Tag Archives: development

Copenhagen Consensus 2008

Over the last 2 years, many of the world’s top economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, ranked 30 high-impact solutions to address the world’s greatest challenges. The panel estimates there is a $17 return for every dollar invested into these solutions, in terms of reduced medical expenses and significantly increased earnings.

At the top of the list is providing micronutrient supplements for children (esp. vitamin A and zinc), meaning that the panel of economist that formed the Copenhagen Consensus believe that providing vitamin supplements is the most cost-effective way that the world can improve the state of our planet. Complying with the Doha development agenda would be the second, and so on down to 30. Malnutrition tops the list, with 5 solutions in the top 10, with education and women next. Diseases of the developing world are of course high priorities, but perhaps more surprisingly, so is acute care for heart attacks. 7 entries for global warming and air pollution are also on the list.

These solutions provide a great template for planning cost-effective, high-impact, and globally relevant interventions. The development community would do well to focus on these.

Read more about each of these solutions at  Copenhagen Consensus 2008.

Micronutrient supplements for children (vitamin A and zinc)
The Doha development agenda
Micronutrient fortification (iron and salt iodization)
Expanded immunization coverage for children
Deworming and other nutrition programs at school
Malnutrition & Education
Lowering the price of schooling
Increase andimprove girls’ schooling
Community-based nutrition promotion
Provide support for women’s reproductive role
Heart attack acute management
Malaria prevention and treatment
Tuberculosis case finding and treatment
R&D in low-carbon energy technologies
Global Warming
Bio-sand filters for household water treatment
Rural water supply
Conditional cash transfers
Peace-keepingin post‐conflict situations
HIV combination prevention
Total sanitation campaign
Improving surgical capacity at district hospital level
Improved stove intervention
Air Pollution
Large, multipurpose dam in Africa
Inspection and maintenance of diesel vehicles
Air Pollution
Low sulfur diesel for urban road vehicles
Air Pollution
Diesel vehicle particulate control technology
Air Pollution
Tobacco tax
R&D and mitigation
Global Warming
Mitigation only
Global Warming

more on mobile phones

“We’ll have one mobile phone per child before we ever have one laptop per child.” -Inspired by Jason Grigsby, co-founder of Cloud Four, at a June 2008 presentation Web Visions event (see his blog post here: Going Fast on the Mobile Web)

There are now 3.3 billion mobile phones in use in the world, which means that 1 out of every 2 people worlwide uses a mobile phone. This makes the mobile phone the most widespread electronic device in the world. To put this into perspective, there are 900 million computers, 1.3 billion fixed landline phones, and 1.5 billion televisions. (See Communities Dominate Brands entry on Putting 2.7 billion in context: Mobile phone users)


– from Cloud Four, The Mother of all Markets

The global market penetration of cell phones is noteworthy, but the incredible rate of growth even more so. In 2000, there were about 800 million mobile subscribers (12% of the world’s population). By the end of 2008, there are expected to be over 4 billion subscribers! See a September 2008 article from the International Telecommunications Union: Worldwide mobile cellular subscribers to reach 4 billion mark late 2008 for more details. China already has the most mobile subscribers in the world (see my previous post on Mobile Phones) and by the end of 2008 the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will have approximately 1.3 billion subscribers, or one-third of all mobile phone users. Last year, Pakistan added more new mobile connections than the USA!


The US has actually fallen behind many countries in Asia-Pacific region with only 80% subscriber penetration. President Bush made widespread broadband and mobile access a priority in 2004 (although did very little to make this happen). President-Elect Obama has also stated that access is a priority of his administration. Ellen Romer of Experian Consumer Research published a report entitled U.S. Closing Mobile Usage Gap in April 2008 with statistics on US mobile usage.

Mobile connectivity is no longer exceptional, even in rural, underdeveloped regions. Mobile phones, broadly categorized as information and communications technologies (ICTs) along with internet and landlines, enable stronger and larger social networks, increase knowledge dissemination and creation, freedom of expression, political, societal, and economic participation, and adoption or creation of new technologies. 3rd-generation networks will become the norm, making internet access possible anywhere in the world without a computer. The increase in individual access to information that the internet provides is perhaps one of the most empowering and capabilities-enhancing functions of modern technology and has the potential to transform the developing world.

Information Poverty & Global Rankings

I recently read a Google blog post entitled Information Poverty that highlighted how detrimental lack of access to information is to quality of life and development. A couple notable quotes:

According to the Kenya Poverty and Inequality Assessment released by the World Bank this year, 17 million Kenyans or 47% of the population were unable to meet the costs of food sufficient to fulfill basic daily caloric requirements. The vast majority of these people live in rural areas and have even less access to the information that impacts their daily life. Data on water quality, education and health budgets, and agricultural prices are nearly impossible to access.

The right information at the right time in the hands of people has enormous power…Where does [the] money go, who gets it, and what are the results of the resources invested? The power to know plus the power to act on what you know is the surest way to achieve positive social change from the bottom up.

There are a lot of possible ways to measure a population’s access to information, including internet connectivity, mobile phone proliferation, or mass media market penetration, but also literacy and education, or the presence of libraries and universities. While many indicators and rankings are available, I don’t believe that any global index exists that compresses available data together into a single Global Information Access Index.

The United Nations, namely the UN Statistics Division, tracks country data to measure development progress. The World Bank collects and calculate development indicators largely based on economic factors. A host of other organizations have created their own tools to read in publicly available data and summarize and present it in more useful ways. My favorite example of this is Gap Minder World, which let’s you graphically manipulate country indicators over time. The International Telecommunications Union is the closest I’ve seen with its Digital Access Index (only 2003 data publicly available), described as:

The Digital Access Index (DAI) measures the overall ability of individuals in a country to access and use Information and Communication Technology.

The DAI ranks countries using 8 categories: telephone & mobile phone subscribers, price of internet access, bandwidth, broadband internet subscribers, literacy and education, and total internet users.

The DAI is a great start, but it is still lacking. For example, the DAI cannot adjust for information-restricting policies in China. Libraries and library usage are not considered. Index does not allow for the huge marginal returns that can be gained when a society that has little information access installs a single internet-connected computer. Distribution of information sources is crucial.