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Innovation in the Slums can bring Peace and Prosperity

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 27

Rioting in Kenya has once again reminded people of the volatility of urban slums and the price to be paid if the dreams of those who live there are not met. As documented by urban development expert Jeb Brugmann, “mismanaged urban migrations have been a central part of political revolutions in our world since the 1960s.” In Kenya, “as elsewhere, these slums have effectively become huge, parallel cities, with their own economies, governance and social dynamics. Two-thirds of Nairobi’s slum dwellers eke a living in the underground informal sector. Ninety per cent of them are tenants. The poverty rate in Nairobi doubled, for instance, between 1992 and 1997.”

Slums are usually despised by the local urban authorities around the world. They end up either being totally ignored and seen as an embarrassment, or in more extreme circumstances like Zimbabwe’s slum clearance in 2005 – “Operation Clean Up Trash” – they are swept away (only to pop up somewhere else). Recently in Ghana, slums were cleared with flame-throwers, as residents were quickly cleared out of their homes to make way for a football stadium. Schoolteacher Ibrahim Addalah, who lost his home, said: “My school is gone. The community had bought us a blackboard; we had made a small school. It took us a long time to get all those things: the benches, the books. They gave us no time to leave; they just burnt our homes and our future to the ground. Now we are living in the rubble with nowhere to go.”

Over 900 million people – almost a sixth of the world’s population – now live in urban slums (UN). Improving conditions for these people is a Millennium Development Goal target. And half the world’s population will soon live in cities: already, in developing countries 43 per cent of urban dwellers live in slums – and in the least-developed countries the figure is 78 per cent. The UN has estimated it will take US $18 billion a year to improve living conditions for these people – and most of it will have to come from the people themselves.

An essential route to improving the situation is to give people living in slums the dignity and respect they deserve as human beings. Initiatives across the South seek to do this and turn the situation on its head: seeing slum dwellers as a valuable asset, not an urban blight.

The concept of ‘slum networking’ has been developed by Indian engineer Himanshu Parikh of Ahmedabad , a winner of the Aga Khan award for architecture. He starts from the point of believing there is no need for slum conditions to exist in India, but that slums do not need to be moved, just upgraded; and that good change can happen quickly.

He also sees the residents’ involvement and financial contribution as critical to the sustainability of any improvements. His approach has already helped one million people overall, including 8,703 families (43,515 people) in Ahmedabad in 41 slum communities. Slum networking does not depend on aid funds but is a self-reliant approach, in which residents make a partnership with private suppliers to get access to the most important services first: clean water and hygiene and sanitation.

Parikh’s approach involves providing channels for sewage, water supply and roadways in existing slum areas by exploiting the natural topography and pattern of development to provide the new infrastructure.

Parikh makes a detailed survey plan of the existing houses and divides them into groups based on the quality of construction. If they are of reasonable quality, they are left in place. Where possible, slum dwellers are allowed to buy the land they are squatting on. By buying the land, the owner now has a direct stake in its development.

“Working inside out, i.e. starting with quality infrastructure in the poor areas and working outwards to produce larger networks for the city or village, not only integrates the two levels, but actually produces far cheaper infrastructure at both levels,” Parikh told Architecture Week magazine.

In the slums of the Indian city of Indore, 181 slums were networked, giving the city 360 kilometres of new roads, 300 kilometres of new sewer lines, 240 kilometres of new water lines, 120 community halls and 120,000 trees. This transformed the two local rivers from open sewers back to water. According to the World Bank, fatal water diseases fell by 90 per cent.

“No project for their rehabilitation could be successful until they were involved as the capital partners,” Parikh told India’s The Tribune. Upgrading “the civic amenities, including sewerage, roads and water supply, was the need of the hour for better living conditions of the slum dwellers.” In South Africa, the country’s fast-growing tourism trade is being directed towards its slums, not just its game parks, wineries and cities.

