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Tech can empower refugee communities

Tech can empower refugee communities

Tech can empower refugee communities – if they’re allowed to design how it works.

By Reem Talhouk, Newcastle University; Andy Garbett, Newcastle University, and Kyle Montague, Newcastle University.

In Lebanon, around 350,000 Syrian refugees don’t have access to enough safe and nutritious food. To stem the crisis, the World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations introduced an electronic voucher system to distribute food aid. People are given debit cards loaded with “e-vouchers” that they can use in certain shops to buy food.

But we found that Syrian refugees living in rural Lebanon often have to make difficult choices when buying essential items at the expense of food. Their e-vouchers can only be used in exchange for food, not other essentials like nappies.

Refugees have to engage in “grey-area transactions” that work around the e-voucher system, by asking shop owners to sell them the nappies and instead record on the system that they bought food. This places refugees in a vulnerable position – shop owners often charge higher prices for scanning non-food items as food, but refugees have no choice but to depend on shop owners to cooperate.

Using dialogue cards, Syrian refugees mapped out their experiences of food insecurity and their interactions with shop owners. Reem Talhouk, Author provided

Collective purchasing allows refugees to pool their cash and e-vouchers so that one person can buy non-food items for another and be repaid with food. This allows people a degree of autonomy – they don’t have to rely on shop owners to allow them to buy non-food items using their vouchers. Instead, the community can manage their resources and needs among themselves.

Unfortunately, the e-voucher system prevents refugees from buying goods in bulk. Shop owners are advised by the WFP that purchases by refugees should be typical of buying food for a family. If refugees want to buy enough rice for their community and benefit from a wholesale discount, then the shop owner can refuse the transaction. This makes collective purchasing – something refugees often prefer to do when they have cash available – more difficult.

The WFP is currently piloting blockchain technology to replace this e-voucher system in Jordan and Pakistan. This is an exciting opportunity to alleviate these problems and help to empower both refugees and the shop owners, but only if the refugees themselves are involved.


Food aid designed by refugees

Rather than using a debit card, under this new system refugees would have a digital wallet that is similar to a bank account that you can access online. And instead of it being hosted by a bank, it’s part of the blockchain.

A blockchain is a shared log of transactions, with each user being able to track how much money and goods have been exchanged. This is constantly updated as transactions of food aid and money transfers are agreed between the customer and the shop owner. Each transaction forms a block of new information. The digital ledger is an expanding chain of interconnected blocks of information – hence the name, blockchain.

The WFP is using blockchain technology to cut costs on currency exchange and bank transfers. But the blockchain still allows transactions between refugees and shop owners in the same manner as the e-voucher system. If this new and innovative technology mimics the model that came before, the restrictions on what refugees can do will continue and blockchain will mimic paternalistic aid models that focus on efficiently distributing aid, rather than empowering refugees to leverage their own ways of coping with food insecurity. But if aid is designed with input from refugee communities, the technology could give Syrian people in Lebanon more agency when buying the essentials they need to live.

A Syrian woman’s depiction of her community’s food insecurity. Reem Talhouk, Author provided

Blockchain can write smart contracts, which would allow people to buy items together. These are agreements whose terms are automatically enforced by an algorithm. Smart contracts act like a lock box with two keys that can be used to open it, one key is given for each party involved in the contract.

When the smart contract is created, both parties set the conditions that need to be met for them to be able to use the keys to open the lock box. Both keys need to be used for the lock box to open and for the money to transfer to complete the transaction. Before this can happen, both parties must agree that the conditions of the contract have been met. With this, refugee communities can negotiate collective purchases with shop owners and hold them accountable to the agreements they make.

Negotiating the terms of the smart contract means that refugees have more of a say over what they consider to be a fair deal. Once the smart contract is in place, the agreed sum of money for the purchase will be placed in a digital wallet – the lock box – that is bound by the terms of the smart contract. The value of items purchased by refugees is deducted once they’ve verified their identity with a retina scan, but the money will only be released to the shop owner if the refugees verify that they received the items.

We saw how these smart contracts could rebalance the power disparity between refugees and shop owners. Including refugees in the design process of humanitarian technologies and aid models can ensure they incorporate the values and practices of the people they’re supposed to help. Future innovations must be rooted in the daily lives of refugee communities. These technologies can empower people and make a real difference to their lives, but only if they’re allowed to design how they work.

Reem Talhouk, Researcher in Human Computer Interaction and Design, Newcastle University; Andy Garbett, Research Associate in Computing Science, Newcastle University, and Kyle Montague, Lecturer in Digital Civics, Newcastle University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Read more: Beyond Bitcoin: how blockchains can empower communities to control their own energy supply

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“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director

“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director

“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director in a TahawulTech‘s article by James Dartnell is about how and why Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, the Dubai Science Park’s executive director made such a statement at a time of non-negligible uncertainty not only for that country but for the whole region’s main contribution to the world economy, i.e. hydrocarbons. The highly mediatised UAE’s growing ambitions in Space for notably building a new city on Mars does perhaps come handy in helping to do away with some degree of that uncertainty as well as other things, but what about its ambitions with respect to developing an industry. What about holding on to its present and possibly foreseeable future’s success story in local and regional retail and trade centre? Here is TahawulTech’s article.

“Scientific future shaped by ICT”: Dubai Science Park Director

The executive director of Dubai Science Park has said that the future of the Middle East’s scientific industry will be significantly affected by swift technological advancements.
Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, who has been confirmed as a judge for tahawultech.com’s inaugural Future Enterprise Awards on 14th October at Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel in Dubai, said that IT was now not only saving lives, but also advancing the pace of scientific research.
Dubai Science Park’s work focuses around four main areas of science: human science, plant science, energy and environmental science, and Janahi believes that all are now being inextricably linked with and transformed by technology. “Across all of these areas, technology is an important component,” he says. “There is more and more of an overlap between ICT and these sectors. The essence of managing green buildings is a building management system, which is founded on ICT. Using data to predict human conditions is another prime example of where technology is needed.”
[Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi is part of the judging panel of TahawulTech.com Future Enterprise Awards on 14th October 2018 at Emirates Towers, Dubai.| Learn more about TahawulTech.com Future Enterprise Awards.]
While Janahi believes that “all” industries are being disrupted by technology, he says that the healthcare industry in particular sets to benefit citizens through its transformation. “The changes we’re seeing in digital health are particularly impressive,” he says. “Data that sits within servers can now be mined and used for forecasting, while telemedicine gives allows people who don’t have easy access to medical facilities a chance to be looked after. Even regular GP checkups can be done remotely.”
He also believes healthcare transformation will have a significant knock-on effect on other verticals. “There will be a huge disruption in the insurance industry, and managing the journey of patient, which today is all done offline,” he says. “Wearables will be huge, while technologies for things like blood sugar monitoring that connect to smartphones will have a huge impact. The human and environmental sciences will see the biggest disruption in the scientific field.”
Janahi is a chairing member of the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment Task force of the Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, which was announced in 2016. The strategy focuses on five other key areas – aerospace, maritime, aluminum and fabricated metals, food and beverages and machinery and equipment – and aims to transform Dubai from being a service-based economy, to one that creates “25%” of its GDP from industrial activity.
“The bulk of Dubai’s GDP comes from logistics, finance and tourism,” Janahi says. “Manufacturing currently creates around 9-10% of it, and we want to increase that number substantially. We want these kinds of enablers to make Dubai more successful, with opportunities for the short, medium and long-term.”
Janahi is keen to broaden his technological knowledge by participating as a judge in tahawultech.com’s Future Enterprise Awards. “I’m really excited to be a judge,” he says. “I’ve seen more and more technology adopted by the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, but for me it’s interesting to see how technology can be deployed, and how we can learn from other industries.”
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How investors can support entrepreneurship in the MENA

How investors can support entrepreneurship in the MENA

In an ever changing world, and despite the combination of factors all linked to IT infrastructure complexities and security, how investors can support entrepreneurship in the MENA region and the way, businesses and individuals alike are rushing into, for the time being at least, anything digital in the hope that such a move could assure a better present and somehow a decent future, McKinsey’s Dubai office produced this article written by Ahmad Alkasmi, consultant in McKinsey’s Dubai office, Omar El Hamamsy, senior partner, Luay Khoury, associate partner, and Abdur-Rahim Syed, partner. We republish it with our compliments to the authors and thanks to McKinsey’s Dubai office.

It goes without saying that the situation of each country of the MENA has specifics that are not covered here but it remains that to a certain degree, these are nevertheless not totally far from what is said by the authors.

