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Private Sector Development

Now that there's a Baltic Data Highway, when will we have one for the Balkans?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Photo credit: Data Logistics Center
In January, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania finished the five-year construction of the Baltic Highway – a broadband backbone network that takes advantage of fiber-optic assets from three Baltic energy and utility entities. The Highway is a seamless fiber backbone of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) across the Baltic region, connecting Northern Europe’s new mega-data centers in Tallinn to Western Europe's data hub in Frankfurt, Germany, with the possibility of extending connections to Russia and Belarus.

The construction and operation of the Baltic Highway is a great example of regional cooperation and infrastructure sharing — and there are many lessons we can learn from it.
 
The Baltic Highway was created by Data Logistics Center (part of Lietuvos Energija, a state-owned holding company of Lithuanian energy suppliers), Latvenergo (a state-owned electric utility company in Latvia) and Televõrk (a subsidiary of private energy firm Eesti Energia in Estonia). Unlike previous data highways, this network was built by laying optical fiber over high-voltage electricity lines and gas pipelines that belong to energy companies, as opposed to using different segments of telecommunications networks that have been “stitched together.” Today, Baltic Highway clients have the opportunity to utilize one seamless regional infrastructure system from a single point.

What would it take to implement a similar project in the Balkans?

Crystallizing a digital strategy in the "Pearl of Arabia"

Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi's picture
Known as the “Pearl of Arabia“ for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is also striving to adopt economic reforms that are in accordance with global market expectations and demands of our time. The country is currently undergoing a transition to a knowledge-based economy as outlined in its economic vision 2020. Information and communication technologies are at the core of this transformation, serving as the key enabler of economic diversification.
 
A view of Muscat, Oman's capital.
Photo: Andrew Moore, flickr

Oman’s national e-Governance initiative — which is called eOman — came into effect in 2003 and since then has been serving as the main framework for Oman’s digital transformation, including ICT industry and infrastructure development, creation of better public services and development of human capital. Since 2009, Oman has been consistently recognized by the United Nations Public Service Programme for its efforts.
 
We asked Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi, Chief Executive Officer of the Information Technology Authority (ITA) of Oman — the agency responsible for the implementation of eOman strategy — to share with us the key solutions his agency has been working on to tackle the country’s development challenges and to highlight some of the lessons learned. Read Dr. Al-Ruzaiqi’s selected responses below, or download the full version of the interview here

Can you tell us some of the key points of the Oman Digital Strategy (e.oman)?
Let me start first by emphasizing that His Majesty’s grand vision of diversifying the Omani economy was the key driver of embarking on developing and implementing e.oman. This grand vision was set out in the economic vision 2020 that included transforming Oman into a sustainable knowledge based society. In His address to Oman Council in November 2008, His Majesty stressed the need to develop the technological and practical skills of citizens and provide them with the resources and training required to enhance their capabilities and incentivize them to seek knowledge. His Majesty also directed the Government to simplify processes, adopt technology in its daily operation, and focus on electronic delivery of its services.

Mobile services: a game-changer for the greater good

Pierre Guislain's picture
Mobile services are the extension services of inclusion.  Increasingly, the world’s poor – and especially the bottom 40 percent in terms of income – are being reached via mobile devices by government agencies, development partners, banks, companies and others. 

As we extend networks, and in particular broadband, to reach more isolated populations and the bottom 40 percent, we need to foster the development of relevant content in substance (including government services) as well as form (including pictorial and video information for the illiterate).

 
Mobile-money services like M-Pesa have 
helped bring banking to millions in 
developing countries. Photo: Ventures Africa 
The private sector is the key driver of this entire change process, which government should facilitate.
 
The acceleration of technological change – with mobile is at the forefront – is leading to increased convergence between networks, devices, services and content providers. Judging from what I saw and heard during last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,  my sense is that telecommunications regulation (as  practiced today) will soon become obsolete, overshadowed by the importance of ensuring an overall balance and flexibility in this broader, converging market. 

