These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
This African Smart Card Helps Catch Disease Outbreaks
“Facebook has noticed something that other companies would do well to heed: The biggest opportunity right now isn't in smartphones, where users are bombarded by the fruits of an ever-more-competitive market for apps and mobile services. Rather, the big play for some companies, especially any that wish to expand into emerging markets, is on the "dumbphones" — aka non-smartphones or, in industry parlance, feature phones — that most people in rich countries have now left behind.
The future will be won or lost in the world’s cities. With half of humanity now living in cities – and with the breakneck pace of urbanization likely to concentrate two-thirds of the world’s population into metropolitan regions by 2050 – getting urbanization right is the over-arching challenge of this globalizing age.
Urban policy is now at the top of the news due to the bankruptcy filing of forlorn Detroit, which has long been a symbol of urban decay. Yet the urbanization drama goes far beyond the de-industrializing North: The destiny of cities worldwide will determine the success or failure of virtually every development priority – and it will be especially vital for job creation, innovation and productivity growth, environmental sustainability and social inclusion.
“Rapid urbanization is the defining trend of the 21st Century,” said Sanjay Pradhan, Vice President of the World Bank Institute, as he outlined the daunting statistics to a New York City Global Partners conference on “Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship: City Strategies” at Columbia University. “Nearly two billion new urban residents are expected to stream into the world’s cities by 2030 – most of them, in developing countries.”
Managing the growth of emerging megacities will be daunting: The urban populations of Africa and South Asia are poised to double within the next 20 years. An additional 310 million working-age people – about 35 percent of the coming expansion of the global work force – will soon arrive in just 600 of the world’s largest cities. With a worldwide network of densely developed cities destined to become the driver of prosperity, the prime centers of opportunity will be those cities that can attract and energize all forms of productive capital – of the financial, technological and intellectual varieties.
Cities accelerate economic transformation because of their intense population density, which encourages social and economic interactions with greater “social friction” than non-urban settings, as Harvard economics professor Edward Glaeser emphasizes in his influential work, “Triumph Of The City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier.” Spontaneous and serendipitous exchanges of ideas turn cities into vibrant hubs of innovation, helping generate 70 percent of global GDP and making cities the world’s focal points of innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and culture.
In a relentlessly competitive world – which is both “flattened” with a level playing field (as journalist Tom Friedman contends) and “spiky” with intense concentrations of wealth and talent (as urbanologist Richard Florida argues) – competitiveness will depend on both local creativity and global connectivity.
If they can assert what Edwin Heathcote of the Financial Times calls “urban ingenuity,” cities that clearly define their distinctive identity will thrive by embracing their economic vocation and enhancing their strengths in global value chains. Those urban nodes of creativity that are efficiently networked through technology, transportation and trade connections will be able to take maximum advantage of opportunities that require a global sensibility and a global frame of mind.
A few weeks ago I attended the twice yearly gathering of Oxfam GB’s big cheeses – the regional directors, Oxford bosses and a smattering of more exotic cheeses from other Oxfam affiliates (Australia and US this time). We started off with a tour of the regions – what’s on their minds? 3 common themes emerged: political upheaval (disenchantment with elected governments, protest, the threat of civil war); religious conflict (fundamentalism) and rising inequality.
The topic of this meeting was a classic new fuzzword – ‘leverage’. And like all good fuzzwords, it was frustrating and helpful in equal measure. Frustrating in its hard-to-define slipperiness, helpful because it establishes a fuzzy-boundaried arena of conversation that allowed us to have an interesting exchange.
The overriding purpose of leverage is another bit of management jargon: ‘going to scale’. How to influence bigger players to reach many times more people than you would do by acting alone? The ambition is heroic, perhaps crushing on occasion – with your few thousand (or even million) quid, it’s not enough to just help a few hundred people, you have to think how this can transform lives en masse. I suspect it partly stems from frustration born from aiming too low; partly from the push for results.
Whether constructing a new bridge or buying textbooks for a public school, governments around the world constantly purchase a wide variety of goods and services. In the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, these types of public contracts represent between 15 percent and 20 percent of GDP each year, an annual amount equal to tens of billions of US dollars.
If you saw how poor I was before, you would see that things are getting better.
When I hear stories like that of Jean Bosco Hakizimana, a Burundian farmer whose life was transformed by a cow, I get excited about the change we can all make. Jean Bosco’s income is improving, his kids are eating better, his wife has some nice clothes, and his manioc fields are yielding better harvests — all thanks to the milk and fertilizer from this one cow.
A similar story is playing out in more than 2,600 communities across Burundi, offering new life to a people once decimated by civil war. These community agricultural programs sponsored by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest, show that development doesn’t have to be that complicated and that collective effort can make all the difference.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
This week's Media (R)evolutions: Global Mobile Phone Penetration
In a new book released Monday, the World Bank's Africa Region convincingly argued for "Securing Africa's Land for Shared Prosperity" by recording land rights for both individuals and groups. That’s mainly because at a time when vastly-increased commodity demand has led to a series of widely publicized “land grabs” and urban expansion, the potential benefits from securing rights have greatly increased in several ways.
First, equity and efficiency. Poor and traditionally disadvantaged people, including women, have the least access to land rights, so securing their rights can provide them with access to a key productive resource. Also, if land rights are secured, land users will be more likely to invest in land improvement and modern technology to improve the efficiency of land use.
In Bangkok, a campaign to save land from being turned into another mega mall
brings people together online--and offline. Photo credit: Makkasan Hope
As a web editor and as a digital media enthusiast I’ve seen all sorts of content online: a close-up photo of someone’s lunch, a video of singing cats, selfies (for the blissfully uninitiated- these are self-portraits taken from mobile devices), and more.
Can such content change the world for the better? What if these were more substantial or inspiring, would it spur change more effectively? While messaging is important, I think the real power of social and online media is in its convening power. The changing the world for the better bit happens when the communities formed by social media take things offline and act.
DI: Impact Evaluation seems to be something that's pretty important at the MCC. Can you tell us a bit about how this focus came about?
JM: Since its inception MCC’s mandate has included demonstrating results. Rigorous impact evaluations have always been a key component of that mandate.