Technology is integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and the 2030 Agenda is counting on breakthrough technologies to propel social and economic progress. But, when technology advances at an exponential rate, will it open the door to limitless possibilities or to a level of disruption that breeds a whole new set of challenges?
Technology improves early grade reading in Rwanda by connecting teachers, mentors and education partnersAn Interview with
Chantal Uwiragiye, Literacy Specialist, FHI 360
To support ongoing efforts to improve education in Rwanda, the Mentorship Community of Practice project launched in 2013. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by FHI 360, this project developed an online community of practice that promotes peer learning and sharing of resources; provides access to education resources through an e-library; and helps mentors get support from each other, the Rwanda Education Board and other education programs.
As a result of the project’s success, USAID decided to expand access to teachers in the Rwanda Education Board’s school-based mentor initiative and to focus on early grade reading in a new program called the Teachers Community of Practice (TCOP), which will be introduced as part of USAID’s Early Grade Reading project launch in February 2017.
Literacy expert Chantal Uwiragiye talks about the program’s innovations, successes and key learnings.
The Climate Change Adaptation and ICT (CHAI) project, co-implemented by FHI 360, uses ICT tools to provide climate adaptation information to more than 100,000 farmers in local languages in three intervention districts in Uganda with the goal of increasing agricultural productivity in communities vulnerable to climate change.
This week CHAI won the UNFCCC 2015 Momentum for Change’s Lighthouse Activities Award for innovative and transformative solutions addressing climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges.
Studies conducted by the CHAI project showed that access to adaptation information improved by up to 48 percent in the intervention districts (Nakasongola, Sembabule and Soroti) compared to the control district (Rakai), while the effectiveness of adaptation actions that were based on information received through the project increased by up to 33 percent in the intervention areas compared to the control district.
One effective way of improving the quality of education in low- and middle-income countries is to invest in information and communications technology (ICT).
Providing schools with internet access and computer hardware opens doors to an abundance of information that teachers and students can use to make lessons more relevant and effective. Teachers can use online portals to connect with each other and to share lesson plans and best practices, while students can use ICT to access online libraries and to master new technologies.
Many of FHI 360’s education projects use ICT as a tool to enhance the quality of teaching and learning, encourage community participation in education and increase school access. Bringing ICT to middle school classrooms in Senegal was a critical part of FHI 360’s Education de Base project. This project, which was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and reached more than 93,000 students and 4,500 teachers in Senegal, won the Innovating Secondary Education Skills Enhancement Prize from the group Results for Development. The prize was awarded, in large part, because of its effective use of ICT.
The World Bank estimates that about 2.5 billion people worldwide lack a formal bank account at a financial institution. In most of the countries where development organizations operate, the need for safe and affordable financial services is quite high. At the same time, mobile phone ownership continues to expand rapidly: Recent estimates by GSMA Intelligence put unique mobile phone subscriptions at more than 3.6 billion people globally. It is no wonder that articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Economist have recently proclaimed that mobiles offer a promising path for the world’s unbanked to gain financial inclusion.
More than 100 experts gathered at the Mondato Asia Summit last week in Singapore to discuss mobile financial services in emerging Asia. Participants heard from big names like Google, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, Amazon, MetLife, Uber, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, as well as from several companies that you may not have heard of yet but will likely soon, such as mHITS, a global mobile money remittance service, and Gatecoin, the first global digital currency exchange.
Speaker after speaker at the summit emphasized the importance of putting the customer first — commonly referred to as human-centered or user-centered design — in the development of any mobile financial service. It seems fairly self-evident that products should be designed based on what users want. Apple was touted as the gold standard for designing products based on an acute understanding of their customers’ wants, needs and aspirations. Yet, as anyone who has ever found themselves desperately trying to speak to a live person on a bank’s automated phone system knows, this is not always the case.
In 1879, Thomas Edison unveiled his incandescent light bulb. Within six years, electric power had spread across the nation and ignited an explosion of invention that created new industries and thousands of jobs and transformed every aspect of society. A century later, in 1978, Steve Jobs introduced the Apple personal computer and unleashed another wave of innovation that reaffirmed our faith in the power and potential of technology to drive human progress.
