infoDev held its Annual Symposium on 9 June, 2010 in Washington DC. An invited audience of stakeholders from leading experts and practitioners in information and innovation for development, donor agencies, partner organizations, foundations, and World Bank and IFC colleagues attended the event themed ‘Clean, Green and Mobile; Making Technology Work for the Poor’.
infoDev convened experts and practitioners in some of the most exciting work being done on two very hot topics; mobile applications and ‘green growth’. infoDev Program Manager, Valerie D’Costa, welcomed panelists and participants who came from all around the world, noting that “the Symposium is our once-a-year chance to showcase the cutting edge work done not just by infoDev but by our peers and colleagues in information, communications and innovation for development.”
Robert Hawkins demonstrated EVOKE, the massively successful multi-player on-line learning game on social innovation with no teacher, no physical classroom whose key text is a graphic novel based on a fictional heroes set in the year 2020. Hawkins, Senior Education Specialist at the Global Information and Communications Technologies department of the World Bank and IFC, said the first people to really ‘get’ EVOKE, were infoDev, with the support of the Korean Trust Fund on ICT for Development.
The panel discussion ‘Green growth and the impact of clean technology innovation at the grassroots’ was chaired by Monika Weber-Fahr, Global Business Line Leader, IFC Advisory Services in Environmental and Social Sustainability. She drew the parallels between a group of experts in everything from venture capital in Israeli water technology to how to deliver electricity off-the-grid in rural Kenya to the secrets for success in selling clean technology products to people at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’.
Dr. Alice Kaudia, Environment Secretary at the Kenyan Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, described in detail the scale and scope of environmental issues Kenya faces, and how its national strategy on clean technology is harnessing this need to drive economic growth. To really work, green growth technologies need to be socially appropriate, affordable and demonstrably improve the physical environment.
Mr. Seungwon Lee, Assistant Secretary to the President for National Future and Vision, explained how and why the government of Korea is placing its bets – and considerable financial and human resources – on green growth, and why this will be key to Korea’s continued success.
All the panelists coalesced around the idea that green growth strategies can create jobs, drive low-carbon growth, and give people at the bottom of the pyramid access to useful new technologies. infoDev’s pilot work on Climate Innovation Centers in India and Kenya were seen as an essential component of the shared platform developing countries are building for future success through green growth.
The second panel discussion was chaired by Inveneo Senior Director Wayan Vota who led hands-on experts in a lively discussion about ‘Mobile applications: local content, local use’. Mobile has been described described by Jeffrey Sachs as “the single most transformative technology for development”? Vota asked what role, if any, governments and development agencies should take in a realm so successfully developed by the private sector.
Josh Nesbit, Executive Director of FrontlineSMS:Medic wowed the audience with his description of how basic SMS messaging in Uganda means twice as many people can be treated for diseases like tuberculosis. There were gasps of astonishment as Nesbit flashed up a slide with an image of a souped-up mobile phone that could be connected to an image library of cells to do basic diagnostics on a blood sample from anywhere with a cellphone signal. The device is being developed by Professor Aydogan Ozcan in UCLA, California.
Stuart Gill, a World Bank expert in disaster mitigation and response for Latin America and Caribbean Region gave more examples of how low-tech, low-bandwidth applications using SMS saved lives in earthquake-stricken Haiti. But rather than the technology itself being the key to effectiveness, the emerging model of crowd-sourcing and global collaboration, along with open standards and information, are driving innovation in mobile applications for disaster relief.
Steve Vosloo of the Shuttleworth Foundation in South Africa made the case for using mobile phones as an educational platform, and described the incredible response of South African teenagers, living in houses without books, to a specially created ‘m-novel’, the M-4Lit Project.
Ilkka Lakaniemi, Director, Business Environment Strategy - Corporate Relations and Responsibility for Nokia, showed how mobile phones are heading towards 5 billion users worldwide and, together with Internet access, can account for a 1% leap in GDP. To reap this benefit, total cost of ownership of a mobile phone needs to be below $5 USD, and just 12 countries have managed that so far.
As part of its program with the Government of Finland and Nokia, infoDev is working to establish mobile applications laboratories in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe and Central Asia to stimulate and nurture the next generation of developing country mobile applications entrepreneurs.
As well as taking part in lively and open panel discussions, people taking part also tried out EVOKE, read the Shuttleworth Foundation’s m-novel for South African teenagers on a mobile phone, and revved up on the PowerCycle, a carry-on sized device that generates and stores electricity from pedal-power.
The symposium was opened by Dr. Mohsen A. Khalil, Acting Chair, infoDev Donors’ Committee and Director, Global Information and Communication Technologies (GICT) Department, The World Bank Group. The business-side of the meeting was to present infoDev’s 2010-2012 Work Program and get input on infoDev’s strategic direction. The Symposium was followed on 10 June by a meeting of infoDev’s Donors Committee who gave inputs and endorsement to our current and future work.