The sprawling Soweto district on the outskirts of Johannesburg – the heart of the struggle against the former apartheid regime – has lured tourists to come and stay with its network of bed and breakfasts (http://www.sowetonights.co.uk/snaccom_vhavenda.htm): home-based places to stay run by families. Like many slums, Soweto is a heady mix of contrasts: from wealthy suburban homes, to makeshift tin shacks to outright squalor and destitution. But the B and Bs ensure tourists stick around and spend more money, creating lasting jobs.

Over 200,000 visitors a year tour Soweto to see where Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu once lived. And as with all success, it attracts more success: the international hotel chain Holiday Inn has just opened a 48-room hotel in Soweto.
Giving dignity to the lives of slum dwellers is the work of a do-it-yourself “TV station” in Kenya. Kenya’s dramatic turn to violence after recent elections has led to a myopic view of the country, according to the young filmmakers and photographers behind Slum TV (http://www.slum-tv.info/). Based deep inside Nairobi’s largest slum, Mathare, they have been seeking out the stories of hope where international media only see violence and gloom.

“We look at what is good and what is bad. We see what is behind the scenes. The international media only shows the negative side,” said Benson Kamau of Slum TV.
Slum TV is a group of young men in Mathare with only a two-week workshop in the basics of film shooting and editing. They pay their bills by doing odd jobs. A grant from Austria paid for their one camera and a computer.

They screen their films every month to the residents of Mathare on a giant white sheet hanging over some vacant land. They illegally tap an overhanging electricity line for power – few can afford electricity. The films document everyday life in the slum – a man selling dougnuts, women frying potatoes – and the locals can see their lives recorded and acknowledged.

Resources 

1. Shelter Associates: established by Indian architect Pratima Joshi, it is an NGO working on slum rehabilitation. http://www.shelter-associates.org

2. SPARC: one of the largest Indian NGOs working on housing and infrastructure issues for slum dwellers. http://www.sparcindia.org

3. Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers: published by the Millennium Project. http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/reports/tf_slum.htm

4. For local bed and breakfasts in South Africa, click here sa-venues.com, tourist information at http://www.southafrica.net/

5. Slum Networking: Innovative Approach to Urban Development by Diane Diacon (editor). Website: http://www.amazon.co.uk

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African Youth Want to do Business in Fast-growing Economy

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Africa’s growing economy is meeting head-on an optimistic young population keen to start businesses. At least that is what a new poll of African youth says, finding that one in five Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 without a current business wants to start one in the next 12 months.

The Gallup surveys (www.gallup.com) of 27 African countries and areas also found young women were just as keen as young men to start a business.

Throughout the decade of the 2000s, Africa experienced an average economic growth rate of 5.4 percent (World Bank) – a big gain from the poor growth rates of the 1980s and early 1990s.

The turnaround in Africa’s economic growth prospects was the product of a number of trends and factors. One has been better policies and easier trade. Other factors include rising tourism, a growing service sector, rising commodity prices, greater demand for African exports in emerging economies and rapidly improving communications: the surge in mobile phone usage during the last five years has surprised many. Africans are also avid spenders on goods and services, spending US $860 billion on them in 2008, more than India’s US $635 billion or Russia’s US $821 billion (Economic Report on Africa 2011).

The African Development Bank predicts Africa’s growth rate for 2011 will decline to 3.7 percent from 2010’s 4.9 percent, largely as a result of turmoil in North Africa. East Africa is projected to grow the fastest this year at 6.7 percent, with West Africa close behind at 5.9 percent.

Africa as a continent collectively had a gross domestic product in 2009 of US $1.6 trillion: equal to Brazil’s or Russia’s. The continent is considered among the fastest-expanding economic regions in the world (McKinsey & Company).

In fact, while economic prospects are grim in many developed countries, Africa joined Asia as the only continents to grow during this recession.

