Negawatt in the making: Ghanaians host the first energy efficiency Challenge


Challenge participants at the Negawatt Weekend kickoff on March 14.
Photo: Alison Roadburg

As a rapidly urbanizing capital, Accra, Ghana has been experiencing increased economic activity, coupled with rising migration. An increase in urban residents means an uptick in the demand for energy, both electricity and fuel.

The city has constrained human and financial resources to respond to this issue, as energy supply is struggling to keep up with ever-growing demand. Consequently, severe electricity shortages occur at the national level, resulting in frequent load shedding and energy price inflation, to the tune of 12 percent in the third quarter of 2014 alone.

Dumsor or load shedding has become part of the everyday life of local inhabitants; in fact, it is such a chronic issue that it has even made it into Wikipedia. Under the current timetable, residential customers have up to 24 hours of power outage for every 12 hours of power and are forced to use back-up power, kerosene lamps or be without power. At the same time, the Energy Commission of Ghana estimates that every year end-use electricity waste is around 30 percent of all of the electricity consumed, which in part, is due to the inefficiency of appliances and their overuse by the population. As is well known, inefficient use of energy contributes to higher levels of energy consumption than needed.

Although energy supply in the city is so often an issue, creative energies are bubbling in local information technology and innovation hubs, ready for a “spillover” into other sectors such as energy. Accra is home to a growing community of technologists and innovators, offering great and untapped potential for a new force to offer solutions, particularly, in the area of energy efficiency.

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Does social dimension beat geographic clustering in creating tech innovation ecosystems in cities?

The title of this blog entry is one of the many questions we’ve been asking in our research to identify key success factors for urban tech innovation ecosystems. We wanted to better understand what causes tech innovation and entrepreneurship to grow faster in some cities, as well as explore the potential of these ecosystems for creating new sources of employment and growth.

Traditionally, the focus has been in clustering: building technology parks or innovation districts where companies, research and development (R&D) labs, universities and other actors were placed together in a defined geographic district or area. We have challenged this unidirectional focus and looked beyond geography to understand how connections and the social dimension of the ecosystem impacted on its growth and sustainability.

The answer we are getting is that the social dimension not only matters, it matters quite a big deal. The social dimension is the “glue” of the ecosystem and expands it beyond geographic boundaries of districts or technology parks. Networking assets (specific actors and events that work as social networks nodes) keep this social dimension together, being central to the ecosystem.

When we explored the impact of the social and the geographic dimension of tech startups in their success (in terms of capital rising), we found a positive and significant correlation for the social dimension. We did not find any correlation for geographic location.

These findings are not yet conclusive, but they point to one important direction: policies need to focus more on the social dimension. Ecosystems need to be understood as a community that requires active nurturing and maintenance in order to thrive and grow. The geographic dimension seems to be a tool for the development of social connections, but it does not develop these connections by itself (something else is needed). This means that the focus of policy to support the ecosystems should pay attention to the development of networking assets that kick-start communities, build networks (such as  meet-ups and mentoring) and provide platforms for community building ( such as collaboration spaces).

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Unveiling the value of mobile identity and its role in the digital economy

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week, topics such as Mobile Identity and Mobile for Development and Inclusion stole the spotlight. Today, it’s becoming clearer that secure digital identities can become the gateways to greater social welfare, more inclusive and transparent government and, of course, economic growth.

For its tenth anniversary, the Mobile World Congress had more than 2,100 companies showcasing their innovations in front of record-breaking audiences: over 93,000 attendees from 200 countries.The GSM Association (GSMA) also hosted a seminar program to educate conference participants on industry initiatives such as Connected Women programme: a timely undertaking that promotes gender diversity in the telecommunications sector.

Mobile identity offers a means of extending access to a vast array of services, such as mobile banking and mobile health, to everyone, particularly those who have been previously marginalized, including women and those living in poverty. The ability to get an identity that is verifiable online is a transformational capability that can grant access to banking, mobile payments and healthcare, as well as transportation and other advanced identity-based digital services.

At the most fundamental level, the planning and delivery of economic and social support programs relies on the government’s knowledge of its citizens: who they are, where they live, their social and economic circumstances, and so on. Utilizing mobile devices to register and validate an identity offers a compelling opportunity for governments and businesses to authenticate and then provide access to a broad range of digital services.

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Mobile services: a game-changer for the greater good

Mobile services are the extension services of inclusion.  Increasingly, the world’s poor – and especially the bottom 40 percent in terms of income – are being reached via mobile devices by government agencies, development partners, banks, companies and others.As we extend networks, and in particular broadband, to reach more isolated populations and the bottom 40 percent, we need to foster the development of relevant content in substance (including government services) as well as form (including pictorial and video information for the illiterate).

