This blog post was originally published on Ideas Lab.
Breakthroughs in energy technology are happening all over the world, improving access to power for people and making a real difference in their quality of life. While technological innovation tends to come predominantly from developed economies, we see incredible entrepreneurialism in developing countries when it comes to adopting and adapting new technology for local markets and needs. The challenge for poorer countries is getting timely access to the best and cleanest technologies.
When I was approached by Ideas Lab to share my energy innovation predictions, I decided to crowdsource ideas from my team in the World Bank’s Energy Global Practice. These are people in regular — almost daily — contact with the government and private sector in the world’s key emerging markets and low-income countries.
Their workdays are occupied by the challenge of improving energy services for millions of people in developing countries while also reaching the 1.2 billion people in the world still waiting for any electricity connection. And the challenge is to do this in ways that are sustainable for economies, people and the environment.
1. In terms of technology breakthroughs, at the top of everyone’s list: energy storage.
“Do you decide on what types of clothes to wear based on your own preferences?” That’s a question on a survey instrument designed to assess whether Tamil Nadu’s Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project (part of the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project or PVP) is actually having an impact on women’s empowerment. The question resonated strongly with the project beneficiaries I met. For them, it was a touchstone indicator of empowerment. That may be because it was crafted by a group of the women for whom the project is designed.
Today is International Women’s Day--though personally I think women deserve to be celebrated more than one day a year!
My colleagues and I who work at the Bank on enabling equity in agriculture celebrate women every day and recognize their contributions to their families, communities and countries. We wanted to use this global celebration to update you on some of the things we’ve learned from our work to make women’s lives better.
Women have a big need for reliable and timely access to technical and market information: We believe that information and communication technologies (ICT) have the potential to completely change rural women’s lives, especially women farmers who often have less access to information compared to male farmers. Our recently completed study , which looked at practical ways to integrate ICTs into agriculture projects in Zambia and Kenya, found that rural and agricultural women have a lot to gain from access to ICTs. However we know that the use of ICTs to help women farmers depends on a number of factors, such as literacy, infrastructure and cost. Among the things we learned: ICT can enhance and expand the impact of programs for rural women; it is essential to listen and learn through focus groups and other research approaches to understand women’s specific information needs that can be met by ICT; and women often learn better from other women. This study is the first step in a growing program to understand how we can best support women farmers with ICT.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
Mobile phones have received a lot of attention over the past few years, with predictions that they will overtake the desktop computer by 2017. But is this mostly hype? As societies around the world become increasingly involved in the mobile web, desktop computing still accounts for a large portion of internet activity.
Desktop computing, with large screens and stationary set ups, are fundamental to many businesses. They allow users to operate multiple screens and work over long periods. Desktop usage grows from early morning and stays high until mid-afternoon, presumably demonstrating that many people work on computers as part of their jobs. Mobile phones, on the other hand, allow mobility and are perfect for shorter periods of activity.
Meet Joan, a 24-year-old online outsourcing entrepreneur in Kenya. Joan started working online when she was 21 and still in university. Today, she has her own business, employs five people and earns approximately US$800 per month after paying her staff.
Joan and many others are profiled in a new study on online outsourcing (OO), entitled “Leveraging the Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing,” which will be published in late March 2015.
The study, developed by the World Bank in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa Initiative, is the first publication to summarize and analyze global experiences in OO. It provides a better understanding of OO’s potential impact on human capital and employment, as well as explores possible ways that governments can improve their competitiveness in the OO market. The study includes case studies from Nigeria and Kenya, and an online toolkit to assess country competitiveness.
For a week every year, Barcelona, Spain becomes the mobile capital of the world as thousands from around the world convene in the city for the Mobile World Congress (MWC). In 2014, 85,000 participants attended the MWC, including more than 1,800 exhibitors, 4,500 industry CEOs, 139 government delegations and 22 international institutions).
The World Bank is sending an information and communications technology (ICT) team, led by Senior Director Pierre Guislain. While there, we will immerse ourselves in the latest research, trends and conversations about mobile communications. Our activities, discussions and investigations are being led by our quest for “Broadband Access for All,” which is one of our Global Practice’s strategic areas – as well as the primary theme for this year’s MWC. We believe that connectivity equals opportunity, and are working with clients and countries around the world to close the digital divide.
We focus on technical assistance, infrastructure, partnerships and policy solutions to help ensure that broadband Internet is not only accessible, but also affordable for all. Our Senior Director’s speech and panel discussion at next week’s meetings is titled “Elements and Enablers of Mobile Affordability: What is required to achieve affordable access to mobile broadband for everyone?”
One of the MWC’s key elements, and one of particular interest to our ICT team, is the Ministerial Program. This is a forum for government and telecommunications regulators and representatives to debate current problems, learn from emerging trends and engage with international organizations and operators. We will be holding bilateral meetings with government ministers, industry stakeholders, potential donors and others to discuss real-life projects, ongoing challenges and solutions, and collaboration opportunities.
We need to connect our schools to the Internet. While it may not (yet) be viable to do so in many countries, few education policymakers would question this general aspiration.
Of course, questions related to the speed and nature of this connection are being articulated and considered in different ways around the world, with answers determined by a mix of factors, including what is technologically feasible, what is pedagogically useful and, in the end, what is affordable. Calculations around what it may cost to connect schools to the Internet, and to keep them connected, in ways that are useful and relevant to learners and teachers (as well as to administrators and families), differ widely from place to place -- as do approaches on how to pay for these costs.
