Can digital technologies really be used to reduce inequalities?

By Tim Unwin, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Royal Holloway, University of London1, and Co-Founder of TEQtogether2

Digital-technologies-inequalitiesThe numerous initiatives created over the last 20 years using Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) have transformed the lives of many people living in poorer countries. However, at the same time, they have also greatly increased the economic power and wealth of the owners and shareholders of large global technology corporations. In 2017, Oxfam reported that eight men owned the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity; five of these men made most of their wealth directly from the technology sector.3 Of course, such technologies can reduce inequalities, but the hidden, ugly secret of “digital development” is that instead of improving the lives of the poorest and most marginalised, such technologies have actually dramatically increased inequality at all scales, from the global to the local.

Few people and organisations emphasise this, focusing instead on the glass being half-full rather than half-empty. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and countless others have thus recently praised the achievement that 51.2% of the world’s population were using the Internet by the end of 2018.4 However, this means that 48.8% are still not using it. If the Internet brings benefits, then just under half of the world’s people are being structurally disadvantaged. Yet, this need not be. If we have the will to do so, we can indeed work together with people with disabilities, children at risk of living and working on the streets, refugees, women and girls in patriarchal societies, ethnic minorities, and those living in geographically isolated areas to help empower them through the design and use of relevant technologies. Continue reading

Digital economies at global ‘’margins’’

By Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford; Turing Fellow, The Alan Turing Institute; and Research Affiliate, School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford

digital-economies.jpgBillions of people at the world’s economic ‘’margins’’ are experiencing a moment of changing connectivity. In Manila, Manchester, Mogadishu, the banlieues of Marseille and everywhere in between, the world is becoming digital, digitised and digitally mediated at an astonishing pace. Most of the world’s wealthy have long been digitally connected, but the world’s poor and economically marginal have not been enrolled in digital networks until relatively recently. In only five years (2012–2017), over one billion people became new Internet users (ITU 2016). In 2017, Internet users became a majority of the world’s population. The networking of humanity is thus no longer confined to a few economically prosperous parts of the world. For the first time in history, we are creating a truly global and accessible communication network.

Continue reading

Visualising urbanisation: How the Africapolis platform sheds new light on urban dynamics in Africa

By Lia Beyeler, Communications Officer and Nisha Schumann, Consultant, Sahel and West Africa Club Secretariat (SWAC/OECD)

Africa’s urban population is the fastest growing in the world. By 2050, Africa’s cities will be home to nearly one billion additional people. Yet, where and how Africa’s cities of the future emerge and evolve are insufficiently understood.

Traditionally, the focus has been put on larger cities as opposed to smaller urban agglomerations. Yet, smaller agglomerations with populations between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants represent one-third of Africa’s overall urban population, accounting for more than 180 million people in 2015. Their significance is highlighted by the fact that many of the continent’s future cities are emerging through the fusion of smaller cities or through population densification in rural areas – trends that are not captured in official statistics and government data, which tend to focus on cities as political units with defined boundaries.

The OECD Sahel and West Africa Club’s Africapolis platform, which launched during the 8th Africities Conference in Marrakesh, seeks to bridge the gap in data on African urbanisation dynamics. It provides a powerful tool for governments, policy makers, researchers and urban planners to better understand urbanisation’s drivers, dynamics and impacts. This understanding, in turn, will help design more relevant policies that address the growing challenges of urbanisation at the local, national and regional levels. Continue reading

Raising capital for intermediary cities

By Jeremy Gorelick, Senior Infrastructure Finance Advisor, USAID’s* WASH-FIN (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene – Finance) Programme, and Joel Moktar, Project Leader, Open Capital Advisors


This blog is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection between intermediary cities in developing countries and sustainable development


shutterstock_785203567

Intermediary cities are the fastest growing cities in the developing world. Often referred to as secondary or second-tier cities, intermediary cities typically have a population of between 50,000 and one million people. They play a fundamental role in connecting both rural and urban areas to basic facilities and services.[1] Driven by population growth and rural-urban migration, intermediary cities worldwide are projected to grow at almost twice the rate of megacities (those with more than 10 million inhabitants) between now and 2030.[2] Of these, the fastest growing cities are in Africa and Asia.[3]

Continue reading