 


Mobile-money services like M-Pesa have
helped bring banking to millions in
developing countries. Photo: Ventures Africa 

The private sector is the key driver of this entire change process, which government should facilitate.

The acceleration of technological change – with mobile is at the forefront – is leading to increased convergence between networks, devices, services and content providers. Judging from what I saw and heard during last week’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,  my sense is that telecommunications regulation (as  practiced today) will soon become obsolete, overshadowed by the importance of ensuring an overall balance and flexibility in this broader, converging market.

Consequently, institutions like the World Bank will need to find better ways to ensure that key regulators talk to each other and work towards the greater public good. This includes not only telecom and competition authorities, but also broadcasting, financial services and other regulatory bodies. We should facilitate these conversations between regulators, especially in view of the fast-growing involvement of telecommunications entities in the mobile money space.

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New surveys reveal dynamism, challenges of open data-driven businesses in developing countries

Open data for economic growth continues to create buzz in all circles.  We wrote about it ourselves on this blog site earlier in the year.  You can barely utter the phrase without somebody mentioning the McKinsey report and the $3 trillion open data market.  The Economist gave the subject credibility with its talk about a ‘new goldmine.’ Omidyar published a report a few months ago that made $13 trillion the new $3 trillion.  The wonderful folks at New York University’s GovLab launched the OpenData500 to much fanfare.  The World Bank Group got into the act with this study.  The Shakespeare report was among the first to bring attention to open data’s many possibilities. Furthermore, governments worldwide now routinely seem to insert economic growth in their policy recommendations about open data – and the list is long and growing.

Map

Geographic distribution of companies we surveyed. Here is the complete list.

We hope to publish a detailed report shortly but here meanwhile are a few of the regional findings in greater detail.

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All things to all people: what the Internet means to our lives

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It is difficult to imagine our world without the Internet. Apart from online social media, cat videos, online banking, and Wikipedia-fueled homework assignments, the Internet underpins financial transactions and economic activities around the world. Without it, airlines, banks and stock markets would be unable to coordinate in real-time their global or — in many cases — their national and local interactions. However, like many global concepts, the Internet is sometimes too large and too complex an idea and infrastructure; it is all things to all people.


People work on computers at a busy
Internet center in Accra, Ghana.
Photo: Jonathan Ernst / World Bank

What does the Internet mean to the lives of its users? There are a number of interesting reports and studies available to answer this question. However, I thought it might be useful to pose this question to some of its users.

For this, I used the Mechanical Turk (MT) platform, created by Amazon. MT is, as Amazon pithily explains, “artificial artificial intelligence.” It has hundreds of thousands of workers distributed globally who respond to small tasks, such as image categorization or surveys, and are paid once their work is accepted by the requestor. MT is technically classified as a ‘microwork’ platform; it takes a larger task, dividing it up among an anonymous and distributed workforce via the Internet, and aggregating results.

Who better to ask a question on how the Internet has changed one’s life than those who use the Internet as a source of income? And this is what I did.

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Can urban innovation ecosystems be developed with little broadband infrastructure?

We are witnesses the surge of tech startup ecosystems in cities globally.  This is happening in both developed and developing countries.  In my previous blog post I showed this trend and the studies that confirm it. Among the questions we are looking for in our research to map urban innovation ecosystems is whether there is a minimum set of requirements for these ecosystems to emerge.  A minimum set of infrastructure or skills of the population, for instance.  What we are encountering is that, although you need a minimum level of infrastructure, e.g., there must be at least some broadband connectivity and mobile phone networks, this level is much lower than many people expect.  A city does not need to have 4G mobile broadband or fiber optic fixed broadband widespread.  It is enough to have broadband connection in some key points (particularly hubs and collaboration spaces) and basic mobile phone coverage and use, e.g., 2G mobile phone service.  A similar conclusion is applicable to the skill level of the population.   The results of the study of New York tech ecosystem shows that almost half of the employment created by the ecosystem do not require bachelor’s degree.  In this blog post I present the case of Nairobi and the tech start up ecosystems emerging in Africa and how these ecosystems can not only surge, but compete internationally despite having limited broadband connectivity (both mobile and fixed).  This is also part of the paper I am working out and the research we are doing on urban innovation ecosystems.


Map of Accelerators and Collaboration Spaces in Nairobi. Source: Manske, Julia. 2014. Innovations Out of Africa. The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem.

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