ICT Innovation Is Key to Unlocking Nigeria’s Demographic Dividend

A recent Dalberg report highlights technology-enabled innovations that have the potential to unleash Nigeria’s demographic dividend and help millions of people escape poverty.

Thirty eight percent of Nigeria’s population is between the ages of 15 and 35. Since Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, this means that the country has 64 million working-age people – or the equivalent of the population of both Malawi and South Africa combined. Economists call a large working-age population a “demographic dividend” because a big proportion of the country’s citizens is able to contribute to the economy.

Unfortunately, favorable demographics do not necessarily translate into more rapid economic development. A young population also puts pressure on many social systems – the food system must expand to feed a growing population, and the education system must be capable of preparing billions of minds for a rapidly shifting job market. The Dalberg report sees great potential in Nigeria’s tele-communications sector to improve its competitiveness in these two key areas.

Technology and innovation are driving forces behind economic growth around the world, and Nigeria is no different. In 2012, 30 percent of Nigeria’s GDP growth was attributed to information and communications technology (ICT). In a country were nearly 60 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar per day, two-thirds of the total population has an active mobile phone subscription.

Dalberg identified a number of ICT solutions that are focused on providing teachers with tools that enable them to provide quality education to an increasing number of students. EduTech is designed to deliver educational material to university students through customized tablets. English Teacher, an initiative of Nokia and UNESCO, provides pedagogical advice to thousands of Nigerian teachers through daily messages. Bridge International Academies is a chain of low-cost primary schools that provides educators not just with a well-designed curriculum and educational materials, but also administrative systems to minimize overhead and help track educational outcomes.

Agriculture is also an important sector of the Nigerian economy. Seventy percent of Nigerians are employed in agriculture and the sector accounts for 42 percent of the country’s economic output. However, Nigerian farm yields are far below the global average. According to Dalberg, “Only four of Nigeria’s 29 most cultivated crops by area harvested (cashew nuts, yams, melon seed, and cassava) are in the top quartile of global yields.”

ICT has the potential to improve the enabling environment for Nigeria’s farmers in everything from improving market access to educating farmers about agricultural best practices. Dalberg highlights three such innovations. The Nigerian Ministry of agriculture has developed an e-wallet to make agricultural subsidies more efficient and transparent. MoBiashara improves access to inputs, such as fertilizer, by creating a market for farmers to compare prices and check local inventories via text-message. iCow, an innovation out of Kenya, provides farmers advice on raising cows and chickens throughout the lifecycle of their animals.

Innovative use of ICT is already having a positive impact on Nigeria’s agriculture and education sector. These examples are just a few of the many innovations that are driving growth. Providing the foundation for these technologies – through improved cellular networks and electrical grids – will be the key to unlocking Nigeria’s demographic potential.

What Does “Service Delivery” Really Mean?

This article was originally posted on the World Policy Journal blog.

By Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar

“Service delivery” is a common phrase in South Africa used to describe the distribution of basic resources citizens depend on like water, electricity, sanitation infrastructure, land, and housing. Unfortunately, the government’s delivery and upkeep of these resources is unreliable – greatly inconveniencing or endangering whole communities. In response, the number of “service delivery protests,” or protests demanding better service delivery, have become more popular in recent years. So popular, in fact, that the term “service delivery protest” has become a loosely used term by the media to define various types of protests.

We traveled to South Africa to develop the South Africa Service Delivery Protest Tracker, a unique online application that tracks and maps service delivery protests in real time, ahead of the country’s election. In order to so, we needed to find out how to distinguish service delivery protests from other protests and examine why they were happening.

Through our visits to townships and encounters with protesters, we were able to begin to answer these complex questions and shed some light on how the phrase “service delivery” is used in the vernacular of South Africa.

Our first stop was the Alexandra Township, once known as the “Dark City” due to its lack of electricity. Established in 1912 and located about 15km from the center of Johannesburg, Alexandra is lively with a vivid social culture and is a good window into township life. As one of the most densely populated areas in South Africa, Alexandra also encompasses many of the problems associated with township living. With almost 70 percent unemployment and poor infrastructure in areas like sanitation and electricity, there is dire poverty and high crime rates.

