Streamlining the Technological Development and Innovation Driven Change in Afghanistan.

Accelerating Development: Networks, Data and Startups

This Article- By Nasrat Khalid who is part of the ITRCA Team, discusses development challenges and briefly exemplifies a few technologies that could be adapted to tackle these challenges. 

The global challenges today are not any straightforward than ever, every country is facing their own unique challenges in the under developed and developing world. Challenges varying from poverty and hunger that are a direct threat to the people, to climate change that may have an irreversible impact on the whole globe. We need to put innovation and efficiency as the core of the solution to this problem. We will only be able to tackle these unique problems if we think outside the box, very fast, and yet practical. The pace of how the technology has helped transform different sectors throughout the last two decades has changed how the world works; for instance, the financial sector has made a big leap on availability and ease of transactions, GIS technologies have transformed urban planning and healthcare technology advancements have resulted in many lives being saved. This is just the beginning, the role of technology should not be undermined instead it should be highly promoted and utilized in our efforts to challenge the current problems.

I want to briefly focus on a few points on the use of technologies that could help accelerate the speed of development in the world.

The network as one of the core tools for development

The internet is classified as a basic human right by the UN. Yet only, 46% of the world population was connected to the internet in 2016 (Internet Stats, 2016). The internet growth for population has been on average 1.22% throughout the last 10 years. The growth has been slow although we know the positive outcomes of what happens when the internet is accessible to people – The internet accounted for 21 Percent of the GDP growth in mature economies in the late 2000s (McKinsey, 2011) which as of now still contributes to further development of the tools developed in that era and thus the economy. Yet, the underdeveloped world is facing challenges on the growth of internet.

It is apparent that the internet has been mainly customized to fit the needs of the developed world as it is more profitable to make products that are widely used given the ease of adoption because of the high literacy rate and the quick setup because of the infrastructure in place, most of these products do not contribute to the growth of the world but are sometimes unnecessary and prove to be counterproductive. While the western world is enjoying the internet for Snapchat and 4K streaming videos more than 50% of the world population does not have access to basic email and communication systems.

This results in both inefficiencies in organisations and slow economy growth. For example, if we look at china, in 2014 e-commerce contributed 7% of the china’s GDP (Global Times, 2015) we can see many countries that are less connected to the internet are losing on an opportunity. We are missing on major opportunities because we do not put enough efforts in to customizing the current technologies to benefit the underdeveloped and developing world. For instance, ITU (2015) estimates that more than 95% of the world’s population resides within the coverage area of a 2G mobile-cellular network. Yet, there has been very few use of it to make products that actually work for the underdeveloped world.


Photo: A phone top up card seller in Kabul on a rainy day. Photo Credits: Nasrat Khalid

Data is the new oil

Today, data is more valuable than ever, the functionality depends on data; from governments to local companies. Datasets in any sector have enlarged significantly. This is an opportunity for us for the first time to make sense of trends and ask questions that we would have previously not even imagined answering. The likes of big data, Open data and crowdsourced data gives us an opportunity to prioritize our agendas and find lagging downfalls in the global growth. This data revolution is not restricted to the industrialized world; it is also happening in developing countries. The spread of mobile-phone technology to the hands of billions in the past years is the single most significant change that has affected developing countries (UN, 2012). The internet of things (IOT) could also be used to produce data and provide tangible results with a very cheap price; customized solutions can be made through IOT for all the industries including agriculture, urban, rural and industry sectors.

Startups of Development

It costs $1 to provide a microscope to kids in rural areas for education today through foldscope (a product from Stanford University made out of polygamy paper). You can Imagine an inexpensive device that enables households to cook a meal while heating water to temperatures high enough to eliminate the bacteria. You can imagine a hydropower plant that uses the local river alongside other energy innovations to give energy to the 1.4 billion people without access to energy. Or you can imagine, energy efficient infant warmers to address the challenge of hypothermia to challenge the 13 million premature babies born each year (Huber and Siemens, 2013). On the other hand, on the rise technologies such as Blockchains could be used to revolutionize the whole financial industry of the underdeveloped states, this would be an absolute leapfrog and would shorten the development of several industries by decades at once.

These are not just concepts, these solutions are already made and being used throughout the world but in a disconnected manner. Through the power of startups, the Silicon Valley is the hub of information and connected world today. Solid startups and think-tanks are required to not only provide new solutions but to also promote and facilitate innovation and development to eliminate policies that restrict or prevent innovation (ITU, 2016).

 

This essay was presented as a response in an application before publishing in ITRCA. This is just a brief mention of the technologies that could be used for development, they may be further detailed at a later stage. 


About the Author: Nasrat Khalid is an ICT innovation activist currently ITRCA LOGOworking with one of the leading development donors in Afghanistan. He was previously engaged with international NGOs, implementing partners, public sector and has succeeded throughout a startup. Nasrat’s work focuses on the economic and social impacts of new technologies and development of ideas on how technology could be used in the development sector and mainly in fragile and developing states such as Afghanistan. His education mostly focused on computer networks, development and management. You can contact him with @NasratKhalid in all major social networks.

 

References:
Huber and Siemens (2013), Meet 7 startups that are innovating for the developing world online via https://venturebeat.com/2013/10/30/meet-7-startups-that-are-innovating-for-the-developing-world/ [accessed, 11, July 2017].

Internet Stats (2016), Internet Live stats online via http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/ [accessed, July, 16, 2017].

ITU (2015), Harnessing IOT for global development online via http://www.itu.int/en/action/broadband/Documents/Harnessing-IoT-Global-Development.pdf [accessed, July 14 2017]

McKinsey (2011), The Great Transformer online via http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/the-great-transformer [accessed, July 16 2017].

UN (2017) Big Data for Development, UN Global Pulse online via http://www.unglobalpulse.org/sites/default/files/BigDataforDevelopment-UNGlobalPulseJune2012.pdf [Accessed, 12, July 2017].

World Bank (2017), World Bank Economic review online via https://academic.oup.com/wber [accessed, July, 17, 2017].

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