Development Execs Bullish on Future

Devex, an organization for development executives, recently completed a survey where they collected “responses from nearly 1,000 leaders across six continents and varied organizations and industry sectors.” What did they find?

Executives based in Asia and Africa were the most optimistic about the future. Of Asia-based execs, 84% were optimistic about the coming years; 78% of Africa-based executives believe that the future is bright in development. At the lowest end of the spectrum? Europe-base executives at 70%, which is nonetheless quite heartening. Still, if executives working in Asia and Africa are the most optimistic, what does that say about the current conditions there, which so many in the West assume are discouraging?

Sixty-seven percent of executives believe that development will fundamentally change in the coming years.

And what driver of change do these execs think will have the most impact? The rise of developing countries. That’s right, not USAID or the UN or Bill and Melinda Gates. The DEVELOPING countries. The rise of the rest.

For those of us hooked on news of Ebola and beheadings and airstrikes, we wonder what the world’s coming to. In Asia and Africa, the people on the ground see things getting better and better.

Check out the report on the Devex website:

Tech, the Developing World, and Happiness

The Brookings Institution just published a study that found “technology access is positive for well-being in general, but with diminishing marginal returns for those respondents who already have a great deal of access to these technologies.” To tech doomsayers who only see a dark side to the mobile phone and internet boom, these findings may be surprising here in the West, but it’s no surprise in most of the world where information and communication gains have greatly enriched the lives of the rising billions in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Here in the West we have the high quality problem of abundance. There is too much tech, just as we have too much processed food. We need to watch our diet, but the tech diet for the developing world has been a nutritious boost, making life better in many ways. Think education, health, communications, access to markets, mobile banking, etc.

Here’s the Abstract:
New information and communication technologies are changing productivity, development, and economic outcomes worldwide. In this paper, we explore the relationship between access to these technologies (cell phones, TV, and the internet) and subjective well-being around the world using pooled cross-sectional survey data from the Gallup World Poll for 2009-2011. We find that technology access is positive for well-being in general, but with diminishing marginal returns for those respondents who already have a great deal of access to these technologies. At the same time, we find some signs of increased stress and anger, including among cohorts for whom access to the technologies is relatively new. We also explore whether increased financial inclusion – through cell phones and mobile banking – has additional effects on well-being, using the Sub-Saharan Africa subset of our sample. We find that well-being levels are higher in the countries in Africa that have higher levels of access to mobile banking, but so also are stress and anger. All of our findings are in line with earlier research, which finds that the development process is often accompanied by high levels of frustration at the same time that it raises aggregate levels of well-being in the long run.

How Not to Be Ignorant

Hans Rosling is probably my favorite optimist, both because he bases his views on huge data sets AND he’s a hoot. Here’s his latest TED Talk. Take his quiz. I bet you’re dumber than a chimp.

Chicago: A Smarter Head on its Big Shoulders

Big Data is a revolution that businesses and some governments are embracing because of its problem-solving potential. One of Big Data’s most common uses is data collection. The low price of installing remote sensors across a wide area allows an institution to get much more fine-grained information about real conditions.

Chicago is starting a new program where it will install “hundreds of environmental sensors that will measure temperature, humidity, light, sound and cellphone signals”  around the city. If the program works as designed, major economic, safety and environmental advantages should be realized. Take snow removal. Temperature and precipitation information provided by sensors will help snow removal teams to clear only the areas that need treatment. Prioritizing roads that need treatment first will save lives. Money and resources are saved as areas that don’t need treatment won’t get it. And if less chemicals are spread on roads, there’ll be less to run off into critical waterways, like Lake Michigan.

Other smart city programs–crime prevention and traffic management to name two–have been adopted by cities around the world. If Chicago’s experiments are successful, their methods will undoubtedly be adopted by other municipalities.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said that “states may…serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Cities–as Bloomberg’s New York did and now Emanuel’s Chicago does demonstrate–are also laboratories for Big Data solutions.