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Information and Communication Technologies

Powering up Africa through innovation

Simon Bell's picture
Recent World Bank investment climate surveys find that the top two constraints for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are access to finance and access to energy. Given that SMEs contribute disproportionately to boosting job creation, GDP, and exports, addressing these two constraints is critical to promoting economic development on the continent.
 
A new project combining skills across the World Bank Group and IFC is taking advantage of disruptive advances in the energy and finance sectors to address these longstanding challenges for SMEs.
 
Current access to electricity remains woefully low and is a major impediment to economic growth. More than half of Africa’s population isn’t connected to the energy grid and has no access to reliable power. At the same time, fewer than 50% of adults have an account with a formal financial institution.
 
In recent years, however, two important developments have made it possible to begin addressing these challenges:
  1. Off-grid energy solutions—notably solar power—have fallen dramatically in price with new business models working to scale them
  2. New digital-based financing mechanisms, such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, peer-to-peer lending, psychometric testing, big data, and blockchain have emerged as tools for under-served finance markets.

There are strong parallels in these advances for both sectors. Whereas both energy and finance are traditionally provided by large-scale, centralized service providers—state-owned electricity utilities and large commercial banks, respectively—new solutions have effectively decentralized and democratized the provision of these services. Now a range of smaller, innovative companies can provide these services and consumers can go “off-the-grid” for both their energy and financial needs.
 

Anne Mwaniki, CEO of Solimpexs Africa, a Kenyan company producing solar-powered heating systems.
Photo © infoDev / World Bank

How Maputo is driving new forms of collaboration between citizens and city governments

Eva Clemente's picture
The true test is whether open data leads to improvements in public services.


Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, celebrated its 130th anniversary in November. But that’s not its only milestone: This year, it became only the second city in sub-Saharan Africa to have its own open data platform—one of many exciting results to come out of its Open Data Roadmap.

When technology meets agriculture in Bhutan

Yoichiro Ishihara's picture
Commercial Agriculture is important for Bhutan's Development
Based in eastern Bhutan, Mountain Hazelnuts has developed innovative uses of ICT for its commercial agriculture operations. Photo Credit: Bryan Watts/World Bank

Bhutan is a challenging environment in which to develop commercial agriculture. The country has limited areas for agriculture, and its geography and road conditions make logistics and market access costly.

Therefore, commercial agriculture is critical to increase productivity, which will help create jobs and access to more and better food. This can be achieved not only through focusing on high-value products and investing in traditional infrastructure such as irrigation, but also through using information and communication technology (ICT). Based in eastern Bhutan, Mountain Hazelnuts has developed innovative uses of ICT for its commercial agriculture operations.

In Singapore, exponential technologies flourish and forward-looking policies are being established to address development challenges

Paramita Dasgupta's picture
Singapore delivers for its talented entrepreneurs by extending assistance, financing, and incentives. In the last decade, Singapore has invested more than US$22 billion into helping companies develop and test new products and solutions. As a result, the number of start-ups in Singapore multiplied from 24,000 in 2005 to 55,000 in 2014.
 
Photo Credit: Mike Behnken

How young people are rethinking the future of work

Esteve Sala's picture
(Photo: Michael Haws / World Bank)


When we talk about the future of work, it is important to include perspectives, ideas and solutions from young people as they are the driving force that can shape the future.  As we saw at the recent Youth Summit 2017, the younger, digitally-savvy generations —whether they are called Millennials, Gen Y, or Gen Z— shared solutions that helped tackle global challenges.  The two-day event welcomed young people to discuss how to leverage technology and innovation for development impact.  In this post, we interviewed —under a job-creation perspective—finalists of the summit's global competition.

Digital innovation brings development and humanitarian work closer together

Priya Chopra's picture
Photo: UNMISS/Flickr
Humanitarian and development efforts serve two distinct and complementary objectives. Humanitarian work focuses on responding to emergency situations in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Development, on the other hand, takes a longer-term approach that seeks to address the social and economic aspects of crises, especially as they become protracted.

Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.

Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.