Over the past two decades, I have spent a lot of time helping to facilitate policy planning sessions with governments around issues related to technology use in education. Whether this work was part of efforts by the World Links program, linked to the use of the ICT in Education Toolkit supported by infoDev and UNESCO, or as part of more mainstream World Bank advisory activities, mechanisms and approaches by which countries can connect their schools to the Internet have always been a major area of discussion.
It may seem like a small thing, but one of the signature successes of many of these planning efforts wasn't the development of a related policy document outlining a vision and approach for how new technologies could and would be used to support a variety of education objectives. That was almost always the stated goal, but, as anyone who has worked in policymaking circles knows well, committing something to paper is no guarantee that what was drafted will ever actually be implemented -- nor that what's implemented will in the end have any beneficial impact 'on-the-ground'. No, in many cases the most important thing that happened in practice was to connect a diverse set of actors from outside the education sector together with the 'usual suspects' from within education ministries. The fact that you had, in the same room and at the same time, education officials sitting together with officials from the telecom authority, and the IT and finance ministries, as well as representatives from civil society and the private sector -- often times we found that this was the first time ever that all of these groups had talked collectively about how they might work in coordination to help meet some of the shared goals that all of them had related to technology use and education.
One mechanism that is integral to initiatives to connect schools in some countries (and thus which features prominently in these sorts of planning discussions), but which is largely unknown in others (and thus doesn't feature at all), is the use of so-called Universal Service Funds to help pay for such efforts.
For those not familiar with the concept or practice:
In Georgia, the introduction of e-procurement (Ge-GP) is a good example of how strong political will and commitment can be critical in the context of reforming public procurement. Within a year, the State Procurement Agency of Georgia (SPA) designed, developed, and tested an e-procurement system, and eventually moved to the mandatory use of e-Procurement, fully replacing paper-based tenders.
I've worked on, advised and evaluated educational technology projects in dozens of countries over the past fifteen years, mainly in middle and low income countries. As anyone who works intimately with information and communication technologies (ICTs) on a daily basis knows, change is a constant when working in the technology sector. (In contrast, while rhetoric about change is a constant in the education sector, change itself is much slower in coming ....) While the technologies themselves may change quite often, though, many of the most common questions related to their introduction and use remain largely the same.
I remember working with teachers in Ghana in the late 1990s as part of a pilot initiative to introduce computers and the Internet into a select number of schools in a few of the major cities. Towards the end of the third day of a five day workshop, we had a teacher show up at the door to our classroom, apologizing for his tardiness and asking if he could join the course. He explained that he had traveled for a few days to reach the small school outside Accra where out training activity was taking place, hitching rides on trucks and then transferring between long haul buses, because he had heard about this thing called the Internet that was going to "change education forever" and just had to see it for himself. Given how many people had wanted to take the course, we had a strict policy not to allow latecomers into the workshop, but we waived it for this gentlemen, because we were so taken by his story and by the hardship he had endured to join us.
We waived the policy for another reason as well. It is decidedly not politically correct to say so, but we also allowed this teacher into the class because he was ... old. He claimed to be over 70, but said he wasn't exactly sure of his exact birthdate, other than that it had occurred on a Friday. While my Ghanaian colleagues expressed some skepticism that this fellow was actually as old as he claimed, there was no doubt that he was decades older than any of us in the room. He was an English teacher, he said, noting that he had heard that it was possible to get access to all of Shakespeare's plays on the Internet, for free, and wanted to see how this was possible. A computer became available (the teachers using it had been frustrated that poor bandwidth kept interrupting their CU-SeeMe session and so decided to return to the dormitory before dinner), so we sat down, fired up Alta Vista, and typed in <<Shakespeare's plays>>.
After scanning the search results, one of the young teachers grabbed a mouse and pointed, clicked and scrolled her way through play after play after play. The older teacher was simply flabbergasted. He said something to the effect of, "Now I have seen everything. It has been my dream as an English teacher to be able to read all of Shakespeare's plays. Now all teachers will be able to do this. Education will change forever." We kept the computer lab open for a while so that he could be assured that all of them were indeed there ("There's Hamlet! The Tempest. Coriolanus!"); he promised that he would be the first one at the lab door once we opened the following morning. As we were shutting things down, he articulated a concern that I would hear voiced hundreds of times in the coming years, in many variations:
It would be very exciting for me to be a young teacher today now that the Internet is coming. But I am glad that I am not a young teacher, because I fear that these computers will eventually replace us teachers.
The Government of India has recently announced the Digital India program, which aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. In addition, the Government has an ambitious plan to upgrade 100 cities into Smart Cities by 2014, and the Swachh Bharata Abhiyan national initiative is focusing on a green and clean India by 2019.
The emphasis of all these programs is on leveraging the innovative potential of ICT, mobile and new media Technologies to achieve these visionary activities. In addition, the Neeti Ayog (Erstwhile Planning Commission) is working on a framework to set up a state-of-the-art data mining center and develop ICT tools that can help make use of Open Data for national planning purposes.
Teams from World Bank’s Transport & ICT and Urban Development teams are closely partnering with the Government of India (both at the federal and state levels) to help achieve these goals. The World Bank plans to be the key knowledge partner in both the Smart Cities project and the Open Data initiative. Bank specialists have been actively supporting these activities through knowledge events and workshops that are focused on sharing global best practices and technology trends.