Tech and Solutions – BORGEN http://www.borgenmagazine.com Humanity, Politics & You Tue, 22 May 2018 08:30:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.5 Chinese Tech Companies Reinvent Online Philanthropy http://www.borgenmagazine.com/chinese-tech-companies-reinvent-online-philanthropy/ Sat, 19 May 2018 08:30:39 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=126754 SEATTLE — When asked what parts of China are “big”, one might think of the enormous population, vast territory, millennia-long history or major investments all over the world. In fact, China’s philanthropy numbers are also huge: the donations from the top 100 philanthropists tripled in a six-year period, hitting the $4.6 billion mark in 2016, [...]

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SEATTLE — When asked what parts of China are “big”, one might think of the enormous population, vast territory, millennia-long history or major investments all over the world. In fact, China’s philanthropy numbers are also huge: the donations from the top 100 philanthropists tripled in a six-year period, hitting the $4.6 billion mark in 2016, partly thanks to the increasing involvement and innovation by Chinese internet companies in online philanthropy.

According to the CAF World Giving Index 2017, China tied with India for number one in “Top countries by the number of people helping a stranger” list, as 340 million people helped strangers through donation, volunteering and other means. The United Nation Development Programme Internet Philanthropy in China Report (IPC Report) pointed out that in 2014, more than one billion donations totaling ¥437 million were made through online donation platforms.

The Beginning of Online Philanthropy

In response to the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, Tencent, an internet and technology giant, developed an online donation platform supporting the relief efforts, which then became “the turning point for the company’s engagement in philanthropy”, said Tencent co-founder and chief administration officer Charles Chen. Chinese online philanthropy took off from there, with Tencent quickly raising $2.9 million during the earthquake relief campaign.

By 2013, Tencent added donation options to its instant messaging and social media app WeChat, which has a user base of one billion people. Supplanting traditional donation boxes, e-payment platforms and in-app donation venues in smartphones are much more user-friendly. WeChat users are able to donate any amount with a swipe of a finger, making philanthropic engagement easier than ever.

The IPC Report noted that three types of online charity platforms have become common: online donation platforms, charitable crowd-funding platforms and online charity stores, distinguished by the nature of the host organization and form of fundraising. Tencent’s in-app donation program belongs to the first category, which is also the dominant force, accounting for more than two-thirds of the donations from all online philanthropic platforms.

Features of Online Platforms

Besides digitized charity drives, there are numerous inventive ways through which people can donate using online philanthropy platforms. For example, WeChat users can donate their daily “steps walked”, statistical data collected from health apps in smartphones, through a matching program supported by charitable corporate contributors. People are also able to donate their “voice” by reading stories and articles to be included in audiobooks for the blind.

WeChat’s charity campaign Little Kids’ Gallery offered the chance for WeChat users to purchase digital artwork made by people with autism and other mental disabilities at an extremely low price (as low as ¥1, equal to $0.15). The campaign has met with phenomenal success, as it raised more than ¥15 million over the 24-hour period. More than five million users participated in this fundraising campaign, a scale that has rarely been seen.

Other internet companies like Alibaba and Sina have also actively participated in online philanthropy. Ant Love, a pre-installed program in Alibaba’s mobile-payment app Alipay, connects Alipay’s 500 million users to more than 1,000 charity organizations and offers various creative ways through which people can donate to good causes.

A popular initiative is Ant Forest, which is a game integrated into Alipay’s mobile app that allows users to plant and fertilize an animated tree with “green energy” collected through mobile payments. Once the energy of the planted tree reaches a certain level, a real tree will be planted in Inner Mongolia by Alipay’s partner SEE Foundation and the China Green Foundation to slow down desertification and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Concerns Addressed

Corruption in charity has long been a concern by citizen donors since the 2011 Red Cross Society of China scandal. The public demands transparency from charitable organizations and their fundraising campaigns. In the face of charitable organizations’ damaged credibility, online charity platforms have become an apt mechanism that addresses both transparency and accountability issues in humanitarian work. Donors can easily access the details of the projects for which they are supporting, and track their donations anytime through apps, websites and online reports.

“I’ve never seen anything else like it,” said the director of corporate responsibility at PwC China, referring to Tencent’s philanthropic platform on WeChat. He believes that the competition for funds from online platforms has also given rise to improvements in governance at Chinese charitable NGOs.

On September 9, 2015, Tencent Charity launched an internet philanthropy day called 9.9 Philanthropy Day, aiming to further innovation by other businesses and participation by internet users in online philanthropy. The day illustrates the commitment of Chinese companies to online philanthropy and how it can be used to bring aid to millions of people.

– Chaorong Wang

Photo: Flickr

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Micro-Hydro Power: A Long-Term Solution to Poverty in Rural Areas http://www.borgenmagazine.com/micro-hydro-power-rural/ Fri, 11 May 2018 08:30:02 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=126731 SEATTLE — Without micro-hydro power, people in rural areas would have to resort to buying kerosene, lanterns and gas cylinders. One way micro-hydro power alleviates poverty is by eliminating such expenditures. While sub-Saharan Africa is home to 13 percent of the world’s population, it also contains 48 percent of all people who lack access to [...]