But major problems still confront the continent, among them youth unemployment. Those between 15 and 24 make up more than 60 percent of the continent’s population and are 45 percent of the total labor force (African Economic Outlook). Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing a youth explosion, with the proportion of youth there to rise to 75 percent of the population by 2015. Demographers forecast this rising youth trend will not stop for the next 20 years.

Getting these youth actively engaged in the economy and society is a major challenge for the continent. Already, 133 million African youth are illiterate. They have few skills and are marginalised from more productive sectors of the economy.

Even those with an education find their skills often don’t match the needs of the labor market. In sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment is believed to be 20 percent.

So even with better economic prospects and growing economies and incomes, youth unemployment looms large.

The Economic Report on Africa 2011 (www.uneca.org/era2011/) finds the “persistent high youth unemployment rate is a cause of concern and a potential source of political instability.” Job creation is still not adequate: “The growth rates are still below the levels needed to make a significant impact on unemployment and poverty reduction.”

While Africa will experience higher growth in 2011, for youth it is looking like a “jobless recovery,” according to the report. Overseas investors are mostly throwing their money at the resource sector, which doesn’t create many jobs in the economy.

But for young Africans looking to start a business, the opportunities are there in sectors such as retailing, telecommunications, banking, infrastructure-related industries, resource-related businesses, and all along the agricultural value chain.

The booming communications industry has added 316 million new subscribers since 2000, for example. And all those people now connected need new services.

And once a business is up and running, it is possible to make higher profits in Africa than on other continents, according to the UN. Africa leads the emerging market economies for returns for businesses. This is because competition isn’t as intense and there is still plenty of built-up consumer demand that needs to be met.

All of this means young people willing to start a business and put in the hard work, will have a better chance of reaping the rewards.

Resources

1) iHub Nairobi: iHub Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. It is part open community workspace (co-working), part vector for investors and VCs and part incubator. Website: http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php

2) The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge by Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble: On how businesses need to follow through with execution if they really want to innovate. Website: http://hbr.org/product/baynote/an/13219-HBK-ENG?referral=00505&cm_sp=baynote-_-featured_products-_-13219-HBK-ENG

3) “The Globe: Cracking the Next Growth Market: Africa” by Mutsa Chironga et al, Harvard Business Review. Website: http://hbr.org/2011/05/the-globe-cracking-the-next-growth-market-africa/ar/1

4) 2011 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference: This 5th anniversary conference will provide a learning platform for the world’s leading funders, practitioners, technical assistance providers, policy makers, and academics working to increase and improve economic opportunities for young people. Join 400 professionals from over 60 countries to share lessons learned, promising practices, and innovative ideas through technical workshops, engaging plenary sessions, and interactive networking. The result? Higher-impact programming, breakthrough solutions, and proven approaches. This year’s theme, Breakthroughs, reflects the focus on the innovative ideas, proven practices, and visionary insights that are taking this emerging field to new heights. Website: http://www.youtheconomicopportunities.org/

5) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for fair design, sustainable production and fair trade. They work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html

6) Francophone Africa Hackathon: Taking place on 24 September 2011, a ‘hackathon’ to develop mobile phone applications will take place for Francophone Africans. Website: http://www.mobilehackaf.com/

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Global South Eco-cities Show How the Future Can Be

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The world is currently undergoing a high-stress transition on a scale not seen since the great industrial revolution that swept Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s urban and industrial transition involves many more people and is taking place on a greater proportion of the planet. With rapid urbanization comes a demand for middle class lifestyles, with their high-energy usage and high consumption of raw materials.

This is stretching the planet’s resources to breaking point. And as many have pointed out, if the world’s population is to continue past today’s 7 billion to reach 9 billion and beyond, new ways of living are urgently required. Radical thinking will be necessary to match the contradictory goals of raising global living standards for the world’s poor with pressured resources and environmental conditions.

But there are innovative projects already under development to build a new generation of 21st-century cities that use less energy while offering their inhabitants a modern, high quality of life. Two examples are in China and the Middle East.