When we arrived in Alexandra on March 21, we joined up with a group of volunteers from South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC). The day we arrived was Human Rights Day, a celebration in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, which took place a day after demonstrations against the Pass laws. These pass laws were a form of internal passport system designed to segregate the population which severely limit the movements of the black Africans.

One of the ANC volunteers invited us to join them in Sharpeville, a township nearly an hour away by car, for Human Rights Day celebrations. During the drive, the ANC volunteer, a life-long resident of Alexandra, told us about his everyday struggle for basic services. He explained to us why the residents needed to protest. He said besides services, jobs were their biggest issue. He is unemployed and feels voiceless. The only way to express their grievances are through these protests.

 

 A service delivery protest in Standerton, South Africa.

Sharpeville is the epicenter of the country’s Human Rights Day celebration. In spite of the grim history of Sharpville Massacre, the atmosphere was festive with a lot of singing and dancing (see our video blog). Though the focus was on Human Rights Day celebration, conversations and speeches were peppered with mentions of  service delivery, showing how citizens see access to basic services as a basic human right. During the celebration, we talked to various participants about the service delivery industry, mostly focusing on housing,water, and power shedding. They said corruption within the local municipality has led to prolonged lack of delivery of sanitation, water, electricity and decent housing.  In addition, in President Zuma’s address to the crowd he promised to better the service delivery system. However, despite frequents mentions of service delivery rights; it was still unclear to us how hey plans to do so, or what “service delivery” actually meant.

Sometime after the Sharpeville celebrations, we came across a large crowd of about 200 people, clad in red T-shirts, holding banners that read, “Smash false solutions,” “Decent work + living wage. NOW,” and “Create work through worker Cooperatives.” The gathering, organized by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), was protesting against the Employment Tax Incentive Act. The Act encourages private employers to hire young workers by providing a tax incentive to employers, with government sharing the costs of such employment for a maximum of two years under certain conditions.

In response to NUMSA’s protest, General Secretary Irvin Jim said, “the protesters felt that the working class is forced to subsidize capitalists, while tax incentives are not reducing high levels of unemployment.” When we asked the protesters if job creation is a responsibility of the government, the majority responded yes. This again refers back to the question of what constitutes service delivery? Does it simply refer to basic services such as sanitation, water, housing, and electricity or does it also include employment, or the right to a job?

From our anecdotal experience we learned that “service delivery” is not universally defined. Such linguistic challenges have significant implications in our ability to best track the various protests. Should our tracker capture every broad mention of “service delivery,” or should it focus on a distinct definition? The talk of service delivery is pervasive in the political discussions of South Africa—the term may be overused or over-reported on. While this realization complicated our research, it ultimately was revealing and allowed us to witness the excitement and vibrant nature of South African democracy.

Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar are Master of Public Administration students at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. They are working with Ambassador John Campbell. The project was made possible by faculty advisor Professor Anne Nelson.

For full background on the project, check out the related blogs, “Tracking South Africa’s Democracy In Real Time,”and “Eyewitness to Democracy: South Africa.” 

[Photo courtesy of Kim Ludbrook/EPA and Jan Truter]

NYC Tech Growth Booming, Education Not Keeping Pace, Signs of Hope

This article was originally posted on the HuffingtonPost.

NYC startup growth between 2001 and 2011 outpaced all US competitor cities, including Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston.

2014-04-30-1.pngNYC also outpaces other US cities in terms of venture capital growth. In fact, NYC saw the largest increase of venture capital growth of any U.S. city over the past decade. Startups and venture capital has clearly become a driver for growth, but NYC’s education system has failed to keep pace.

2014-04-30-2.pngThe number of degrees awarded in NYC schools in STEM within the same period grew at a much slower rate. Degrees in STEM education grew at only 1.1 percent, a low figure relative to other fields of study such as healthcare (5.9 percent) and social sciences (3.1 percent).