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SEATTLE — Without micro-hydro power, people in rural areas would have to resort to buying kerosene, lanterns and gas cylinders. One way micro-hydro power alleviates poverty is by eliminating such expenditures.

While sub-Saharan Africa is home to 13 percent of the world’s population, it also contains 48 percent of all people who lack access to electricity. What makes matters worse is the high population growth on the continent, which translates to a growth in energy demand as well. In 2014, the continent achieved 1,000 MW of additional power generation. Africa needs to generate an additional 7,000 MW of energy each year in order to meet its projected energy needs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hydropower

Hydropower is a promising solution to this dilemma. Unlike oil or coal, hydroelectricity is not subject to fluctuations in the market. It also does not share their issues with storage or intermittency. Hydropower also has a lot of room to grow. In sub-Saharan Africa, less than 10 percent of hydropower potential has been developed, meaning the potential exists to quadruple the amount of power currently available by generating an additional 400 gigawatts.

Another benefit to hydropower is increased water security. Multipurpose dams can be used to generate energy, to contribute to flood management, to store water and to support an irrigation system. Around 15 years ago, the World Bank came to the conclusion that making use of Africa and Asia’s undeveloped hydropower potential was necessary to alleviate poverty while decreasing carbon emissions.

However, large hydropower developments do pose environmental and management risks like loss of biodiversity and resources as well as changes to the flow of the river that impact the local ecosystem. People often have to be relocated, and fishery stocks go down due to oxygen-free dead zones created when organic materials build up behind dams and consume oxygen while they decompose. There has even been research that shows that hydropower reservoirs may be a large contributor of methane because of the increase in natural methane bubbles that come from decaying materials when water passes through turbines.

In the case of southwestern Albania, large portions of an olive grove, a valley and even an entire village may soon be underwater due to plans to build a dam on the Vjosa River in Kuta. In coming years, 31 dams are projected to be constructed along the river and its tributaries. On top of such concerns, dam projects have uncertain long-term benefits due to local corruption and economic factors in developing countries.

A Better Solution: Micro-Hydro Power

On the other hand, micro-hydro power alleviates poverty while causing minimal environmental alterations and risks. That is not to say that all micro-hydro power plants are better, since the placement of any plant in the wrong place can lead to environmental harm. Many micro-hydro power plants can still lead to the same or worse consequences when compared to a large hydropower plant if they create environmental damage. Smaller hydro projects, or “run-of-the-river” projects, often have less impact on the flow of water because they do not need to create a reservoir. They may be safer, but also can have social and environmental consequences.

One success story that demonstrates how micro-hydro power alleviates poverty is a small hydropower plant built in 2009 in the Banda Miralamji village in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. It was constructed by digging a narrow channel from a nearby irrigation canal to divert the water, using local materials and installing a generator and turbine. Funded by the National Solidarity Program (NSP), the power plant generates enough electricity for 150 families.

According to Mir Zaman, engineer and manager of NSP Nangarhar, projects that provide power to the community are prioritized because of how many purposes electricity is used for. On top of that, hydropower plants contribute to economic growth and job creation. One example of this is the micro-hydro power plant built in Chhara Village in 1992. The consumers and local residents contributed to its construction and were paid on a daily basis. The plant provided energy to 538 households as well as to a newly established agro-processing mill.

Yet another example that exhibits how micro-hydro power alleviates poverty is the Gaura Rice Mill in the Harichaur village. The mill as well as household lighting, television and radios are powered by a local micro-hydro power plant built in 1997.

Other micro-hydro power plants in Nepal and Peru have also helped local communities increase agricultural production and meet the basic needs of their people.

In conclusion, micro-hydro power is a viable way to bring energy security to poor communities in rural areas like sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. As long as the implementers of this solution carefully evaluate how best to exploit resources while addressing various social and environmental risks, micro-hydro power plants can greatly increase human well-being.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

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Can Universal Basic Income End Poverty in Developing Countries? http://www.borgenmagazine.com/can-universal-basic-income-end-poverty-in-developing-countries/ Sat, 28 Apr 2018 08:30:59 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=126366 SEATTLE — Universal basic income (UBI) is a concept that has recently been gaining quite a bit of attention worldwide. So far, UBI has seen success in parts of India, Namibia and Canada, and is being tested in Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Finland, the Netherlands and Italy. UBI has already been implemented in Alaska, and new [...]

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SEATTLE — Universal basic income (UBI) is a concept that has recently been gaining quite a bit of attention worldwide. So far, UBI has seen success in parts of India, Namibia and Canada, and is being tested in Kenya, Uganda, Brazil, Finland, the Netherlands and Italy. UBI has already been implemented in Alaska, and new pilot projects are currently being planned.

UBI entails a sum of money given periodically by the government to everyone unconditionally as a means of meeting basic needs. The government would provide each individual (or household) with the same amount of money, monthly or annually. UBI could mark the beginning of an effective policy to end widespread poverty.

UBI largely differs from other government welfare programs due to its universality. No means testing is necessary; everyone would receive UBI, regardless of employment or wealth. At first glance, UBI seems like just another unpopular idea. But it is important to explore its possibilities, good and bad.

