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The recent World Economic Forum Africa, held in Ethiopia, gathered the world’s elite to discuss the economic possibilities and obstacles facing the African market. Many positive angles were highlighted, including the potential for innovation and entrepreneurship.
The aim of this CAI paper is to shed light on the emerging market for investors to engage in innovations that can facilitate ordinary people’s lives. Africa can no longer be understood via outdated development perceptions and models (2) which consider development and human rights as solely governmental responsibilities. Individuals should claim ownership and responsibility for their rights and future, too.(3) Accordingly, this paper follows a capability approach, focusing on expanding human capabilities, what people are able to do, and highlights a number of innovations that contribute to facilitating the lives of ordinary people through entrepreneurship. It is argued that advanced technology can be deployed to expand human capabilities and shrink global poverty and associated social issues.
The capability approach, development and technology
Within the discipline of distributive justice, fairness and equality scholars like John Rawls consider fair distribution in terms of shares of primary goods accessible to people. However, it is not only the goods that are of importance but also the kind of lives they enable people to live and what they allow people to do and be.(4) For example, providing someone with a laptop, or other technical device, which has no value in itself, could in fact be really valuable to someone who knows how to use it. Development should, according to Amartya Sen, one of the philosophers behind the capability approach, aim at expanding people’s ‘human capabilities’.(5) Human capabilities and functionings constitute the core of the approach. Capabilities are described as “what people are effectively able to do and be.” Alternatively, the positive freedom that people have to “enjoy valuable beings and doings” refer to functionings, such as resting, being literate, being healthy, being able to travel and working.(6)
The capability approach is commonly used within development thinking, yet there has been relatively little work on linking this approach with the potential that technology holds. This comes as a surprise, since technology by definition refers to the expansion of human capabilities.(7)
Base of the (income) pyramid
How do we expand people’s capabilities? Years of development aid has not ended poverty or the hunger, disease and environmental deterioration associated with it.(8) Alternative means have been explored, such as the Base of the (income) Pyramid (BoP),(9) where the core idea is that entrepreneurship and profit-thinking can reduce poverty. Therefore, innovation is required to expand capabilities and facilitate development.(10)
The original approach to innovation is a uniform, linear natural-science-based innovation, based on international technology transfer. Critics argue for a “new mode of innovation” for developing countries, which adapts to local contexts, involves multi-stakeholder participation and is design-based.(11) Others say the model ought to focus more on human capabilities than on the reduction of income poverty.(12) According to a research project titled ‘Technology and human development – a capability approach’, innovative technology within areas such as Information and communications technology (ICT), medical/health care technology and energy technology, are efficient tools to expand human capabilities.(13)
Due to the spread of ICT and its varied range of application, ICTs can add potential to various different human capabilities.(14) Within the scope of ICTs for development, new technologies have been advertised as an essential medium for leapfrogging development and as a mechanism for reaching the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).(15)
-Medical/health care technology
The health sector is one of the most essential areas when it comes to quality of life and remains a fundamental part of the MDGs.(16)
-Sustainable human settlements: Energy technology
Vast numbers of poor people face severe living conditions which lead to the failure of human capabilities. Connecting the capability approach to this area of human life involves building, sanitation and energy.(17)
Innovations and technology
Various African countries offer interesting case studies of economic and technological development. The spread of technology has contributed to increases in education, good health and productivity.(18) A growing middle class in Africa, estimated at 313 million people in 2010 (34% of the continent’s population) is demanding more in terms of goods, but also in terms of development.(19) Some innovations, which have facilitated and had a huge impact on people’s lives, include mobile banking, mobile health care and renting electricity by the hour.
- ICT: Mobile banking
One researcher describes ICT as “a chance for Africa. It is not, of course, a magic formula that is going to solve all the problems. But it is a powerful tool for economic growth and poverty eradication, which can facilitate the integration of African countries into the global market.’’(20)
Africa is leading the way in mobile banking. At least two factors have made it a success. First, the mobile phone boom and second, the large number of unbanked people in Africa which represent an untapped market.(21) Along with this development, the Ewallet service has become a huge success, with Kenya’s M-PESA as the unquestionable success story. South Africa recently started pursuing Ewallet initiatives. Interestingly, cellphone operators are now able to offer banking services to previously unbanked customers through e-wallets and person-to-person money transfers. Historically people with no access to banks were forced to rely on cash, even when sending money over long distances, but they can now transfer money more securely via their cellphones, effectively facilitating the lives of their family members.(22)
- Medical/health care technology: Dial a Doctor in Kenya
The mobile phone service provider Safaricom and Call-a-Doc Limited, which deals with distribution of medical information using modern communication equipment, have, in partnership, introduced a service whereby Kenyans can access medical consultations over the phone. The 24/7 service is called Daktari 1525 and enables people to speak to a qualified doctor for expert advice on any health issue.(23) Some of the experts are stationed at Safaricom’s call centre while others are connected using various forms of technology. Customers pay Sh20 (US $0.23) per minute.(24) “Bearing in mind that we have over 25 million mobile phones and a limited number of hospitals, it goes without saying that mobile technology could be successfully deployed to create effective solutions for the capacity challenges of our healthcare system,” said Polly Okello, a director at Call-a-Doc.(25)
Safaricom’s Director in charge of Corporate Affairs Nzioka Waita recaps the company’s commitment to improving lives through technology. “This service is part of a deliberate accent we are placing on healthcare as a major focus point of our investments. As part of our Digital Inclusion agenda which is steadily gathering pace, mobile health (M-Health) is one of our key pillars. As a socially responsible corporate citizen, Safaricom commits itself to using technology to improve the health of Kenyans.”(26)
- Energy technology: Renting electricity by the hour
Electricity is considered a necessary but insufficient channel for economic development. As in most developing countries, there is not enough electricity available to rural and semi-urban areas in Kenya, where Kenya Power has introduced a way for their costumers to rent electricity by the hour with payment over the phone. E-billing allows customers to check their electricity account balance and bill due date using SMS or e-mail.(27)
These innovative solutions to people’s daily problems are only a small selection from the many brilliant ideas which have contributed to changing people’s lives. With this said, there are two other innovations worth mentioning. First, The Daily Talk by Alfred Sirleaf, brings daily news to Liberians through the basic use of a blackboard in the middle of the capital Morovia, where it is accessible to everyone.(28) Second, Jodie Wu’s Global Cycle Solutions,(29) transforms bicycles into mobile business tools for rural Tanzania. The idea started with a bike that became a maize sheller and developed into a maize grinder.(30) With such innovative thinking, how can we not ask ourselves the question, ‘What next’?
