Over the past decade, delivery systems for safety net programs in developing countries, particularly in Africa, have been largely paper-based. Social assistance projects in these settings often conjured pictures of tedious long lines to fill out paper registration and attendance forms, ink-based thumb printing to receive payments, manual verification of beneficiaries using a combination of different ID cards, as well as high levels of unintentional administrative errors, corruption and fraud.
“When the company let us down, we only imposed a fine. We must be firm with companies and with vendors, otherwise they fail to fulfill their end. This is how to move the project forward”. This testimony impressed me a lot when I heard it from an indigenous woman in Bolivia, who was proud to be part of the steering committee and defend the interests of the community in the project.
Bolivia has a terrific success story to tell about encouraging rural women to take the lead in their communities and organizations and lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” ~ Albert Einstein
Today, conflicts have become more complex and last longer. About 2 billion people —about a third of the world’s population —now live in countries affected by conflict. This conflict is often linked to global challenges from climate change to human trafficking. Violent conflicts are no longer defined by national borders. They cost about $13.6 trillion every year and pose a significant threat to the 2030 agenda, which is why governments around the world are interested in taking more effective measures to prevent them.
Last Thursday I attended a conference on AI and Development organized by CEGA, DIME, and the World Bank’s Big Data groups (website, where they will also add video). This followed a World Bank policy research talk last week by Olivier Dupriez on “Machine Learning and the Future of Poverty Prediction” (video, slides). These events highlighted a lot of fast-emerging work, which I thought, given this blog’s focus, I would try to summarize through the lens of thinking about how it might help us in designing development interventions and impact evaluations.
A typical impact evaluation works with a sample S to give them a treatment Treat, and is interested in estimating something like:
Y(i,t) = b(i,t)*Treat(i,t) +D’X(i,t) for units i in the sample S
We can think of machine learning and artificial intelligence as possibly affecting every term in this expression:
Last week, the world came to attention when the famous Hulene dumpsite in Maputo, Mozambique collapsed under heavy rains, killing at least 16 people.
Buried under piles of waste were homes and people from one of the most impoverished settlements in Mozambique. Many members of this community made a living collecting and selling recyclables from the dumpsite, which had served as the final disposal site for greater Maputo since the 1960s.
Sadly, this tragedy did not stand alone.
, though thousands of other risky sites also exist around the globe. Fifteen million people make a living scavenging waste and are of the population disproportionately affected when poorly or unplanned disposal sites fail to function in the midst of ever-growing refuse and inclement weather. Those most vulnerable to the landslides of dumps are those living on or by these waste disposal sites. They are the ones who often power their cities’ recycling system.
This is true even in Africa, where the most studies have been published, due to shortcomings in both the quality and quantity of research on these questions.
- On VoxDev, Tanguy Bernard and co-authors on an experiment that provided quality certification for onions in Senegal, causing farmers to invest more in quality and raising farmer incomes...but with the sad post-note “In this particular case, the reform was discontinued under pressure from the long-distance middlemen who gain from the lack of transparency on markets.”
- Following on the heels of Berk’s post, Science has a story “researchers debate whether journals should publish signed peer reviews” which discusses how this debate is also taking place in other fields.
- development impact links
About a decade ago, we started a project to improve solid waste management for waste pickers like Ibrahim and the 840,000 people in the southern West Bank governorates of Bethlehem and Hebron. One of the project components included the closure of the Yatta dumpsite, where illegally dumped and burned household waste was reaching a very unsanitary and hazardous level.
But here came the challenge.
While the closure of the dumpsite would mean putting an end to a serious environmental and public health problem, it was terrible news for the waste pickers and their families. It meant that the livelihoods of those families would come to an end.
For every software developer in the United States, there are five open jobs. Africa, meanwhile, has the youngest, fastest-growing population on earth, with more people joining the labor force over the next 20 years than the rest of the world combined.
With this idea in mind, and the powerful belief that "brilliance is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not," Andela, founded four years ago, began recruiting recent graduates in Africa with the mission of connecting them to job opportunities in high-tech companies. Today, about 650 developers in Lagos, Nairobi, and Kampala work full-time for over 100 firms spread across 45 cities worldwide.
Tjark Tjin-A-Tsoi is doing things differently. Before his appointment as the Director General for Statistics Netherlands in April 2014, he was the General Director of the Netherlands Forensic Institute. No doubt that’s why phrases like “actionable intelligence” and forensic analogies about “tracing data” pepper his vision for national statistics in the Netherlands. At a recent presentation here at the World Bank, Tjin-A-Tsoi shared his thoughts on what a modern statistics office looks like, how cognitive science informs data communications, and whether big data will render official statistics obsolete.
A new approach to official statistics
Almost four years after Tjin-A-Tsoi took the helm, Statistics Netherlands has been transformed. It has its own newsroom, a team of media professionals, and employs the latest cognitive science research in its quest to deliver statistical truths to the public. It recently opened a shining new Center for Big Data Statistics, and has an innovation portal for beta products which invites public feedback. One of their current beta products is a Happiness Meter, an interactive infographic that people in the Netherlands can use to calculate and compare their personal happiness score with the rest of the Dutch population.