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Recycling Waste to Boost Incomes and Opportunities

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

We all know that green is good, but often the best way to encourage recycling and other environment-improving activities is to put in place economic incentives. It is one thing to admonish people and tell them something is the right thing to do; it is another to make keeping a clean environment pay.

Many initiatives across the global South have proven it is possible to develop an economy of recycling and garbage collection in poor neighbourhoods. These economies take many forms and models.

At the most basic end of the scale are the desperate, survival-driven examples of recycling. In countries likeIndia, recycling can be purely a question of survival – people are so poor they can’t allow anything that might have income potential go to waste. Other countries are very familiar with large numbers of desperately poor people picking through garbage dumps and waste to eke out a living. Or, for example in Brazil, as in many other countries, it’s common to see poor and homeless people picking through garbage on the streets.

These are examples of degrading ‘green’ economies. But there other ways to encourage waste recycling that offer real income benefits and life improvements.

Brazil, a world leader in waste recycling and green technologies, has pioneered the recycling of plastic bottles, aluminum, steel cans, solid plastic waste and glass. And now energy companies inBrazilhave created credit schemes that encourage waste recycling while giving people real economic benefits in return for doing the right thing for the environment. The first scheme went so well, it quickly inspired others to replicate its programme in other poor communities.

Coelce (http://www.coelce.com.br/default.aspx) is a power company in the Ceará State in northeastern Brazil. The company is primarily engaged in the distribution of electrical power for industrial, rural, commercial and residential consumption. In 2007 it set up Ecoelce (http://www.coelce.com.br/coelcesociedade/programas-e-projetos/ecoelce.aspx), a programme allowing people to recycle waste in return for credits towards their electricity bills. The success of the programme led to an award from the United Nations.

The programme works like this: people bring the waste to a central collection place, a blue and red building with clear and bright branding to make it easy to find. In turn they receive credits on a blue electronic card – looking like a credit card – carrying a picture of a child and arrows in the familiar international recycling circle.

These credits are then used to calculate the amount of discount they should receive on their energy bill. The scheme is flexible, and people can also use the credits for food or to pay rent. In 2008, after its first yearthe scheme had expanded to 59 communities collecting 4,522 tons of recyclable waste and earning 622,000 reais (US $349,438) in credits for 102,000 people. People were receiving an average of 5 to 6 reais (US $2.80 to US $3.37) every month towards their energy bills.  A clear success leading to an expansion of the scheme.

Now in Ceará’s state capital, Fortaleza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortaleza), – population 3.5 million – there are more than 300,000 people recycling a wide range of materials, from paper, glass, plastics, and metals to cooking oil to get electricity discounts, according to the Financial Times.

In Brazil’s second largest city, Rio de Janeiro, a favela clean-up programme is being run by electricity firm Light S.A. (http://www.light.com.br/web/tehome.asp), which took its inspiration from the success of the Ecoelce experience.

The number of favelas, or informal slum neighbourhoods (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela), in Rio is debated: according to the federal government, there are 1,020 favelas, while Rio’s housing department lists 582. The government has been trying to tackle the law and order problems in these neighbourhoods – many are plagued with violent drug gangs – and endemic poverty. It calls this programme “pacification” (http://brazilportal.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/rios-top-cop-talks-public-safety-policy-favela-pacification-program/) as it tries to bring law and order and boost economic development and social gains.

Recycling programmes are helping to bring improvements to life in the favelas by simultaneously cleaning up neighbourhoods and boosting household wealth.

Light S.A. is a Brazilian energy company working in the generation, transmission, distribution and marketing of electricity. It distributes to 31 municipalities inRio de Janeiroand has around 3.8 million customers.

According to the Financial Times, the Light project pays residents 0.10 reais per kilogram of paper and plastic (US .5 cents). It also pays 2.50 reais per kilogram of aluminum and lead (US $ 1.40).

Importantly for community relations, the scheme is open not just to favela residents but to nearby middle class neighbourhoods.

“The idea is to unite the community and the people living around it,” Fernanda Mayrink, Light’s community outreach officer, told the Financial Times.

The project has helped improve theSanta Martafavela ofRio, where police have been working since 2008 to take back the neighbourhood from the control of violent drug gangs. Community police officers can now do their job of taking care of safety for the 6,000 residents.

“You don’t see drugs and guns any more but you do see lots of rubbish,” Mayrink said.

