Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Showing posts for "Technology and Development"

Financial Inclusion and the World’s “Unbanked” Population

by Isobel Coleman
A man leaves an M-PESA booth after a money transaction in Nairobi on May 12, 2009 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters). A man leaves an M-Pesa booth after a money transaction in Nairobi on May 12, 2009 (Noor Khamis/Courtesy Reuters).

Imagine life without a bank account. Completing a simple financial transaction can require traveling a distance, incurring expenses, and losing precious income. Savings are more difficult to track and certainly don’t earn interest. Theft or loss of the proverbial “cookie jar” is a constant worry. Indeed, studies show that informal savers lose as much as 25 percent of their hard-earned cash each year due to theft and loss. Yet for over 2.5 billion people globally, this inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive reality is the case. Read more »

The Internet’s Ongoing Gender Gap

by Isobel Coleman
An Afghan woman browses the YouTube website at a public internet cafe in Kabul, September 12, 2012 (Mohammad Ismail/Courtesy Reuters). An Afghan woman browses the YouTube website at a public internet cafe in Kabul, September 12, 2012 (Mohammad Ismail/Courtesy Reuters).

Although the Internet seems ubiquitous, for many people in the developing world it is barely a reality—and women are left behind at greater rates than men.

An extensive report from Intel and Dalberg Global Development Advisors, “Women and the Web,” quantifies the Internet gender gap, explains some factors contributing to it, and proposes ways to tackle it. The report estimates “that 21 percent of women and girls in developing countries have access to the Internet, while 27 percent of men have access. This represents 600 million women and girls online—200 million fewer than men and boys.” Because of the spread of the Internet, an additional 450 million women and girls will likely become connected in the next few years, but the report’s authors believe that with the right interventions, an additional 150 million women could get connected. Read more »

Bolstering Education and Science in the Arab World

by Isobel Coleman
Secondary students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh on June 15, 2008 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters). Secondary students sit for an exam in a government school in Riyadh on June 15, 2008 (Fahad Shadeed/Courtesy Reuters).

A decade ago, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) shone a spotlight on the sorry state of education in the Arab world with its inaugural Arab Human Development Report in 2002, and its 2003 follow-on report, “Building a Knowledge Society.” The reports’ statistics still shock: in one year, Spain translates the same number of books (around 10,000) as the entire Arab world has translated since the ninth century; on a per capita basis, the Arab world produces only about 2 percent of the scientific papers that industrialized countries do; between 1980 and 2000, all Arab countries together registered only 370 patents in the U.S., versus 7,652 from Israel. Read more »

Science and the Debate on Genetically Modified Crops

by Isobel Coleman
A Greenpeace activist displays signs symbolising genetically modified maize crops during a protest in front of the European Union headquarters in Brussels on November 24, 2008 (Thierry Roge/Courtesy Reuters). A Greenpeace activist displays signs symbolising genetically modified maize crops during a protest in front of the European Union headquarters in Brussels on November 24, 2008 (Thierry Roge/Courtesy Reuters).

When it comes to bolstering food security, genetically modified (GM) crops are at once a highly promising and a highly vilified solution. Opponents label it as “Frankenfood,” imply that untold health risks are lurking in your breakfast cereal, and perpetuate a threatening image of GM crops (see the menacing ears of corn above). Meanwhile, a large body of scientific evidence disputing many of these claims is often overlooked in favor of a more alarmist narrative. Read more »

Five Development Innovations to Watch in 2013

by Isobel Coleman
Children run alongside a rice paddy field outside the village of Andriampamaky, around 50 km (31 miles) north of Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo on April 21, 2012 (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Courtesy Reuters). Children run alongside a rice paddy field outside the village of Andriampamaky, around 50 km (31 miles) north of Madagascar's capital city Antananarivo on April 21, 2012 (Darrin Zammit Lupi/Courtesy Reuters).

Although this year had welcome news about poverty rates falling across the globe, almost two and a half billion people still get by on less than $2 a day. Innovative solutions for tackling global poverty are needed as much as ever. Here are five development innovations to watch in 2013: Read more »

Guest Post: Entrepreneurs Innovating for Peace in Afghanistan

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
A general view of Kabul, Afghanistan, is seen during sunset, November 7, 2012 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters). A general view of Kabul, Afghanistan, is seen during sunset, November 7, 2012 (Adnan Abidi/Courtesy Reuters).