2014-04-30-3.pngOne solution outlined in a recent NYC Jobs Blueprint report by Partnership for New York City included appointing within the city a “Chief Talent Officer” responsible for workforce and career development functions. This CTO would be in charge of bridging the coordination gap between the private sector and the City’s workforce development agencies and educational institutions so that programs are tailored in response to demand.

Coordination towards collective action should definitely be part of the solution. However, within a context of tremendous innovation and decentralized technological development happening in NYC, it’s paradoxical that the proposed solution focuses on centralization and vertical organization.

Government-lead solutions are not working! New data released by the Census Bureau shows that even though the recession has ended, the city’s poverty rate continues to increase, and the gap between the rich and poor is on the rise?

Information and communication technology (ICT), however, offers signs of hope. ICT and community-led development projects could be used in a much more systemic way to bridge private and public interests and reduce socio-economic inequality.

Nothing brings inequality into focus quite like a natural disaster, as it was the case with Hurricane Sandy. The poor are overwhelmingly impacted by natural disasters and little has been done to improve their resiliency. Simply put, poorer communities lack the resources to evacuate and prepare for storms, and are more likely to be located in areas that are vulnerable to disaster.

2014-04-30-4.pngWith Hurricane Sandy, community organizations, churches and even next-door neighbors rallied to fill gaps in the government response.

One of the most successful ICT enabled projects launched in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was a project supported by Occupy Sandy Recovery — an offshoot of the inequality advocacy group Occupy Wall Street. The group developed a platform called “OccupySMS” to facilitate “mutual aid,” by connecting people with a need to volunteers offering assistance in a specific area. The application utilized an existing platform called Mobile Commons, allowing users to request donations or assistance and matching those requests to nearby volunteers via SMS. The service was specifically intended to fill individual household needs that were not being met by government-operated aid distribution centers.

Occupy Sandy’s efforts did not end with the recovery efforts. The organization followed through by creating an incubator of sorts to promote projects that address the long-term relief, recovery and resiliency of the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The directory of projects includes both social and technological projects to improve coordination in the event of another natural disaster. FLO Solutions, for example, aims to help organizations implement free and open-source technology that will make it easier for them to share knowledge and data in a disaster situation. By networking non-profit, community and relief organizations together, the project facilitates the sharing of actionable information, such as requests for supplies and volunteers.

Occupy Sandy isn’t the only organization in New York that is fostering creative and technology-based solutions to issues of development and inequality.

The NYC-based Nutri Ventures and the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) announced recently a commitment to bring “Nutri Ventures: The Quest for the 7 Kingdoms”, one of the most popular digital-only kids’ series, to over 60,000 elementary schools across America. Nutri Ventures is a multi media educative platform to change children’s eating habits worldwide through entertainment. This will be PHA’s first-ever partnership with an animated series emphasizing nutrition education and healthy eating choices for kids.

“Nutrition and obesity are among the most urgent concerns for parents, educators and for children themselves,” said Rui Lima Miranda, co-founder and managing partner of Nutri Ventures Corp.

‪Inequality remains a huge problem in New York City, but with the help of civic organizations and ICT enabled solutions we can design networked governance systems to connect market driven solutions with public development issues and ensure that the most vulnerable members of our community are not forgotten.‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesper Frant is a Master of Public Administration student at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs and an expert in online communications.

Human Rights Day Rally, Sharpville, Johannesburg

Eyewitness to Democracy: South Africa

This article was originally posted on the World Policy Journal blog.

By Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar

The May elections in South Africa will be a bellwether for the future of the young democracy  experts from around the globe are weighing in on the possibilities. We at Columbia University wanted to witness this historic moment in history first-hand, and collect field research on the South African political sphere. We traveled to the country and interviewed journalists, academics, civil rights advocates, and local officials to create the South Africa Service Delivery Protest Tracker – a student consulting project for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Throughout our field research, we were interested in three critical questions. How do South Africans feel about the upcoming elections? How does Nelson Mandela’s legacy impact the development of this young democracy? How does South African democracy manifest itself at the local level?

