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In Africa, technology and human capital go hand in hand

Sheila Jagannathan's picture
Photo: eLearning Africa
Rwanda’s progress from the devastating civil war two decades ago to one of the most rapidly developing African countries is a remarkable narrative on development.

Twenty-four years ago, the country was torn apart by civil war and one of the worst genocides human history has known; one in which more than a million people were killed in only three months.

Now, with years of sustained economic growth—predicted to be around 6.5% this year, the country is well on the way to achieving many of the ambitious development goals set out in the Rwandan Government’s ‘Vision 2020.’ This strategy seeks to move away from agriculture and rely instead on services and knowledge as the new engines of economic growth, with the objective of achieving middle-income status in the near term.

I had the privilege of getting a snapshot view of Rwanda’s success during the few days I spent in the country last month attending elearning Africa 2018, the continent’s largest conference on technology-assisted learning and training. The choice of Kigali as the location for this year’s conference is highly symbolic: Rwanda has put education and skills at the heart of its national strategy, and can send a powerful message to other African countries about the importance of investing in human capital to support overall development.

Improved internet access connects Somali students to each other and global knowledge

Roku Fukui's picture
In this day and age, writing an academic thesis without access to scholarly research or the internet sounds virtually impossible. Yet this is the reality experienced by many university students in Somalia, which has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world. The lack of digital connectivity drastically inhibits learning across the country, and can prevent the education sector from fulfilling its role as a driver of economic and social development.
 
In an effort to change this circumstance, the Somali Research and Education Network (SomaliREN) has brought several higher education institutions together under a single umbrella to improve connectivity in education facilities, foster digital learning communities, and promote academic content for Somali students.
 
Launched on July 18, the SomaliREN is currently made up of 19 institutions. It maintains its own network operations center, and has already deployed a 155 Mbit/s connection to seven universities, translating into roughly 20 Mbps of bandwidth for each institution.

How can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

Simeon Ehui's picture
Also available in: Français 
Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank
There’s no question that agriculture is critical to Africa’s biggest development goals. It is fundamental for poverty reduction, economic growth and environment sustainability. African food market continues to grow. It is estimated that African food markets will triple to US$1 trillion from its current US$300 billion value. Farming accounts for 60% of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa—and food system jobs account for even more. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the food system is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025.

And yet, Africa’s agriculture sector is facing serious challenges. Agricultural productivity in Africa lags behind other regions. One in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished. Africa’s food system is further strained by rapid population growth and climate change. The food security challenge will only grow as climate change intensifies, threatening crop and livestock production. If no adaptation occurs, production of maize—which is one of Africa’s staple crops—could decline by up to 40% by 2050. Clearly, business as usual approaches to agriculture in Africa aren’t fit for transforming the sector to meet its full potential.

Digital technology could be part of the solution. But how can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

It’s instructive to look at startups, which are an emerging force in Africa’s agriculture sector.

Need better maps? Take it to the crowd!

Charles Fox's picture
A detailed map of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Open Street Map
Amateur mappers the world over have long known that they can support global development, from the comfort of their homes, through one simple tool: OpenStreetMap (OSM). What has been less clear is how we can build this effort into the fabric of World Bank operations.

OSM has revolutionized geography. It is the ‘Wikipedia’ of mapping: anyone can edit the map by tracing features such as roads and buildings against free, high-quality satellite imagery. In contrast to other map services, the platform is entirely open:  anyone can download a layer of the roads and buildings that make up the map. It is built for the people, by the people, in all regions of the world. It epitomizes the best features of open digital collaboration: leading-edge technology made freely available to all, regardless of location. Because everyone can contribute, OSM maps are often much more complete than commercial alternatives—especially in areas that are hard to survey, such as informal settlements].

The World Bank makes frequent use of OSM for research purposes, and occasionally supports one-off initiatives to complete OSM maps in specific areas, e.g. after natural disasters (Nepal and Haiti are recent examples). But we have put less effort into nurturing the community of altruistic mapping volunteers who make OSM so special, and play a critical role in keeping the map updated over time.

A recent series of initiatives, however, is bucking that trend.
 

