At the Scaling PeaceTech Summit 2016, held at the United States Institute of Peace, professionals in development, tech, data science, media and government gathered to discuss the enormous potential of the ever-increasing global reach of technology.
The growing use of mobile technology has led to more widespread access to information, larger sources of data, and radical efficiency in communication. Such democratization of information is creating a “digital age of development” with opportunities for innovation in some of the most vulnerable communities across the globe. Doctors can advise clinic workers on how to perform procedures in remote regions through telemedicine, small business owners can scale their businesses at lower costs, students can take advantage of mobile learning and blended learning initiatives, and individuals and communities can receive funds securely on mobile money platforms.
According to the 2016 World Development Report: Digital Dividends, nearly 7 out of 10 people among the poorest 20 percent of the world population now have a mobile phone. Nearly 40 percent of the world population is online.
The social benefits of easy access to low-cost technology are numerous. But ultimately, technology is a tool. Sustainable impact comes from institutions that leverage the use of technology for social and economic progress. When Roshan was envisioned by the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) over a decade ago, the telecommunications company was made to provide more than the infrastructure for Afghans to connect. By providing access to services like mobile talk and text, 3G internet, and secure mobile money solutions, Roshan became a vehicle for hope, a promise of open information through a solid institution that invests for the long haul. The company has also been ardent to expand their mobile technology in other sectors, such as health and finance. In a politically fragile, post-conflict region, Roshan’s commitment to local talent and training has made it a catalyst for economic and social growth.
While access to today’s technology improves the lives of those where AKDN works, it also improves the way we do our work. Discussions of everything from creating “lean in” television to developing data visualization tools for economists filled the room at the PeaceTech Summit, making it evident that innovation plays a key role in breaking the cycle of poverty.
Over the course of my time with Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in the U.S., I have learned that open and secure access to information can empower those in vulnerable communities while also transforming the way development is done. By strengthening our systems and using technologically innovative tools for evaluating our projects, AKF and AKDN are gaining new insight into the livelihoods of people in the communities where we work.
In the next leg of the fellowship experience, I will have the opportunity to learn from and contribute in one of our field offices. There, I hope to understand more deeply how the use of technology and strengthened data management can affect socioeconomic progress. Preparing for my field placement also raises a myriad of questions: How can measuring and communicating information strategically make it possible to connect, share stories, and exchange knowledge? Does incorporating technology truly create opportunities for growth or does it offer more complexities? How do we truly – in the words of the Roshan brand – create the conditions for “bringing you closer”?
To join the conversation about technology and quality of life, send your comments to email@example.com.
By Laila Jiwani, Communications Fellow for Aga Khan Foundation U.S.A. for 2015-2017.