The Case for UBI

Universal basic income has been tested in several developing nations, including Kenya, India and Namibia. Namibia has already found great success with UBI based on the Basic Income Grant pilot project that took place in the village of Otjivero. As a result of this experimental project, poverty rates dropped from 97 percent to 43 percent. Unemployment and crime rates decreased as well in addition to improved nutrition.

UBI is often unappealing, as it seems to lack any incentive for the unemployed to find work and benefit society. But Namibia proved this wrong; UBI seemed to have ended the vicious cycle of poverty for many. The pilot project in Namibia has gained attention from elsewhere. An experiment in Madhya Pradesh led India’s Ministry of Finance to propose a basic income.

The study showed improved housing, nutrition, health and education for the poor as a result of the basic income, in addition to an increase in labor. In November 2017, the charity known as GiveDirectly launched another universal basic income experiment in 120 Kenyan villages. These results may be crucial in determining whether a universal program is best for developing nations. Overall, it seems that experiments in developing nations have all pointed in one direction: UBI is beneficial.

With welfare programs that only provide minimum benefits to the poor and unemployed, there is no incentive to find work or advance from low wage jobs. Nations like the United States have found some success in means-tested welfare programs, but for developing nations, where poverty is almost universal, studies such as those in Namibia, India, and Kenya point toward a universal program.

UBI will likely increase work ethic (and, as seen in Madhya Pradesh, it increases hours worked) because people will be incentivized to find fulfilling work. It undoubtedly would also increase innovative and charitable work by opening up options. UBI, in this way, gives everyone a voice in a society where only the wealthy have spending power.

Everyone has the right to meet their basic needs, and UBI could do a better job of this. Welfare programs that are looked upon simply as “handouts” dehumanize the recipients. This is a bigger problem than it seems, as it breaks down the fabric of society. A universal program treats all members of society equally, providing a baseline income for all. This promotes a sense of equal opportunity, which leads to more trust and cooperation among the people. In addition, means-testing leaves many needy individuals cut off from welfare. UBI solves this problem.

The Case Against UBI

It seems that UBI might have a wide variety of benefits, but of course, it does not come without disadvantages. The most obvious problem is cost. The high price of UBI calls into question whether these benefits are truly possible. By definition, a universal basic income must be enough to meet basic needs. However, any amount would constitute a huge sum of money.

For developing nations and developed nations alike, the costs exceed the total revenue of the government itself, making it completely unsustainable. Experiments show several benefits from UBI, but experiments have been on a smaller scale and typically been funded by charities. As such, UBI provided by the government would be implausible. Spending for UBI would mean other cuts, which could cause an increase in poverty.

For instance, despite the success of the UBI pilot project, Namibia has yet to implement a basic income nationwide. Even after a recommendation from the minister Zephania Kameeta, Namibia still follows the path of other nations, implementing a conditional food bank program that hopes to eradicate poverty.

But if the purpose of UBI is to provide for those who truly need it, then why should the program be universal? Why should we waste resources that may be used to help the needy? These questions should be discussed before implementation. In fact, India is considering a basic income that is provided to everyone except the top 25 percent of India’s income distribution.

In this way, resources are targeted at the poor. Universality would not be beneficial in developing nations with a large income gap, so a conditional program may be preferable in these situations. Of course, many of the predicted benefits of UBI are hypothetical, as UBI has not been applied on a national scale in any country. Factors such as dependency, work ethic and solvency may vary when implemented at this level.

UBI raises many questions for policymakers to answer while this idea continues to gain attention. Although studies and pilot projects are able to answer some of these questions, this program has never been implemented on a large scale. Nevertheless, universal basic income does seem to have the potential to be explored further.

– Uma Menon

Photo: Flickr

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Mastercard QR Bot Helping Small Businesses in Africa http://www.borgenmagazine.com/mastercard-qr-bot-helping-small-businesses-in-africa/ Tue, 24 Apr 2018 08:30:37 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=126485 SEATTLE — At the Mobile World Congress, Mastercard recently announced that it was teaming up with Facebook to provide small businesses in Africa and Asia with an affordable and simple on-ramp for accepting mobile payments. The partnership will help unbanked retailers and merchants in the regions open bank accounts through Facebook Messenger. At the launch, Kahina [...]

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SEATTLE — At the Mobile World Congress, Mastercard recently announced that it was teaming up with Facebook to provide small businesses in Africa and Asia with an affordable and simple on-ramp for accepting mobile payments.

The partnership will help unbanked retailers and merchants in the regions open bank accounts through Facebook Messenger. At the launch, Kahina Van Dyke, director of Payments and Financial Services Partnerships at Facebook, said, “Brands and developers around the world are turning to messaging to connect with the 1.3 billion people who use Messenger each month. We are pleased that Mastercard is developing a service on the Messenger platform to help small merchants use messaging to manage their business and connect with their customers.”

Ecobank and Zenith Bank are Mastercard’s official financial services partners in this launch. The test market for Mastercard’s first launch is Nigeria, with plans to expand elsewhere in Africa. Over the past few years, Africa has gained momentum with its fast-growing phone penetration, but most of the continent’s population still relies on inefficient traditional payment infrastructure.

