The global development community is teeming with
promising technological solutions to improve the lives
of the world’s poorest people. Examples include cleanenergy, portable fuel cells powered by sodium silicide to bring
power to off-grid homes; a cell phone fingerprint recognition
app to improve health worker attendance; a special pen to selftest for pre-eclampsia to prevent maternal mortality; a low-cost
psychometric-based test to screen credit applications from small
business owners; and cyanobacterial fertilizer to improve soil
fertility. These particular examples are among several currently
being sponsored by the U.S. government as part of its renewed
focus on supporting transformative technologies for development.
Whether these or any other technologies succeed in
having a transformative impact depends not just on their
individual brilliance and creativity but also on whether they
can be brought to a scale where they can reach millions of
poor people. Participants in the Brookings Blum Roundtable
examined what it takes to propagate technological solutions
for development so that their reach can be maximized.
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.
This is equally applicable whether the solution is delivered
commercially or as a public good or service. Most business
models employed in administering development interventions
are not viable at scale, which explains their limited reach and
impact. Identifying the appropriate business model to use for
a given product or intervention is therefore a critical challenge.