The UNDP’s recently released report, “Mobile Technologies and Empowerment: Enhancing human development through participation and innovation,” is exceptional for straddling the gap between tech hype and tech reality while providing direction as to how best to advance development goals. The report also serves as a perfect complement to the Global Savings and Social Protection initiative’s recent work on payment infrastructure and infrastructure utilization in showing (among other things) that different contexts demand different technical interventions.
The UNDP report lists the most up-to-date evidence of the success of mobile technologies in areas as diverse as agriculture, health, governance and education, and follows with a cogent analysis of barriers to more widespread success, including lack of infrastructure, cost structures, regulation, gender inequality and insufficient capacity building. Most usefully, the report synthesizes this information and provides a conceptual framework through which we can analyze which countries are most amenable to mobile interventions based on 1) their position in the Human Development Index, 2) their progress on the Millennium Development Goals and 3) the cost of mobile phones and coverage. They present their analysis in the following chart.
As the report keenly observes, “it is usually the case that countries (and communities) with the greatest need for development assistance are also those that face the highest mobile usage costs and poor network coverage.” Along similar lines, as illustrated both of GAP’s recent maps (and will be discussed in more detail in its forthcoming policy paper on Trends in Global Savings and Social Protection), countries around the globe are experimenting with a variety of platforms in the promotion of financial inclusion and the electronic payment of Conditional Cash Transfers. Countries like Pakistan are opting to distribute benefits on ATM cards, while others such as Colombia are depositing benefits straight into a bank account. Although full financial inclusion is the ultimate goal of all of these programs, as the UNDP report makes clear, our interventions should always be contextually appropriate in order to maximize impact.