How investors can support entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa

The potential for entrepreneurship in the region is high, based on digital consumption and a startling increase in investment funding for start-ups.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most digitally connected in the world: across countries, an average of 88 percent of the population is online daily, and 94 percent of the population owns a smartphone. Digital consumption is similarly high in some countries; for example, Saudi Arabia ranks seventh globally in social-media engagement, with an average of seven accounts per individual.

Despite this sizable appetite for online content and services, key digital sectors remain nascent, and entrepreneurship potential is yet to be fully tapped. Across MENA, only 8 percent of small and medium enterprises have an online presence—ten times less than in the United States. Only 1.5 percent of MENA’s retail sales are online, which is five times less than in the United States. Research by Digital McKinsey suggests that the Middle East has only realized 8 percent of its overall digital potential, compared with 15 percent in Western Europe and 18 percent in the United States.

However, we believe the region is at the start of a new S-curve: MENA is experiencing a startling growth in both the number of successful start-ups and the amount of investment funding available to them (exhibit). Start-ups are scaling by adapting offerings and business models, from digital music to digital logistics, to serve local needs. Examples of this abound, from Fetchr using GPS technology to power delivery in a region with few addresses to Fawry using a local network of retailers to anchor its payment network and overcome barriers in the fintech space.

Exhibit

Moreover, the number of investors in the region increased by 30 percent from 2015 to 2017, while total funding increased by more than 100 percent in the same period. Corporate-venture-capital funds, in particular, are rapidly emerging in the evolving MENA-investment ecosystem. In 2015 and 2016, 14 new, significant CVC funds entered the MENA market. The number of CVC assets under management grew by more than 2.4 times from 2012 to 2016, reaching 20 percent of total venture-capital AUM in the region.

Through items from targeted, venture-capital–like investment funds to structured incubator and accelerator programs, public institutions are also playing an increasingly key role in the start-up ecosystem. Recent examples include the establishment of Fintech Factory in Egypt, FinTech Hive in the United Arab Emirates, and National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprise Development in Kuwait.

Overall, the ecosystem supporting the growth of MENA’s start-up landscape has been falling into place. However, distinct gaps remain for investors in properly identifying potential in new business models and in scaling chosen start-ups. We recommend investors in the start-up space adopt the following six best practices to unlock the potential of entrepreneurship in the MENA region:

  • ·         Develop robust investment theses leveraging local context.
  • ·         Capture and proactively engineer network effects.
  • ·         Invest at scale.
  • ·         Manage performance with a patient, programmatic growth mind-set.
  • ·         Secure investment independence in governance to win the right talent.
  • ·         Monitor key performance indicators in line with the value-creation model.

Local MENA entrepreneurs have demonstrated they can be innovative and bold to meet changing demand. The appropriate adoption of best practices in venture investing can create significant value for investors, promising new businesses, and the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the region

 

Autonomous Vehicles become Safer and more Efficient

Autonomous Vehicles become Safer and more Efficient

Autonomous vehicles are coming and they have the potential to radically better our lives. But to reap the rewards of this new technology, we first have to adapt the world to its requirements. This means preparing the way for massive engineering projects that will introduce the latest generation of mobile networks into our cities. As future autonomous vehicles become safer and more efficient, they will rely on high-bandwidth mobile networks to wirelessly share and receive data from each other.

Here is an account of  Saber Fallah, Director of Connected Autonomous Vehicles Lab at the University of Surrey on what looks like the ‘not-so-far-future’ in the developed world; the MENA region being only marginally affected with some realisations in the Gulf countries. Hence our proposed featured above picture with our due compliments to the author and publisher.

Driverless cars are forcing cities to become smart

File 20180424 57584 1ahosub.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Driverless cars will transform the transportation industry.
daxis/flickr, CC BY-SA

 

 

Self-driving vehicles currently work by collecting data from an array of sensors, which is then interpreted by various algorithms. These algorithms tell the vehicle where to drive, at what speed and when to stop.

But the data that these sensors collect is inherently limited. The vehicle cannot see any vehicles outside of its field of vision, nor can it be aware of traffic occurring ten miles further down the road. To overcome this, future autonomous vehicles will be constantly accessing and interpreting data collected by thousands of surrounding vehicles, and roadside units (computing devices that provide connectivity support to passing vehicles). Huge swathes of additional information will be provided to the vehicle about road surface, weather, traffic conditions, other vehicle information and intended control actions.

