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Information and Communication Technologies

Powering up Africa through innovation

Simon Bell's picture
Recent World Bank investment climate surveys find that the top two constraints for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Africa are access to finance and access to energy. Given that SMEs contribute disproportionately to boosting job creation, GDP, and exports, addressing these two constraints is critical to promoting economic development on the continent.
 
A new project combining skills across the World Bank Group and IFC is taking advantage of disruptive advances in the energy and finance sectors to address these longstanding challenges for SMEs.
 
Current access to electricity remains woefully low and is a major impediment to economic growth. More than half of Africa’s population isn’t connected to the energy grid and has no access to reliable power. At the same time, fewer than 50% of adults have an account with a formal financial institution.
 
In recent years, however, two important developments have made it possible to begin addressing these challenges:
  1. Off-grid energy solutions—notably solar power—have fallen dramatically in price with new business models working to scale them
  2. New digital-based financing mechanisms, such as crowdfunding, cryptocurrencies, peer-to-peer lending, psychometric testing, big data, and blockchain have emerged as tools for under-served finance markets.

There are strong parallels in these advances for both sectors. Whereas both energy and finance are traditionally provided by large-scale, centralized service providers—state-owned electricity utilities and large commercial banks, respectively—new solutions have effectively decentralized and democratized the provision of these services. Now a range of smaller, innovative companies can provide these services and consumers can go “off-the-grid” for both their energy and financial needs.
 

Anne Mwaniki, CEO of Solimpexs Africa, a Kenyan company producing solar-powered heating systems.
Photo © infoDev / World Bank

In Singapore, exponential technologies flourish and forward-looking policies are being established to address development challenges

Paramita Dasgupta's picture
Singapore delivers for its talented entrepreneurs by extending assistance, financing, and incentives. In the last decade, Singapore has invested more than US$22 billion into helping companies develop and test new products and solutions. As a result, the number of start-ups in Singapore multiplied from 24,000 in 2005 to 55,000 in 2014.
 
Photo Credit: Mike Behnken

Data on firms by firms: how companies like Gap could remove investment barriers

Andreja Marusic's picture
To invest or not to invest? When determining whether to enter a new market, businesses must fully understand the potential risks and opportunities. To do so, they need access to information on relevant market players, such as potential suppliers, customers or competitors. While governments require businesses to supply data when registering as well as throughout their operation, these repositories of data held by business registries, tax authorities, statistical offices and other registries are often not updated properly nor are they made available to the general public in a comprehensive way.

The Internet of Things – from hype to reality

Prasanna Lal Das's picture
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Sensors in elevators that alert government agencies to public safety risks; data from school bags to keep children safe; garbage trucks with the smarts to save cities money… The Internet of Things (IoT) will change everything. That is the conventional wisdom. We set out to look for evidence of this change in the government. How fast is it coming? Is it real? And our findings were mixed – sobering, but also encouraging.

On the plus side, we found government agencies keen to apply IoT to improve their business environment or reduce the burden on businesses while simultaneously increasing compliance. On the downside, very few IoT initiatives have been scaled beyond pilots, the business models to sustain IoT infrastructure are under-developed, and the policy landscape is woefully inadequate. There’s significant potential but it requires systematic, informed work by the government, private sector, and civil society.

A new generation of CEOs: Running a business in West Africa as a woman

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

What is it like to set up and run an incubator as a woman? The answer, much like anywhere else in the world for working women, is that it’s complicated.

In many countries, it’s still unusual to see women working in certain sectors. Regina Mbodj, CTIC Dakar CEO, knows very few women in Senegal who studied ICT. “When I came home and told people about my studies, a lot of people responded, 'I thought only men did that!'"

Mariem Kane, an engineer by training and now president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC, said that career development can be difficult for women who have been trained in hard skills. “It’s tough for women to find opportunities in these sectors and, because we’re considered more suited to softer skills, we aren’t given the opportunity to prove ourselves.”

World Bank partners with LinkedIn for innovative data and insights on South Africa's most in-demand skills

Alan Fritzler's picture
When policymakers understand what’s happening in the economy—in real time and with real clarity—they can create better solutions to improve productivity, performance, and innovation.
 

A new generation of CEOs: Businesswomen in Africa discuss gender inclusion in the private sector

Alexandre Laure's picture

Also available in: Français

As we saw in our second blog, entrepreneurship plays a critical role in promoting sustainable growth. Yet, in many West-African countries, long-standing stigmas against the private sector are still big obstacles for women and young people who aspire to become entrepreneurs.
 
Family support, in particular, remains critical for women’s career choices, and the private sector doesn’t always enjoy a good reputation among parents. “It’s very hard for them [parents] to understand why we want to do this instead of getting a steady government job,” says Binta NdiayeMakeSense Africa CEO. “My mother is an entrepreneur, but she did that on top of her regular job and raising a family in France, so it’s not seen as a career in-and-of-itself.”
 
“Entrepreneurship is inherently risky, so if you don’t have that support and encouragement, or even your family’s blessing to go for it, I can understand that it could be extremely challenging for some women,” says Mariem Kane, founder and president of Mauritania’s incubator Hadina RIMTIC.

Ndiaye for one, though, is not deterred: “It’s up to us to educate them on this potential and to have the resolve to follow-through. If you can convince skeptical parents, you can convince any investor.” 
 
Considering that these incubators are run by women, do they make special efforts to recruit women entrepreneurs?
 
Lisa Barutel founder and CEO of La Fabrique, acknowledges that even though La Fabrique received a huge response to a recent call for proposals targeting women, far fewer apply to general calls that do not have a specific focus on women entrepreneurship. “Normally we don’t go out looking for candidates, as we can be inundated with applications, but when we noticed this discrepancy, we did launch a program to identify women with potential,” she says.

Re<Boot>: A more inclusive approach to rapid skills training programs

Alicia Hammond's picture

Digital technologies—mobile phones, computers, and the Internet—are reshaping our world. But to leverage this transformation, women and men will need to have the right mix of skills. Coding bootcamps, a type of rapid skills training program, have emerged as one approach to filling the gap.
 
Yet little is known about what works. In response, the World Bank Group developed Decoding Bootcamps, an initiative that evaluates the impact of coding bootcamps, with a focus on youth employment in emerging markets. Impact evaluation results from Lebanon, Colombia, and Kenya are forthcoming, but one important lesson has already become clear: To attract and retain women, bootcamps need a reboot.
 
With the support of the Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality, teams working on innovation and entrepreneurship, social inclusion, and gender equality have come together to design and test the impact of a different approach: coding bootcamps centered on the needs of women.
 
As groundwork, we set out to learn from providers who are trying to achieve this goal. Their experiences highlight three ways in which ICT skills training can attract, retain and help women thrive.

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