Hackathons and mobile apps: developing innovative responses to sexual violence in Kyrgyzstan

American University of Central Asia - Hackathon Team Leaders's picture


As we take part in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign over the coming weeks, we couldn’t be more excited about sharing an update than this one.

We recently brought a team of technologically savvy students together and worked hard for two days with very little sleep to develop an application to respond to sexual violence. The hard work paid off when our team was awarded first place in a Hackathon at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA).

Reversing the geospatial digital divide – one step, or leap, at a time

Anna Wellenstein's picture
Earth from space. Photo by NASA.

Global positioning systems (GPS), real time traffic maps, accurate weather forecasts, Uber, self-driving cars… Geospatial data is on full display 24/7 throughout the world these days.  It’s like nothing we have seen before. But none of this would be possible without the underpinning role of the government.

“Geospatial,” or location-based data has existed for hundreds of years – for example, in street and topographical maps. What’s different is how quickly new information is being gathered and the more sophisticated analytics that is being applied to it, thanks to technological advances.

What was once information only found in the domain of government, military, and select private sector, even up to the 1980s and 90s, has come into broad use over the last 20 years. With the increase of mobile technology and communications, handheld smart phones have democratized mapping, moving geospatial technology into the hands of every individual.

This summer, some tens of millions of people in the U.S. traveled to see the total solar eclipse, including a co-author of this blog. Not only was the eclipse amazing – but the drive back from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. showed the integration and impact of geospatial information in our daily lives.
 

New financial management technologies improve transparency and trust in Afghanistan

Mohammad Zaher Ebadi's picture
Many government civil servants are now using technology to improve transparency and credibility of government offices in Kandahar Province.
Many government civil servants are now using technology to improve transparency and credibility of government offices in Kandahar Province. Photo credit: Taimani Films/World Bank

The use of technology in Afghanistan’s government offices is not yet the norm. However, in the Directorate of Ministry of Finance (Mostofiat) in Kandahar Province, a province associated more with insecurity than with technology, we have used the power of technology to improve transparency and credibility of government offices. 

Finance is the backbone of any country’s economy. Therefore, it is very important for it to be transparent and credible so that citizens as well as donors feel committed to the development process. With this in mind, we decided to implement the Afghanistan Financial Management Information System (AFMIS) and Standard Integrated Government Tax Administration System (SIGTAS), with the help of the Public Financial Management Reform (PFMR), a project implemented by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) with support from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). SIGTAS was also supported through the ARTF Incentive Program.

Since 2007, when we started using AFMIS, we have been able to manage and execute budget-related activities, collect revenue, and pay salaries on time. A computerized system, AFMIS enables multiple users to access financial information and records, whenever and wherever they want. This was not possible with manual records.

Lessons From Mapping Geeks: How Aerial Technology is Helping Pacific Island Countries Recover From Natural Disasters.

Michael Bonte-Grapentin's picture

For many Pacific Island countries, natural disasters such as cyclones and tsunamis, are an all-too common occurrence. Out of the top 15 most at-risk countries for natural disasters globally, four are Pacific Island countries, and Vanuatu is consistently at the top.

In 2015, Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, and knowing the extent of damage was vital for the government to identify and plan reconstruction needs. A team of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) experts were sent out to quickly establish credible estimates of the damages and losses. Many damage reports were already available from the field, but with varying quality, and the challenge was to consolidate and verify them, within a very tight timeframe. Cloud cover also prevented us from getting satellite images, so we mobilized two UAV teams to fly below the clouds and capture high-resolution footage showing the impacts on the ground in the worst affected islands in Tafea and Shefa province.

Challenges continued throughout, from needing to coordinate airspace with those flying relief goods into affected areas, to transferring massive datasets over low internet bandwidths. But with team-effort and ingenuity, solutions were found; the UAV teams were able to capture valuable damage footage within sampled areas during the day, which were analysed overnight by volunteers of the Humanitarian Open Street Map (HOT) and the Digital Humanitarian Network; new workflows were developed to collate the data and to feed the outputs into the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment.   
 

Interpreted damage information post-Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, 2014: red – destroyed houses, orange – partially damaged houses, blue – no obvious damage to house.

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