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Information and Communication Technologies

Agribusiness can help to unlock the true potential of Africa

Teodoro De Jesus Xavier Poulson's picture
A woman farmer works fields in the Conde’ community of Morro da Bango, Angola. © Anita Baumann

The challenges faced by small farmers are similar across the developing world – pests, diseases and climate change. Yet in Africa the challenges are even greater. If farmers are to survive at current rates (let alone grow), they need to have access to high-yielding seeds, effective fertilizers and irrigation technologies. These issues threaten the region’s ability to feed itself and make business-growth and export markets especially difficult to reach. Other factors include the rise in global food prices and export subsidies for exporters in the developed economies, which leave African farmers struggling to price competitively.

Techno-modalism: In the pursuit of equality and liberty in Transport

Rakesh Tripathi's picture


The 70’s were waning and the loudspeaker was still blaring disco. The celebration in this middle class New Delhi neighborhood was noticeable. It was a party to welcome a new car, which like a new bride was decked with marigold garlands. Neighbors had joined the obligatory prayer ceremony in anticipation of a festive lunch. The auspicious coconut was broken and a plump lemon crushed under the tire to ward off evil jealous eyes. A child birth in this neighborhood was rarely celebrated as grandly. Maybe unlike a baby, the car had come after ten long years of excruciating wait and bribes.

Below the garish decorations, the car was technologically from the World War era. Adorned with cheap interiors. It was pretentiously named “Ambassador” and for 50 years, it reigned as the queen of Indian roads. It should have been named “liberator” instead. It liberated the aspiring middle class from the indignities of soul crushing congestion and the curling stench of the Delhi Transport Corporation buses.

When it came to public transportation in pre-1990s India, the bus was a metaphor for socialism, where everyone riding was equal and equally miserable. The car on other hand signified individual liberty, a symbol of capitalism. This fundamental struggle and human desire to balance liberty and equality has historically and philosophically defined the debate on the preferred mode of transportation, Public-Private Partnerships and the role of Information and Communication Technologies.

Youth in Pakistan plug into digital jobs of the future

Anna O'Donnell's picture
Omer Ahsan, a program trainee who is now successfully freelanacing online as a professional content writer. Photo Credit/Waleed Abbas

Omer Ahsan is a chartered accountant in the making from Waziristan. He first heard about the Youth Employment Program, a free digital skills program offered by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board, from discussions on a group chat over Whatsapp, and applied immediately. Within two weeks of completing the digital skills program, Omer has built an online profile and has successfully earned money as a professional content writer.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is emerging from decades of instability and conflict, and would seem an unlikely place for digital workers to thrive. But with nearly 16 million youth in the province, and few available jobs locally, there is a pressing need to think outside the box in terms of equipping young people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to take on the future.

In 2015, together with the World Bank, a series of pilot programs were conducted to test a model of digital skill training for youth. Growing connectivity, cloud technology, and the emergence of new business outsourcing models have lowered the barriers to entry for global employment, even for youth in remote parts of Pakistan. The key ingredients to accessing this employment: access to the internet, basic skills, and awareness, and the pilot program tested different approaches to supporting youth to develop online work skills.

ICT essentials for rebuilding fragile states

Mark Jamison's picture
Photo credit: STARS/Flickr
Enabling a robust market for information and communications technologies (ICTs) is fundamental to rebuilding fragile and conflict affected states (FCSs) and addressing the human suffering. As I have explained elsewhere, ICTs are critical because they can be used to alert people to renewed violence, build community, restart the economy, and facilitate relief efforts. The critical strategies that enable ICTs are protection of property rights and minimal barriers to competition.
 
South Sudan provides examples of the importance of ICT. Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative’s Youth Peacemaker Network tells the stories of John from Twic East Country whose life was spared by a phone call warning of an impending attack, and of Gai Awan, Artha Akoo Kaka, and Moga Martin from Numule whose ICT trainings opened employment and education opportunities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explains how ICT can help protect refugees: Biometrics enabled Housna Ali Kuku, a single mother of four, to obtain precisely scheduled treatments for her respiratory tract infection and for her children. GPS is used to identify sources of diseases and to track their spread.
 
A World Bank study by Tim Kelly and David Souter identified five themes in post-conflict recovery and how ICT plays critical roles.

Ebola: How a people’s science helped end an epidemic

Duncan Green's picture

Guest book review from Anita Makri, an editor and writer going freelance after 5+ years with SciDev.Net. (@anita_makri)

I’m sure that to readers of this blog the Ebola epidemic that devastated West Africa a couple of years ago needs no introduction (just in case, here’s a nice summary by the Guardian’s health editor). So I’ll cut to the chase, and to a narrative that at the time was bubbling underneath more familiar debates about responding to health crises – you know, things like imperfect governance, fragile health systems, drug shortages.

All of them important, but this narrative was new. It was about fear, communication and cooperation – the human and social side of the crisis (explored in a SciDev.Net collection I commissioned at the time). There was also an unsettling undercurrent to it – one that conveyed ‘otherness’ and ignorance on the part of West Africans, fuelled by reports of violence against health workers and of communities resisting expert advice against risky funeral rites.

But if you listened closely, you could just about make out the voices of anthropologists trying to dispel notions that these reactions were about exotic or traditional cultures. Paul Richards was one of those voices, and luckily he’s put together a rare account of evidence, theory and experience in a book that should trigger real reflection on how we can do better in handling similar crises (hint: more listening).

Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic tells the story of the epidemic through the eyes of someone with intimate knowledge of the region and the rules that influence human interactions – very much an anthropologist’s perspective, not an epidemiologist’s. The book turns the mainstream discourse on its head, putting what Richards calls “people’s science” on an equal footing with the more orthodox science behind the international response. It captures how people and experts adapted to each other, falling into a process of knowledge co-production.

An example of how private corporations can help end poverty in China: Alibaba and the “Internet + Poverty Reduction”

Ruidong Zhang's picture
This blog is part of a series produced to commemorate End Poverty Day (October 17), focusing on China – which has contributed more than any other country to global poverty reduction – and its efforts to end extreme poverty by 2020. Read the blog series here. 

Following a 2009 earthquake in Qingchuan County, Sichuan Province, Alibaba introduced the “Internet + Poverty Reduction” model, with the core concept to boost economic development in the affected areas with a business model that empowers people to move out of poverty using the Internet.

Alibaba announced its rural e-commerce strategy in October 2014, with a plan to invest RMB100 million (about $14.8 million) over the next three to five years in the development of local e-commerce service systems for 1,000 counties with 100,000 villages.

The program provides valuable services in three areas:
  1. Easy and affordable access to goods and services in poor areas including: delivery of consumer goods to rural areas and farm produce to cities, mobile phone recharge, utility bills payment, booking airline and train tickets, making hotel reservations, as well as microfinance, online medical consultation, and online learning;
  2. Provision of ecosystem support for sustainable rural development, including raising awareness about the Internet among local officials, building the capacity of local firms to use the Internet for business, Internet skills training for young people and farmers; and
  3. Infrastructure development for the new economy, including logistics infrastructure, payment systems, financial services, cloud computing and data collection. 
By mid-2016, Alibaba’s Rural Taobao Program established “Internet+” service systems in 18,000 villages in 400 counties (including about 200 poorest counties) in 29 provinces, and recruited more than 20,000 Taobao partners and helpers. In July, Rural Taobao launched its service-based 3.0 model, upgrading partners to rural service providers and village service stations to local service centers, business incubators and public-benefit cultural centers.
Alibaba’s “Internet + Poverty Reduction” features a number of innovations including e-commerce, job creation, access to finance, tourism development, education and healthcare.

The FinTech revolution: A perspective from Asia

José de Luna-Martínez's picture



Will cash and checks still exist 15 or 20 years from now given the increasing digitization of money? Is the smartphone our new bank? Will many people working in the financial sector industry lose their jobs due to growing use of technology, robots, algorithms, and online banking? Is financial technology (FinTech) the solution to providing financial services to the 2 billion people in the planet that still lack access to finance? Will digital currencies and other innovative FinTech products pose systemic risks in the future? What is the best approach to regulate FinTech companies?

Islamic finance in Malaysia: Filling the gaps in financial inclusion

José de Luna-Martínez's picture



In the past decade, the Islamic finance industry has grown at double digits despite the weak global economic environment. By 2020, the Islamic finance industry is projected to reach $3 trillion in total assets with 1 billion users. However, despite its rapid growth and enormous potential, 7 out of 10 adults still do not have access to a bank account in Muslim countries. This means that 682 million adult Muslims still do not have an account at a banking institution. While some Muslim countries have high levels of account ownership (above 90 percent), there are others with less than 5 percent of their adult population who reported having a bank account.

Habitat III will shape the future of cities. What will it mean for urban mobility?

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo credit: Rajarshi Mitra/Flickr

Next week, the international community will gather at Habitat III - the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development - to discuss important urban challenges as the world’s cities grow at an unprecedented rate.

Today, 54% of people live in cities and towns. Cities can be magnets for population growth and offer opportunities for jobs and social empowerment; but they can also be a source of congestion, exclusion and impoverishment. Which path of urban growth will prevail depends, in large part, on the quality and availability of mobility solutions. Transport is a structuring element of cities.

The reality of mobility in today’s cities is alarming— especially when measured against the four criteria that define sustainable mobility.

All text messages are not created equal

Pierre Guislain's picture
Photo credit: Adam Fagen/Flickr
Eight months after the launch of the World Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, I am happy to report that our efforts to operationalize the findings are well under way. For digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to broadband internet is key. This requires both robust broadband infrastructure, and the strengthening of analog complements to digital solutions, including a pro-competitive and effective regulatory framework, a sound business environment, good governance and digital skills.

One of our main areas of focus is the enabling environment – helping governments foster digital development by putting in place the right policies and regulations.

Now, what are some of the main issues?

First, across the world, but especially in developing countries, competitiveness continues to be dragged down by ‘red tape’, including numerous procedures, authorizations and delays to start a business or launch a service, costly and unreliable property registration, or stifling labor regulations. I am sure you are all familiar with the Doing Business report and the World Bank’s many programs to support business reforms worldwide.

While the digital industry also faces these regulatory hurdles, it is confronted with additional challenges.

Let me give you an example. With your phone in hand, you are about to send a text message to a friend. Your phone offers you a choice: to send the text message through your mobile operator, or to send it via the internet through an app. Depending on what platform you use, your text message will be taxed differently. All text messages are not created equal: different digital services are treated differently from a regulatory and fiscal point of view, with no real level playing field.

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