Tag Archives: economic development

A Different Kind of ‘Smart’ City

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Mathare slum in Nairobi, Kenya — one of the biggest in Africa. (Photo: IRIN)

Naledi Modisaatsone is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Urban Institute

The concept of “smart cities” has become synonymous with developed countries. When people talk about smart cities they often mean high-tech urban innovators in North America, Western Europe or East Asia. Africa is not featured on the list.

This situation, however, has been changing following the recognition that smart city thinking is not necessarily about being high tech, but rather about cities that efficiently drive sustainable economic growth, competitiveness, prosperity and a better life for their citizens.

A report by Deloitte  defines a smart city as “when investments in human and social capital, traditional (transport) and modern information and communications technology ICT infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development and a high quality of life, with a wise management of natural resources”. In that way Africa is right at the heart of the conversation.

The UN Habitat Global Activities Report 2013 states that in 2009, Africa’s total population for the first time exceeded one billion of which 395 million (or almost 40 per cent) lived in urban areas. Around 2027, Africa’s demographic growth will start to slow down and it will take 24 years to add the next 500 million, reaching the two billion mark around 2050, of which about 60 per cent will be living in cities. Africa should prepare for a total population increase of about 60 per cent between 2010 and 2050, with the urban population tripling to 1.23 billion during this period.

These demographic shifts will present policy makers in Africa with unprecedented challenges in handling of urbanization given that infrastructure networks and public services are already overwhelmed.  African cities wishing to uplift their populations into the 21st century are going to have to start focusing today on what the city of tomorrow will look like.

How will  Africa position its cities as drivers of sustainable growth using technology?

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Olympic Games: a Boom or a Bust for Business Development?

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By Jin Xiaoye, CIPE Global Intern

With the Winter Olympics now underway in Sochi, Russia, it is not only the events themselves that are attracting attention: the high cost of the Games and reports of poorly-constructed facilities have garnered headlines alongside the star athletes and their performances. As in other recent cases of major international events held in emerging market countries, the Games are being seen as both a test of the host country’s ability to pull of such an event, and of whether the promised economic impact will materialize.

The Summer and Winter Olympic Games, as well as the Paralympics, are held every four years in a designated host country. These are competitive events for elite world athletes and great cultural exchanges for participating countries. But sporting concerns have increasingly taken a backseat to discussions of the financial and economic impact of the games.

More and more emerging-market countries have been given the opportunity to host major international events in recent years. The 2010 World Cup, hosted by South Africa, proved to be a huge success in many respects – creating a boom in tourism and raising confidence in the country’s economy. But like other recent events, such as the 2008 Summer Olympics in China and the upcoming World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it also generated controversy around the cost and long-term economic impact.

The business community has embraced cooperation with the organizers of the Olympics, a trend which has especially benefitted multinationals and other large businesses. However, corruption and other negative consequences like embezzlement and human rights violations have come to one of the biggest global sports festival too.

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Private Sector Peace

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At the beginning of the film Under the Same Sun, Nizar, a Palestinian businessman, looks at the smashed windshield on his car and reads a note that says, “We hope this makes things clear for you.” A newspaper has just exposed his business relations with an Israeli, and he faces public outrage over his perceived betrayal of the boycott of Israeli goods.

His brother tells him that you cannot trust Israelis—after all, his other brother was shot by an Israeli soldier during the first Intifada. His landlord cannot let him continue to lease office space for fear of vandalism. The news also causes familial rifts for Shaul, the Israeli businessman—his sister and brother-in-law who live in a West Bank settlement refuse to speak to him. His Israeli business partner will not work with Palestinians; he didn’t trust them even before “the incident” that killed his son.

The story is fictional. Search for Common Ground brought together Israeli and Palestinian directors, producers, and actors to create a mockumentary about an Israeli and a Palestinian who start a joint venture company to bring solar energy to Palestinian villages in the West Bank. Shaul is motivated by profit and sees Palestine as a viable market to enter. Nizar wants to help his community achieve energy independence, so it will no longer have to rely on purchasing Israeli generators.