Both projects are seen as a way to earn income and establish viable business models to build the eco-cities of the future. Each project is seeking to develop the expertise and intellectual capacity to build functioning eco-cities elsewhere. In the case of the Masdar City project in the United Arab Emirates, international businesses are being encouraged to set up in Masdar City and to develop technologies that can be sold to other countries and cities – in short, to create a green technology hub akin to California’s hi-technology hub ‘Silicon Valley’. Masdar City is also being built in stages as investors are found to help with funding. Both projects hope to prove there is money to be made in being green and sustainable.

The Tianjin Eco-city (tianjinecocity.gov.sg) project is a joint venture between China and Singapore to build a 30 square kilometre city to house 350,000 residents.

Tianjin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tianjin) is a large industrial city southeast of China’s capital, Beijing. It is a place that wears the effects of its industrial expansion on the outside. Air pollution is significant and the city has a grimy layer of soot on most outdoor infrastructure.

China has received a fair bit of criticism for its polluted cities as the country has rapidly modernized in the past two decades. This sprint to be one of the world’s top economic powers has come at a cost to the environment. In this respect, China is not unusual or alone. Industrialization can be brutal and polluting, as Europe found out during its earlier industrial revolution.

But China is recognizing this can’t go on forever and is already piloting many initiatives to forge a more sustainable future and bring development and high living standards back in line with what the environment can handle.

Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city is the second large-scale collaboration between the Chinese government and Singapore. The first was the Suzhou Industrial Park (http://www.sipac.gov.cn/english/).The Tianjin project came up in 2007 as both countries contemplated the challenges of rapid urbanization and sustainable development.

The project’s vision, according to its website, is to be “a thriving city which is socially harmonious, environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient – a model for sustainable development.”

The philosophy behind the project is to find a way of living that is in harmony, with the environment, society and the economy. It is also about creating something that could be replicated elsewhere and be scaled up to a larger size.

The city is being built 40 kilometres from Tianjin centre and 150 kilometres from Beijing. It is located in the Tianjin Binhai New Area, considered one of the fastest growing places in China.

Construction is well underway and can be followed on the project’s website (http://www.tianjinecocity.gov.sg/gal.htm). It will be completed in 2020.

This year, the commercial street was completed and is ready for residents to move in.

Residents will be encouraged to avoid motorized transport and to either use public transport or people-powered transport such as bicycles and walking.

An eco-valley runs down the centre of the city and is meant to be a place for pedestrians and cyclists to enjoy.

The basic building block of the Eco-city – its version of a city block – is called the Eco Cell. Each Eco Cell measures 400 metres by 400 metres, a comfortable walking distance. Four Eco Cells make a neighbourhood. Several Eco Neighbourhoods make an Eco District and there are four Eco Districts in the Eco-city. It is a structure with two ideas in mind: to keep development always on a walkable, human scale and also to provide a formula for scaling up the size of the Eco-city as the number of residents increases.

It is a logical approach and seeks to address one of the most common problems with conventional cities: sprawling and unmanageable growth that quickly loses sight of human need.

Agreement was also reached on the standards that should be achieved for a wide variety of criteria, from air and water quality to vegetation, green building standards, and how much public space there should be per person.

An ambitious project in the United Arab Emirates is trying to become both the world’s top centre for eco cities and a living research centre for renewable energy. Masdar City (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/)is planned to be a city for 40,000 people. It is billed as a high-density, pedestrian-friendly development where current and future renewable energy and clean technologies will be “marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.”

The city hopes to become home to hundreds of businesses, a research university and technology clusters.

This version of an eco-city is being built in three layers in the desert, 17 kilometres from the Emirati capital Abu Dhabi. The goal is to make a city with zero carbon emissions, powered entirely by renewable energy. It is an ambitious goal but there are examples in the world of cities that use significant renewable energy for their power, such as Reykjavik, Iceland in Northern Europe, which draws much of its energy from renewables and geothermal sources.