There is nothing ‘traditional’ about development in Africa. Mobile phones have become a symbol of effective digital development, characterised as “weapons against poverty.”(31) Africa has 616 million mobile subscribers, a number larger than Northern America’s.(32) This opens up a market for innovative entrepreneurs, in line with the ones mentioned here, to develop applications and tools to facilitate and improve people’s daily lives and thus expand human capabilities. With innovative entrepreneurs and long-term investment Africa has started changing old-fashioned, passive approaches to development into dynamic, empowering thinking and action toward development.
Written by Christine Petré (1)
(1) Contact Christine Petré through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Rights in Focus Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(2) ‘Africa’s Investment Heatmap’, World Economic Forum Africa 2012 website, www.weforum.org.
(3) ‘Using innovation in human rights’, TEDxGateway Mallika Dutt, www.youtube.com.
(4) Robeyns, I., ‘The capability approach: an interdisciplinary introduction’, www.capabilityapproach.com.
(5) Oosterlaken, I., et al., ‘Technology and human development – capability approach’, Description of the research project, March 23009, www.ethicsandtechnology.eu.
(8) Oosterlaken, I., et al., ‘Technology and human development – capability approach’, Description of the research project, March 23009, www.ethicsandtechnology.eu.
(9) ‘Sustainable innovations at the BoP’, Aalto University School of Economics website, http://management.aalto.fi.
(10) Prahalad C., K., 2004. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits. Warthon School Publishing: Upper Saddle River, NJ.
(11) Soete, L., ‘International research partnerships on the move’ Knowledge on the move Conference, February 2008, www.nuffic.nl.
(12) Crabtree, A., ‘Evaluating “the Bottom of the Pyramid” from a Fundamental Capabilities Perspective’ CBDS Working Paper Series, 2007, http://openarchive.cbs.dk.
(13) Oosterlaken, I et al., ‘Technology and human development – capability approach’, Description of the research project, March 23009, www.ethicsandtechnology.eu.
(15) Asiedu, C., 2012. Information communication technologies for gender and development in Africa: The case for radio and technological blending. International Communication Gazette, 74(3), pp. 240-257.
(18) ‘Africa’s Investment Heatmap’, World Economic Forum Africa 2012 website, www.weforum.org.
(19) Smith, D., ‘Middle class helps Africa to avoid past pitfalls’ The Guardian, 28 March 2012, www.guardian.co.uk.
(20) Alozie, N., et al., Sizing up information and communication technologies as agents of political development in sub-Saharan Africa. Telecommunications Policy, 35, pp. 752-763.
(21) Clark, V., ‘Africa sprints ahead with mobile banking’, Bizcommunity website, www.bizcommunity.com.
(23) ‘Safaricom unveils mobile health service’, CIO East Africa, 22 November 2011, www.cio.co.ke.
(24) ‘Daktari 1525’, Safaricom website, www.safaricom.co.ke.
(25) Karongo, C., ‘Now you can ‘dial a doctor’’, Capital FM News, 24 November 2011, www.capitalfm.co.ke.
(26) ‘Safaricom unveils mobile health service’ CIO East Africa, 22 November 2011, www.cio.co.ke.
(27) ‘E-bills’, Kenya power website, www.kplc.co.ke.
(28) ‘Alfred’s Free Press’, Witness, Al Jazeera website, www.aljazeera.com.
(29) Global cycle Solutions website, http://gcstz.com.
(30) ‘High-velocity innovation: Fellows Friday with Jodie Wu’, TED Blog, 6 January 2012, http://blog.ted.com.
(31) Selinger, E., 2008. Does microcredit “empower”? Reflections on the Grameen Bank Debate. Human Studies, 31(1), pp. 27-41.
(32) ‘Africa’s Investment Heatmap’, World Economic Forum Africa 2012 website, www.weforum.org.
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