KPMG and Concordia have witnessed an uptick in stakeholder interest with regard to the concept of technology for development across multiple regions and sectors. This interest accelerated as the international community began to grapple with the immediate and projected long-term effects of the global COVID-19 outbreak. As a result of the pandemic, companies and organizations have turned to innovative technological integrations—especially in regards to logistics and service delivery—to keep their operations running smoothly. Meanwhile, international development actors have looked to harness learnings from the private sector to maintain continuity of services and—in many instances—scale their work to meet demand. This roundtable sought to bring leaders from the private and not-for-profit sector alongside development finance institutions (DFIs) to discuss what tech-based interventions were meeting the moment and where resources to scale might deliver across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Roundtable participants highlighted a number of technological innovations that their respective organizations have undertaken since the start of COVID-19. For instance, the World Food Programme serves over 138 million people in 88 countries and has utilized low-tech solutions, like food ATMs and cash & voucher assistance, to increase food accessibility as well as combat food loss and waste. Additionally, Google is a pioneer in remote learning and has been building on its previous investments in emerging markets, like India and Brazil, by supporting local education organizations and helping them scale their services. Together with these organizations, the company has been developing comprehensive curriculums and open-education resources that meet government standards. Looking toward long-term sustainability, Gosselink expressed the hope that Google’s educational tools can continue to be leveraged as “new opportunities for learning, even after going back to what our new form of education will look like in the years and months to come.”
Digital tools have supported businesses operating with narrower margins. For example, agriculture has traditionally been approached by value chain actors as an input-based industry, but digital enhancements like drone footage and data analytics have allowed Bayer to more accurately predict crop yield, precision farming input requirements, and timelines, thus shifting agriculture to an output-based industry and significantly reducing the associated risk held primarily by smallholder and subsistence farmers. The benefits of mapping and data analytics extend to the healthcare space, not only in combating COVID-19 spread through contact tracing or digital IDs, but in optimizing efficiencies and funding for other communicable diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. Another example can be found in financial access; for scenarios in which traditional banks would not provide financing, alternative financing opportunities have been made possible by fintech companies through the use of data and algorithms to build credit profiles. Building further on this, there has been a rise in digital remittances since the start of COVID-19. By identifying a way to formalize remittances through digital channels while linking them as collateral for vulnerable populations (like migrants) to access other financial services, we can drive progress towards achieving economic resiliency.
While COVID-19 has brought technology-based innovation to the forefront of development, it has also highlighted access, adoption, and application gaps that must be meaningfully addressed. This is exemplified by the digital divide present “not only between countries, but also within countries,” as Guermazi stressed. To enable Internet access for the half of the population that is not connected, a completely new and innovative approach is required to create truly meaningful impact. While improving Internet connectivity in a community is useful, it becomes meaningless if the members of the community cannot even afford devices that connect to the Internet. Going hand-in-hand with accessibility is the need to utilize an ecosystem-based approach. Key players from multiple sectors and industries must collaborate on the multitude of global development challenges present; there is a critical leadership role for DFIs to play in early-stage financing and credit access to support the adoption and scale of T4D. The Innovation Lab at the Inter-American Development Bank has already been making progress by identifying high-potential startups and early-stage investment opportunities, and helping to connect them with larger public organizations to bring about systemic change. In addition, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation is actively working with U.S. businesses to help them explore market opportunity and impact applications globally. Participants agreed that the role of partnerships is essential to building the capacity of small and medium enterprises and others to more effectively partner with larger institutions, and creating digital public goods to support this endeavor—like open and accessible data sets, policy frameworks and data management guidelines—is a key next step.
Specific recommendations by participants included:
Concordia and KPMG will separately and together continue to support the development, design, and implementation of collaboration between DFIs and enablers of T4D. For more on this topic, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director, Digital Development, Infrastructure Practice Group (GGI), The World Ba...