Past Event

2015 Brookings Blum Roundtable: Disrupting development with digital technologies

Wednesday, August 05 - Friday, August 07, 2015
Aspen, Colorado

blum_roundtable_logoThe emergence of a new digital economy is changing the ways in which businesses and development organizations engage in emerging and developing countries. Transaction costs have been radically driven down, enabling greater inclusion. And technology is driving efficiency improvements, and permitting rapid scaling-up and transformational change.

On August 5-7, 2015, Brookings Global Economy and Development hosted the twelfth annual Brookings Blum Roundtable on Global Poverty in Aspen, Colorado. This year’s roundtable theme, “Disrupting development with digital technologies,” brought together global leaders, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and public intellectuals to discuss three trends in particular have the potential to redefine how global development occurs and how efforts will support it over the next 10 years: (1) the growing adoption of digital payments serving people everywhere with near-frictionless transactions; (2) the spread of internet connectivity and digital literacy; and (3) the harnessing of data to better serve the poor and to generate new knowledge.

Roundtable Agenda

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Welcome and opening remarks – 8:40-9:00 a.m.:

Session I – 9:00-10:30 a.m.: Realizing the potential of the digital economy

The digital revolution presents profound opportunities for global development. By integrating poor people into digital networks, the revolution can redefine what it means to be poor, and forge new pathways to prosperity for both individuals and countries.

What are the challenges in making the digital revolution fully inclusive and scalable—and how can they be lifted? In a full-fledged digital economy, which constraints facing the poor will diminish and which will remain? What risks does the digital economy pose?


Introductory remarks:

  • Michael Faye, GiveDirectly, Segovia Technology
  • Tunde Kehinde, African Courier Express
  • Christina Sass, Andela
  • Tariq Malik, National Database and Registration Authority

Session II – 10:50 – 12:20 p.m.: Global money

Between 2011 and 2014, 700 million people started a bank account for the first time, representing a giant step toward the World Bank goal of universal financial inclusion by 2020. Meanwhile, the digitalization of payments, spurred in part by 255 mobile money services across the developing world, is pushing the cost of basic financial transactions down toward zero.

How will an era of global money transform formal and informal business? Which sectors, product markets, and government services have the most to gain and lose from increased market efficiency? What are the consequences for financial regulation?


Introductory remarks:

  • Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Better than Cash Alliance
  • Luis Buenaventura,, Satoshi Citadel Industries
  • Tayo Oviosu, Paga
  • Loretta Michaels, U.S. Department of the Treasury

Lunch – 12:30-2:00 p.m.

Cocktail reception and interview – 5:00-7:00 p.m.:

During the reception, Richard Blum will lead a short discussion with Walter Isaacson and Ann Mei Chang on the topic “Silicon Valley and Innovation for the Developing World,” followed by questions. Remarks begin at 5:30 and will end at 6:15 p.m.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Session III – 9:00-10:30 a.m.: Global connections

Numerous ventures are competing today to bring internet connectivity to the furthest corners of the planet, while low-cost, user-centered-designed platforms are expanding the spread of digital literacy. Social media and crowdsourcing offer efficient ways for people to share information, solve problems, and act collectively.

To what extent can internet connectivity overcome isolation and empower poor communities that are socially, economically, and politically disenfranchised? Do the benefits of global connectivity for the world’s poor rely on issues like net neutrality, and what has been learned from recent battles to uphold this paradigm?


Introductory remarks:

Session IV – 10:50-12:20 p.m.: Global knowledge

The creation of a universal digital network will provide the poor with greater access to the information they need, and generate new knowledge that can be used to serve poor people more effectively. Digital inclusion can expand possibilities for targeting, verification, and analysis, while big data from biometric registries, satellites, phones, payments, and the internet can unlock insights on individual needs and preferences. In addition, open source platforms and MOOCs have the potential to be powerful accelerators for technology and skill transfer.

What kinds of new personalized services can be developed using improved capacity for targeting and tailoring? How might the reduction of barriers to information affect social mobility and economic convergence? How should big data be regulated?


  • Smita Singh, President’s Global Development Council

Introductory remarks:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Session V – 9:00-10:30 a.m.: Opportunities and challenges for business

The digital economy promises to disrupt many existing markets and generate new business opportunities that employ and serve the poor.

How can businesses employ digital technologies to expand their presence in poor and emerging countries? According to businesses, what is an effective regulatory framework for the digital economy? To what extent can strong digital infrastructure compensate for deficiencies in physical infrastructure or governance?


Introductory Remarks:

  • Jesse Moore, M-KOPA Solar
  • Anup Akkihal, Logistimo
  • V. Shankar, formerly Standard Chartered Bank
  • Barbara Span, Western Union

Session VI – 10:50-12:20 p.m.: Opportunities and challenges for development cooperation

The U.S. government sees itself as a leader in harnessing technology for global development. Meanwhile, aid agencies have been identified as a possible target for disintermediation by the digital revolution.

How can development organizations, both government and non-government, accelerate the digital revolution? How might traditional aid programs be enhanced by employing digital knowledge and technologies? Does U.S. regulatory policy on the digital economy cohere with its global development agenda?


Introductory remarks:

Closing remarks: