Internet and Development

Preparing the World Development Report 2016

6/7 November 2014 | Marie-Schlei-Saal, BMZ, Berlin

Over the course of our daily lives, we tend to only think about the internet if it isn’t working and we suddenly notice how many processes and actions depend on the availability of communication technologies. The internet and its “by-products” have become integral parts of our lives.

For some time this this has no longer applied only to inhabitants of industrialised countries – it is a global fact of life. But in developing countries in particular in which the infrastructure, legal situation and many other issues that affect the internet are not as well-established as in the global North, the medium offers considerable potential. The internet can be a powerful instrument in the battle to end poverty: It can lower transaction costs, create new economic opportunities and change the working world and peoples’ working and private lives in equal measure. Despite the “digital revolution”, the ever increasing importance of the internet in all aspects of our lives, there has been little research on its social and economic effects thus far. So the World Bank decided to dedicate the 2016 World Development Report (WDR) to this issue.

The World Development Report 2016 is called “Internet for Development” and currently in the preparation phase. The initial structure has been established, and a lot of groundwork has been laid. This is traditionally the stage at which the World Bank and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) issue invitations to the “Berlin Workshop” where the WDR team presents the first draft for discussion. Those invited to take a close look at the work accomplished thus far include experts from the private sector, the scientific community, civil society and politics from around the globe.

The topic at hand at this year’s Berlin Workshop was the role of the internet in development. In addition to the Chief Economist of the World Bank, , Kaushik Basu and the Head of the WDR Team, Deepak Mishra, attendees included Deputy Director General Jürgen Zattler from the BMZ who in his introduction cautioned against categorising the internet as good or bad too quickly. He bantered that as the birthplace of dialectics, Germany seemed the idea place for a complex approach to the topic. He also gave participants food for thought by noting that from a historical perspective, the “digital revolution” has thus far been the only large revolution that has resulted in more exclusion than inclusion.

Different aspects of the report were presented, commented upon and ultimately discussed in a number of panels.

Topics included: internet and sustainable growth; internet and opportunity; internet freedom and privacy; internet and education; internet and e-government; and the efficient impact of international development aid and the internet.

North Ugandan pastor Father Joseph Okumu reported on the success of his BOSCO initiative which has now expanded into South Sudan. Access to the internet was provided to promote peace education and opened new educational and economic opportunities for inhabitants of the rural region.
Prof Eric Bartelsmann from the University of Amsterdam illustrated “bottlenecks” – in infrastructure and human resources – and asked how the informal sector of the internet economy should be handled.
Devyani Parameshwar, Product Manager at M-Pesa/Vodafone, presented the M-Pesa payment system that has been successfully established in over a dozen countries by now. The system is purely SMS-based, does not require a bank account, and has been accepted as a payment method by many businesses and authorities. Dr Norbert Riedel, Commissioner for International Cyber Policy at the Federal Foreign Office, chaired the panel on freedom and privacy and Claudia Schwegmann from the Open Knowledge Foundation emphasised the growing importance of open data and transparency.
Roughly 40 participants took active roles at the workshop. The discussions were very intense and recorded by the World Bank team. They will be directly incorporated into the further development of the report. The “digital revolution” should ultimately benefit everyone in the world, and the World Bank and BMZ would like to contribute to this positive outcome through the World Development Report 2016.

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