“This project encourages recycling within the company’s concession area and at the same time contributes to sustainable development and the consumer’s pocket. Light wins, the customer wins (and) the environment wins.”

In Vietnam, the NGO Anh Duong (http://www.anhduonghg.org/en/) or “Sun Ray” shows schoolchildren how to collect plastic waste to sell for recycling. In return, their schools receive improvements and the students can win scholarships. It is estimated ruralVietnam is littered with 100 million tons of waste every year. Much of it is not picked up.

The project is operating in 17 communities in Long My and Phung Hiep districts in southernVietnam, mobilising children from primary and secondary schools. School children wearing their uniforms fan out in groups and collect the plastic waste. The money made from selling the plastic waste is being used to improve school facilities and fund scholarships for poor children.

In 2010, the project reported that 10,484 kilograms of plastic waste was collected by 26,015 pupils. This provided for 16 scholarships for school children.

The Anh Duong NGO was set up by a group of social workers with the goal of community development. They target the poorest, bringing together the entire community and seek out “low cost and sustainable actions”. The NGO has a mix of specialties, from agriculture to aquaculture, health, microfinance and social work.

“Close, but no cigar” some might say, but we were genuinely flattered to be shortlisted in 2014 for inclusion in the book Visual Storytelling: Infographic Design in News published by Images Publishing in Shanghai, China. It is a lovely book to look at and the quality of infographics chosen for the book is high so it must have been a tough call. It was further proof Southern Innovator was getting known around the world and gaining respect for its content and design. The excellent work done by our graphic designer and illustrator Solveig Rolfsdottir speaks for itself.
Graphic Designer and Illustrator: Sólveig Rolfsdóttir.

Resources

1) A travelling exhibit, In The Bag: The Art and Politics of the Reusable Bag Movement, showcases bags and art produced by communities throughout the world and by individual artists. Website:http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BE6B5/%28httpNews%29/D1AB353A91EC2466C125793600519C7B?OpenDocument

2) EPAP guide: Based on extensive research throughout Mongolia by UNDP, this guide includes the application of the Blue Bag project to Mongolia’s sprawling slum districts surrounding the capital Ulaanbaatar. Website:http://tinyurl.com/yfkn2dp

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Egyptian Youth Turns Plastic Waste into Fuel

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The challenge of finding alternate fuel sources is capturing the imagination of innovators across the global South. As the world’s population increases – it recently reached 7 billion (UN) – and the number of people seeking a better life grows in turn, the energy demands on the planet are pushing up competition for existing conventional fuel sources.

The modern lifestyle that many aspire to requires energy, whether it’s using electronic products which consume large quantities of electricity, driving personal vehicles or living in homes that are artificially heated and cooled.

This energy hunger has opened up a whole new market demand that needs to be met. The scale of this market is enormous, but the solutions are ultimately limited only by people’s imaginations. An award-winning Egyptian teenage scientist is capturing attention for the imaginative solution of turning waste plastic into biofuel, sparking interest in the creation of a whole new source of wealth for her country.

Sixteen-year-old Azza Abdel Hamid Faiad (http://tinyurl.com/dysemjg) has found a new way to take waste plastic and break it down into fuel. She has discovered aluminosilicate minerals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aluminosilicate) – which contain aluminium, silicon and oxygen and are found in clays – can break down the polymers that make up plastic (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymer) to produce the gases methane, propane and ethane, all of which can be turned into ethanol (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethanol), which is useful as a biofuel.

According to Inhabitat (inhabitat.com), a website dedicated to “green design, innovation, and the future of clean technology,” her solution could turn the country’s annual consumption of 1 million tonnes of plastic into a year’s supply of biofuel worth US $78 million.

Clever innovators are sitting on a goldmine if they can come up with renewable energy solutions. The U.S. Army alone is looking to spend US $7 billion on renewable energy sources and is accepting bids from the private sector to meet its needs (http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddwoody/2012/08/08/u-s-army-opens-bids-to-buy-7-billionin-renewable-energy/). The army is looking to sign contracts stretching up to 30 years for buying electricity generated by solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects.

The options are numerous for renewable energy – from solar power to wind power to algae as a source of biofuels (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofuel). The challenge is to find a fuel source that is plentiful, renewable, and crucially, doesn’t harm other needs.

Using biofuel as a replacement for conventional petroleum-based fuels like gasoline and diesel appears to be an attractive solution, but it can lead to other problems. Some people are using used cooking oils to convert into biodiesels, but sometimes there is not enough used cooking oil to meet demand. In short, a constant supply source is required to meet ever-increasing energy demand.