Masdar City is designed by world-famous British architect Norman Foster (fosterandpartners.com) and will be 6.5 square kilometres in size.

The design is highly innovative. The city will be erected on 6 metre high stilts to increase air circulation and reduce the heat coming from the desert floor. The city will be built on three levels or decks, to make a complete separation between transport and residential and public spaces.

The lowest deck will have a transportation system based on Personal Rapid Transport Pods. These look like insect eyes and are automated, controlled by touch screens, using magnetic sensors for propulsion. On top of this transport network will be the pedestrian streets, with businesses, shops and homes. No vehicles will be allowed there, and people will only be able to use bicycles or Segway (segway.com) people movers to get around. An overhead light railway system will run through the city centre, all the way to Abu Dhabi City.

“By layering the city, we can make the transport system super-efficient and the street level a much better experience,” Gerard Evenden, senior partner at Foster + Partners, told The Sunday Times. “There will be no car pollution, it will be safer and have more open spaces. Nobody has attempted anything like this.”

Masdar City is being built in stages as funding comes, with the goal of completion by 2016. It hopes to achieve its aspiration to be the most technologically advanced and environmentally friendly city in the world. As for water supplies in the desert, there is a plan: dew collected in the night and morning and a solar-powered desalination plant turning salt water into drinking water.

Electricity will come from a variety of sources. Solar panels will be on every roof and double as shade on alleyways. Non-organic waste will be recycled, while organic waste will be turned into fuel for power plants. Dirty water will be cleaned and then used to irrigate green spaces. Because of the design, the planners hope the city will just use a quarter of the energy of a conventional city.

To keep the city smart and the project on top of developments in renewable energy, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (http://www.masdar.ac.ae/) will specialize in renewable energy technology.

The cost for the city was pegged at US $22 billion in 2009.

The chief executive of Masdar – Abu Dhabi’s renewable-energy company – is Sultan Al Jaber. He sees the city as a beacon to show the way for the rest of the Emirate to convert from a highly inefficient consumer of energy to a pioneer in green technology.

“The problem with the renewable-energy industry is that it is too fragmented,” he told The Sunday Times. “This is where the idea for Masdar City came from. We said, ‘Let’s bring it all together within the same boundaries, like the Silicon Valley model (in California, USA).’”

The project needs to gather much of its funding as it progresses. The United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism (http://cdm.unfccc.int/) is helping with financing. Companies can earn carbon credits if they help fund a low-carbon scheme in the global South. The sultan is ambitious and sees this as a “blueprint for the cities of the future.” It has been able to bring on board General Electric (GE) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to sponsor the university.

It is possible to visit Masdar City and take a tour (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/105/visit-masdar-city/) and it is also possible to view online what has been built so far (http://www.masdarcity.ae/en/32/built-environment/).

Resources

1) Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation (CITE): Located in Texas, USA, CITE is a fully functioning city with no residents to test new technologies before they are rolled out in real cities. Website: http://www.pegasusglobalholdings.com/test-center.html

2) Digital Cities of the Future: In Digital Cities, people will arrive just in time for their public transportation as exact information is provided to their device. The Citizen-Centric Cities (CCC) is a new paradigm, allowing governments and municipalities to introduce new policies. Website: http://eit.ictlabs.eu/action-lines/digital-cities-of-the-future/

3) Eco-city Administrative Committee: Website: http://www.eco-city.gov.cn/

4) Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city, Investment and Development Co., Ltd. Website: tianjineco-city.com

5) ‘The Future Build’ initiative, a new green building materials portal from Masdar City. Website: thefuturebuild.com

6) UNHABITAT: The United Nations Human Settlements Programme is the UN agency mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. Website: http://www.unhabitat.org

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African Digital Laser Breakthrough Promises Future Innovation

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

For decades many African countries have experienced low investment in research and development (R&D) and scientific innovation. One of the few nations to benefit from a sophisticated university network and research and development sector was South Africa. It still ranks top on the continent for funding R&D and its high number of scientific journals.