Mogadishu’s first tech hub

Roku Fukui's picture
Photo: UNSOM/Flickr
Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu is defined by a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. Despite political and economic struggles, Somalis are innovating to break the chronic cycle of vulnerability. Supported in many cases by the international Somali diaspora, people in Mogadishu are using technology to solve problems and tap into new markets.

One initiative poised to accelerate this is the iRise Tech Hub, Mogadishu’s first innovation hub, co-founded by Awil Osman. iRise connects entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups to share ideas and collaborate on a variety of issues ranging from developing an online food delivery startup, to creating an open space for Somalis to incubate ideas. The Somali concept of Ilawadaag—roughly translated as ‘share with me’—is put into practice at iRise to help entrepreneurs get feedback and network with other innovators.

World Bank Group Youth Summit: A competition to remember

Marne Dunn's picture


The nature of the workforce is changing. By 2030, 50% of today’s jobs will be redundant. In the United States, 47% of current jobs are predicted to be automated. Participating in the workforce of the future will require the ability to innovate through technology. Since Intel is seeking to redefine what it means to be an innovator by expanding who has access to technology skills and experiences, the annual World Bank Youth Summit in Washington DC was an ideal venue to engage with young entrepreneurs.

On December 4th – 5th, the World Bank Group welcomed 400 youth from over 100 countries to the 2017 event focused on Technology and Innovation for Impact and included a competition in which six finalists pitched their ideas to attendees and expert judges. I was graciously selected by the Youth Summit to participate as an expert judge. Finalists were selected from more than 500 applicants and were limited to seven minutes to pitch their ideas making sure to cover the following criteria:

  • Clarity, scope, and relevance of the problem and of the proposed solution
  • Innovation and originality
  • Feasibility of implementation
  • Potential for impact

The finalists’ projects ranged from concept to implemented and included weather insurance for farmers in Mali, e-clinics for women in Pakistan, energy reform using blockchain in India, mobile application for charity in South Africa, a platform to formalize the domestic worker sector in Southeast Asia, and the collection of vital statistics in neonatal health services in Nigeria.

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.

Are you reaping the full benefits of the technology revolution?

Sara Sultan's picture

 
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.

Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.

So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?

Agriculture 2.0: how the Internet of Things can revolutionize the farming sector

Hyea Won Lee's picture
Nguyen Van Khuyen (right) and To Hoai Thuong (left). Photo: Flore de Preneuf/World Bank
Last year, we showcased how Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta are adapting to climate change. You met two shrimp farmers: Nguyen Van Khuyen, who lost his shrimp production due to an exceptionally dry season that made his pond too salty for raising shrimp, and To Hoai Thuong, who managed to maintain normal production levels by diluting his shrimp pond with fresh water. Now, let’s suppose Nguyen diluted his shrimp pond this year, another year with an extremely dry season. That would be a good start, but there would be other issues to contend with related to practical application. For example, when should he release fresh water and how much? How often should he check the water salinity? And what if he’s out of town?
 
Nguyen’s story illustrates some of the problems global agriculture faces, and how they unfold for farmers on the ground. Rapid population growth, dietary shifts, resource constraints, and climate change are confronting farmers who need to produce more with less. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70% to meet the projected demand by 2050. Efficient management and optimized use of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizer will be essential. However, managing these inputs efficiently is difficult without consistent and precise monitoring. For smallholder farmers, who account for 4/5 of global agricultural production from developing regions, getting the right information would help increase production gains. Unfortunately, many of them still rely on guess work, rather than data, for their farming decisions.
 
This is where agriculture can get a little help from the Internet of Things (IoT)—or internet-enabled communications between everyday objects. Through the IoT, sensors can be deployed wherever you want–on the ground, in water, or in vehicles–to collect data on target inputs such as soil moisture and crop health. The collected data are stored on a server or cloud system wirelessly, and can be easily accessed by farmers via the Internet with tablets and mobile phones. Depending on the context, farmers can choose to manually control connected devices or fully automate processes for any required actions. For example, to water crops, a farmer can deploy soil moisture sensors to automatically kickstart irrigation when the water-stress level reaches a given threshold.

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