In February 2015, my village of Homa Bay County in Kenya experienced a cholera outbreak, claiming the lives of 17 people and affecting nearly 700 others. It was not our first cholera outbreak but it took a devastating toll, not just in my village but in nearby communities, too. As an epidemiologist and a public health professional, I was struck at the lack of capacity to rapidly detect the outbreak and contain its spread. Cholera’s symptoms are generally well understood making it easier to diagnose and treat than many diseases, but even still it took a deadly toll.
The World Bank Group (WBG) is currently implementing a new approach to development finance that will help better support our poverty reduction and shared prosperity goals. This crucial effort, dubbed Maximizing Finance for Development (MFD), seeks to leverage the private sector and optimize the use of scarce public resources to finance development projects in a way that is fiscally, environmentally, and socially sustainable.
There are several reasons why cities and transport planners should pay close attention to the MFD approach. First, while the need for sustainable urban mobility is greater than ever before, the available financing is nowhere near sufficient—and the financing gap only grows wider when you consider the need for climate change adaptation and mitigation. At the same time, worldwide investment commitments in transport projects with private participation have fallen in the last three years and currently stand near a 10-year low. When private investment does go to transport, it tends to be largely concentrated in higher income countries and specific subsectors like ports, airports, and roads. Finally, there is a lot of private money earning low yields and waiting to be invested in good projects. The aspiration is to try to get some of that money invested in sustainable urban mobility.
The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals presents an immediate challenge. In particular, the financing required for new infrastructure (including clean water, healthcare, and access to energy for all) is huge--amounting to about $5 trillion per year globally. Given limited government resources, a considerable amount of private finance will be required to fill this gap, and public-private partnerships (PPPs) have been seen as a possible modality through which to attract these additional resources.
How can we harness the digital economy to make mobility more sustainable? This question was the main focus of this year’s Transforming Transportation conference, which brought together some of most creative and innovative thinkers in the world of mobility. One of them was Davis Wang, CEO of Mobike, a Chinese startup that pioneered the development of dockless bike-sharing and is now present in more than 200 cities across 12 countries. In his remarks, Wang raised a number of interesting points and inspired me to continue the conversation on the future of dockless bike-share systems and their potential as a new form of urban transport.
What exactly is dockless bike-sharing (DBS)?
Introduced in Beijing just under two years ago, dockless bike-share has been spreading rapidly across the world, with Mobike and three other companies entering the Washington, D.C. market in September 2017.
As their name indicates, the main feature that distinguishes “dockless” or “free-floating” systems from traditional bike-share is that riders can pick up and drop off the bicycles anywhere on the street rather than at a fixed station.
This is made possible by a small connected device fitted on each bike that allows users to locate and unlock the nearest bike with their smartphone in a matter of seconds—yet another new derivative of the “internet of things” revolution!
On a busy street corner in Nairobi, Kenya, Abuya uses water to prepare and cook the food she sells to passersby. At the market in Hyderabad, India, Dimah splashes water on her fruit and vegetables to keep them fresh. In the make-shift hair-cutting salon in her basement in Medellin, Colombia, Isabela uses water to wash her customer’s hair.
Invented over a century ago for exploring mountainous regions, aerial cable cars have recently made an appearance in several big cities, where they are being used as an alternative to conventional urban transport modes. This technology uses electrically-propelled steel cables to move suspended cars (or cabins) between terminals at different elevation points.
The tipping point. The emergence of cable cars in urban transport is fairly new. Medellín, Colombia pioneered the use of cable cars for urban transport when it opened its first “Metrocable” line in 2004. Since then, urban cable cars have grown in popularity around the world, with recent projects in Latin America (Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, Guayaquil, Santo Domingo, La Paz, and Medellín), Asia (Yeosu, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong), Africa (Lagos, Constantine), and Europe (London, Koblenz, Bolzano). Cable cars can be an attractive urban transport solution to connect communities together when geographical barriers such as hills and rivers make other modes infeasible.
Let me answer it this way: If you are a youth, you are damned if you farm, and you will be equally damned if you don’t. Farming as an option is very key to enabling the continuous production of food to meet our consumption demand. We are in an era where we have to attract the young people to join food production, since majority of them think it is dirty work. Interacting with young farmers has only left me understanding that, besides the lack of mechanisation, we lack the best farming practices that would otherwise increase our earnings.
For the past two decades, I've worked on issues at the intersection of the education and technology sectors in middle- and low-income countries and emerging markets around the world. It's been a fascinating job: Over the past 20 years, I've been an advisor to, evaluator of, and/or working-level participant in, educational technology ('edtech') initiatives in over 50 such countries. When it comes to ICT use in education, the promised revolution always seems to be just around the corner. Indeed: I am regularly pitched ideas by people who note that, while many past promises about the potential of the use of new technologies in education have failed to pan out, they are confident that "this time, it's different".