A famous example of where the use of renewable plant-based fuel sources can go wrong is the case of corn. The widespread use of corn as a source for biofuels – rather than for animal feed or human food – has led to accusations this is contributing to the global food crisis. The current drought in the United States is damaging corn crops and only making this problem more acute. The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of corn (US Department of Agriculture) and much of it is used as livestock feed around the world.

Faiad’s solution is appealing because the fuel does not come from biomass – derived from plant matter – but turns waste plastic into the raw material for biofuel.

Plastic waste is a common byproduct of modern life. Plastic is used extensively in packaging, bottles, bags and electronic products. It fills up landfill sites and is a blight on the landscape in many countries. It is also a product made from petrochemicals (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic), the very source of conventional fuel used by most of the world’s vehicles.

Breaking down waste plastic from bottles, packaging and other products into what is called ‘biofuel feedstock’ – the substance necessary to start the creation of biofuel – requires a means to turn the plastic into fuel.

According to Green Prophet (greenprophet.com), Faiad believes her technological breakthrough “can provide an economically efficient method for production of hydrocarbon fuel namely: cracked naphtha (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_naphtha) of about 40,000 tons per year and hydrocarbon gases of about 138,000 tons per year equivalent to US $78 million.”

This could be a big economic boost to Egypt’s economy, simultaneously reducing dependence on petroleum-based fuels and creating a new source of income. Egypt’s economy has been hit hard since the start of the Arab Spring (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring). The number of tourists fell 33 per cent in 2011 and revenue dropped by US $3.7 billion from 2010 (Egyptian Tourism Minister). In 2009 about 12.5 million tourists visited Egypt, bringing revenue of US $10.8 billion. The tourism sector is one of the country’s top sources of foreign revenue, accounting for more than 11 per cent of GDP, and offers jobs in a country beset by high unemployment – for Egypt, tourism makes up 11 per cent of its GDP (gross domestic product) (Reuters).

Faiad’s innovation has not gone unnoticed. She received the European Fusion Development Agreement award (http://www.efda.org/) at the 2011 23rd European Union Contest for Young Scientists (http://ec.europa.eu/research/youngscientists/index_en.cfm). She is also receiving interest from the Egyptian Petroleum Research Institute (http://www.epri.sci.eg/), according to Inhabitat.

Ambitious Faiad is also seeking to take ownership of her innovation by getting a patent from the Egyptian Patent Office (http://www.egypo.gov.eg/english/default.htm).

Resources

1) Biofuel: A website with a good overview of biofuel options and directions on how to make biofuel. Website:http://biofuel.org.uk/

2) Biogasmax: Biogas Highway – waste to energy concept, 18-19 September in Gothenburg, Sweden. Participate in an intensive two-day programme with complete focus on biogas at the Water and Wastewater Fair. Meet with exhibiting Swedish biogas companies and companies within the water and wastewater sectors. Participate at the “International biogas business opportunities” seminar and learn more about biogas concepts and strategies. Website:http://www.biogasmax.eu/

3) New Techniques Create Butanol, A Superior Biofuel: A story from Science Daily about new techniques to produce a biofuel superior to ethanol. Website:http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080123153142.htm

4) Biofuels Digest: The Digest covers producer news, research, policy, policymakers, conferences, fleets and financial news. Website:http://www.biofuelsdigest.com/bdigest/

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Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Press Release 3 | Southern Innovator

Press Release for General Distribution

Southern Innovator’s Fifth Issue Profiles Innovators in Waste and Recycling

United Nations, New York, USA, 28 April 2014

• Fifth issue of Southern Innovator tackles ways to improve human development in a world with finite resources
• 60-page color magazine offers a snapshot of our fast-changing world

The fifth issue of Southern Innovator (SI) magazine is out now. It explores how innovation can tackle the challenges of improving human development on a planet with finite resources.

SI researchers identified innovative, low-polluting options to the world’s energy needs. They found that it is possible to alter the way that things are made to reduce or eliminate waste and toxic pollutants harming human health and damaging the environment. And not only that: they also discovered that there are sustainable incomes to be made from the economy of waste reduction and recycling – an opportunity that has yet to be fully realized. The innovations shared here demonstrate that raising living standards in the global South and responsible use of the world’s resources are not necessarily incompatible.

