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information and communication for development (ICT4D)

Towards a free, open and secure Internet

Samia Melhem's picture
Photo: Free Press/flickr
The world is becoming more digitized, interconnected and dependent on the Internet for opportunities and economic growth. Today, there are 7.4 billion cellular phone subscriptions in the world, which means citizens of the poorest countries can access cell phones more easily than toilets and sanitation.
 
The Internet of Things (IoT), which brings in the promises (and perils) of totally interconnected devices, is already mainstreamed in our everyday lives, with sensor-equipped cars, phones, utility meters and even houses. Our refrigerators, equipped with sensors, are making decisions for us, based on their capacity to analyze data and execute embedded algorithms related to dietary needs.
 
But how can these advances help ensure more free, open, secure and empowering connectivity rather than a host of undesirable side effects?
 
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which surveys the ICT sector on an annual basis through a formal survey involving regulators, operators and original equipment manufacturers – the Internet of Things (IoT) is currently composed of 25 billion connected devices around the world. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this number will grow to 50 billion devices worldwide by 2020.  These devices collect vast amounts of information on industrial, organizational and personal behavior, and gathers users’ preferences that can be leveraged to improve delivery of products and services, health, education, entertainment and shopping.
 
Therefore, IoT will bring important socio-economic advantages to those connected – but without guidance, proper policies, legislation and globally adopted codes of conduct (“netiquette” as we used to call it), it could also bring a range of challenges.

Exploring Digital India's transformative plans

Rajendra Kumar's picture
In August 2014, the Government of India approved Digital India, an ambitious national program aimed at transforming India into a knowledge economy and making government services more efficient and available to all citizens electronically. Over the next three years, the program envisions a national optical fiber network will connect thousands of India’s most distant gram panchayats — village-level governments — with a total population of more than 800 million.

This infrastructure will support government reform and change the way services are delivered. It is also expected that the program will help create thousands of new IT jobs, give a boost to the domestic manufacturing of electronics and, as a spin-off effect, lead to emergence of new services and flourishing e-commerce.
 
India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) is the agency that help develop and now is driving the implementation of this transformative agenda. We asked Dr. Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary for e-Government, to tell us more about Digital India, the challenges this program is meant to address and the solutions that are envisaged. Read Dr. Kumar’s selected responses below, and click here to download the full version of the interview.

Digital India, the ambitious initiative of the Indian Government, aims to bridge digital divide and bring high-speed Internet and government services to the rural and underprivileged parts of the country by 2019. What are the key development challenges that Digital India is addressing and why was investment in ICTs chosen as the main solution?

India is sitting on the cusp of a big information technology (IT) revolution. We have to leverage our massive Indian talent and information and communication technologies (ICTs) as growth engines for a better India tomorrow. This is embodied in the following statement: IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (India Tomorrow).

Crystallizing a digital strategy in the "Pearl of Arabia"

Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi's picture
Known as the “Pearl of Arabia“ for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is also striving to adopt economic reforms that are in accordance with global market expectations and demands of our time. The country is currently undergoing a transition to a knowledge-based economy as outlined in its economic vision 2020. Information and communication technologies are at the core of this transformation, serving as the key enabler of economic diversification.
 
A view of Muscat, Oman's capital.
Photo: Andrew Moore, flickr

Oman’s national e-Governance initiative — which is called eOman — came into effect in 2003 and since then has been serving as the main framework for Oman’s digital transformation, including ICT industry and infrastructure development, creation of better public services and development of human capital. Since 2009, Oman has been consistently recognized by the United Nations Public Service Programme for its efforts.
 
We asked Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi, Chief Executive Officer of the Information Technology Authority (ITA) of Oman — the agency responsible for the implementation of eOman strategy — to share with us the key solutions his agency has been working on to tackle the country’s development challenges and to highlight some of the lessons learned. Read Dr. Al-Ruzaiqi’s selected responses below, or download the full version of the interview here

Can you tell us some of the key points of the Oman Digital Strategy (e.oman)?
Let me start first by emphasizing that His Majesty’s grand vision of diversifying the Omani economy was the key driver of embarking on developing and implementing e.oman. This grand vision was set out in the economic vision 2020 that included transforming Oman into a sustainable knowledge based society. In His address to Oman Council in November 2008, His Majesty stressed the need to develop the technological and practical skills of citizens and provide them with the resources and training required to enhance their capabilities and incentivize them to seek knowledge. His Majesty also directed the Government to simplify processes, adopt technology in its daily operation, and focus on electronic delivery of its services.