By using the Masterpass QR bot, small businesses in Africa can tap into new markets and help digitize the nation at a faster pace. The power of the QR bot will allow consumers to pay for goods and services through their mobile phones at merchant outlets. The cost-effective mobile technology was initially launched in 2016 and is a secure, smart and easy alternative to cash payments.

According to research conducted by The Fletcher School and Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, 98 percent of the $301 billion flowing from consumers to businesses in Nigeria is cash-based. The bot will use customers’ mobile banking applications to make payments from their bank accounts. The payment system will provide merchants of all sizes across the region, from international chains to individual shop owners and street vendors, with fast, secure and inexpensive payment technology.

According to Jorn Lambert, executive vice president, Digital Channels and Regions, Mastercard, “Every business owner is looking for ways to increase sales and draw new customers into their stores. By offering QR-based digital payments, smaller retailers can achieve these goals and create greater customer stickiness with little to no investment beyond the phone they already have. Masterpass QR opens up new commerce channels for these merchants and enables them to create auditable transaction records. These advances open doors to other financial tools and products such as loans to drive added business growth.”

The bot aims to allow people to safely accept and make-in person purchases through with any type of mobile phone and without cash or a plastic card. Small businesses in Africa and the region’s consumers will have greater choice in making payments using the bot.

Once the businesses send their request to the bot, the QR code can be enabled. The bot will receive approval from the bank and set up the account. Once the process is approved and completed, the QR code can be printed and displayed by business owners in their stores. In addition, customers can save the code on their phones and make payments by scanning the code with a smartphone or by simply entering the merchant ID associated with the QR code.

The payment solution also supplements Mastercard’s investment in creating contactless payments. Recently, Mastercard acquired South Africa-based payments technology startup, Oltio Card International, from Standard Bank Group. The aim is to create a new mobile payments technology platform that will help Mastercard run its operations on Oltio’s platform for the provision to member banks of person-to-person payments, bill payments, airtime top-ups and other utility payments which can be integrated into already existing banking applications.

Oltio Card International has pioneered several mobile payment solutions, including authentication technology. Such acquisitions will enhance its payments solutions and enable small businesses in Africa to deploy payment technology across the continent, making them more accessible to their customers and helping their businesses grow.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Pixabay

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Five Companies That Combat Poverty with Entrepreneurship http://www.borgenmagazine.com/five-companies-combat-poverty-with-entrepreneurship/ Wed, 11 Apr 2018 08:30:03 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=126398 SEATTLE — The world is at a high point when it comes to entrepreneurship. As a whole, entrepreneurial businesses are seeing higher profitability than ever and are becoming more accessible as well. Ample sources of startup funding have made entrepreneurial entry easier than ever. This, combined with e-commerce and social media access, creates an ideal [...]

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SEATTLE — The world is at a high point when it comes to entrepreneurship. As a whole, entrepreneurial businesses are seeing higher profitability than ever and are becoming more accessible as well. Ample sources of startup funding have made entrepreneurial entry easier than ever. This, combined with e-commerce and social media access, creates an ideal climate for entrepreneurship.

For those struggling with poverty, this is good news. Entrepreneurship creates unique opportunities to combat poverty. Technology, infrastructure improvement and job creation are three common results of entrepreneurship. In reality, the possibilities for to combat poverty with entrepreneurship are endless. For these five companies, this is especially true.

Desalitech

Dr. Richard Stover, former executive vice president of Desalitech, has years of water experience. Dr. Stover developed the closed circuit reverse osmosis technology that Desalitech uses. The technology facilitates the conversion of salt water to drinking water. Desalitech works as an alternative to other outdated reverse osmosis technologies. The company provides unique water access at a cost that is low enough to be practical.

With this technology, the company has provided many global water solutions. Desalitech has increased access to and saved billions of gallons of water worldwide. Companies like Desalitech show the impact of entrepreneurial innovation on global poverty.

SimpliPhi Power

This company started as a provider of mobile power for the film industry; the entrepreneurial technology allowed filmmakers to be more versatile on set. With mobile power, technology had greater capabilities and fewer complications.

After its success in film, SimpliPhi Power branched out. The company has since provided power in several remote areas where it was previously inaccessible. For the institutions that receive power, like schools, this is essential to success. This access provides a clear improvement in the lives of those living in poverty. Like Desalitech, SimpliPhi’s innovation combats poverty with entrepreneurship.

Liberty and Justice

This entrepreneurial company focuses on ethical apparel manufacturing. The company acts as a way for clothing buyers to connect with ethical suppliers. By working to develop suppliers, Liberty and Justice provides companies with peace of mind.

That ethical peace of mind is well-earned. Liberty and Justice’s partners in Ghana and Liberia have a 90 percent female workforce. Besides this empowerment, the company has earned several ethical and innovative awards.

How does a company combat poverty with entrepreneurship? For Liberty and Justice, creating quality employment is key. By providing economic stimulation in poverty-stricken areas, this company makes a real difference.

Uncommon Cacao

This company has a focus similar to Liberty and Justice. Both companies combat poverty with entrepreneurship. But, rather than clothing, Uncommon Cacao focuses on ethical sourcing for cocoa.