And it seems this support has paid off in a recent innovation. The world’s first digital laser designed and built in Africa has been developed by a team of physicists at the University of KwaZulu–Natal in South Africa (http://www.ukzn.ac.za/), as reported in the MIT Technology Review (http://www.technologyreview.com/).

This innovation joins a positive trend in Africa, where support to science, technology and R&D is rising – albeit from a very low base. In 2010 UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – found Africa was reversing decades of neglect in research and development. African countries were increasing investment in science and technology after realizing it will accelerate their connection with the global economy and help create better-quality jobs to tackle poverty. The UNESCO Science Report found Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa had adopted laws to support biotechnology research, for example.

Since 2005, six new science academies have been established in Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. This compares to nine established between 1902 and 2004.

The proportion of GDP (gross domestic product) devoted to R&D averages 0.3 per cent in Africa, according to UNESCO.

South Africa continues to lead in R&D spending, raising its investment from 0.73 per cent of GDP in 2001 to 0.94 per cent in 2006. The country is home to 46 per cent of Africa’s scientific publications compared to 11.4 per cent in Nigeria and 6.6 per cent in Kenya (UNESCO).

Experts say the digital laser developed in South Africa is a breakthrough that will open up ever-further innovations and business opportunities.

So, what is a digital laser and what is the innovation? A laser is short form for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. It is a device that produces a concentrated light source. Unlike conventional light sources that emit a diffused, multispectral light, lasers allow for a monochromatic light beam to be concentrated on a small area. This can be used to cut an object precisely, or beamed over long distances without losing its strength.

Lasers can create immense light, heat and power at close range and are regularly used in surgery and medical diagnosis.

Conventional lasers require external devices to alter and bend the laser light beam. The digital laser allows the shape of the beam to be digitally altered internally at the touch of a computer keyboard and gives greater immediate control. This means a plethora of new shapes can be formed with the laser beam, and this can have many practical applications.

The digital laser augers in a new age of creativity with lasers and more spontaneity in how they are used. Rather than having to place a lens or mirror at the front of the casing to shape the laser beam, this innovation makes it possible to create any shape desired digitally by a computer. The research team has been able to create various complex shapes for the laser beams in experiments. One mooted use is to apply laser beams to manipulate microscopic objects – similar to the tractor beams seen in science fiction films such as “Star Trek”.

Few of us spend much time thinking about lasers, yet they are ubiquitous in the modern world and are found in many electronic products (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_laser_applications). They play a critical part in the modern world’s economy. Some common applications for lasers include laser light shows at music concerts, bar code readers at the grocery store, or laser pointers used during public presentations. Dentists also use them to speed the hardening of fillings.

Not to exploit lasers as a technology in the modern world is equivalent to bypassing the silicon micro-chip that sits inside personal computers, electronic devices and mobile phones.

Resources

1) Digital laser: The research paper submitted by the team explaining the innovation. Website: http://arxiv.org/abs/1301.4760

2) 3D Laser Hologram Kit: Now you can make your own holograms at home with the help of this innovative kit. Website: http://www.scientificsonline.com/hologram-kit.html

3) Hands-On Science Kits and Demos. Website: http://ice.chem.wisc.edu/Catalog/SciKits.html

4) Home kit for making a Laser Theatre. Website: http://www.scientificsonline.com/laser-theater.html

5) Little Bits: littleBits is an open source library of electronic modules that snap together with magnets for prototyping, learning and fun. Website: http://littlebits.cc/

6) Consolidated Plan of Action for Africa’s Science and Technology adopted by African Minsters of Science and Technology in 2005. Website: http://www.nepad.org/humancapitaldevelopment/news/1581/advancing-science-and-technology-africa

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Like science and technology stories from the global South? Here are some more from the archive:

China Sets Sights on Dominating Global Smartphone Market

China Pushing Frontiers of Medical Research

China Looking to Lead on Robot Innovation

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