We expect that driverless cars will be commercially available by 2025 and the whole UK transportation system will be fully automated by 2070. When this happens, these vehicles will sometimes be controlled by a traffic management system, which could activate useful manoeuvres such as platooning, when automated vehicles travel very closely together at very high speeds, and intersection management. These connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) will create a completely different transportation network for future generations and one that is safer, faster, more efficient, more environmentally friendly and more productive. As we rapidly approach the point at which CAVs are ready for the streets, we have to make sure that our streets are ready for them.

Transforming infrastructure

With so much data needing to be shared, having a high bandwidth and fast wireless communication technology is essential. The next generation of wireless communication systems, based on the faster 5G technology, can potentially provide the required bandwidth. But to achieve this, we need to begin drastically increasing the number of radio antennas and roadside units in cities.

Even the most recent networks (4G LTE) that exist today simply aren’t up to the task and will have to be upgraded. 5G networks will demand faster and more flexible infrastructure that can adapt to unexpected problems. Countries across the world will also have to invest heavily in new roadside units’ that can help reduce any data delays and minimise the reliance on network data centres, by acting as alternative data sources. At the same time, the security of these networks have to be considered, ensuring the safety and privacy of all communication over them.

5G vital for autonomous vehicles to run.
Carllender/flickr, CC BY

The slowly turning gears of policymakers are currently lagging behind the astronomical progress of connected autonomous vehicles. The Netherlands is currently the country furthest ahead in preparation, thanks mainly to its excellent road infrastructure. Singapore’s decision to allow self-driving cars to be tested on public roads mean that it is quickly also becoming a world leader in this field. Both the United States and Sweden are also beginning to prepare for this future.

Across the world, many governments are coming to realise the necessity of infrastructure change. For example, the UK government recently announced its goal of becoming a global leader in autonomous vehicles, with new development and testing areas to be championed. Indeed, several UK-based projects are attempting to lead the country onwards. UK CITE is equipping 40 miles of urban roads, dual-carriageways and motorways within Coventry and Warwickshire with extremely fast data networks required by CAVs. Another project, E-CAVE, is adapting Ordnance Survey digital data to help the development of CAVs. The data, which is used to create a local map of the environment, enhances the perception of CAVs and allows them drive more safely.

The ConversationEven with the vast technological challenges and regulatory hurdles currently encompassing the deployment of autonomous vehicles, it’s not a question of “if”, but rather “when” they will be prevalent on the roads. Now is the time to have a conversation over developing the correct urban infrastructure for this new age.

 

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

MENA 2018 IT spending to be a three-year high

MENA 2018 IT spending to be a three-year high

 

It is set to hit $155 billion in 2018, according to Gartner, Inc. a US research and advisory company and a member of the S&P 500 in a press release in Dubai today, where the MENA 2018 IT spending will be a three-year high with notably a 3.4% increase spending from 2017 and with its highest anticipated to be in communication services, primarily mobile voice and data by mostly consumers.

 

Gartner Says Middle East and North Africa IT Spending to Reach $155 Billion in 2018

 

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) IT spending is projected to reach $155 billion in 2018, a 3.4 percent increase from 2017, according to the latest forecast by Gartner, Inc. 

Gartner analysts are discussing key IT and business issues that are driving the evolution of digital business during the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Dubai from Monday through Wednesday. 

In 2018, the MENA region will exhibit its highest IT spending increase in the last three years. Spending in communication services (mobile voice and data primarily), mostly by consumers, is the segment that will largely contribute to the rise in IT spending in MENA this year (see Table 1).

Software is projected to exhibit the strongest growth in 2018, with a 12.7 percent increase year over year. Software spending has also been growing at a double-digit rate the last two years. The growth has been driven by companies pursuing new functionalities in major back-office systems like supply chain managemententerprise resource planning and customer service.

