, the latest draft is uploaded to the World Bank website, so that anyone with internet access has an opportunity to read it and engage with the team of authors. I can’t promise that the WDR won’t have changed a week from now, which is why I encourage you to keep revisiting it as we keep revising it.

For new readers, here are a few insights into the report’s contents that I hope will get you thinking about the future of work:

Technology works for getting poor people’s problems fixed – we just have to get it right

Kristalina Georgieva's picture
© Sarah Farhat/World Bank

One of the encouraging signs that I pick up whenever I travel is the difference that technology is making to the lives of millions of marginalized people. In most cases it’s happening on a small, non-flashy scale in hundreds of different ways, quietly improving the opportunities that that have been denied to remote communities, women and young people for getting a foot on the ladder.

And because it is discreet and under the radar I dare as an optimist to suggest that we are at the beginning of something big – a slow tsunami of success. Let me give you some reasons why I believe this.

African leaders committed to building a digital economy

Ceyla Pazarbasioglu's picture
Mbarak Mbigo helps his colleagues who are software developers at Andela, in Nairobi, Kenya. © Dominic Chavez/IFC


We only have to look at the way we communicate, shop, travel, work and entertain ourselves to understand how technology has drastically changed every aspect of life and business in the last 10 years.

Technology-driven changes are radically transforming the world and enabling developing countries to leapfrog decades of “traditional” industrial development. But disruptive technology also increases the stakes for countries, which cannot afford to be left behind.

Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated its capacity to harness technology when it embraced the mobile telecom revolution in the 2000s. Now again, there is huge potential for digital impact in Africa. But to achieve that, the five foundations of a digital economy need to be in place - digital infrastructure, literacy and skills, financial services, platforms, and digital entrepreneurship and innovation.

Leveraging technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

Mahmoud Mohieldin's picture
A drone delivery project made Rwanda the first country in the world to use the drone technology at the service of saving lives. © Sarah Farhat/World Bank
A drone delivery project made Rwanda the first country in the world to use the drone technology at the service of saving lives. © Sarah Farhat/World Bank


Billions of people are connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge -- foreshadowing stunning possibilities.  This potential is multiplied by technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data processing, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, blockchain, etc.
 
This so called 4th industrial revolution can help accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, Science, Technology and Innovation, together with Financing for Development, were identified by the UN as one of the two main “means of implementation” to achieve the SDGs by 2030 as it cuts across all SDGs as highlighted by International Telecommunication Union’s Fast Forward Progress Report – Leveraging Tech to Achieve the SDGs.

Top 7 disruptive technologies for cities

Abhas Jha's picture
Top 7 disruptive technologies for cities (Photos via Shutterstock)

Imagine you were working in development and poverty reduction in the early 1990s (I was!). Only one website existed in all the world in August 1991 (today there are over 1.5 billion). Mobile phones were expensive, rare, and clunky. Very few would anticipate a situation in which India would have more mobile phones than toilets.

To paraphrase Bill Gates: we tend to overestimate the changes that will happen in the short term and underestimate those in the long term. Technology is quietly but radically disrupting and transforming how cities deliver services to their citizens. It does that in a way that fundamentally alters not just the mode of delivery but its underlying economics and financing.

Here are the top 7 disruptive technologies revolutionizing service delivery in cities (in no particular order):

Demystifying technologies for digital identification

Luda Bujoreanu's picture
© iStock

With more than 1.1 billion individuals without official proof of identity, a myriad of technologies is advancing at a faster speed than ever before and becoming more affordable, making it possible for nations to leapfrog paper based approaches of the past. Yet, it is becoming a challenge to understand and keep up with the various technologies and advancements that are especially relevant for digital identification systems. Identification for Development (ID4D) launches a new Technology Landscape report providing an overview of current and emerging technology trends in digital identity.
    
Whether a country is enhancing existing ID systems or implementing new ones from the ground up, technology choices, when appropriately selected and implemented, can scale #ID4D enrollment and authentication to help reach the missing billion. Technology choices can also enable identification systems to lead to tangible benefits across a range of areas, such as financial inclusion, health services, and social protection for the poorest and most vulnerable. This #ID4D Technology Landscape report reminds us that additional factors and risk mitigating measures need to be considered when choosing certain #digitalidentity technology. These include the need for proper privacy and data protection, open standards and vendor neutrality, that match with cultural contexts, economic feasibility and infrastructure constraints. 

Why technology will disrupt and transform Africa’s agriculture sector—in a good way

Simeon Ehui's picture
© Dasan Bobo/World Bank
© Dasan Bobo/World Bank


Agriculture is critical to some of Africa’s biggest development goals. The sector is an engine of job creation: Farming alone currently accounts for about 60 percent of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa, while the share of jobs across the food system is potentially much larger. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, the food system is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025. Agriculture is also a driver of inclusive and sustainable growth, and the foundation of a food system that provides nutritious, safe, and affordable food. 

What keeps the President of the World Bank up at night?

Jim Yong Kim's picture
Residents of Kashadaha village visit the Kashadaha Anando school in Kashadaha village, Bangladesh. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank
Residents of Kashadaha village visit the Kashadaha Anando school in Kashadaha village, Bangladesh. © Dominic Chavez/World Bank


This year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting comes at a time of good news for the world economy. As we said in this month’s Global Economic Prospects report, for the first time since the financial crisis, the World Bank is forecasting that the global economy will be operating at or near full capacity. We anticipate growth in advanced economies to moderate slightly, but growth in emerging markets and developing countries should strengthen to 4.5% this year.

How young people are rethinking the future of work

Esteve Sala's picture
(Photo: Michael Haws / World Bank)


When we talk about the future of work, it is important to include perspectives, ideas and solutions from young people as they are the driving force that can shape the future.  As we saw at the recent Youth Summit 2017, the younger, digitally-savvy generations —whether they are called Millennials, Gen Y, or Gen Z— shared solutions that helped tackle global challenges.  The two-day event welcomed young people to discuss how to leverage technology and innovation for development impact.  In this post, we interviewed —under a job-creation perspective—finalists of the summit's global competition.


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