Conditions for workers involved in the chocolate industry can be cruel. Poor wages and treatment used to be the norm before Uncommon Cacao. With an entrepreneurial spirit, this company’s founders set out to make a change. Uncommon Cacao works to end poverty in more than 100 project locations. By applying a unique approach to develop each farmer, this company fights poverty. In an industry where workers lacked ethics, the entrepreneurial spirit was well applied.

1mg

Indian health startup 1mg set out in the late 2000s to simplify healthcare. At the time, understanding drug alternatives was a complicated process. Many generic options were not actually saving Indian consumers money. Most of the time, consumers were not aware of this due to the overwhelming number of options.

To bridge this information gap, 1mg had a plan. The resources they provide, including an online pharmacy and lab locator, have helped Indian consumers. Information access increased and Indian consumers are better informed about healthcare spending.

By leveraging entrepreneurship, healthcare in India benefited from 1mg. Along with the others on this list that combat poverty with entrepreneurship, it is in good company.

– Robert Stephen

Photo: Flickr

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How Mobile Phone Metadata Can Map Poverty http://www.borgenmagazine.com/how-mobile-phone-metadata-can-map-poverty/ Tue, 27 Mar 2018 14:30:27 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=126092 SEATTLE — In the age of the internet and telecommunications, mobile phones can do much more than connecting people through calls and text messages. University of Washington (UW) researchers are now using mobile phone metadata for a greater cause – fighting worldwide poverty. Poverty mapping has always been a difficult task, given the high cost [...]

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SEATTLE — In the age of the internet and telecommunications, mobile phones can do much more than connecting people through calls and text messages. University of Washington (UW) researchers are now using mobile phone metadata for a greater cause – fighting worldwide poverty.

Poverty mapping has always been a difficult task, given the high cost and long timespan needed to perform ground-based surveys, especially in impoverished and war-ravaged countries. Without sufficient and up-to-date data, NGOs and policymakers are unable to distribute aid efficiently or carry out poverty reduction projects in the regions that are the most in need.

Led by Joshua Blumenstock, an assistant professor in the UW Information School and adjunct professor in computer science and engineering (now an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley), researchers at UW found a way to access the financial profiles of the poorer regions of the world through analysis based on mobile phone metadata.

How It Works

The research focused on Rwanda, an East African country with a population of 12 million. Beginning with 1,000 random phone interviews done by students at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology – a project supervised by Blumenstock in 2009 – researchers recorded hints of wealth among a large amount of metadata generated by texts and calls.

Blumenstock explained in an interview with UW News that the information gathered by the phone interviews is an important reference, as it shows the phone-using habits of relatively well-to-do individuals.

Researchers then correlated that information with a larger sample of metadata from a Rwandan telephone company, attempting to sort out “socioeconomic hallmarks” about the phone owners.

With the help of a highly sophisticated machine learning algorithm, researchers discovered simple patterns in the ways people with different financial situations use the phone.

Patterns in the Data

The number of calls made, the frequency of calls made every day, the amount of money people pre-pay for phone time, and the ratio of calls made to received are all indicators of the phone owner’s wealth.

More calls made usually means the phone owner may be wealthier. A high frequency of calls during business hours often suggests a stable office job. More money put onto the phone can suggest a better income. Because Rwandan telephone companies charge more for making calls than receiving calls, the number of calls made or received might say something about the owner’s wealth as well.

Once a simple pattern is confirmed to be an accurate representation of the wealth of the sampled population, researchers can extrapolate to the mobile phone metadata of the entire population, constructing an estimated map of poverty distribution.

Why Mobile Phone Metadata Matters

Not only is it much faster, the entire poverty mapping process with mobile phone metadata costs only a fraction of the money that would have been spent on ground-based surveys, greatly reducing the cost while providing a much more reliable geographical poverty estimation.

After the research paper on the project was published in the journal Science in 2015, many other scholars are trying to build on Blumenstock’s result and come up with more accurate and sufficient poverty mapping techniques ready for field application.

Researchers at the University of Southampton made use of both mobile phone metadata and satellite imagery to estimate the poverty distribution in Bangladesh. Their progress showed that, even when taking into consideration that people in the poorest regions may not be able to afford cell phones, the wealth-estimating method still works quite well.

For a long time, “small area estimation” based on available survey data has been the way to construct the poverty profile of a region. Due to the large number of variables and lack of data, it has long been criticized but never abandoned.

The new method that utilizes phone metadata not only appears to be a promising next-generation poverty mapping system, but also opens many doors for frontier technologies like machine learning to take part in solving social problems. With the help of these ever-evolving technologies, the end of global poverty could come sooner rather than later.

– Chaorong Wang

Photo: Flickr

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Spotlight on African Women in Tech: Ivy Barley http://www.borgenmagazine.com/african-women-in-tech-ivy-barley/ Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:30:54 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=125755 SEATTLE — Over the past few years, major tech companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Alibaba have been providing solutions to bridge the skills gap in the region. But while there is a huge attempt to transform their lives, African women in tech struggle to enter the industry. A few local firms are determined to [...]

