Today marks the end of the connect:ID conference, one of the most influential events in the United States, powered through an alliance with the world’s leading identity industry association.
I was honored to be invited to speak on the role of identification in the post-2015 development agenda and the World Bank Group's Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative. There was great deal of excitement in the audience hearing about this global agenda.
The questions raised by the attendants touched upon ways of helping the least-developed, conflict-affected countries in the world, where the rates of birth registration and identification are amongst the lowest in the world (e.g. Liberia), to leapfrog to digital ID systems. Would the World Bank Group support such countries build their identification systems basically from scratch?
As a rapidly urbanizing capital, Accra, Ghana has been experiencing increased economic activity, coupled with rising migration. An increase in urban residents means an uptick in the demand for energy, both electricity and fuel.
The city has constrained human and financial resources to respond to this issue, as energy supply is struggling to keep up with ever-growing demand. Consequently, severe electricity shortages occur at the national level, resulting in frequent load shedding and energy price inflation, to the tune of 12 percent in the third quarter of 2014 alone.
Dumsor or load shedding has become part of the everyday life of local inhabitants; in fact, it is such a chronic issue that it has even made it into Wikipedia. Under the current timetable, residential customers have up to 24 hours of power outage for every 12 hours of power and are forced to use back-up power, kerosene lamps or be without power. At the same time, the Energy Commission of Ghana estimates that every year end-use electricity waste is around 30 percent of all of the electricity consumed, which in part, is due to the inefficiency of appliances and their overuse by the population. As is well known, inefficient use of energy contributes to higher levels of energy consumption than needed.
Although energy supply in the city is so often an issue, creative energies are bubbling in local information technology and innovation hubs, ready for a “spillover” into other sectors such as energy. Accra is home to a growing community of technologists and innovators, offering great and untapped potential for a new force to offer solutions, particularly, in the area of energy efficiency.
What is the main difference between high-income and developing countries?
Here is my take: People in the former have much more of pretty much everything. Almost everyone living in high-income countries has access to electricity; in poor (low-income) countries, 7 out of 10 people don’t. Most families in rich countries own a car, but only a few people living in the developing world do. On per capita basis, rich economies have 15 times more doctors than poor countries, consume 40 times more energy, have 50 times more ATMs, and so on.
The title of this blog entry is one of the many questions we’ve been asking in our research to identify key success factors for urban tech innovation ecosystems. We wanted to better understand what causes tech innovation and entrepreneurship to grow faster in some cities, as well as explore the potential of these ecosystems for creating new sources of employment and growth.
Traditionally, the focus has been in clustering: building technology parks or innovation districts where companies, research and development (R&D) labs, universities and other actors were placed together in a defined geographic district or area. We have challenged this unidirectional focus and looked beyond geography to understand how connections and the social dimension of the ecosystem impacted on its growth and sustainability.
The answer we are getting is that the social dimension not only matters, it matters quite a big deal. The social dimension is the “glue” of the ecosystem and expands it beyond geographic boundaries of districts or technology parks. Networking assets (specific actors and events that work as social networks nodes) keep this social dimension together, being central to the ecosystem.
When we explored the impact of the social and the geographic dimension of tech startups in their success (in terms of capital rising), we found a positive and significant correlation for the social dimension. We did not find any correlation for geographic location.
These findings are not yet conclusive, but they point to one important direction: policies need to focus more on the social dimension. Ecosystems need to be understood as a community that requires active nurturing and maintenance in order to thrive and grow. The geographic dimension seems to be a tool for the development of social connections, but it does not develop these connections by itself (something else is needed). This means that the focus of policy to support the ecosystems should pay attention to the development of networking assets that kick-start communities, build networks (such as meet-ups and mentoring) and provide platforms for community building ( such as collaboration spaces).
The buzz around this buzzword in education (the need for it, the celebrations of it, the challenges in catalyzing it) continues to get louder and louder, and the word itself seems to get invoked with increasing (almost de facto) frequency as part of discussions about the need for change.
How are we to meet and overcome many of the pressing, endemic, and sometimes seemingly intractable challenges facing learners, educators, education policymakers and education systems around the world if we aren't being innovative in how we define (and redefine) our problems -- and in how we propose to go about solving them?
There are many groups, events and activities that seek to document, share knowledge about, analyze and assess various 'innovations in education' around the world. The annual World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in Qatar, for example, focuses explicitly on this theme. R4D's Center for Education Innovations does as well, in partnership with many international groups, including UNICEF (which has a special initiative on 'innovations in education' and whose much-lauded Innovations unit is for many of us a model for excellence within the international donor and aid community). The OECD's widely-read report last year on Measuring Innovations in Education seeks to offer "new perspectives to address th[e] need for measurement in educational innovation through a comparison of innovation in education to innovation in other sectors, identification of specific innovations across educational systems, and construction of metrics to examine the relationship between educational innovation and changes in educational outcomes."
Some observers may feel that this explicit focus on 'innovation in education' is overblown. We don't fund a lot of things sufficiently that we already know work, why don't we first concentrate on that stuff? Others may note that some 'innovations' in education promoted today have actually been around for decades, and thus perhaps no longer really qualify as 'innovations'. Sometimes the only 'innovation' in a particular 'new' approach is to utilize some new technology to do pretty much exactly what was done before, but now 'digitally', and in a way requiring a power cable or batteries. (I am not too sure that much of these thigns are really all that 'innovative', but many people who keep sending me related proposals seem to be convinced that they are.) Still others detect in many discussions around the need for 'innovation in education' the guiding hand of 'corporate education reformers' and/or of technology vendors with products to sell, and, as a result of past experiences, ideological leanings, an inherent tendency towards skepticism or a satisfaction with the status quo, and/or political calculus, reflexively push back (if not indeed recoil).
