5 ways mobility improves development outcomes

Schoolchildren from the Butilen Elementary School in Maguindanao, Philippines ride a boat to school from the Yellow Boat of Hope program. Photo by: Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation

As the world enters its most mobile age ever, being able to get from one place to another — and to do so safely, affordably, with dignity, and in an environmentally sustainable way — is essential for accessing health care, education, employment, and a host of other human needs.

Many in low- and middle-income countries pay a huge portion of their income — money that could be invested in their family’s education or health — simply to get to work, said William Chernicoff, senior manager of global research and innovation at the Toyota Mobility Foundation. In some locations, a lack of mobility prevents groups such as the elderly or women from contributing to the economy or even engaging in society.

From the ground up: Local views on mobility and development

A new report by Devex, in partnership with the Toyota Mobility Foundation, investigates how better mobility solutions can improve outcomes for a number of development goals. Click below to download the full version.

Download the From the ground up: local views on mobility and development report here.

“Mobility underpins access to a lot of development opportunity,” he said. “If you want to address social equity, an important part of that is addressing mobility constraints.”

It is therefore time for mobility to move up the agenda and become part of the conversation when addressing a growing number of development goals.

According to Andrew Mack, principal at AMGlobal Consulting, in today’s world of free trade, global conflict, and mass migration, “capital is mobile, ideas are mobile, data is mobile, disease is mobile, and problems are mobile. More people are moving to more places, more quickly, and more of our notion of ourselves — of our economic hopes and dreams — is based on the idea of mobility.” Improving access to safe and affordable transport must, he said, be “front and center” of any development goal.

A new report on mobility by Devex, in partnership with Toyota Mobility Foundation, titled From the ground up: Local views on mobility and development, surveyed over 1,200 global development professionals — both international and local staff based around the globe — and interviewed 48 practitioners on how improved mobility can lead to improved outcomes for a variety of development initiatives. These are the five ways the development community can make this happen.

1. Design solutions to meet everyone’s needs.

For any mobility solution to be effective, it must meet the needs of the people it is intended to serve. Human-centered design involves ensuring that society in its entirety is involved in the process from the start — including often marginalized groups such as the elderly, the disabled, women, and those with a low income.

Government officials, private sector companies, and even development professionals who devise transport solutions aren’t always aware of when, where, and why some groups need to travel and the challenges they face, said Chernicoff. “It’s important to try and understand the local context, engage, and work with the local community you want to help.”

“All forms of mobility need to be on the table and part of the solution, and central to that is the need for infrastructure.”

— William Chernicoff, senior manager of global research and innovation at the Toyota Mobility Foundation

Mobility is often hindered by difficult and unaccommodating geography, weather, and other on-the-ground conditions. In rural areas, poor mobility leads to a loss of opportunity as basic service facilities, such as schools and health centers, are extremely difficult to access. To address these issues and reach more people, Devex interviewees recommended bringing solutions to the communities themselves.

For example, the Mann Deshi Foundation in India offers a “business school on wheels” that visits 72 remote villages a year to provide intensive training to women, many of whom dropped out of school and married early.

2. Tailor solutions to the terrain.

At the same time, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work with mobility — solutions need to adapt to local geography, weather, and on-the-ground conditions.

In the Philippines, for example, the Yellow Boat of Hope program — under which local nongovernmental organizations distribute bicycles and boats — helps children in remote areas with no road access travel to school.

“What might work in a mountainous region in South America may not work in a semi-arid, more open-plain environment in Africa,” noted Chernicoff. “You need to have on-the-ground knowledge and partnerships between government, NGOs, and the private sector that work specifically in that context.”

There is a tension, however, between being tailored and scalable.

“Solutions, interventions, and engagement must be local and bespoke — but not isolated,” he explained. “There’s a need to replicate and extend, with broad knowledge applied in a local way.”

3. Look towards alternative transport options.

Building infrastructure is key for mobility.

“All forms of mobility need to be on the table and part of the solution, and central to that is the need for infrastructure,” said Chernicoff. “A wonderful app that helps coordinate access for rides doesn’t help the intended community if the vehicle can’t get there.”

Transport is now responsible for more than 27 percent of carbon emissions globally and solutions for nonmotorized modes such as cycling or walking need to be given more priority in development plans.

This requires the NGO community and private sector to work closely with governments — which ultimately have responsibility for planning and maintaining infrastructure — to ensure that the right kind of infrastructure is put in place and that it is efficiently managed, Chernicoff said.

Basic walking infrastructure, such as walkways linked to public transport systems, can have a big impact on communities, as can bicycle distribution programs in rural areas, respondents to the Devex-TMF survey noted.

“It’s time that we accept that the bicycle is the most efficient transport mode that we can have, that any country can have,” said Louis de Waal, chairman of the Bicycle Empowerment Network in South Africa.

4. Embrace technology.

Technology solutions — such as public transport or ride sharing websites and mobile applications, electric vehicles, and even telemedicine or online learning — attempt to help erode mobility barriers and the way the development community approaches them. For this reason, they must be embraced, with 39 percent of respondents to the Devex-TMF survey citing technology as a key factor driving forward mobility solutions.

Internet technologies offer the potential to leapfrog traditional capital-intensive solutions such as physical infrastructure investments, according to Claire Casey, managing director at FP Analytics, the research arm of the Foreign Policy publishing house. This, she explained, could include helping create efficiencies in mobility-on-demand ride sharing apps or para-transit systems — special transportation services for people with disabilities, provided as a supplement to fixed-route public transport systems.

On-demand transport is one component of Agromovil, a farm-to-market platform being developed by AMGlobal Consulting. The firm’s principal Andrew Mack said the platform will help tackle mobility and logistical challenges faced by farmers in Colombia and other countries.

Technology can also transform the safety and environmental footprint of mobility solutions, Mack added, noting that the impact of the Agromovil project could be increased by using sensors on its vehicle fleet to capture and share data about roads, fuel usage, or emissions.

It is important, however, that technology serves people, rather than the other way around, and that it is easily accessible and usable by everyone from low-income populations to the elderly, Chernicoff stressed.

5. Change attitudes and behavior.

Mobility solutions are more sustainable when stakeholders understand why they are needed, engage in their design and implementation, and are incentivized to change their behavior through a mix of rewards and penalties.

For example, training community members to build or maintain vehicles used in a mobility program can support its success, according to Devex-TMF survey respondents. New public transport systems are more likely to succeed, for example, if low fares or convenient timetables incentivize their use, and higher parking rates or other taxes discourage private vehicle use.

It is also vital to change attitudes at the government level, and the best way to do that is to demonstrate how public transit or other schemes have worked in locations with similar transport needs, challenges, and resources, said Jemilah Magnusson, global communications director at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

The Indian city of Pune, for example, has made huge progress in making its streets more pedestrian friendly by providing cycling infrastructure and expanding its well-running bus rapid transit system.

“It’s really starting to change people’s quality of life,” Magnusson said, adding that Pune is now often used as a showcase, with delegations from other Indian cities visiting to learn from its example.

What’s next?

Although the world is clearly starting to think creatively about mobility, this is no time to be complacent. Fewer than half of survey respondents, for example, think developing countries will enjoy improved mobility in the future.

Along with governments and other stakeholders, global development professionals have a responsibility — and a relatively small window of time — to prove them wrong.

To read the full report and find out just how far-reaching mobility-related work can be, click here.

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