Clicks into Bricks, Technology into Transformation, and the Fight Against Poverty

Highlights

  • Today there is growing excitement about a new set of technologies that could further improve the lives of poor people around the world. For instance, mobile technology is giving poor people the capacity to use their cell phones to send, receive and store money.
  • The Obama administration has advocated an increased focus on technology within its global development policy, a position that enjoys bipartisan support.
  • A keystone of the roundtable discussion was recognizing the importance of the business model—the specific combination and design of product, distribution, supply chain, financing, pricing, payment and sales—through which a solution is propagated.

The last century has witnessed dramatic global improvements in the quality of life. Many of these improvements can be attributed to the discovery and spread of new technologies and ideas, ranging from vaccines and antibiotics, to improved hygiene, to the agricultural reforms of the Green Revolution. Today there is growing excitement about a new set of technologies that could further improve the lives of poor people around the world. Mobile technology is giving poor people the capacity to use their cell phones to send, receive and store money. Connection technologies such as open source software have allowed people in Haiti and Pakistan to collect and analyze information about, and then respond to, violence, corruption and natural disasters. “Green growth” innovations are expanding access to electricity and increasing agricultural yields around the globe while also reducing harmful emissions.

The 2012 Brookings Blum Roundtable was convened to discuss how the role of technology and innovation in global development can be promoted. Development practitioners and thought leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors came together to examine the constraints that prevent the take up of creative technologies and how these constraints can be lifted. A critical question for the roundtable was what role the U.S. government should play in this agenda and how it can crowd in greater private sector activity.

This report highlights 10 issues raised at the roundtable where either particular proposals were advanced and debated, or new perspectives and analyses were shared. In each case, we summarize the roundtable discussion or explore the issues raised.

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The video below chronicles M-Pesa, the leading mobile money service in Kenya, and delves into the question of why its success has not been easily replicated elsewhere. For more information on M-Pesa, read Chapter 2 of this report.