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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.

Connected and Healthy: Using ICTs to Improve People’s Health

Samia Melhem's picture

Information and communication technologies (ICTs), including mobile phones, are increasingly seen as critical tools to improve public health and health outcomes in Africa. Several experiments, including some launched almost ten years ago, are starting to show progress:
In Rwanda, an mHealth system dubbed TRACnet monitors epidemic diseases. TRACnet has been financed since 2004 by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and Rwanda's Ministry of Health, and has helped track HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Health workers are equipped with a mobile phone and access TRACnet through SMS menu prompts, requiring them to document and monitor the status of patients in the health clinics under their jurisdiction. The system has helped create a registry of all health workers, their patients, rural clinic locations, staffing, assets, and medical supply inventories.  Key factors in TRACnet’s success include sustained financing, scaling-up to all agents in all villages, and use by health workers in their daily work.

Understanding “Foregoing” Behavior at the Base of the Pyramid in Kenya

Tim Kelly's picture

At the end of 2012, infoDev released a study, conducted by iHub Research and Research Solutions Africa, looking at how mobile phones are being used by those at the economic base of the pyramid in Kenya (living on less than US$2.5 per day). The study, funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and UKaid, covered urban and rural areas of 6 districts in Kenya.

Mobile phone credit instead of bread? For many Kenyans, a real dilemma

Tim Kelly's picture

What would you give up to continue using your mobile phone? For most of the six billion mobile subscribers around the world, the sacrifice might be measured in terms of a marginal loss of privacy, or of time.

Looking at the future: Will mobile social media fuel improved governance in developing countries?

Tanya Gupta's picture

A free and independent media plays an important role in monitoring public servants and holding them accountable for their actions.  In this way they promote transparency and accountability within a country.  The role of media in good governance is widely acknowledged.  The Worldwide Govern