New frontier technologies can transform lives of poorest if governments, businesses and communities work together

by Sir Tim Berners-Lee


New technologies including drones, 3D printers and crowdsourcing could significantly improve the lives of the world’s poorest, says a new report launched today by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). Ten Frontier Technologies for International Development calls for strong leadership and collaboration between governments, the private sector, technical and academic experts if the full potential of these technologies are to be realised.

The research, led by the IDS Digital and Technology Research Group and commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), highlights that technological advances could mean better access to essential goods and services for poor, excluded and isolated communities in terms of providing, generating new sources of income and delivering urgent humanitarian assistance.  For instance the deployment of drones to great effect in the wake of the Nepal earthquake in 2015 to map the most affected areas has been followed by their growing use in the delivery of essential goods such as medicines and blood supplies.

However the report also underlines the potential risks and challenges, including improving connectivity and energy infrastructure.  Previous technological advances that did not take these into account have failed to benefit the poorest and most marginalised, underlining the message that technical fixes alone cannot address complex development problems that are embedded in social, political and economic contexts.

Ben Ramalingan, Report author and leader of the IDS Digital and Technology Group, said:

“These technologies offer truly transformative opportunities, particularly for the poor and the marginalised.  However to make this happen we need the innovations in technology to be matched by innovations in how the public sector works with the private sector, how international development organisations work with national governments and local communities, and how all of these actors works with entrepreneurs and innovators. We need collaboration not as a ‘nice-to-have’, but for the hard-nosed business of managing risks, building shared expertise, stimulating investment, and ultimately to better understand what works and provide leadership to navigate the factors that are stopping these technologies from been taken up more widely.”

The call for more attuned and attentive leadership was also echoed in the report’s foreword by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and founding director of the World Wide Web Foundation and World Wide Web Consortium, who said:

“I urge all leaders – be they politicians, development policymakers, or technologists and innovators – to heed this timely call, and to come together to realise the greater promise of open and inclusive technology in creating a more sustainable and faire future for all.”

The report, provides a review of frontier technologies in five areas – manufacturing and consumption, connectivity, transportation and logistics, fresh water and clean energy and aid.  Over the next three years a new DFID Frontier Technologies Livestreaming Initiative will pilot a number of the report’s recommendations and technologies. The Initiative will be launched in conjunction with the report by Undersecretary of State for International Development, James Wharton MP.

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