Big steps toward Ghana’s digital future

Kaoru Kimura's picture
“Digitization” is a relatively niche topic in within information and communication technology (ICT), but the demand for “digitization” in the development field has grown significantly over the last few years, especially in Africa.

When we say “digitization”, you may think that it is just scanning or capturing paper records into a digital format. That’s partially correct, but the actual work cycle of digitization goes beyond what you think. It includes the whole process of transforming the data on paper records into “digital data,” which we can identify, search, access, retrieve, update, and archive electronically.

The steps toward digitization start with categorizing physical (original) paper records (e.g. sorting, listing and boxing) and assessment of the volume of workload.  The depth and potential impact of digitization is huge. The digitized records will reduce errors and transaction costs in public administration. They will also improve government accountability and the quality of national statistics.

Eventually, digitization will support more timely and accurate data to a country’s Open Data Portal. Digital public records data from different government entities could be integrated, and eventually the government will provide more seamless and efficient public service delivery (e.g. births registry linked to issuance of national ID, passport or driver’s license). In addition, the process of “digitization” will result in the creation of digital job opportunities for unemployed youth who have been trained to digitize records.

Through collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s “Digital Jobs in Africa” initiatives, our team delivered a Digitization Capacity Building Program late last year. The main objective of this program was to build the institutional capacity of priority government agencies that are managing critical public records and therefore have a powerful need for digitization.

Online outsourcing is creating opportunities for job seekers and job creators

Toks Fayomi's picture
Meet  Joan, a 24-year-old online outsourcing entrepreneur in Kenya. Joan started working online when she was 21 and still in university. Today, she has her own business, employs five people and earns approximately US$800 per month after paying her staff.
 
Joan and many others are profiled in a new study on online outsourcing (OO), entitled “Leveraging the Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing,” which will be published in late March 2015.

The study, developed by the World Bank in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa Initiative, is the first publication to summarize and analyze global experiences in OO. It provides a better understanding of OO’s potential impact on human capital and employment, as well as explores possible ways that governments can improve their competitiveness in the OO market. The study includes case studies from Nigeria and Kenya, and an online toolkit to assess country competitiveness.

The criterion problem: Measuring the legal identity target in the post-2015 agenda

Mariana Dahan's picture
 Legal identity credentials are essential for social protection
and full participation in societies and economies.

​The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target #16.9 puts the spotlight on the role of identification in development:
 
“By 2030 provide legal identity for all, including birth registration.”

In our earlier research, we’ve explored how achieving this goal can facilitate the realization of many other SDG targets.  The recognition of legal identity – together with its associated rights – is becoming a priority for governments around the world. But how should progress towards this goal be measured? 

The SDG process is led by United Nations (UN) member states with broad participation from other stakeholders. Currently, an inter-agency group is establishing the list of quantitative indicators for monitoring progress towards the SDG goals. The final list of core indicators, developed using specific criteria, is not intended to be prescriptive, but rather to take into account the country setting and the views of stakeholders in preparing country-level reports.

Several criteria are guiding this effort to determine which core indicators should be retained: they should be relevant, methodologically sound, measurable and easy to understand and communicate. Both the World Bank and the Center for Global Development have been contributing to the discussions on the core indicators to measure progress on SDG goals. 

Means versus ends: Deconstructing the Sustainable Development Goals and the role of identification

Mariana Dahan's picture
The post-2015 development agenda is being shaped as we speak. The United Nations recently released a report that synthesizes the full range of inputs received from various stakeholders. These inputs, among which the ones from the World Bank Group, are a substantive contribution to the intergovernmental negotiations in the lead up to the September 2015 Summit that will officially launch the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

But today, with 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs are a big mouthful for the global development community to chew on, let alone to digest. Some see a risk that they will be simply unimplementable.