As our video shows, South Africans maintain a sense of guarded optimism about the stability and effectiveness of their government in the lead up to the elections. They still feel very much in touch with Nelson Mandela’s legacy, using it as a guiding light for democracy. And in working to attain democracy, the people of South Africa frequently take to the streets to express their rights and grievances.

 

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Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar are Master of Public Administration students at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. They are working with Ambassador John Campbell. The project was made possible by faculty advisor Professor Anne Nelson.

Tracking South Africa’s Democracy In Real Time

This article was originally posted on the World Policy Journal and Council on Foreign Relations blogs.

By Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar

We arrived in Johannesburg after 17 hours in the air, with a short, hurried stopover in London. As the airplane doors opened, the scorching 80 degree weather of South Africa’s Highveld greeted us, melting the sub-zero temperatures from recent New York winter memory. The change in weather was cheerful but, as graduate students from Columbia University’s School of International Affairs, we were more interested in the changing climate of South African democracy.

We arrived at a crucial and transitional moment in South Africa’s history, beginning on what we hope to be an important project on the country’s democratic future. Following Nelson Mandela’s death in 2013, the May 2014 elections will be a bellwether for the future of democracy in South Africa. Whether this election will lead to a more representative and responsive government or increased political divisiveness and turmoil remains an unanswered question.

Our project, the South Africa Service Delivery Protest Tracker, will stand as a resource used to provide information for gauging the strength of South African democracy. To do so, we are focusing in on the country’s service delivery protests. These protests, a legacy of the apartheid era, are organic uprisings that occur with regularity across South Africa when a community feels its right to basic services – sanitation, water, housing, electricity, etc. – are not being met by the government.

The protest tracker is part of a student consulting practicum with John Campbell, former Ambassador of United States to Nigeria and Africa Fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations. His work and the work of many experts inform our new tech-driven project.

For many analysts, service delivery protests are an indicator of the strength, or weakness, of South African democracy. In “Pathways to Freedom,” a book co-authored by Ambassador Campbell, the authors write that civic organizations in South Africa  “now play an important role in agitating for better service delivery, more accountable governance, and policies to address poverty, inequality, and high unemployment.” Protest, a legacy of the fight against apartheid, remains one of the primary tools wielded by these civil society organizations. However, little is known about the character and scale of these protests in aggregate.

The protest tracker will aggregate news articles and other online media sources and subsequently visualize mentions of service delivery protests both geographically and over time. Building upon the methodology the Council on Foreign Relations used to build the Nigeria Security Tracker, we plan to develop an online platform that automates the process of tracking and aggregating data on these protests. The hope is that this tool will be a source of real-time data on protests that will be useful for policy makers, think tanks, journalists, academics as well as the general public.

A search of FACTIVA’s database revealed preliminary evidence that reporting on service delivery protests has been increasing since the early 2000s, with a sharp downturn in 2013. However, this data is limited by internal factors such as FACTIVA’s addition of new sources and external factors like the media’s use of the term “service delivery protest.”
Source: FACTIVA

Our field research in Johannesburg, which included interviews with key stakeholders and visits to townships, brought a better understanding of the current media and political environment in South Africa. This new information triggered debate among our team members on some of our project’s underlying assumptions and intended direction

The first aspect we debated was where to get our data. For example, we explored using FACTIVA, a service that aggregates articles from top South African media outlets, web media, trade and consumer publications. This dataset would be used as our baseline – a point of comparison to judge the reliability of the data we collect via the protest tracker.  Through our interviews in South Africa – covering academia, newspapers, non-profit organizations – we realized that FACTIVA’s data may be insufficient as a baseline for our project.