I was reminded just how high our expectations are for technology at two events in September: the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Frontiers of Development conference and the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, each of which showcased inventions, tools and concepts to improve public health and raise living standards. A few of the breakthrough innovations highlighted at these events or in recently announced grants include:
Did you know that 220 million women and girls have unmet needs for family planning? In particular, Tanzania has one of the lowest doctor-patient ratios in the world — 1 doctor for every 50,000 patients. With those limitations, how are individuals supposed to make informed choices about their health when they can’t access information about their options?
This is a question being asked by the maternal health and global health community. As studies have shown, improved access to comprehensive sexuality education and modern contraception increases opportunities throughout a woman’s life. This includes the ability to pursue education and earn an income leading to a healthier life for a woman, her children and her family.
With mobile technologies advancing in developing countries, we can now get health information and support to many more women and couples. Text messaging (SMS) in particular, offers benefits:
- Messages are available to all mobile phone users regardless of phone type.
- Mobile phone users typically carry them everywhere, making maximum program reach likely.
- In many cases, text messages are less expensive than voice calls.
- Text messages can be automated and efficiently delivered, reaching many people.
What might nongovernmental organizations, governments and world leaders have done differently if, fifteen years ago, they could have predicted the transformative effect that mobile phones and Internet access would have on the world’s poorest countries? What can we do now, if we look far enough down the road, to anticipate the next waves of revolutionary technology?
Technology has brought us to the doorstep of a world once only imaginable. Google cars now drive themselves across California. An autonomously piloted drone can be purchased on Amazon.com. Computers are acting more and more like people. This year, one passed the Turing test, a measurement of a machine’s ability to mimic human behavior. There are working prototypes of spray-on skin and mind-controlled prosthetic limbs. A thousand robots can work together to complete a common task. Things are changing fast.
These technologies will shape the future of the world and change development as we know it.
Funders, governments, practitioners and technology leaders need to anticipate the impact of emerging innovations on democracy and human rights and plan accordingly. Technology can empower activists and dictators alike. To be prepared, we should start asking questions, such as: How will development and civic engagement change when citizens in the most remote parts of the world have access to the Internet? How might drone journalism provide safe, reliable access to conflict-affected parts of the world? How can wearable technology innovations like Google Glass make citizens freer or, conversely, be misused by governments to monitor and control citizens?
Today, Myanmar has similar mobile phone usage rates to North Korea, Eritrea and Cuba – less than 10 percent of the population. At the same time, technology restrictions in the country are easing. Three mobile operators are racing to roll out services, which will rapidly bring the 60 million people who live in Myanmar into a digital reality, practically overnight.
On August 6, 2014, FHI 360 convened a workshop in Yangon to explore the role of information and communications technology and development in Myanmar, attended by leading technologists and development experts from Myanmar and across the Asia Pacific region. The workshop centered on three questions that address technology’s impact on government, civil society, business and most importantly, people’s lives:
- What are the social and cultural impacts when a country goes online virtually overnight?
- What will the people of Myanmar find on the Internet of today? Or tomorrow?
- Who will benefit when all of the citizens of Myanmar have a digital voice?
While attendees touched on many points throughout the discussion, and did not always agree on the answers to our questions, we did find general consensus that by 2018, Myanmar will have a very different technology landscape.
An Interview with
Carrie Hasselback, Project Director, Mobile Money Accelerator Program (MMAP), FHI 360
What is mobile money?
Mobile money is currency stored on your mobile phone. Typically, a customer will bring cash to a local agent who deposits the cash onto the customer’s phone in the form of mobile money. Agents are also able to withdraw money from a customer’s phone and provide cash. These agents, often local shopkeepers, are selected and trained by mobile network operators.
Why is mobile money important?
An overwhelming majority of Malawi’s population lives in rural areas, where agriculture is the source of income for more than 85 percent of the population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). A 2009 FinScope Demand Survey found that 55 percent of Malawians do not have access to any type of financial institution, and only 19 percent of the total population uses a formal bank. Because bank accounts are so rare, mobile money offers an accessible alternative for safely depositing, withdrawing, transferring and even saving money.
Why has mobile money been adopted so quickly in Malawi?
FHI 360’s Mobile Money Accelerator Program has been working to create an environment that is ready to receive and adopt mobile money systems. We provide financial literacy trainings that help increase understanding and acceptance of mobile money.
The Government of Malawi has shown its support by signing and participating in the Better Than Cash Alliance, which aims to transition government cash payments to electronic payments in an effort to increase transparency and expand financial inclusion across the country.