'Innovations in education' are about much more than just technology use, of course -- but there is also no denying that new information and communications technologies (ICTs) of various sorts continue to enable and catalyze many of the innovations that are being explored in the sector, whether they relate to e.g. teacher training; assessment; data collection and management; payment mechanisms; stakeholder engagement and transparency; or changes in the teaching and learning processes themselves; and whether they originate in the public, non-profit or corporate sectors (or even, as for example is the case of distributed communities of people working together to help build new software or educational content in ways that are 'free' or 'open', out of no traditional or easily definable 'sector' at all).
Sometimes the ICTs are hard to miss (as is the case with Uruguay’s pioneering Plan Ceibal), and sometimes they are behind the scenes (innovative low cost private schooling schemes like those pioneered by groups like Bridge Academies, for example, depend heavily on the use of ICTs to promote efficiency and cut costs), but increasingly they are there. Many traditional groups active in advocating for funding efforts to help end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity (the twin goals of the World Bank) are increasingly challenged to identify, make sense of and support the diffusion of 'innovations in education' in ways that are useful and efficient and cost-effective – and potentially, from time to time, even transformative.
Every March, some 45,000 people flood into Austin, Texas for South by Southwest (SXSW), a set of film, music, and interactive festivals. Since 1987, SXSW has been an epicenter for performers and filmmakers to showcase their talent, and more recently, for technologists and startup founders to launch new products and apps, such as Foursquare and Twitter (in 2007). This year, SXSW has brought to Austin discussion of big ideas such as extreme bionics, women in tech, anti-robot advocacy – and literally big devices such as GE’s 14-foot barbecue smoker.
At first sight, SXSW may appear to have little in common with the World Bank Group, the largest development institution in the world. Yet, creativity and technology, the two founding principles of SXSW, are often cited as two key factors for the World Bank Group to tackle the most daunting development challenges of the 21st century. At this year’s SXSW, a number of panel discussions around innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology in emerging markets are bringing the World Bank’s development agenda and Austin’s passion for technology much closer together. Among them two panels focusing on the risk and return of African Tech startups, and the innovation ecosystem in emerging markets, organized by infoDev, a World Bank program that supports innovation and entrepreneurship globally.
For years animals have been man’s closest companions - providing food, clothing, and medicine. As a result humans have developed a resilient bond with the animal kingdom. We are therefore indebted to the animals - our fellow inhabitants of the planet. Because Bangladesh largely depends on livestock for food, the government puts emphasis on food security. As a result, the country needs competent veterinary graduates who can contribute towards both national health and economy through the practice of modern veterinary technology.
Two years have passed since the World Bank’s information and communications technologies (ICT) team conducted the world’s first Open Data Readiness Assessment in Russia’s Ulyanovsk region. Shortly after this assessment was completed and an action plan produced, Ulyanovsk launched its Open Data portal, which was widely acknowledged both by Russia’s federal government and a range of international experts. Following this successful pilot, the World Bank has conducted Open Data Readiness Assessments in Rwanda, Tanzania, Antigua and Barbuda, Burkina Faso, Peru and Ethiopia.
We are proud to have worked together on an Open Data Initiative whose experiences and lessons learned have informed ongoing work in so many other countries. Highlights of our project in Ulyanovsk include two main results:
First, the creation of an entire Open Data ecosystem, anchored by an Open Data portal: http://opendata.ulgov.ru. There are currently 263 data sets (available in CSV, XML, JSON, HTML, XLSX and XSD formats) for viewing and downloading. All data complies with Russian laws and international standards.
The project demonstrates a high level of engagement: citizens, journalists, experts and investors looked through the data files more than 313,944 times and downloaded them more than 64,156 times. The Open Data Portal has helped a variety of clients and stakeholders make more informative decisions in a shorter amount of time, therefore saving financial and other resources. Four mobile apps and a GIS portal, based on Open Data, together form the finished project.
Sometimes the impacts of disasters seem difficult to predict, such as when the heavy snow that set off deadly avalanches in Afghanistan this winter also damaged transmission lines, disrupting the flow of electricity imported from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and resulting in power outages in Kabul. Other times the consequences seem almost inevitable, for example the likelihood of a devastating earthquake in the Ganges Basin of India, Nepal and Bangladesh within our lifetime.
There are, however, tools and models that allow us to determine the potential impacts of a disaster before they happen, and provide decision-makers with information they can use to reduce the potential impact.
Modeled 2012 population in Guatemala at a spatial resolution of 100 m2
People are at the center of all development work: whether we act to prevent and address disasters, protect vulnerable communities, finance projects in infrastructure, education or health, our ultimate goal is always to serve people. Being able to identify, understand and locate beneficiaries as accurately as possible is an essential first step in that process, and the only way to make sure we provide services to those who need it most with maximum impact.
Inside the World Bank, the number of people passionate about using spatial data for development speaks to the relevance of spatial datasets in supporting critical decision making. In an effort to use spatial data more strategically, we recently conducted an informal poll among several Bank units and some partner institutions to find out what types of spatial data are most relevant to development professionals.
This survey found that the spatial distribution of the population was a key data layer needed by Bank staff. The results of the survey showed that that while national level data are useful, subnational detail on administrative boundaries, trade & transport infrastructure, population distribution and socio-economic data down to the city level are just as critical to the majority of respondents.