New ways for developing countries to capitalize on rapid technological change

Men using a computer in Ghana. Photo by: Beyond Access / CC BY-SA

SAN FRANCISCO — New research from Pathways for Prosperity, a commission exploring the impact of rapid technological change on developing countries, proposes ways that challenges can become opportunities for the world’s most marginalized.

The joint initiative between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University has two reports out Thursday. The reports fill gaps in research, offer pathways for countries to become more prepared, and form the basis of remarks from Melinda Gates next week at the World Bank’s annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

The first report, “Charting Pathways for Inclusive Growth: From Paralysis to Preparation,” explains that countries should take three steps to capitalize on the potential pathways for prosperity.

The first step is to invest in hard connectivity infrastructure, as well as other infrastructures such as digital identification, education, and digital literacy. The second step is to guide markets toward innovation by supporting entrepreneurs, providing better access to financial services, and striking the right balance of policy and regulation. The final proposed step is to maximize inclusiveness, for example by accelerating transitions for workers in markets that will be disrupted by the transition.

“It’s not saying: You must do this,” Stefan Dercon, academic director of Pathways for Prosperity, told Devex. “It’s saying look, from what we have gathered, here is an entry point for you to do better as a country.”

The second report, “Digital Lives: Meaningful Connections for the Next 3 Billion” explores how individuals in developing countries are already using digital services and highlights the risks of digital exclusion making inequalities worse.

By focusing almost exclusively on the rich world, conversations on the impact of rapid technological change leave lower-income countries out of the picture, leaving them unsure of the best way forward, Dercon said.

“It is in the developing countries where the most benefit could be had, but also they may be really excluded if we’re not careful, so we want to put them on the map,” he said.

The research was based on a number of conversations individuals involved with Pathways for Prosperity have held since its launch, from the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos, Switzerland, to the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England, to the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly last week.

Dercon emphasized that there is no one route to success, and now that the commission has proposed these pathways, it plans to continue the conversation on the country level. He admitted that this work involves a bit of speculation, saying that is not “the most comfortable place for an academic to be in.” But said that with a simple set of frameworks, such as the ones presented in these reports, policymakers can better understand where things may be heading and how they can best prepare.

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    Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology and innovation in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported from all over the world, and freelanced for outlets including the Atlantic and the Washington Post. She is also the West Coast ambassador for the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit that trains and connects journalists to cover responses to problems.