Some innovators are transforming attitudes towards fashion, proving that it does not have to be a wasteful industry. Others are turning commonly found waste – food waste, or human or animal excrement – into fuel for heating. The link between good design and the efficient use of resources is apparent in many of the innovators’ solutions. If a new, green economy is to work, then it must appeal to people’s aspirations and be something that they want in their lives and are willing to work to achieve.

Southern Innovator (southerninnovator.org) champions a 21st-century global innovator culture. It is based on intensive research and produced by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation in (UNOSSC) in UNDP. UNOSSC also organizes the annual Global South-South Development Expo (southsouthexpo.org), a traveling celebration bringing together Southern innovators, with previous venues in New York, Washington, D.C., Geneva, Rome,Vienna, Nairobi and Doha.

We hope that you enjoy the magazine and find its content interesting and illuminating, a snapshot of a fast-changing world awash with innovators, creators and doers making their world a better place.

For information on sponsoring issues of the magazine, either through helping to fund its print run, or through an insert relating to an issue’s theme with pertinent content for our readers, contact Cosmas Gitta at cosmas.gitta@undp.org.

Online archives: southerninnovator.org; http://www.scribd.com/SouthernInnovator. Follow us @SouthSouth1

Press Release 2

Press Release 1

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Southern Innovator In Dhaka, Bangladesh: Public Service Innovation Workshop | December 2017

Southern Innovator issues 1 and 5 at the Bangladesh workshop on public service innovation, 9-11 December 2017, and the launch of the South-South Network.

The following blog report does not reflect the views of the UNOSSC or UNDP. 

Dateline: Dhaka, Bangladesh (9-11 December 2017) – From 9-11 December 2017, I participated in the Workshop on Innovations in Service Delivery: The Scope for South-South and Triangular Cooperation held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hosted by the a2i (access to information) division of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office, the implementing unit for Digital Bangladesh, it was convened by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

I was asked to do a presentation for the health component of the Workshop on my past experience in public sector digital innovation. This work stretches back to the beginning of the roll out of the Internet in the late 1990s. I chose three projects I have led that had a large and significant impact in the digital public space: the UN Mongolia development web portal I launched and ran for two years (1997-1999), the GOSH Child Health Web Portal I launched and ran for two years (2001-2003) and the Southern Innovator brand I launched for the UNOSSC (2010-2015). 

I also joined a panel discussion as Senior Partner representing the David South Consulting/David South International consultancy at the end of the last day (we have worked with the UNOSSC since 2007 and with UNDP since 1997 – a timeframe which saw the rise of the Internet and the mobile and information technology revolution take the global South by storm). 

As the Workshop invitation letter says, “The digitization of service delivery, user-centric methodologies, and experimentation geared towards improvement in service delivery, and the data revolution may have originated in developed countries but is now of increasing relevance for the developing world. To respond to rapidly rising expectations of the citizens, governments in both developing and developed countries are embracing approaches and tools to adopt more citizen-centric approaches in their service delivery. These practices are establishing a culture of citizen-centric innovation within governments, breaking silos of operations and helping move towards a whole-of-government planning and execution.”

According to the a2i, Bangladesh has the “world’s largest government web portal” comprising over 25,000 government websites for 43,000 government offices (Bangladesh’s population was over 162 million as of 2016 – World Bank). Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world and is considered the 8th most populace country in the world (Wikipedia). In total, these government websites receive 60 million plus hits a month, according to the a2i, from an online population of 79.7 million people, nearly half the population.

A lot is at stake: According to the World Bank (which has been supporting the country since 1972), “Bangladesh has made substantial progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, Bangladesh reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent in 2010, and is projected to decrease to 12.9 percent in 2016.

The country achieved the MDG 1 on halving poverty five years ahead of time, with 20.5 million people rising out of poverty during the 1991-2010 period. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly.  Progress was underpinned by strong economic growth, with 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.1 percent growth in 2015/2016. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2014.      

However, sustained growth has rapidly increased the demand for energy, transport and urbanization. Insufficient planning and investment have resulted in increasingly severe infrastructure bottlenecks.”

Arriving in the capital, Dhaka, on the 9th of December, it was clear to see what the World Bank is highlighting: the “severe infrastructure bottlenecks”. Just like other megacities, Dhaka is clogged with traffic and suffers from the air pollution this causes (one of the worst cities for this in Asia). But these are just the visible signs of success if you think about it (as frustrating as that might be), as booming economies combined with rapid urbanisation, if not planned well, tend to lead to traffic congestion and high levels of air pollution. 

