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Accelerating progress towards human capital and financial inclusion

Jim Yong Kim's picture
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© World Bank
© World Bank

Last week, more than 11,000 delegates from the World Bank Group’s member countries –public and private sector attendees--gathered at our Annual Meetings in Indonesia this month to discuss how we can accelerate progress toward our twin goals: to end extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity among the poorest 40 percent around the world.  

Disruptive technologies create opportunities for development but they also put those goals at risk. Our discussion this past week focused on the changing the nature of work – the topic of our World Development Report this year. While technology and automation are doing away with some jobs, innovation is also creating new occupations, and launching career fields that didn’t exist a few years ago. Those who are prepared for this future will have many opportunities to achieve their aspirations. Those who are not will be left behind. 

To help countries maximize the opportunities and mitigate the risks of disruptive technologies, we launched two new tools at our Annual Meetings. 

First, to help make the case for investing in people to prepare them for the future, we developed the Human Capital IndexIt’s a summary measure of the human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18 – given the risks of poor health and poor education in the country where that child lives.

We’re focusing on outcomes, not inputs. Looking backwards, we found that investments in people – to improve outcomes in health and education – were far more powerfully-correlated with economic growth than we ever thought. Given the pace of innovation, it’s a safe bet that those correlations will only get stronger in the future. Demand will increase for skills that complement new technologies such as technological know-how, critical thinking, and problem solving; along with skills such as perseverance, collaboration, and empathy. 

Second, with the International Monetary Fund, we launched the Bali Fintech Agenda, a framework for policymakers to foster fintech’s potential and mitigate possible risks. Fintech – including online banking, mobile phone-based transactions, and blockchain – is transforming the way people move money and do business around the world. It is also expanding access to bank accounts, credit, and insurance. The potential is enormous – two-thirds of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults in the world have a mobile phone, and fintech can help bring them into the financial system.

Showcasing Innovations

To showcase how technology can accelerate progress toward both improving human capital and financial inclusion, we invited top innovators to join our Annual Meetings. This Innovation Showcase, hosted along with the Government of Indonesia and the IMF, highlighted advancements in health, education, and fintech. 

In health, technology solutions can deliver more cost-effective and responsive services. Some examples include the use of AI in healthcare to leverage data for more informed decision-making, telemedicine to increase the availability of healthcare providers and specialists, and mobile diagnostic tools that expand access to remote and rural areas. The digital health startup Babylon has developed a mobile app that uses AI and machine learning to set up virtual consultations with doctors and health professionals. In Rwanda, more than 2 million people use the app – around 30 percent of people 16 and over. And last spring, Babylon announced a partnership with WeChat in China, where 1 billion users can get instant healthcare advice through their mobile phones. 

Technology can also help make education and training systems more flexible, adaptive, and responsive to the rapidly evolving nature of work. It can boost the capabilities of teachers and democratize access to the best teaching material by providing them online. It offers the opportunities for personalized learning. One example is the Mindspark app, which uses millions of data points from student tests to figure out common mistakes children make on math problems and then design remedial exercises for each student. This platform has helped 80,000 students across India improve math and Hindi skills for a fraction of the cost of attending school.

The Innovation Showcase also highlighted innovations in Fintech that are helping close gender and small business finance gaps and reach people in countries where financial systems are underdeveloped. Innovative and low-cost financial products have given 1.2 billion people access to financial services since 2011. Over the past five years, more than 700 million people have been brought into the regulated financial system for the first time. Now about half of all adults send or receive payments digitally.  

Fintech advancements have also made it easier to start and grow businesses. One of the companies in the Innovation Showcase was Stripe, whose payments platform supports millions of entrepreneurs around the world. We plan to work with Stripe to survey entrepreneurs from over 100 countries to better understand – from the ground up – the legal, regulatory, and bureaucratic bottlenecks for companies doing business on the internet, and the policies that help digital entrepreneurship thrive. 

And we’re working to get much better at connecting our clients with technologies, data, and expertise to solve development challenges. One successful program we are expanding is TechEmerge, which links technology innovators from around the world to opportunities in emerging markets. In India alone, it has successfully matched 17 global innovators with 15 private healthcare providers, ranging from multi-specialty hospitals to diagnostic centers, providing services such as mobile eye screening and tests for fetal lung maturity. 

We’re also looking for innovative ways to partner with global and regional technology companies. For example, we recently launched Digital2Equal, which brings together 17 technology companies operating across online marketplaces to boost opportunities for women. And we partnered with Amazon Web ServicesGoogle, and Microsoft to create the Famine Early Action Mechanism, a joint World Bank Group-UN initiative to develop the first AI-driven model for predicting food insecurity.

By raising aspirations and changing the nature of work, technology makes investments in people more urgent. We’re prepared to help countries make critical investments in their people and to harness the potential of technology: connecting people with the financial system, improving health and learning; and accelerating progress toward a world free of poverty. 

Learn more about the technologies and companies featured in the Innovation Showcase.

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn

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