The majority of the poor in the world are gaining access to these technologies for the first time. The real question remains: does having access to a cell phone, the Internet, or social media have any tangible benefits for the living conditions of the most marginalized among the poor?
Is the “digital divide” widening or narrowing the “economic divide”?
I recall a visit to a Bank-funded project in a rural Bolivian community. An enthusiastic Quechua woman was proudly telling me that she was about to undertake the 3-hour journey to Sucre with her “wawa” (baby) to get the three price quotes she needed to purchase wire for the community fences. She was participating in one of over 600 investments designed to help vulnerable rural communities in Bolivia lift themselves out of poverty, within the scope of the Community Investment in Rural Areas Project (PICAR) executed by the Ministry of Rural Development of Lands.
“You just have one wawa, right?,” I asked. She replied: “Well, this is the youngest of six children; the others will stay home. My ten-year-old daughter will look after the younger ones. Right now my husband is working in the Chapare, harvesting coca leaves. He only comes home occasionally.”
After talking with her I had mixed feelings. One the one hand, I was worried that our gender-targeted project was asking too much of her and might be harming her kids in some way. On the other hand, I realized that it was giving her a unique chance to engage in tasks historically performed by the men.
If you live in a country where electricity never or rarely goes out, you are lucky. In my country, Nepal, we are pleased when we get uninterrupted electricity for even eight hours a day.
Like Nepal, many countries around the world struggle to deliver basic services to their citizens. But things are slowly improving.
1. Participatory budgeting
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, citizens of South Kivu Province are using “mSurvey” to obtain information about budget meetings. Using just their mobile phones, they can actively monitor, discover what was decided at meetings, and evaluate those decisions via online voting. by actively reminding local authorities of their commitments while ensuring that citizens are getting services they deserve.
Latin America has a long, fractured, and ultimately failed history of public media. So-called “public media” typically functioned as government-controlled institutions for spurious goals - propaganda and clientelism - rather than quality content in the service of multiple public interests.
While driving around rural areas of Puno in Peru, Caaguazú in Paraguay or Granada in Nicaragua, do not be surprised to see women lifting rocks from the roads and using shovels and picks alongside men. In fact, in the past 15 years, the number of women that have joined organizations in charge of routine road maintenance in Latin America has increased significantly and with this their life conditions have improved dramatically.
Good governance is critical for all countries around the world today. When it doesn’t exist, many governments fail to deliver public services effectively; health and education services are often substandard; corruption persists in rich and poor countries alike, choking opportunity and growth. It will be difficult to reduce extreme poverty — let alone end it — without addressing the importance of good governance.
On a Friday evening last November, twelve mayors from nearby districts gathered at the municipal office building in Tarapoto, Peru. Even though the rainy season was just ramping-up in this lush tropical area of the country, local roads were already being washed away. These mayors were eagerly planning for the local Provincial Road Institute to use their tractors to protect their roads to counter the negative effects of the rain.
One of them cried out, “How will my people bring grapes and coffee to local markets without good roads? Our products are going to rot and my people are going to suffer.”
A five hours’ drive south of Lima lays the coastal provinces of Chincha. If one heads inland into the deserted mountains that are typical of costal Peru, one would be surprised to find agriculture blanketing the valley floor. For centuries local communities in these rugged terrains have been using water from small meandering streams to grow maize, and eke out a living by selling surpluses at nearby markets. However, in recent years the growth of industrial agriculture has squeezed these communities, making it hard for them to survive in these ancestral lands, forcing many of them to move to nearby cities such as Chincha Alta.
Many of our aspirations revolve around improving our personal finances—keeping better track of spending, saving towards a goal or perhaps getting out of debt. How can we work towards these goals and follow through on these changes?
At first my eyes could not believe it. Was this for real? A cable car system designed to connect two cities? I was well aware of cable cars at ski resorts, and other major touristic attractions like the Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro. But cable cars as a commuting mode between two cities seemed to me a different story.
If you have been to La Paz, the highest capital in the world at some 3,650 meters above sea level (13,000 feet), you know it lies in a canyon right below El Alto, another city built on the altiplano, a higher plateau. The population of both cities is around 2 million people connected by a single highway.
With narrow and winding streets, particularly in La Paz, traffic congestion can be awful for thousands of daily peak-time commuters. Because of the challenging geography, other transport infrastructure –such as additional highways or metro systems- were at some point considered, but were either unrealistic to execute because of the capricious topography, or simply too expensive or not commercially viable.