Madagascar is big—it’s the fourth largest island in the world, more than twice as big as the United Kingdom. Madagascar’s size, its tropical climate, dense forests and steep hills, combined with a lack of money for infrastructure deployment and maintenance, means there are isolated pockets of people all over the country without easy access to cities, to information, to the world.
Until recently, mobile and communications services were confined to a few, mostly urban, areas. That left people living in rural areas cut off. When we were in Madagascar, working on this project, we saw many rural communities in dire need of essential infrastructure and services. People in some villages live far from any road, or rely on dirt tracks that turn to impassable mud ways in the rainy season, without access to electricity, hospitals, or banks.
So, in this environment, access to mobile communications cannot be considered a luxury anymore—it’s a vital service that overcomes physical barriers and infrastructure gaps. With mobile service, people can contact family members in case of an emergency, call for medical help, and transfer money via their cell phones. Farmers—a large majority of the country population works in agriculture, and especially the poorest—can use the internet to check market prices for their produce, or get information on fertilizers. Schools with connectivity can reach the world, giving students access to information ranging from Victor Hugo’s novels to Fermat’s last theorem. Phones can be vital tools for health and well-being.
The World Bank recently launched the ReFabDar initiative together with COSTECH and the Ethical Filament Foundation to test the opportunity of turning Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste into value through collaboration across the recycling industry, local innovators and entrepreneurs, makers and tinkerers, and by leveraging 3D printers and new, low-cost PET extruder technology. PET is the most common thermoplastic polymer resin of the polyester family used in fibers for clothing, containers, and other products.
The initiative, funded by the IC4D Trust Fund at the World Bank and launched last September, aimed to assess the feasibility and the market opportunity to turn PET plastic waste into 3D printer filament that can be sold locally or globally, and to then print unique and local marketable products, which could be then traded and sold by waste collectors back to their communities. It also aims to build local capacity on making and digital fabrication in countries like Tanzania. More background on the initiative can be found here.
Too many times after a natural hazard strikes, public outcries follow once the level of devastation becomes clear. People wonder – and often rightly so – if the disaster could have been prevented. After the 2015 Nepal earthquake for example, years of investment in school buildings was wiped away in seconds because schools were not built to withstand earthquakes – often because people were not aware of the earthquake risk. Fortunately, it was a Saturday so the schools that collapsed did not also result in unimaginable human tragedy.
For the first time in history, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10%. The world has never been as ambitious about development as it is today. After adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and signing the Paris climate deal at the end of 2015, the global community is now looking into the best and most effective ways of reaching these milestones. In this five-part series I will discuss what the World Bank Group is doing and what we are planning to do in key areas that are critical for ending poverty by 2030: good governance, gender equality, conflict and fragility, creating jobs, and, finally, preventing and adapting to climate change.
The world is a better place for women and girls in 2016 than even a decade ago. But not for everyone, and definitely not everywhere: This is especially true in the world’s poorest, most fragile countries.
It’s also particularly true regarding women’s economic opportunities. Gender gaps in employment, business, and access to finance hold back not just individuals but whole economies—at a time when we sorely need to boost growth and create new jobs globally.
At the MaliAppChallenge, the major mobile applications competition organized in Bamako on May 9, 2016, Malian youth showed everyone that they are ready to participate fully in the country’s burgeoning digital revolution.
Despite the palpable and quite understandable tension, the eight finalist teams displayed keen enthusiasm when they presented their prototype applications to a panel composed of officials from Mali and the rest of the Sahel region and several players from the ICT community in Mali. These young people were fully engaged, well aware of what was at stake for the winning teams: smartphones and tablets, incubation opportunities, internships, training… In a nutshell, they would have the tools needed to become digital entrepreneurs and resources that are typically very difficult to mobilize.
These entrepreneurial projects are not only a first step in tackling high youth unemployment in the country. Each of these demonstrations showed that these applications had the potential to be truly transformational in either the agriculture, health, or education sectors. Two of the teams opted to focus on education, with each winning one of the four prizes on offer:
The second prize was awarded for the Univ Kibaru application, which seeks to facilitate communication between universities and students, on matters such as timetable changes and academic scholarship opportunities;
The popular choice award was won by the team that presented the Orient Key application, which focuses on academic and career guidance for students (e.g., directory of academic institutions, guide on courses and subjects taught, a forum for discussion).
First, the admiration. Both the outcomes of the Summit and the immense energy by civil society and other leaders in informing and influencing it, are impressive. Registries of beneficial ownership, fresh agreements on information sharing, new commitments requiring disclosure of property ownership, new signatories to the Open Government Partnership and open contracting Initiatives, the commitment from leaders of corruption affected countries and much else on display this week suggests real innovation, energy and optimism in advancing the anticorruption agenda.
The frustration stems from a concern that, while there is much that is new being agreed, one of the principal and most effective existing assets for checking corruption has barely featured in the discussion so far – and it is an asset which is increasingly imperilled.
