The way we communicate, produce, and relate to technology is evolving quickly.
Tell me something I don’t know, you’ll say.
That’s where Benedict Evans, a prominent tech guru from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz ('a16z') in Silicon Valley, comes in. In a recent presentation at the World Bank (Mobile is Eating the World) Evans shared inspiring, and at times, unnerving insights on how technology is shaping our world and how it might impact the global development community. Here are some key takeaways:
Information and Communication Technologies
The way we communicate, produce, and relate to technology is evolving quickly.
As we explained in previous posts, digital technologies present both threats and opportunities for the employment agenda in developing countries. Yet many countries lack the means to take full advantage of these opportunities, because of limited access to technology, a lack of skills, and the absence of a broad enabling environment, the so-called “analog” complements.
Standing in line to sign up for the Digital Youth Summit in Peshawar this May, I struck up a conversation with a young woman from Peshawar. I was pleasantly surprised by her level of interest and eagerness in participating at the tech conference. She was keen to develop an app that would allow her to sell home-based food products at a national level. She had already gathered a group of friends who would work with her on different aspects of task planning and implementation. Her enthusiasm was palpable and infectious. Born and raised in South Asia, I understand the constraints local women face in largely male dominated societies. I was therefore heartened by the large turn-out of women queuing to enroll for the workshops.
In the fiscal transparency arena, people often hear two conflicting claims. First, governments complain that few people take advantage of fiscal information that they make publicly available. Many countries - including fragile and low-income countries such as Togo and Haiti – have been opening up their budgets to public scrutiny by making fiscal data available, often through web portals.
Increasing the supply of fiscal information, however, often does not translate to the adequate demand and usage required to bring some of the intended benefits of transparency such as increased citizen engagement, and accountability. Providing a comprehensive budget dataset to the public does not guarantee that citizens, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the media will start digging through the numbers.
Examples abound of leading tech companies that have adopted open source strategy and contribute actively to open source tools and communities. Google, for example, has been a long contributor to open source with projects – such as its popular mobile operating system, Android – and recently launched a directory of the numerous projects. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is another major advocate, running most of its cloud services using open source software, and is adopting an open source strategy to better contribute back to the wider community. But can, and should, public institutions embrace an open source philosophy?
In fact, organizations of all types are increasingly taking advantage of the many benefits open source can bring in terms of cost-effectiveness, better code, lower barriers of entry, flexibility, and continual innovation. Clearly, these many benefits not only address the many misconceptions and stereotypes about open source software, but are also energizing new players to actively participate in the open source movement. Organizations like the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) have been systematically adopting and leveraging open sources best practices for their geospatial technology, and even the U.S. Federal Government has also adopted a far-reaching open source policy to spur innovation and foster civic engagement.
So, how can the World Bank – an institution that purchases and develops a significant amount of software – also participate and contribute to these communities? How can we make sure that, in the era of the ‘knowledge Bank’, digital and re-usable public goods (including open source software, data, and research) are available beyond single projects or reports?
With financial inclusion now established as an objective for most financial sector policymakers worldwide, the day-to-day responsibility for ensuring its achievement in a responsible, consumer-friendly, and evidence-based manner often falls to financial sector supervisors. Two challenges are particularly relevant: first, with an increased policy focus on financial inclusion, supervisors are often tasked with adapting reporting systems to collect granular data to monitor financial inclusion and inform policy. For example, how many customers are using each product? Are newly opened accounts active or dormant? What is the rate of growth of agent networks in rural areas?
Second, in a given market in order to improve competition and consumer choice, and ultimately financial inclusion. This means that non-bank FSPs such as mobile network operators (MNOs), fintech companies, financial cooperatives and microfinance institutions are increasingly brought under the supervisory mandate of supervisory authorities. This presents a significant challenge for financial sector supervisors who must cover a large and diverse set of FSPs with distinct risk profiles and capacities, stretching their already limited resources. Collecting and analyzing accurate, relevant, and timely information from these providers is at the heart of this supervisory challenge.
to address these challenges, an approach known to some as “suptech” (i.e. supervision technology). The National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) provides a case in point.
Most of the discussion about the future of work focuses on how many jobs robots will take from humans. But this is just a (small) part of the change to come. As we explained in our previous blog, The changes that digital technology is introducing in the price of capital versus labor, the costs of transacting, the economies of scale, and the speed of innovation bring significant effects in three dimensions: the quantity, the quality, and the distribution of jobs. Let’s see them in detail.
An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide cannot officially prove their identity, according to the 2017 update of the World Bank's Identification for Development (ID4D) Global Dataset.
How do we prove who we are to the people and institutions with whom we interact? Imagine trying to open your first bank account, prove your eligibility for health insurance, or apply for university without an ID; quality of life and opportunities become severely restricted. An officially-recognized form of ID is the key enabler – critical not only for exercising a wide range of rights but also for accessing healthcare, education, finance, and other essential services. According to the World Bank Group’s latest estimates, this is problematic for an estimated 1.1 billion people around the globe.
Addressing this most basic barrier was the rationale behind the international community’s decision to set target 16.9 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by the year 2030. It was also the impetus for the World Bank Group’s launch of the Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative in 2014.
In order to work effectively towards this ambitious goal, governments and development partners need to understand the scale of the challenge – and every year the World Bank Group updates the ID4D Global Dataset to do just that. Using a combination of publicly available data (e.g. birth registration coverage rates from UNICEF) and self-reported data from ID agencies, we estimate the population without an officially recognized ID in 198 economies. In addition, we collate relevant qualitative information such as details on the agencies and ministries responsible, and the prevalence of systems which are digital (now introduced in 133 economies, but not necessarily with full coverage in each).
Also available in: Tiếng Việt
It’s nighttime and the streets are bustling in Vietnam’s cities and towns. Buoyed by years of strong growth, the country has a burgeoning middle class with purchasing power to sustain restaurants and cafes, full and open late into the night, busy retailers and a high penetration of mobile phones – more than one per person. The economy, however, continues to run on cash and a majority of adults still don’t have formal financial services such as a basic transaction account. Moving to a “non-cash” system is a priority for the government to increase efficiency, promote business and economic development and reduce poverty including in remote rural areas where traditional financial providers have difficulty reaching.
Since 2016 the State Bank of Vietnam, the country’s central bank, has been partnering with the World Bank Group on a comprehensive approach to financial inclusion which will result in a national financial inclusion strategy. While still in development, several key elements of the strategy are clear: a focus on digital finance including shifts in government payments to digital products and platforms; providing financial services to rural and agricultural communities and ethnic minorities, where growth has lagged and poverty rates are above the national average; and strengthening consumer protection and financial education so that the next generation of consumers are prepared for a modern financial marketplace.
Recent conversations I have had about the value of regulation and private participation in telecoms has prompted me to do some quick calculations using the Caribbean as a test case. The results? Market reforms have had significant impacts in the region.
Reforms in the Caribbean began in the late 1980s although start times vary greatly across the region. Drives varied, including prompting by the World Bank Group, by the United States, and by potential private investors. Sometimes leading countries in the region served as examples for others to follow.