However, the problem becomes a little more manageable if we reflect on the means towards the goals. Not all of the goals are unrelated. Measures towards some targets can open up new ways to achieve others. 

Consider, for example, target 16.9: By 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration. These are actually two different, though related, targets as explained in the recent working paper by the Center for Global Development. Regardless the modalities to achieve it, the recognition of legal identity – together with its associated rights – is becoming a priority for governments around the world. Although there is no one model for providing legal identity, this SDG would urge states to ensure that all have free or low-cost access to widely accepted, robust identity credentials.[1]

With legal identity – including name, nationality and recognized family relationships – one of the basic human rights set out in the Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be achieved and target 16.9 can stand on its own merits.

Discussing India's Open Data Initiative: where next?

Oleg Petrov's picture

More than 200 high-level federal and state officials in India will convene on December 11 in New Delhi, for the India National Open Data and Open API Conference. The conference is organized by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in the Government of India and National Informatics Centre (NIC).

Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Honorable Minister of Communications and Information Technology, will deliver the keynote address. The World Bank is pleased to support this event and to bring leading international experts — including Jeanne Holm, Senior Open Data Consultant at the World Bank and former evangelist for the U.S. Government's Data.gov, and Laura Manley, Project Manager of Open Data 500 at GovLab in New York University — to share knowledge and hold discussions about the advancement of India’s Open Data initiative.
 
Over the course of the conference, participants will discuss India’s Open Data policy and platform, gain insights of the officials from several federal and state agencies, and hear about latest best practices on Open API policy. Social aspects, including community engagement with Open Government data, will also be covered.

Can urban innovation ecosystems be developed with little broadband infrastructure?

Victor Mulas's picture
We are witnesses to the surge of tech startup ecosystems in cities around the world, in both developed and developing countries.

In my previous blog post, I showed this trend and the studies that confirm it. Among the questions we are researching to map urban innovation ecosystems is whether there is a minimum set of requirements for these ecosystems to emerge — for example, in relation to infrastructure or the population's technical skills. What we are encountering is that, although you need a minimum level of infrastructure (e.g., at least some broadband connectivity and mobile phone networks), this level is much lower than many people expect. 

A city does not need to have 4G mobile broadband or widespread fiber-optic fixed broadband widespread. It is enough to have broadband connection in some key points (particularly hubs and collaboration spaces) and basic mobile phone coverage and use (such as 2G mobile phone service). A similar conclusion is applicable to the skill level of the population. The results of the study of New York tech ecosystem shows that almost half of the employment created by the ecosystem does not require a bachelor’s degree.

In this blog post, I present the case of Nairobi and the tech start-up ecosystems emerging in Africa. I'll also explore how these ecosystems can not only surge, but also compete internationally despite having limited broadband connectivity (both mobile and fixed). 
 
Map of Accelerators and Collaboration Spaces in Nairobi. Source: Manske, Julia. 2014. Innovations Out of Africa. The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem.

Categorizing the collaboration and community promotion spaces that make urban innovation ecosystems tick

Victor Mulas's picture
A variety of collaboration spaces are spreading across urban innovation ecosystems. This makes sense intuitively, because collaboration spaces create and — in some cases — manage and sustain the communities that make the ecosystem exist and grow. 
 
Collaboration space in Barcelona, Spain.
​Photo: Victor Mulas

I believe that collaboration spaces are, in fact, one of the key elements to create and grow urban innovation ecosystems in cities. Our current research in mapping urban innovation is starting to provide results that seem to validate this hypothesis. We are seeing that collaboration spaces that create and manage communities are critical nodes of city urban innovation ecosystems. 

We will share more results about this analysis in future blogs but given the relevance of these spaces, I summarized what I believe are the most relevant categories of collaboration spaces. This list, which I prepared for a paper I am working on, is not prescriptive and it is not closed by any means. To the contrary, it just presents a starting point and I welcome comments to expand and refine these categories.

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