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SEATTLE — Over the past few years, major tech companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Alibaba have been providing solutions to bridge the skills gap in the region. But while there is a huge attempt to transform their lives, African women in tech struggle to enter the industry.

A few local firms are determined to bridge the skills gap for African women in tech. One such firm is Developers in Vogue, which originated in Ghana. Developers in Vogue is the brainchild of Ivy Barley, a graduate of Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, who launched Developers in Vogue with the aim to uplift African women in tech through education. Through Developers in Vogue, she is helping the underrepresented to lead in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Barley spoke with The Borgen Project about her work.

The Borgen Project: Tell us a little about Developers in Vogue and what motivated you to start the initiative.

Ivy Barley: About a year ago, I was working at an all-girls pre-university where my role included assisting the girls with mathematics, statistics and physics. I also taught the girls programming. Before working in this school, I’d been hearing people say that women don’t like coding. However, I realized the contrary! The girls were very enthusiastic about coding; they also had so many great ideas! Though I had to leave this school, what never left me were the memories of the girls. It dawned on me to start a sustainable initiative that will create the ideal environment for females to code, connect and collaborate. That’s how Developers in Vogue was founded.

TBP: What kind of impact do you think Developers in Vogue will have on the future of tech, specifically women?

IB: Our vision is to shape a world where more African women will be daring enough to lead in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Our focus is to train females in the latest technologies and connect them to real-time projects and jobs to enable them to apply their skills and earn an income. We want the women in our community to be at the forefront of technology on the continent and beyond.

TBP: Do you have a role model you look up to for inspiration?

IB: During my undergraduate study, I almost gave up on my education. However, under the mentorship of two amazing female scientists in Ghana, Professor Ibok Oduro and Professor Atinuke Adebanji put me back on track. I even went ahead to complete a master’s degree in mathematical statistics. In business, Strive Masiyiwa is my role model. I get so much inspiration from his life, especially how he has founded successful businesses across the continent.

TBP: What are the practical challenges that African women in tech are facing?

IB: Generally, society has the perception that tech fields are not meant for women. Though a number of women have interest in tech, they tend to get discouraged along the line and so drop out. Some tech workplaces don’t create the ideal environment for women to thrive. However, I believe that tech is gender neutral and anyone can excel at it. Another challenge which isn’t just limited to females is the high cost of internet in many parts of Africa. This creates some limitations as people are not able to use the internet and explore its potential to the fullest. I believe that by investing in infrastructure, internet access can be more affordable and available.

TBP: What are the future expansion plans for Developers in Africa and where do you see your firm in five years?

IB: In the next five years, we aim at having at least 5,000 female developers in our community. These women will be exposed to many opportunities in the tech industry. Though our current operations are in Ghana, we seek to expand our work to more African countries.

TBP: What are the three things you would tell to all the women in Africa who want to get in the field of tech?

IB: First of all, you have to believe in yourself: you’re capable of doing so much! You also need to stay updated with the latest trends in the industry. One thing about technology that it changes so fast; so if you don’t adapt to the changes, you’d be left behind. Finally, you must work very hard to stay relevant.

TBP: How can global tech companies like Google help initiatives like Developers in Vogue?

IB: One key component of our work is mentorship, where the ladies of our program are matched with industry experts to provide guidance and support. We’d be glad to have developers in global tech companies volunteer a few hours per month to mentor our ladies. We are also currently fundraising and will appreciate networks with prospective investors.

Females make up more than 50 percent of the population of most African countries, and with tech on the rise, it is becoming even more crucial that African women are equipped with tools that help them transform the tech scene in Africa.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr

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How Can Big Data Technology Help Fight Poverty? http://www.borgenmagazine.com/big-data-technology-poverty/ Wed, 07 Mar 2018 15:30:47 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=125510 SEATTLE — Imagine what cell phone metadata can do besides helping developers fix software bugs –  like mapping poverty. In recent years, real-world applications for “big data” have thrived in different fields, from weather forecasts to urban planning and sports management. Now big data technology is also serving as a valuable tool for researchers to [...]

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SEATTLE — Imagine what cell phone metadata can do besides helping developers fix software bugs –  like mapping poverty. In recent years, real-world applications for “big data” have thrived in different fields, from weather forecasts to urban planning and sports management. Now big data technology is also serving as a valuable tool for researchers to tackle the challenges of global poverty.

“Big data” refers to the voluminous data streams that are too large for traditional data processing software to handle. The flood of data – usually coming with extreme variety and speed – often provides a much more comprehensive report on the subject than traditional data sets. While big data is not a novelty in many tech-friendly fields, as it offers valuable information for behavioral analysis, big data is also slowly revolutionizing researchers’ approaches to dealing with global poverty.

The Capabilities of Big Data Technology

Big data comes from all aspects of life. In a July 2017 interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, Rutgers University Big Data Program Chair Paul Szyarto illustrated the great variety and the magic of big data with current projects.

Many developing countries like India and Kenya, said Szyarto, are utilizing historical meteorological record and statistical models to forecast weather patterns, which could help farmers to plan agricultural activities accordingly. An improved crop yield can then can reduce hunger.