FACTIVA, although covering 28 languages over 35 years, excludes the dominating local languages in South Africa like Afrikaans and Zulu. More importantly, FACTIVA’s data is unreliable when looking for trends over time due to changing reporting patterns and shifting data sources. Relatively little reporting on service delivery protests in prior to 2004 (see graph) may not necessarily indicate fewer service delivery protests during that time because journalists may not have used the term “service delivery protest” as a description.


Moreover, the increasing number of articles mentioning service delivery protests may have more to do with FACTIVA’s addition of new sources than with the country’s political situation. While selection bias may be unavoidable with a methodology that involves aggregating news sources, the effect can be minimized by creating as comprehensive a list of sources as possible, favoring local newspapers, and designing search terms that accurately reflect the most commonly used lexicon in reporting about service delivery protests.

We then were forced to re-consider what exactly our project sought to contribute. We quickly learned of a number of research projects on service delivery protests, involving separate groups which employ similar methodologies: Service Delivery Protest Barometer, ISS Crime Hub, MunicipalIQ, Mail &Guardian, the University of Johannesburg, and Rhodes University. How was ours different?

Soon it became clear that, while these groups tend to be better at recording individual protests, few are open source and most leave the data sources disconnected from the final visualizations. Graphs and visualizations, although comprehensive and full of information, tend to be static snapshots of the data. Our project aims to fill in these gaps by creating an interactive online dashboard that empowers users to look beyond numbers and explore the context behind each data point.

As we begin to develop this platform, many questions remain unanswered. How can we make this project sustainable so that it will live on beyond our semester-long practicum? Can an automated methodology fully capture the complexity of service delivery protests and distribute valuable data? These questions, in addition to concerns over time-constraints and technological solutions, remain unanswered.

This is the first of three dispatches from South Africa covering our work. Follow along as we design a platform to track service delivery protests and report on South African democracy in the lead up to the imminent elections.

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Le Chen, Janice Dean, Jesper Frant, and Rachana Kumar are Master of Public Administration students at Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs. They are working with Ambassador John Campbell. The project was made possible by faculty advisor Professor Anne Nelson.

Tech Solutions Address Vulnerability of Poor in Natural Disasters

Nothing quite brings inequality into focus quite like a natural disaster. The poor are overwhelmingly impacted by natural disasters and little has been done to improve their resiliency. There is hope, however. Information and communication technology (ICT) enabled and community-led development projects have begun to address issues of relief, recovery, and resiliency for the most vulnerable in New York City.

Hurricane Katrina showed us the racial nature of poverty in New Orleans and how inequality affects our ability to cope with natural disaster. According to a Congressional Research Services report, the hurricane “disproportionately impacted communities where the poor and minorities, mostly African-Americans, resided.” Simply put, poorer communities lack the resources to evacuate and prepare for storms, and are more likely to be located in areas that are vulnerable to disaster.

Hurricane Sandy was no different – again the poor were the hardest hit by the disaster, but the response by government was decidedly better – though not perfect. Community organizations, churches and even next-door neighbors rallied to fill gaps in the government response.

OccupySMS

The OccupySMS map was intended to facilitate “mutual aid” connecting volunteers who happen to be in the neighborhood with individuals with specific needs.

One of the most successful ICT enabled projects launched in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was a project supported by Occupy Sandy Recovery – an offshoot of the inequality advocacy group Occupy Wall Street. The group developed a platform called “OccupySMS” to facilitate “mutual aid,” by connecting people with a need to volunteers offering assistance in a specific area. The application utilized an existing platform called Mobile Commons, allowing users to request donations or assistance and matching those requests to nearby volunteers via SMS. The service was specifically intended to fill individual household needs that were not being met by government-operated aid distribution centers.

Occupy Sandy’s efforts did not end with the recovery efforts. The organization followed through by creating an incubator of sorts to promote projects that address the long-term relief, recovery and resiliency of the communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The directory of projects includes both social and technological projects to improve coordination in the event of another natural disaster. FLO Solutions, for example, aims to help organizations implement free and open-source technology that will make it easier for them to share knowledge and data in a disaster situation. By networking non-profit, community and relief organizations together, the project facilitates the sharing of actionable information, such as requests for supplies and volunteers.