The country’s rising living standards since 2000 and impressive gains in the provision of information and mobile technology services and connectivity, reveal a country brimming with potential and capable of getting a handle on its many development challenges. The streets are visibly lined with small and medium enterprises and there are construction projects in various states of completion all around Dhaka. At the airport, glossy posters advertise many real estate developer’s dreams and show-off the heavy construction equipment for sale or lease from China and Russia. 

The population no longer suffers from food crises such as the 1974 famine, which killed 1.5 million people (Christian Science Monitor). According to the UN, Bangladesh cut chronic hunger by half since 2000 and is considered one of the success stories from the past 10 years that the rest of the developing world can look to as they push to eliminate hunger by 2030 as part of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2015/0617/From-famine-to-food-basket-how-Bangladesh-became-a-model-for-reducing-hunger). Clearly, Bangladesh is a country that can get things done when it draws on the power of its population. 

According to Digital Bangladesh, with a deadline of 2021, it has achieved half its goals to get the population online and its economy and government services online. In 2017, the country made US $800 million from exporting ICT (information and communication technologies) products and services. It is currently building 12 hi-tech parks with the ambitious goal to export US $10 billion in ICT services from them by 2030 and make US $5 billion by 2021. 

The streets of Dhaka.

Workshop

Sharing ideas at the Workshop.

Speaking at the Workshop, Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor to the Access to Information (a2i) Programme of the Prime Minister’s Office, believes the concept of South-South Cooperation (SSC) is about enlightened self-interest but at present there is no framework for SSC in Bangladesh and most cooperation is ad hoc. If global South countries are not cooperating, then they are just re-inventing the wheel, he added. SSC is about avoiding feeling each country has to make it own their own: SSC can facilitate development leapfrogging and prevent leaving country success to chance. However, there needs to be better ways to communicate Southern solutions.

And Bangladesh has a good story to tell to the global South: To date, Bangladesh’s digital public service delivery has saved the country US $2 billion in cost for government services plus 1 billion man days in time spent trying to carry out tasks using government services, according to the a2i. With this success under their belts, the hope is to market Bangladesh as a world leader in innovation. To go from MDGs poster child to leader of the global South. 

UNOSSC Director and Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on SSC, Jorge Chediek (https://www.unsouthsouth.org/about/unossc-director/), emphasised the need to tell stories of how South-South is changing the world; the pressing need to change the narrative around the global South in order to be able to achieve the 2030 agenda.

It was an honour to be invited to present my three case studies on public sector digital innovation (GOSH Child Health Portal, Southern Innovator Magazine and the UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal). All three share the same characteristics: a public demand for digital resources and a need to create high-quality content on limited budgets and to build public confidence in those resources. These projects were also engaging with enormous complexity and needed to find a way to simplify this for online readers.

I was impressed by the level of debate at the Workshop, and how Bangladesh’s digital initiatives are communicated (the excellent use of infographics and simple step-by-step explanations), and the overall excitement and energy around digital and the digital economy in Bangladesh. But, importantly, the foresight to give attention to the coming wave of automation and robotics (the so-called fourth industrial revolution) and how this will affect Bangladesh. 

In the health workshop, we shared two projects for the reverse engineering component: the GOSH Child Health Portal and the magazine Southern Innovator (link to PowerPoint). Using the Reverse Engineering tool (see images below), each project was broken down as to how it worked and also what was its contribution to South-South Cooperation. 

I shared experience from the early days of digital public innovation in the late 1990s. This has included applying digital to crisis recovery, healthcare modernisation in the early 2000s, and the campaign to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), as well as during the mobile/information technology and social media revolution in the global South, which took off after 2007. 

Reverse Engineering

GOSH Child Health Portal (2001-2003)

Issues discussed here included the recent online fake news scandals and how important it is for the public sector to offer the antidote to this with quality, factual digital information and resources. The GOSH Child Health Portal was one good example, where it entered the crowded online medical and health information marketplace and succeeded in drawing a large online audience by offering high-quality, peer-reviewed resources, thoroughly fact-checked and proofread and presented using high-quality online design. By the end of the project’s two-year timeframe, it was receiving over 7 million hits a month and was acknowledged as a trusted global source in child health. The content is cited in many books and papers, as well. 

Reverse engineering GOSH Child Health Web Portal, 2001-2003.