Consequently, institutions like the World Bank will need to find better ways to ensure that key regulators talk to each other and work towards the greater public good. This includes not only telecom and competition authorities, but also broadcasting, financial services and other regulatory bodies. We should facilitate these conversations between regulators, especially in view of the fast-growing involvement of telecommunications entities in the mobile money space.

Online outsourcing is creating opportunities for job seekers and job creators

Toks Fayomi's picture
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.

Azerbaijan's broadband at a crossroads

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
View of Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo: David Davidson/flickr

Geographically and historically, Azerbaijan has often been at the crossroads: of trade routes, cultures, and influences. From a telecom policymaking standpoint, the country is currently at another important crossroad - this time having to choose from available regulatory approaches designed to pave the way for the high-speed broadband roll-out across the country.
 
Which regulatory framework is best to follow? Which country experience is closest to the needs of the Azerbaijani population and could provide for not only rapid but, more importantly, self-sustaining broadband market development?

Over the last year I had a chance to analyze the Azerbaijani broadband market, with my objective being the formulation of advice on the best way to stimulate the broadband market growth. In this blog I would like to briefly outline two relevant models of fixed broadband market development, either of which, from a quick glance, could be considered appealing for Azerbaijan because of a positive market growth trajectory and low consumer prices (the full analysis will be published soon). The models I am referring to are competition-led and government-led market development approaches, in the analysis they are represented by experiences of two oil-exporting economies, similar to Azerbaijan - Norway and Qatar.
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Categorizing the collaboration and community promotion spaces that make urban innovation ecosystems tick

Victor Mulas's picture
A variety of collaboration spaces are spreading across urban innovation ecosystems. This makes sense intuitively, because collaboration spaces create and — in some cases — manage and sustain the communities that make the ecosystem exist and grow. 
 
Collaboration space in Barcelona, Spain.
​Photo: Victor Mulas

I believe that collaboration spaces are, in fact, one of the key elements to create and grow urban innovation ecosystems in cities. Our current research in mapping urban innovation is starting to provide results that seem to validate this hypothesis. We are seeing that collaboration spaces that create and manage communities are critical nodes of city urban innovation ecosystems. 

We will share more results about this analysis in future blogs but given the relevance of these spaces, I summarized what I believe are the most relevant categories of collaboration spaces. This list, which I prepared for a paper I am working on, is not prescriptive and it is not closed by any means. To the contrary, it just presents a starting point and I welcome comments to expand and refine these categories.

How Open Data can fight poverty and boost prosperity in Kyrgyzstan

Roza Vasileva's picture
All around the world, governments are recognizing the value and potential of Open Data. This is clear from the G8’s adoption of an Open Data Charter in June 2013 (with the G20 likely to follow suit), the growing number of countries adopting Open Data initiatives, and the 64 countries that have committed to Open Government Partnership action plans (most of which focus on Open Data). Kyrgyzstan has taken the first steps down this path.
 
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Photo: flickr/pjgardner

The Kyrgyz Government has been implementing the Open Government Policy and has already undertaken several measures, such as creating official web portals for state bodies including Open Budget, Electronic Procurement, Foreign Aid and many others. Through these websites, citizens can find information about public services and activities offered by government ministries and other state agencies.
 
In 2013, based on a comprehensive analysis of Kyrgyz public information resources and in consideration of plans for leveraging ICT for good governance and sustainable development, the government designed an e-Government program and corresponding Action Plan for 2014-2017 with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This program was approved by the Kyrgyz government on November 10, 2014.
 
In addition, this year the UNDP provided support to set up an online network for the Prime Minister’s online community liaison offices. This network has 63 connection points nationwide and supplements the Kyrgyz government’s official website by strengthening relations between the government and civil society by informing citizens about ongoing reforms, as well as and challenges that have been resolved for the country’s communities and citizens. This is one of the existing examples of Kyrgyz government utilizing its openness for greater citizen engagement.

Makers and education, part one: how are disruptive technologies affecting the way we educate?