At the same time, I am quite often asked to help other folks identify intriguing initiatives that might, individually and/or collectively, illuminate emerging trends and approaches in this sector:
"I'm interested in examples of innovative educational technology projects from around the world, especially those primarily focused on helping teachers and learners in developing countries. In other words: Not the usual suspects. Can you suggest a few projects and companies that I might not know about -- but should?"
I receive a version of this request most every week (sometimes even multiple times in a single day). Given the frequency of such inquiries, I thought I'd quickly highlight 20 such efforts from around the world, in the hope that people might find this useful. The hope is to point readers in the direction of some interesting projects that they might not know much about, but from which there is much we can learn.
While I am not sure if, indeed, things will turn out to be 'different this time around', the overall volume of such projects, and the sophistication of many of them, are quite notable. There is more happening, in more places, than ever before. A number of efforts have been informed (in good ways) by past failures. That said, others will no doubt attempt to 'reinvent the flat tire' and display a characteristic common to Einstein's definition of insanity: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results". Hopefully none of the groups profiled below will fall into that trap, but I suspect that a few of them might.
The list here, a mix of for-profit and non-profit initiatives, is deliberately idiosyncratic and non-representative (see the many caveats and explanations that follow below the list). Some of these projects are no doubt doomed to 'fail'; others will most likely be restructured more than once as they try, to borrow the words of Deng Xiaopeng, to "cross the river by feeling the stones". And maybe, just maybe, a few of them might actually turn out to be as 'transformative' as they hope to be.
With that said, and in alphabetical order, here are:
20 innovative edtech projects from around the world
When, two decades ago, I first started helping people who were investigating the uses of new technologies in education, many of the initial inquiries I received were quite similar. Whether it was from governments in some of the most developed countries in Europe or Asia, or from non-profit groups (and some governments) in some of the least developed countries in Africa or Latin America, people had very specific questions about hardware. What processor should we buy for our computer? How much memory do we need? Over time, as we all became more experienced and savvy about choices related to where to invest scarce resources, questions about devices and their specific attributes gave way to those about processes and approaches -- and about people and institutions.
Recent work at the World Bank has investigated a specific type of institution -- the national educational technology agency -- and its often critical role in support of large scale ICT/education efforts in many countries around the world. Often times, such an institution operates at arm's length from (for example) the ministry of education, with the ministry providing the agency with strategic direction (and funding). Models vary (we document a number of them in a recent book), but, generally speaking, these tend to be organizations focused on >> doing <<. Over time, such institutions become centers of technological competence that can far outstrip what is found within the leadership of their country's ministry of education. They are technical organizations, staffed in large part (but not exclusively) by technical people.
During a series of off-the-record discussions with groups of education ministers earlier this year who were 'struggling with the ICT stuff’, one of the ministers (who had previously worked in the private sector, and whose spouse had worked for a tech firm) shared his interest in creating a CIO (Chief Information Officer) position within his ministry. He wanted someone with dedicated resposbility to help him make sense of all of the things that were changing as a result of new technologies, to help set related strategic directions within the ministry, and to oversee this implementation. About the only thing that the ministers in both ministerial discussions agreed on that day (other than that they were having challenges in dealing with teachers unions -- always a common topic for bonding and commiseration for these sorts of folks, I find) was that they liked the idea of having a CIO.
What exactly does a Chief Information Officer (CIO) do,
and why might ministries of education consider creating such a position?
This week, policymakers and practitioners from around the world are gathering in Korea at the 11th annual Global Symposium on ICT Use in Education to discuss areas of emerging common interest related to the effective (and ineffective) uses of new technologies in education systems around the world. As in the past, KERIS, Korea's famous national edtech agency, is the host and organizer of this event.
Many of these participants represent institutions key to the implementation of educational technology efforts in their countries; many others are government officials responsible for developing the policy environments within which these institutions operate.
Drawing on interviews and discussions with government policymakers in scores of countries around the world during the course of writing this book, my collaborator Gavin Dykes and I developed a set of ten short, thematic questions to help catalyze discussions during the initial stages of planning for the development of national educational technology ('ICT/education') agencies. These questions are meant to highlight potential areas of critical importance (and confusion), based on the experiences of more than two dozen national ICT/education agencies over time in a diverse set of places. It is hoped that these questions, and the conversations that they provoke, can serve as entry points into deeper, more fundamental discussions, providing a bridge of sorts between the recognition of specific educational needs and priorities in one country with practical experiences in others.
No matter how brilliant or 'visionary' a country's educational technology policies and plans might be on paper, or when expressed as a set of bullet points in a PowerPoint presentation, transforming such policies and plans into practical actions 'on the ground' is what is important. It doesn't really matter what you want to do if you don't have the institutional capacity to do it. In the hope that presenting them here might be useful to countries considering, and re-considering, various models to help develop and sustain this capacity, here are:
Ten discussion questions for policymakers seeking to create or restructure
a national educational technology agency