Southern Innovator Magazine (2010-2015)

Throughout the Workshop, I heard over and over again about the urgent need for a more cohesive platform for sharing Southern innovations and initiatives. Many complained this was currently very fragmented. While there are many media and development organisations documenting innovations and stories, there is no one-stop shop for countries to go to. 

The Southern Innovator brand (incubated and developed by the UNOSSC) is a good example of what can be achieved with a more cohesive and strategic approach. Southern Innovator, first launched in 2011 by the UNOSSC, was able to leverage its limited resources to reach a large global audience via the web and social media. The brand became established with innovators and five issues were published (from 2011 to 2015). An Action Plan for scaling-up the Southern Innovator brand was also developed with the UNOSSC in 2015 (but awaits funding). 

The original Southern Innovator website (southerninnovator.org, now southerninnovator.com) did fulfil the role of offering a one-stop shop for stories on global South innovation and these stories were widely cited in websites, papers and books on the global South. But the terrain has shifted radically in the global South – and at the UN – since Southern Innovator’s launch in 2011. With the widespread adoption of mobile and digital technologies, the opportunities to communicate innovator solutions have never been better but require a more sophisticated approach to be effective. In fact, we now exist in a world where the solutions already exist to the major problems affecting the global South (and even the funding is available through many sources). The problem is not the lack of solutions, innovators or technologies and business models to resolve problems (both e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator proved this) but how people can access these resources and in a format that makes sense to them and is available when they are searching for a solution. With modern computing technologies, this is no longer an unsolvable problem. And the people to connect with to do this also already exist in the global South. What is missing is a coherent and cohesive approach. The multiplicity of development actors in this case are hampering effective action by dissecting and scattering resources, leaving end-users confused and poorly communicated with in many cases. As an example, there was a definite need to assist people in understanding how the 17 SDGs can fit into practical actions and a definite psychological need for simplicity: a problem highlighted by former UNDP head Helen Clark back in 2015 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/07/sustainable-development-goals-will-be-hard-sell-for-united-nations).

For UNDP, with its human development approach and presence in most countries, an opportunity exists to rapidly accelerate development gains and shorten the time it takes to recover when disaster or conflict strikes. Something that came out of the Workshop is the presence of excellent examples of global knowledge sharing already underway for decades around the world. Think of the scientific community in general (working on vast projects such as the CERN facility in Switzerland), or aerospace industries, or the global adoption of the principles of air safety managed by IATA in Montreal, Canada, or sport – all proof countries do successfully share knowledge and adopt common, high standards when they feel it is a priority and necessity. No country wants to be frozen out of flight routes, for example. 

Reverse engineering the Southern Innovator magazine brand, 2010-2015. 

Panel Discussion

At the closing panel discussion, I was asked how to engage more donors to be part of the South-South Network. I said there is a need to get people excited and show why the South-South Network is different; how it is related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There needs to be a communications strategy and to establish some ambitious first goals that are original: to show that this is part of a clear trend. International aid and development is a crowded space so there is a need to show how the Network would tackle the challenges of the global South in the 21st century head-on, with a more effective solution. And of course, I championed the existing and successful Southern Innovator brand developed by the UNOSSC since 2010 as, potentially, part of this communications strategy. 

Senior Partner David South is third from the left on the panel. Photo: Yoko Shimura.
Senior Partner David South is centre at back with the South-South Network for Public Service Innovation, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2017.

Finally

This impressive embracing of e-initiatives and all things digital was visibly missing at the airport. On the way in, long lines and then a confusing scramble to buy a visa created confusion for visitors. As the first impression for visitors, this could be a great place to show-off Bangladesh’s digital capabilities. 

And finally, as the World Bank says, this all about job creation and increased living standards: “The World Bank has identified job creation as the country’s top development priority. Bangladesh needs to create more and better jobs for the 2.1 million youths entering the job market every year. But to do so, Bangladesh will need to remove the barriers to higher growth posed by low access to reliable and affordable power, poor transportation infrastructure, limited availability of serviced land, rapid urbanization and vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, among others.”

Bangabandhu International Conference Center hosting Digital World 2017 and Dhaka’s Shahjalal International Airport.

Further reading and links: 

South-South in Action: Citizen-friendly Public Service Innovation in Bangladesh

Digital Bangladesh: Digital Service for All

GOSH Child Health Web Portal

UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal 

Southern Innovator and Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017