By relying on the data from previous epidemics, such as Ebola, West African nations are able to predict the origin of future disease outbreaks and the most vulnerable regions, allowing these areas to carry out targeted prevention programs.

The condition and distribution of poverty are essential for policymaking and aid allocation. However, in many underdeveloped or war-torn countries, traditional survey methods are difficult to perform, and it is nearly impossible to acquire timely and comprehensive information. Instead of conducting time-consuming and expensive home-to-home surveys, big data technology makes poverty-mapping relatively quick and easy.

Successful Analyses

University of Washington researchers managed to estimate the wealth of a region using only cell phone metadata provided by the local telephone company. They extracted the times, locations and events of cell phone activities from cell phone metadata generated by texts and calls and labeled these data as “hallmarks of socioeconomic status”. The researchers then used computers to sort through these big data sets and infer patterns about living style and economic activities, eventually constructing an estimation of wealth distribution of the region.

Big data can be in the form of images as well. Led by assistant professor of earth system science Marshall Burke, a team at Stanford University is combining a machine learning algorithm and millions of daytime and nighttime satellite imagery of poorer regions in the world to predict village-level wealth.

Experts’ Opinions on Big Data

University of Washington Information School assistant professor Joshua Blumenstock, the supervisor of the “poverty estimation with cell phone metadata” project, expressed his optimism about the current progress and future practical uses of big data technology. He believes big data can eventually lead to better poverty relief policies.

While acknowledging the great potential of big data analytics for delivering environmental, agricultural and social solutions, Szyarto believed that the majority of developing countries do not have the necessary equipment and knowledge to gather and study the data being generated.

On the flip side, big data has also spawned many concerns, primarily the risk of data abuse. In her new book “Weapon of Math Destruction”, the former director of the Lede Program for Data Journalism at Columbia University, Cathy O’Neil, warns of the dark side of big data. Due to conflicts of interest, different groups of people may want different results from the same data sets, thus leading to intrinsically biased algorithms, which then could give policymakers false information and exacerbate the original social problem.

Big data might well be the future weapon that could eradicate long-lasting social issues like global poverty. If they use the data with discretion and responsibility, researchers and policymakers could optimize big data technology’s vast potential.

– Chaorong Wang

Photo: Flickr

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Stanford’s Machine Learning Algorithm Can Now Predict Poverty http://www.borgenmagazine.com/stanfords-machine-learning-algorithm/ Tue, 27 Feb 2018 15:30:17 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=125333 SEATTLE — Household-by-household surveys by local census bureaus used to be the only method to collect household statistics, making mapping poverty inefficient and costly. By teaching computers to analyze high-resolution satellite images, Stanford’s machine learning algorithm now makes predicting poverty quick and easy. From small-area estimation, direct household surveys to more sophisticated methods like a [...]

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SEATTLE — Household-by-household surveys by local census bureaus used to be the only method to collect household statistics, making mapping poverty inefficient and costly. By teaching computers to analyze high-resolution satellite images, Stanford’s machine learning algorithm now makes predicting poverty quick and easy.

From small-area estimation, direct household surveys to more sophisticated methods like a multivariate weighted basic-needs index, current poverty mapping methodology depends heavily on firsthand survey data. The great cost of obtaining more data in order to perform a better analysis is hardly justifiable. The lack of data regarding infrastructure and services in poorer areas in the world then impedes policymakers’ ability to make well-targeted plans.

In August 2016, researchers at Stanford University officially revealed their reimagined method for poverty mapping with a paper published in Science. Utilizing the machine learning algorithm, computers can now calculate per capita consumption expenditure of a certain location when provided with its daytime and nighttime satellite imagery.

The Technology Explained

Machine learning, a subfield of artificial intelligence, focuses on the computational model that allows an algorithm to learn to analyze raw data without being told what to look for.

Led by assistant professor of earth system science Marshall Burke and electrical engineering Ph.D. student Neal Jean, the team at Stanford created a machine learning algorithm that crawls through the millions of available high-resolution satellite images of poorer regions in the world, looking for visual evidence of the economic situation of those areas. Stanford’s machine learning algorithm compares the presence of light in daytime and nighttime images of a region to predict its economy activity – a technique known as transfer learning.

Using nighttime imagery as a reference, the algorithm picks up on a well-lit area and crosschecks it with daytime imagery to confirm its infrastructure development. A brighter area at night usually means more activities that involve electricity, hence the region is wealthier.

Via the process of familiarizing itself with the appearance of more developed areas from millions of images, the algorithm learns to spot visual details like streets, highways, waterways, farmlands and urban areas. These visual details are then used as filters in the later estimation of poverty.

Before it makes a final judgment, the algorithm will crosscheck its visual observations with survey data to improve its accuracy. The algorithm then can generate a prediction of poverty distribution of the area based on all previous assessments.

What to Expect Next

The research performed poverty predictions for five African countries, including Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Malawi. These countries all have relatively substantial ground-based survey data to verify the accuracy of the predictions generated by the algorithm.

Stefano Ermon, an assistant professor of computer science at Stanford and a member of the project, said that the village-level wealth predictions generated from the machine learning algorithm are “very close” to predictions calculated with field-collected data.