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Could Civic Crowdfunding Improve Governance in the Middle East?

(Photo: Twitter user csaila)

(Photo: Flickr user csaila)

Earlier this month, in an attempt to escape the heat wave afflicting Washington DC, I sought refuge on a bus awkwardly packed with well-dressed commuters. Almost all of the commuters were looking down, their palms glued to their gadgets, and their thumbs tapping into their virtual realities. I thought to myself: If only they would unplug themselves for a few minutes, pay attention to their immediate surroundings, and make room for more commuters entering the bus. What if there was an app for bus drivers to communicate with plugged-in commuters to move to the back of the bus?

Imagine a society in which citizens are as obsessed with their public spaces as they are with their smart phones. Instead of spending the five-minute bus ride going through friends’ Instagram uploads, commuters are checking the latest fundraising updates on the city’s bike-share system. Rather than liking someone’s photo on Facebook, commuters are donating $5 to a neighborhood association-backed project that renovates the sidewalks. In Kansas City, the online start-up Neighbor.ly is trying to turn this idea into a reality.

Neighbor.ly is a website that employs the business model known as crowdfunding – pooling money from the public – to obtain financial support for civic projects. Kickstarter and Indiegogo first popularized the idea by allowing musicians, engineers, designers, and artists to solicit money from the public for their creative works.

On Neighbor.ly, local governments and non-profit organizations have solicited tax deductible donations to build a playground, a website to help entrepreneurs navigate the application process to start new businesses, and a free Wi-Fi network for low-income houses. Donors’ credit cards will be charged only when the fundraising goal has been reached before the end of the campaign. In return for backing a project, the donors get small perks like free T-shirts and commemorative posters.

Civic crowdfunding is an innovative way to use technology to increase the efficiency, capacity, transparency, and accountability of governance. By engaging civic-minded individuals, websites like Neighbor.ly and Citizinvestor offer governments a helping hand from the people: money, expertise, and creative energy. They also allow the public to take ownership of civic projects and monitor the progress and delivery of local officials’ promises.

A pedestrian walkway in Holland that might have taken city hall two decades to complete got off the ground in three months. In the Middle East, where citizens face low taxes but rely on the bloated public sector for food and fuel subsidies, civic crowdfunding websites can serve as innovative mechanisms for accountable governance. Imagine if the millions of politically-engaged Egyptians used crowdfunding sites to improve their neighborhoods, pressure the government to be more transparent, and monitor the delivery of public services.

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Integrating Women into Global Value Chains

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How can you effectively integrate women into value chains? With this question in mind, two representatives from the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), an international development association based in Canada, shared their experiences with women’s economic development projects.

The benefits of empowering and integrating women into the economy are widely known. But what exactly must be done to incorporate women into value chains, especially in parts of the world where women face cultural barriers to participating in their economies?

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Supporting Small and Medium Sized Businesses in Senegal

A public-private dialogue session with Senegalese President Macky Sall.

A public-private dialogue session with Senegalese business leaders and President Macky Sall. Watch here (in Wolof)

Caught between the West African Sahel and tropical regions, Senegal is one of the more stable democracies among Francophone countries in Africa. Its record on democratic governance extends back to its independence from under French colonial rule. However, in the economic sphere, it has remained second-best to Cote d’Ivoire – which, with Nigeria, is one of the region’s top two economic powerhouses – and hence assumed a lower international profile.

Nevertheless, with an overwhelmingly young population, food security and unemployment challenges, and its geographic and cultural proximity to neighboring countries that host various radical Islamist groups, Senegal is in need of a vibrant private sector that can contribute to inclusive economic development. Such an outcome is important to Senegal’s democratic stability, as it addresses issues of food security, the religious radicalization of masses of unemployed youth, and the rise to prominence of illicit trades in arms and humans across West Africa.

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