In the 1990s and early 2000s, the World Bank Group and other development partners actively promoted the mobile revolution, opening up telecommunication sectors that were largely monopolistic and state-owned. The mobile phone, which was seen initially as a luxury good, became a key driver of growth and social inclusion in Africa, South Asia and throughout the world.
Having a formally recognized form of identity provides the poor and vulnerable with the opportunity to climb out of poverty. This is critical for achieving a wide range of development outcomes: from opening a bank account and paving the way for broader financial inclusion to accessing education services, tracking childhood vaccinations, and empowering women. It can also strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of the state in providing critical services, such as government to person (G2P) payments, and reduce unnecessary waste of resources through better targeting.
With the advances in technology including biometrics, data management, and the ubiquity of mobile connectivity, there is an unprecedented opportunity to deliver services faster and more efficiently than ever before. And a country like India has also shown how, with these advances, a unique identity can be done at a scale not previously possible.
To reach the transformational potential of digital identification, the World Bank Group launched the Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative to support progress towards identification systems using 21st century solutions. We are shaping country priorities through technical assistance, financial support and global expertise. At present we are engaged with approximately 20 countries – either supporting through financial and technical advice, or through our assessment to determine gaps and help develop a forward looking roadmap.
The 2016 World Development Report on “Digital Dividends” paints a clear picture of the remaining digital gap and of the barriers that are keeping countries from reaping the dividends associated with the digital revolution. One of the key points that the report makes is that, for digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to high-speed internet is key.
- The quality and price of high-speed internet access still varies widely from country to country. For instance, the report shows that users in Pakistan pay less than US$1.50 per month per GB of mobile internet. But users in Africa can pay up to ten times that amount. These differences arise from policy failures as much as from differences in countries’ natural endowments.
- There is a need to enhance fixed broadband infrastructure. While mobile broadband has helped fill the gap for high-speed Internet access in developing countries, small screen devices are not necessarily suitable for running a digital business and mobile networks still need strong backhaul infrastructure.
- There is also a need to strengthen analog complements to digital technologies, such as regulations that create a vibrant business climate and skills that let firms leverage digital technologies to compete and innovate.
Should subsidies still be supported by countries, with donor funding, to help maintaining and streamlining service delivery in critical sectors, such as agriculture, energy and telecommunications? Debates have been ongoing for more than a decade.
But a recently published research work points out that well-targeted subsidies in the early stages of mobile technologies diffusion can play a determinant role in their massive adoption, helping to overcome initial confidence barriers, leveraging economies of scale, and, in the longer-term, triggering macroeconomic positive feedback mechanisms.
Evidence shows that information and communications technologies (ICT) — especially mobile telecommunications services — can lead to sustained economic growth and human development. Mobile telecommunications, without any doubt, have triggered many positive changes and impact in the developing world. They are by far the leading area of growth in the ICT sector. Because of this central role, mobile technologies are increasingly used as a transformational tool to foster economic growth, accelerate knowledge transfer, develop local capacities, raise productivity, and alleviate poverty in a variety of sectors.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are helping increase citizen participation, positively transforming the relation between citizens and their government, ultimately resulting in more effective public service delivery.
The immediacy and tragedy of acute poverty is exemplified by the distressing condition of not being able to buy food for a hungry child, or medicine for a sick infant, or finding money for a funeral. The help required in such situations may indeed be small, but can make a big difference in the life of a poor family. Modern information technologies hold the promise of helping the poor in radical and game changing ways.