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July 25, 2017

On the Road to the SDGs: Progress from the Field

By | Blog, Global development, ICT4D, Sustainable Development Goals, Tech innovations

The Chinese philosopher Laozi said that “a journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step.” The international community is taking a long journey towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 but often, important steps taken in New York or Geneva seem far away from the realities of the developing world.

This was not the case earlier this month. In Dar es Salaam and Arusha, Tanzania, the progressive views from the Government of Tanzania and the African telecommunications sectors convinced me that the future is closer than we imagine. My week started at the GSMA’s Mobile 360 Africa conference and ended in northeastern Tanzania visiting health clinics across the Arusha region.

Nurses scan child health cards at a facility in Tanzania. (Photo credit: PATH/Trevor Snapp)

GSMA’s Mobile 360 conference in Dar brought together operators, governments and multilateral actors to discuss how collaboration could support technology efforts to achieve both profit and social good. Tanzania, under its Vision 2025 plan and the overall leadership of its president, H.E. John Magufuli, has committed its considerable talent and resources to moving to a semi-industrialized economy with technology as a key underpinning. This commitment was demonstrated from the opening moments of the GSMA event, in which the vice president of Tanzania, H.E. Samia Suluhu, spoke eloquently of the need for strong public/private partnerships and technology collaborations. She noted that only by working together could Tanzania realize its “Vision 2025” plan and its commitments to the SDG 2030 goals.  In her words, making mobiles work for Sub-Saharan Africa means that the 60% of Tanzanian citizens who live in rural areas must have reliable internet access in order to increase access to health, agriculture and education services, not to mention access to credit. Today, one third of Tanzanians have a formal bank account but 44% have access to mobile money. The adoption rate is impressive given that mobile money was first introduced in Tanzania in 2008. Yet despite this progress, women are 17% less likely to own a mobile phone and are being left behind, particularly as young mothers.

A few days later, I was with these young mothers as they waited to receive early childhood immunizations for their infants and toddlers. Both they and the health center staff were delighted that tasks that used to be completed on nights and weekends, could now be accomplished in minutes and with higher accuracy thanks to four years of hard work by the government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the international NGO, PATH. To date, together they have equipped over 285 health centers with tablets and an electronic immunization registry that can register patients, identify what vaccine doses they need, and ensure that supplies are on hand so that no mother’s visit to the center is wasted. As a result, more than 80,000 children are registered in the Electronic Immunization Registry.  The BID Initiative is entering its fifth year of operation and its progress will continue as the Government of Tanzania and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, bolstered by the promising results in Arusha, have committed to extend the system nationwide. Building on this work, DIAL is entering a partnership with BID to determine where we can co-mingle non-personally identifiable data with operator level data to answer epidemiological questions that facility data alone cannot reveal.

Each of these steps alone is not enough to achieve Tanzania’s SDG goals but cumulatively, they point in a direction that we can all support to ensure that the journey to 2030 comes even earlier than planned.



July 18, 2017

The Future of ICT for Agriculture

By | Blog, Global development, ICT4D, International development, Sustainable Development Goals

At the recent ICTforAg 2017 conference, supported by Abt Associates, DAI and FHI 360, there was a lot of food for thought around how new innovations can empower smallholder farmers, and the communities that support them, through information and communication technologies (ICT). Throughout the day of keynotes, lightning talks and group breakouts, here are some of my key takeaways on how we continue to advance digital technology to improve the agriculture sector globally:

  • Proactive Guidelines for Responsible Data Management in the ICT4Ag sector. Historically, ICTforAg and broadly ICT4D guidelines tend to be reactive, but Ana Maria Cuenca of FHI 360 and Linda Raftree of Kurante are looking to change this by developing guidelines for USAID funded programs responsible for data management. They shared three critical guidelines of responsible data management during the Responsible Data Practices for Digital Development breakout session: 1) quality data for decision making, 2) privacy rights and data security for vulnerable people and 3) transparency and accountability.
  • Mobile Money. As Chrissy Martin from USAID showed a map of all the places in DC that accept bitcoin as a currency, she surveyed the 300-person room to understand who would be happy if their employer switched to paying their salaries in bitcoin. About three people raised their hands. It was an interesting thought exercise gave attendees perspective to what a smallholder farmer may feel when mobile money is forced upon them. To me it highlighted the importance of being customer first when implementing any sort of digital service.
  • Collecting data and incorporating it into programmatic strategy was discussed by the closing session speaker Julius Adewopo from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture. He referenced a recent survey of agro-dealers across four states in northern Nigeria which aimed to exhaustively survey and map all existing agro-dealers who sell at least two types of maize varieties. Through crowdsourcing information, the survey reached 1,400 agro-dealers within approximately six days (a reach unattainable even within six months if they had relied on their own personnel and resources). They found that 98% of the agro-dealers were male and 60% use smartphones; which is critical data for programmatic partners to have as they implement value-chain interventions and learn how to best work with smallholder farmers, who are typically female.

Partnering with Dalberg Data Insights on Food Security Use Case

The ICT4Ag conference came at a perfect time given the recent appetite of DIAL’s D4D team to leverage data in the agriculture sector. DIAL is pleased to announce that we are partnering with Dalberg Data Insights to implement an on-the-ground use case around using mobile and digital data to better predict food crises. We are piloting this work first in Uganda, a developing country that has embraced digital technologies and is also struggling with food security as more refugees cross into its borders.

Dalberg Data Insights

Graphic by Dalberg. Used with Permission.

For this pilot, we combine remote sensing and mobile phone data to proactively identify any change in food security at a local level.

  • On the supply side, this includes prediction of agricultural yield with high geographical granularity based on satellite imagery.
  • On the demand side, we involve local topical experts to include measures of mobility derived from telecom data to assess access to markets, as well as detection of behavioral changes, also derived from telecom data that are indicative of a food security situation, as shown in past research.

Thus far, food security research has focused on the logistics of getting food to people, not using data to predict supply/demand and ultimately fend off food crises. Thanks to the research of GPSDD and UN Global Pulse, we’re now able to mobilize around big data and food security, whereas before, the importance of utilizing real-time data would have been an afterthought. We are at a point where the ongoing research over the past two years has built a base and the level of maturity with local telecom operators finally exists to conduct this research. There is also much more to learn about how to scale these efforts.

We will work with end users in-country to develop tools and observe directly what they need/don’t need to see what makes sense and delivers the best results. We’re not doing this research in a lab or at a university, we are focused on trying to positively impact people directly.

Take a young single mother living in Uganda. Instead of waiting until she suffers from malnutrition or starvation, we could proactively predict when there will be a lack of food and prevent it. Our hope is that this young single mother will benefit without even knowing something is going on, she will just continue to have food flowing into the nearby market.

Danielle Dhillon joined the Digital Impact Alliance in March 2017 as Senior Program Analyst, Data for Development. In this role, she works to demonstrate the value of a viable Data for Development (D4D) ecosystem for driving effective learning and decision-making across development programs, the public sector and the private sector.



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