Occupy Sandy isn’t the only organization in New York that is fostering creative and technology-based solutions to issues of inequality. Code for America’s betaNYC Meetup calls itself “America’s largest civic technology and open government community.” By supporting civic technology startups and open government initiatives the organization hopes to “solve 21st Century civic problems … improving the lives of all in New York City.”

Inequality remains a huge problem in New York City, but with the help of civic organizations like Occupy Sandy and betaNYC we can make our city more resilient to natural disasters and ensure that the most vulnerable members of our community are not forgotten.

A renewable boost to the Internet cafe

Development projects come and go. They are replaced, neglected, restored, discarded, rejuvenated, and/or dismissed. The ruins of past development projects littered the community of La Plata in Bahía Málaga: the remnants of a concrete pedestal that had been used to elevate a rainwater collection barrel, a run-down and un-utilized school latrine, and a solar panel that had been abandoned after another project left the satellite phone it powered irrelevant.

The new project was an Internet kiosk built by Compartel – an initiative of Colombia’s Ministerio de Tecnologías de la Información y las Comunicaciones (MinTIC). While I was able to benefit from access to the kiosk all summer, it was officially inaugurated just this month to “give 110 families access to Internet without having to travel to the urban center of the municipality.”

Without a doubt this project will have a lasting and significant impact on the community, providing them with daily Internet access and phone service, overcoming the nearly non-existent cell phone signal (I had to stand on the dock in order to make/receive phone calls).

The kiosk does have a few limitations, however.

Compartel "Vive Digital" Internet Kiosk

Solar Pannel Installed on the Internet Kiosk in La Plata-Bahía Málaga

First, the available bandwidth can barely handle one computer playing a YouTube video, let alone five Ubuntu computers with children playing flash-based Internet games. For basic applications like checking email or using Facebook the kiosk worked just fine, but as soon as more than one computer began to use data-heavy websites the whole system became unusably slow.

Second, while the kiosk uses WiFi instead of Ethernet cables to communicate with the Internet, the password was strictly controlled so that they can charge for access and recoup some of the costs of operating and administering the kiosk. This was a bigger problem for me than for your average user, but it basically meant that I could not connect other computers, tablets, or smartphones to the Internet, forcing me to use the limited capabilities of the five Ubuntu computers and only the programs that came pre-installed (install rights had been restricted). Luckily, (for me, but not the bandwidth usage) Ubuntu lets you uncover the WiFi password in network settings and I was able to connect the Internet with my computer and other devices (shhh, don’t tell Compartel).

Finally, the kiosk depends on electricity generated by the community’s gasoline-powered generator, which only runs from 6-10pm every day (the official hours of operation posted outside the kiosk were 3-9pm). For me, this meant that I could only use the Internet during peak bandwidth-usage time or steal an hour here or there when the kiosk was running on battery power. Luckily, a few weeks into my field placement, a worker from Compartel came to decommission the solar-powered satellite phone. He took only the microwave transmitter, leaving the solar panel, cables, power inverter, and battery (everything we needed to jerry-rig a solar system for the Internet kiosk). After some amateur electrical engineering, and some acrobatic rooftop maneuvers by Santiago (the administrator of the digital Kiosk and my supervisor for my field placement), we managed to install the panel on the roof of the kiosk. But after attaching the panel to the system we got…nothing.

The power inverter that came with the system only put out 100 watts, enough to power a lightbulb or charge a basic Nokia phone, but not enough to power the satellite dish and wireless router. Santiago did a little searching and came up with another power inverter (this one put out 300 watts) and voilà: six more hours of Internet a day. The solar panel could not charge all five Ubuntu computers, but with direct sunlight during the morning hours it was more than enough to power the Internet. The extra six hours of Internet time allowed me to use the full bandwidth during off-peak hours and complete a new website for Ecomanglar (the main deliverable of my summer field placement).