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Bringing Space down to Earth

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Just over five decades ago humans sent the first artificial satellite into space-- Sputnik. At the time the World Bank was barely 10 years old and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) was just created. But, space has quickly grown to be a critical asset for our society, and increasingly indispensable for development. For instance, last week IFC announced an investment in a micro satellite company — Planet Labs, and at our event on Big Data for a More Resilient Future this week we displayed one so audience members could understand how small, agile, and mobile these machines have become since the days of Sputnik. Space’s role in society and development is the main narrative of the report that was just released by the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Space.
Satellites are not used, or made, only by developed countries. In fact, more than 60 countries own at least one of the roughly 1000 currently serving us. In space there are no borders, allowing for satellites to potentially offer us the same services regardless of location. This is especially important in development where remote sensing is able to provide new infrastructure, or complement traditional local infrastructure. Space services serve as socioeconomic enablers or multipliers, as they offer new and better types of data, faster turnover rates, consistency across wide geographic areas and long timeframes. The report discloses  more than 40 case studies that show the value of this on environment, weather and climate, education, food security, transportation, water resource management, disaster relief and response, just to name a few: all of which are relevant to the World Bank Group’s (WBG) twin goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity by 2030.
It is not surprising then that the report highlights efforts in space service that the WBG has pioneered and will continue to support. For instance, we use satellite images to monitor electrification in India or Vietnam; gather information after natural disasters; enable education in rural Africa; improve child health in Latin America; and improve traffic in Philippines.
Innovation Labs, housed in the WBG’s Leadership, Learning and Innovation (LLI) vice presidency recently held the 2015 Big Data Challenge where about 50% of the applications from across the entire institution included critical use of space assets. As a member of the Space Council at WEF, I have the chance to collaborate with fellow major stakeholders from other public entities, academic, private institutions, NGOs and civil society, all of which are focused on using space services to improve social outcomes. Our report is a testament to the shared recognition of value and highlights the growing role of Space in development.
Read the full report.


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