Saori Imaizumi's picture
Girls learning how to design and make a toy with a laser cutter, which increases
interest in STEM career options. Photo: Saori Imaizumi/World Bank Group

Affordable, accessible technologies can democratize opportunities for EVERYONE to become innovators and inventors. Countries can take advantage of this opportunity to create new jobs, new industry and skilled workers to achieve further economic growth and increase competitiveness. Also, preparing citizens with problem solving skills and entrepreneurial mindsets helps solve various social problems in the country in an innovative manner.
 
In a 2013 report entitled “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” the McKinsey Global Institute identified 12 potentially economically disruptive technologies, including mobile internet, automation of knowledge work, the Internet of Things, advanced robotics, 3D printing, and advanced materials.
 
Team-based learning through
technologies. Photo: Saori
​Imaizumi/World Bank Group

​I touched upon how these disruptive technologies and low-cost technologies affect the pedagogy of skills development and education, as well as their implications for international development in my previous blogs (New Technologies for Children Learning STEM/STEAM Subjects and the 21st Century Skills and What’s the implication of 3D printers for the World Bank’s mission?) and a feature story (Communities of "Makers" Tackle Local Problems).
 
Elaborating on these posts, I will explore the topic on “how can kids, youth and adults prepare in response to rapid technological changes” from the pedagogy and institutional model perspectives. My analysis is derived from the lively discussion that I recently attended on “Exploring 3D Printing for Development,” organized by IREX and my work at the World Bank.

Connectivity equals opportunity: PPPs narrow the "broadband gap"

Pierre Guislain's picture
A billboard announces the arrival of high-speed broadband internet
in downtown Nukua'lofa, the capital of Tonga. Photo: Tom Perry / World Bank
You don’t need to be a grandparent or even have a particularly long memory to recall a time when information and communications technology (ICT) devices were luxuries only a few could afford, if not something lifted entirely from the pages of science fiction. Reform of the ICT sector happened fast, both in broadband and mobile, and we all feel it in our personal and professional lives. The extraordinarily rapid uptake of mobile telephony in developing countries is the most compelling element of the
ICT story, but it’s only partly about the technology itself.

The real plot twist lies in why reform took off so quickly. Simply put, the incumbents did not see mobile services as threatening. Telecom companies thought of it as a fancy, add-on service that would be useful for rich people but unthreatening to the standard business model. However, the new technology was able to fill gaps in countries where there was no service at all, and it was able to make very rapid inroads. Elsewhere, people would have gone through a more traditional rollout of fixed network and then mobile; in developing countries, mobile became the main service because incumbent service was so poor. Mobile moved in because the incumbents had not done their job.

This shows that the most important element of progress in ICT is the creation of an environment where competition can flourish. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are key players in this chapter of the ICT narrative. We see this in articles and interviews throughout Handshake, which examines PPPs in broadband and mobile/telecom (which together comprise our definition of ICT) and the services this infrastructure makes possible. In other words, we’re looking at PPPs whose infrastructure creates connections and whose services deliver connectivity.

​Smart Africa returns – with a focus on Rwanda

Samia Melhem's picture
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (center) and Minister Jean Philbert
Nsengimana (left) work with children during the recent
"Smart Rwanda Days" conference in Kigali.
“Smart” is in. So is digital. According to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, “digital innovation has leveled the playing field, making it easy for anyone from anywhere can compete in the global economy. Today, ideas do not have borders and therefore countries cannot be landlocked.”

Earlier this month, the Government of Rwanda convened a “Smart Rwanda Days” conference, bringing together participants from seven countries. During the two-day event, attendees were asked to “take the pulse” of digital development across Africa – as well as within their own countries – and then set concrete roles and responsibilities for current members of the Smart Africa alliance (Burkina Faso, Mali, South Sudan, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, and Gabon). The event was co-sponsored by the International Telecommunications Union, the African Union and several private-sector companies.
  The Smart Rwanda Master Plan (SRMP), developed by the government in consultation with representatives of civil society and private sector, in February 2014, calls for better services to citizens through e-government and ICT education at all levels. The Plan includes a specific focuses on broadband networks and tertiary education, as well as fostering investments, innovation and creative local content to strengthen ICT. “Africa is on unstoppable move forward that tremendous progress is being made, but also the room for increasing speed and impact is limitless,” said Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s Minister for Youth and ICT.

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