It isn’t just people like myself who point to the critical role of an independent media. As I’ve argued in a new working paper, when any serious review of the evidence of what actually works in reducing corruption is undertaken, it is the presence of an independent media that features consistently. In contrast, only a few of the anti-corruption measures that have been supported by development agencies to date have been effective.
Telenor believes in empowering societies. Motivated by the prospect of building something that can make a difference for customers with very limited access to traditional financial services, we ventured to leverage our mobile tele-density strength in developing countries to bring about financial inclusion. Telenor has committed to enabling 50% of its customers to use their mobile phones for financial services by 2020, which means 100 million customers will have access to mobile financial services. We joined the UFA2020 initiative eager to learn from other players on shared challenges, drive strength from a common goal, and scale solutions that have demonstrated success in other markets.
We are about to launch in Myanmar and have obtained a banking license in India. We are already working in Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Hungary, Malaysia, Pakistan, Serbia and Thailand. In each country we have adopted different models of financial services catering to the needs of that market. For example, in Serbia fully owned Telenor Banka is the first fully mobile and online bank, consolidating banking needs in a unified digital interface, making it the fastest growing bank and the highest rated banking app in the region. In Pakistan, Telenor’s subsidiary Tameer Micro Finance Bank offers mobile financial services under the globally recognized brand of Easypaisa, serving over 20 million customers for domestic and international remittances, purchase airtime, pay utility bills, receive government social cash transfers, pay taxes, save and borrow money, buy insurance or make online retail purchases. We are picking up speed in delivering straightforward digital banking services in most of our Asian markets. Last year we established the groundwork for business in five out of six Asian countries, and this year we are focusing on expanding our footprint in these markets. When all businesses are up and running, we will be ready to build scale and to reach our 100 million customers target.
From time to time, everyone encounters sleek products whose form seems to eclipse their function—an image-heavy website that fails to provide basic information, or a shiny gadget with an all-too-brief usable life. Many of us are occasionally guilty of creating such products, but we also shouldn’t underestimate the importance of design, especially when trying to reach a general audience with an initiative or service.
Recognizing its relevance in the global marketplace, the small South American country of Uruguay has placed increasing emphasis on improving the abilities of its schoolchildren to speak English. In trying to achieve this objective, however, it has faced a very acute resource constraint: There just aren't enough qualified teachers of English working in Uruguayan schools.
What to do?
How do you strike a balance between the immediate needs of students *right now* and an education system's requirements to train teachers to help meet such needs over the long term?
The traditional approach to dealing with such a challenge in many places has been to focus primarily on pre-service training, gradually introducing new teachers into classrooms over many years who have prepared to teach the subject through dedicated courses of study at teacher training colleges, together with occasional in-service professional development activities for existing teachers (normally during holiday breaks). In Uruguay, it was recognized that the gap between the abilities and capacities of many teachers to teach English, and student needs to learn English (which became compulsory in 2008) was so huge in many parts of the country that they needed to do things differently than they had done in the past. Instead of having teachers learn English separately, might it be possible to have them learn alongside their students, in their own classrooms?
As it happens, almost a decade ago Uruguay began its ambitious and innovative Plan Ceibal, which (among other things, and as profiled in a number of previousposts on the EduTechblog) made this small South American nation the first country to connect all of its schools to the Internet and provide all primary school children with a free laptop.
Given the technical infrastructure and know-how that was developed under Plan Ceibal, Uruguayan policymakers asked themselves:
Now that all of the schools are connected to the Internet,
and all students have their own laptops,
might it be possible to offer high quality
English language instruction live over the Internet,
connecting to teachers many miles away from the schools?
The answer to this question, it would appear, is 'yes'. Working out of its remote teaching center in Buenos Aires, its global digital learning hub in the neighboring country of Argentina, the British Council is beaming out English lessons to children in hundreds of individual classrooms across Uruguay, complementing and supporting the work of local teachers in these same classrooms. This is not a 1-to-many broadcast of the sort commonly done in many countries through the use of broadcast television, but rather connects individual classrooms in Uruguay with individual teachers sitting in other places. Some of these English teachers are based in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo, many others next door in Argentina, and still others much further afield -- including halfway around the world in the Philippines and the UK! Along the way, the capacity of local teachers, who continue to lead English classes on their own other days of the week, is developed, through their interactions with and observations of the remote teachers.
On April 22 and April 29, 2016 representatives from Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Sierre Leone, South Africa, and Tanzania came together in a virtual South-South Knowledge exchange hosted by the World Bank in collaboration with the Open Government Partnership to discuss an issue of mounting concern: managing records and information to support open government. These countries – committed to the goal of open government, and a number with new right to information laws and open data initiatives - were motivated by increasing recognition that their commitments to make information open cannot be fully realized until they increase their capacity to manage records and information, especially the growing amount of information in digital form.