This guest post is written by my colleague Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a fellow at CFR and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program. She tells the story of several technology entrepreneurs who are defying the odds to build successful businesses in Afghanistan. As she writes, these entrepreneurs are not only seeking profits; they are also aiming to build a more peaceful and prosperous future for their country. A post by Tae Yoo of Cisco last week on CFR’s Development Channel also highlighted technology’s role in driving development in Afghanistan. Read more »

Insurance Innovations for the Poor

by Isobel Coleman
Carpenters carry a coffin shaped in the form of a fish over the main road in Teshie, a suburb of the Ghanaian capital of Accra, January 22, 2004. Funerals are important [social] occasions in this West African country and elaborate, brightly coloured coffins have become an art form. Picture taken on January 22, 2004 (Wolfgang Rattay/Courtesy Reuters). Carpenters carry a coffin shaped in the form of a fish over the main road in Teshie, a suburb of the Ghanaian capital of Accra, January 22, 2004. Funerals are important [social] occasions in this West African country and elaborate, brightly colored coffins have become an art form. Picture taken on January 22, 2004 (Wolfgang Rattay/Courtesy Reuters).

The world’s poorest struggle to survive day to day, living with almost no safety net. This makes them particularly vulnerable to financial risk. They are one illness or one injury away from losing their businesses or defaulting on a loan. When that happens, families go hungry and children are pulled from school. Read more »

Missing Pieces: Africa’s Mobile Explosion, Competing Aid Approaches, and More

by Isobel Coleman
Used mobile telephone cards are stringed together at a roadside call centre in the district of Obalende in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, March 8, 2012 (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters). Used mobile telephone cards are stringed together at a roadside call centre in the district of Obalende in Nigeria's commercial capital Lagos, March 8, 2012 (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters).

Charles Landow covers items on Africa, India, foreign aid, and the world’s wealthy in this installment of Missing Pieces. I hope you enjoy the reading.

  • Africa’s Mobile Explosion: “A little over a decade ago,” a CNN piece says, “there were about 100,000 phone lines in Nigeria, mostly landlines.” Today there are almost 100 million mobile lines, a story mirrored across Africa. The article explores several impacts of mobile phones on the continent. Mobile money is a crucial service in a region where “only one in five adults own bank accounts.” Phones are promoting action against autocrats and transparency around elections. In education, phones are “gain[ing] ground as tools for delivering teaching content.” Mobile entertainment, including music, movies, social networking, and more, is booming. In disasters, mobile phones help the displaced find their relatives and bolster “emergency reporting and relief systems.” In agriculture, farmers are getting mobile information about weather, crop prices, insurance, and animal husbandry. And in health, mobile applications are identifying counterfeit medicines and distributing information and tips, among other things. Isobel Coleman has been chronicling mobile technology’s impact on development regularly, most recently last week. Read more »

Mobile Technology, Internet Connectivity, and Development in Africa

by Isobel Coleman
A delegate checks a blackberry handset at an exhibition stand during the West & Central Africa Com conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja, June 18, 2009 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters). A delegate checks a Blackberry handset at an exhibition stand during the West & Central Africa Com conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja on June 18, 2009 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters).

Earlier this week, I participated in Time magazine’s “The Future of Mobility” panel, which focused on the implications of mobile technology for the developing world. As I’ve previously noted, certain advances in mobile technology in places like Kenya could leapfrog those in the United States. Perhaps the best example of this is mobile money, which is taking off in Africa but still struggling to get traction in the U.S. As Kiva CEO and co-founder Matt Flannery remarked during the panel, “Mobile money in Africa is a solution to a problem, whereas in the United States, mobile payments are a solution looking for a problem.” Satisfied with widely accepted credit cards and easily accessible online checking accounts, people in advanced economies have less need to adopt mobile phone-based banking; in Kenya, where access to traditional banking is far more limited, some 40 percent of the adult population now uses mobile money. Read more »

Food Security and Innovations for Africa’s Agriculture

by Isobel Coleman
Women use the MoneyMaker Hip Pump, a portable irrigation tool (Courtesy KickStart). Women use the MoneyMaker Hip Pump, a portable irrigation tool (Courtesy KickStart).

Headlines of late have focused on the worst drought in decades in the United States, and the impact that is having on global food prices. With half of the American corn crop in poor condition, food prices are rising and pinching wallets around the world. In the short term, the sharp spike in the cost of corn (used mostly for animal feed) and other commodities could lead to unrest in poorer countries around the world that import large amounts of food. Read more »