Disrupting Development through Science, Technology and Innovation

12 Apr 2018

Geneva, Switzerland

Event report

As part of the CFD/WB Series on Financing for Development in Action, the Graduate Institute’s Centre for Finance and Development and the World Bank Group Geneva co-hosted a discussion around the disruption that technology is bringing to industry, new growth pathways, and the respective roles of governments, the private sector, and academia. The discussion was moderated by Mr Ugo Panizza, professor of economics, Pictet chair in finance and development, the Graduate Institute Geneva.

In his introductory remarks, Mr Shaolin Yang, managing director and group chief administrative officer, the World Bank, stressed that digital advancement blurs the lines between the digital, physical, and biological. These transformations need to be put to use in the achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Six billion people still lack access to high-speed Internet, of which more than half remain unconnected. The WB aims to help countries lay a better foundation for the digital revolution by:

continuing to support the expansion of digital connectivity and affordable access (especially for women, minorities and other vulnerable groups) by incentivising the private sector and partnering with mobile operators for co-financing investments and helping to improve regulatory environments​
harnessing digital solutions to improve public services and using data in innovative ways (e.g. the Data Initiative signed at the GSMA in Barcelona earlier this year)​
looking at the potential of disruptive technology to solve intractable problems​
investing in the education and skill building of people, better business climate and good governance

The panel discussion that followed included experts from multiple sectors. Ms Sonja Betschart, co-founder WeRobotics, emphasised the importance of creating local capacity in developing countries for climate change, nature conservation, natural hazards etc. This is relevant for three main reasons: understanding the local context, developing new economies and building an ecosystem that needs to be managed locally in order to flourish.  She said that the education of the stakeholders and regulation were key in the work she conducted, namely around drone development in emerging economies. The two are related because good regulation needs to distinguish between different use cases of new technologies, to avoid being detrimental to the local economy.

For Mr Chaesub Lee, director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), innovation is a continuous move forward which leads to a better quality of the products around us. Moreover, the analogue and the digital domains are merging in innovations such as autonomous vehicles (e.g. audi @ home, audi on demand). Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the digital transformation have already started and the local impetus on data is key for the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital financial services. Currently, most IoT devices remain inside the house, and so should the data. This offers many opportunities to the local communities. One challenge, however, is that each country has different regulatory regimes.

Prof. Jovan Kurbalija, founding director of DiploFoundation and head of the Geneva Internet Platform, started by making a reference to the Digital Dividends report of the World Bank as a first warning in a ‘digital sleepwalking’ environment. Despite promises that technology will bring more productivity and make our societies more inclusive and equal, the reality is different. Back in 2016, the World Bank suggested the introduction of proper regulations, and immediate investment in the improvement of skills and in building institutions. For the latter, Kurbalija added that the destruction of public institutions has been the mantra of the last decade, resulting in a limited capacity of institutions to answer the key questions posed by the digital transformation nowadays. Geneva is the place where ‘technology meets humanity’, where the local conversations of regions worldwide can be heard and acted on.

From the World Economic Forum (WEF) perspective, introduced by Mr Nicholas Davis, head of Society and Innovation, member of the Executive Committee, the fourth industrial revolution will bring with it tremendous change to our identities and our landscape. ‘The use of technology for development should be our priority and responsibility’, Davis highlighted. Away from the fatalistic and techno-deterministic approach taken by some, we should encourage systems of public-private collaboration and incorporate the idea of democratisation into business models.