Tag: World Bank

The digital dividends and divides of 2016

Friday, 15 January, 2016 0 Comments

The internet. What’s it good for? Lots. It can help boost trade, improve economies, distribute knowledge and create jobs for the marginalized. Who says? The World Bank says. That’s why it called the document it released yesterday “World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.” The key word there is “dividends”. But we don’t live in a perfect world so the report notes that “better educated, well connected, and more capable have received most of the benefits — circumscribing the gains from the digital revolution.” Not everyone has collected those digital dividends, in other words.

Still, it’s quite a leap to portray the the report as an indictment of the internet, but that’s exactly what the Guardian did in a story hilariously titled “Silicon Valley tech firms exacerbating income inequality, World Bank warns.” This is so comical that one can imagine Evgeny Morozov writing it. Instead, Danny Yadron “in San Francisco” is responsible. Anyway, back to the World Bank report. It presents a picture of a divided world in which 60 percent of people are still offline, four billion don’t have internet access, some two billion do not use a mobile phone and and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. And what happens when the internet impacts?

“Many advanced economies face increasingly polarized labor markets and rising inequality — in part because technology augments higher skills while replacing routine jobs, forcing many workers to compete for low-paying jobs. Public sector investments in digital technologies, in the absence of accountable institutions, amplify the voice of elites, which can result in policy capture and greater state control. And because the economics of the internet favor natural monopolies, the absence of a competitive business environment can result in more concentrated markets, benefiting incumbent firms.”

To counter this, the World Bank recommends that governments lower barriers to internet adoption with rules that encourage competition and innovation, and investing in “analog complements,” such as basic education. Quote: “Many poor lack the basic literacy and numeracy skills needed to use the internet. In Mali and Uganda, about three-quarters of third-grade children cannot read. In Afghanistan and Niger, 7 of 10 adults are illiterate.” Those divides need to be closed before those dividends become real.

Note: Those tech companies castigated by the Guardian are committed to bringing internet access to the four corners of the world. Google’s Project Loon is set to float over Indonesia and Facebook’s Internet.org will offer mobile web access to people in India and Egypt. And both are experimenting with providing internet access using solar-powered, high-altitude drones. Yes, we need to ensure that these companies don’t become synonymous with the internet, but neither should we resort to paranoia about their innovations. Those digital dividends depend on closing those divides.


Big Data powers Urban Engines

Wednesday, 21 May, 2014 0 Comments

Fact: By 2050, the global population will have reached nine billion.
Fact: For the first time in human history, the majority of people now live in cities.

Put the two facts together and one gets a future in which urban transport systems are going to be strained to breaking point. Unless city planners can manage the demand for services, there will be chaos. Enter Balaji Prabhakar and Shiva Shivakumar with their Urban Engines, which is offering solutions based on Big Data and behavioural economics. The San Francisco-based company is working with the World Bank to implement its approach for the bus system in Sao Paulo; in Singapore, it’s helping the city to ease train commuters from peak hours to off-peak hours; it’s carried out pilots projects in Bangalore, and it’s being deployed on the train system in Washington, D.C.

How does it work? Urban Engines takes data from commuter transit cards and uses its algorithms to infer how commuters and their trains and buses are behaving. No cameras or sensors needed. No major technology spend required.


The occasional poetry of financial journalism

Thursday, 23 January, 2014 0 Comments

Before becoming Latin American editor of the Financial Times, John Paul Rathbone worked as an economist and writer at the World Bank. He is also the author of The Sugar King of Havana: The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba’s Last Tycoon and his latest FT column, “Cubans lose fear of criticism as reform fireflies start to flicker,” combines his passion for the island’s economy, politics and culture with lyricism. “Is Cuba really reforming?” That’s the question being posed by Habaneros today and here’s how John Paul Rathbone responds:

“There is no short answer, although a poetic one might compare the reforms to small and hesitant flickerings, akin to the fireflies that Cuban women of society sewed into their hair and silk gowns before grand balls in colonial times. The effect was reportedly bewitching: something beautiful that would briefly illuminate itself and then fade. The viewer might even be unsure that he had seen anything at all. Yet then the fireflies would sparkle again, much like Cuba’s reforms. The question for outsiders is now to encourage them.”

Cuba