In an interview with Science, political scientist from Columbia University Marc Levy said Stanford’s machine learning algorithm is “vastly more powerful” than traditional surveying, but he also cast doubts on the algorithm’s compatibility with more urbanized regions in the world.

More people have realized the tremendous potential of machine learning technology. After Defense Secretary James Mattis expressed his envy for artificial intelligence used by tech companies, the Pentagon began offering a prize of $100,000 for an algorithm that can read satellite images in the same way that Stanford’s machine learning algorithm does.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo are also using machine learning and satellite imagery to map poverty. They also add cell phone records to their raw data sets, offering a new approach to predict poverty by analyzing communication activities.

Eliminating poverty has been the priority of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Both working towards the goal and tracking the progress require more reliable and frequent data on poverty across the globe. Stanford’s machine learning algorithm, a revolutionary method for poverty mapping, might well play a pivotal role in the world’s collective efforts in eliminating poverty.

– Chaorong Wang

Photo: Flickr

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Google’s Philanthropic Efforts Bridge the Digital Gap http://www.borgenmagazine.com/googles-philanthropic-efforts-bridge-the-digital-gap/ Tue, 27 Feb 2018 09:30:22 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=125297 SEATTLE — Google has been at the forefront of technology for over a decade. The company has pioneered technological advances to help underdeveloped nations gain access to technology. Investments into Khan Academy, the Android Open Source Project and Google Balloons are just a few examples Google’s philanthropic efforts and its push for cheaper technology, easily [...]

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SEATTLE — Google has been at the forefront of technology for over a decade. The company has pioneered technological advances to help underdeveloped nations gain access to technology. Investments into Khan Academy, the Android Open Source Project and Google Balloons are just a few examples

Google’s philanthropic efforts and its push for cheaper technology, easily accessible education and connectivity have helped decrease poverty and created new ways to monetize and participate in the global economy.

Funding of Khan Academy Grows Education Access

In 2010, Google’s philanthropic arm invested $2 million into a nonprofit declared to be the future of education. Khan Academy, founded by Salman Khan in 2008, offers more than 6,000 instructional videos on math, biology, physics, chemistry, economics and many other subjects.

Since its initial investment, Google has continued funding Khan Academy, with a total of $11 million invested to date. Khan Academy provides a world-class education that runs on Google’s ever-growing cloud platform.

The impact of Khan’s education program is global. Google has not only funded Khan Academy, it has also helped build its technical infrastructure and created new content while further helping to connect, serve and engage with more teachers.[hr_invisible]

Low-Cost Smartphones Have a Worldwide Impact

Google CEO Sundar Pichai committed resources in 2014 to help bring inexpensive smartphone technology to developing countries. At Google’s I/O conference, Pichai said that in his home country of India, only 10 percent of users have access to smartphones. Google created an inventive way to get its vendor partners to source components in a manner that would allow them to offer low-cost, robust and generally secure devices, called the Android One program.

Black Enterprise reported that Pichai showed off a 4.5-inch Android One device Google has been working on with manufacturer Micromax. “It has features that matter to a country like India, like Dual-SIM, a removable SD card, and FM radio. I’m used to cutting-edge devices … and it’s really good.” But the real surprise? “It costs less than $100,” Pichai said.

Because of Android’s open source nature, developers and manufacturers around the world are empowered to create low-cost devices with access to millions of cutting-edge applications. The data gathered by these smartphones can help researchers and scientists find innovative ways to address poverty.

Android has opened the door for diversification in manufacturers, allowing these companies to hire local engineers and source local parts that can better serve their communities at a much lower cost. Other effects include mobile operators around the planet adding more capacity and connectivity and lowering access costs as more users share the costs of network maintenance and upgrades.

According to a 2012 report by the World Bank, more than 2.5 billion people (half of all adults in the world) do not have access to a bank account. Android proliferation in places like Nigeria has slowly eroded this statistic. More than 55 million Africans use their mobile device to send money, collect payments and transact in the digital economy.

In addition, NGOs like Malaria No More use these now-developed mobile networks to send text messages about where to meet for health diagnostics and access to reliable drugs used for treatment.[hr_invisible]

Balloons Increase Global Connectivity

In 2011, Google’s philanthropic efforts invested in yet another significant technical infrastructure deployment called Project Loon. Project Loon is a fleet of balloons that provide internet coverage to rural areas around the globe by traveling on the edge of space.

After a testing phase in California’s Central Valley, the project officially deployed in June 2013. Google provided LTE coverage to Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other countries. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Project Loon was able to bring 100,000 people back online.

Project Loon enables users to access the internet from their LTE equipped device. The project eventually became its own company under Google called Loon Inc. In partnership with local telecommunication operators, Google has been able to extend its networks to reach individuals in the most remote areas of the world.

The combination of these three initiatives paints a much broader picture of the company’s goal to bring connectivity to those who need it most. Cheap Android devices paired with Loon connectivity and Khan Academy’s education platform are potent tools to decrease poverty and encourage education and innovation from anyone anywhere on the planet.

– Hector Cruz

Photo: Flickr

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