Table 1. Middle East & North Africa IT Spending Estimates (Billions of U.S. Dollars)

2017 Spending

2017 Growth (%)

2018 Spending

2018 Growth (%)

Devices

26,956

1.4

27,397

1.6

Data Center Systems

4,605

4.0

4,633

0.6

Software

5,500

10.9

6,199

12.7

IT Services

10,128

4.1

10,588

4.5

Communications Services

102,996

-1.4

106,547

3.4

Overall IT

150,185

0.04

155,364

3.4

Source: Gartner (March 2018)

Not all categories of IT spending in MENA will surpass the regional total average in 2018. Cloud spending in the region is among the lowest in the world when measured as a percentage of total IT spending.

“There are insufficient local hyper-scale and large-scale data centers to support cloud systems, which cause local organizations to derive cloud offering from abroad,” said Peter Sondergaard, executive vice president and global head of research at Gartner. “Moreover, latency, legal and local currency makes this option problematic and limits cloud adoption among businesses in MENA.”

The communications services segment — the largest spending segment in MENA — is growing to serve increasing demand for premium mobile phones. Communications services are expanding coverage and increasing data transfer rates while keeping prices low. The rising demand of premium mobile phones by consumers is also set to fuel growth in the devices spending segment in 2018.

“The MENA region witnesses continued focus on technology initiatives and improvements,” said Mr. Sondergaard. “Digital business transformation is creating new industry revenue streams. In 2018, the leading segments driving IT spending growth in the region are banking and securities growing at 3.6 percent, insurance at 2.9 percent and retail at 2.8 percent. IT spending in the banking sector is driven by its move into digital business and the corresponding investments in technologies such as analytics, blockchain and artificial intelligence. For the insurance sector, IT spending is led by investment in software applications.”

Digital Is Here and Is Mainstream

Clearly, digital is here and digital disruptors are emerging in all industries. “We’ve seen this in books, clothing, and now it’s happening in other industries such as traditional grocery markets and consumer durables,” said Mr. Sondergaard. “MENA CIOs must embrace digital transformation. They need to build the momentum to scale and create value by amplifying the power of their people, their organization culture, and their technology platform to deliver breakthrough value.”

Organizations that are not creating new digital business models, or new ways to engage constituents or customers, will begin to lag. “Those vendors that do not move more quickly than their clients will be left behind,” Mr. Sondergaard concluded.

Gartner’s IT spending forecast methodology relies heavily on rigorous analysis of sales by thousands of vendors across the entire range of IT products and services. Gartner uses primary research techniques, complemented by secondary research sources, to build a comprehensive database of market size data on which to base its forecasts.

Gartner’s quarterly IT spending forecasts offer a unique perspective on IT spending across hardware, software, IT services and telecommunications segments. They help Gartner clients understand market opportunities and challenges. The most recent IT spending forecast is available here.

Gartner Symposium/ITxpo

Additional analysis on IT spending outlook and how to drive digital innovation to the core of your business will be provided during Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2018, March 5-7 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the world’s most important gathering of CIOs and other senior IT executives. Follow news, photos and video coming from Gartner Symposium/ITxpo on Smarter With Gartner, on Twitter using #GartnerSYM and on LinkedIn.

 

Measuring the Information Society Report 2017

Measuring the Information Society Report 2017

The 2017 edition of the Measuring the Information Society Report was launched during the World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS) 2017, in Hammamet, Tunisia. In it, all related Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Development was produced, in which countries were ranked as based on 3 ICT’s criteria that are “Readiness”, “Use”, and “Capabilities”. Over the years, this report has generally been accepted as a reliable snapshot of the current ICT development situation in the world and this year’s confirmed that parallel advances in the Internet of Things, big data analytics, cloud computing and artificial intelligence have concurrently enabled innovations that not only affected but will continue to impact business, government, and society at an ever-increased speed in all domains of human activities with opportunities, challenges but also some implications.  Countries especially those lagging behind such as the above mentioned above will have to create and / or improve conditions to support the next-generation networks and service infrastructures. The first three places are held by Iceland, South Korea and Switzerland in this descending order. A Regional Ranking was also proposed for Africa, the Americas, Asia & Pacific, CIS and Europe. As far as the MENA countries are concerned, it is under the label of the Arab States, that it is to be found. The first place was given to Bahrain at 31st, followed by Qatar at 39th, the United Arab Emirates at 40th and Saudi Arabia at 54th. Lebanon comes at 64th and Oman at 62nd. The North African countries of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria, ranked from 99th, 100th and 102nd with Egypt at 103rd respectively. An extract of the report SUMMARY OF REPORT FINDINGS is reproduced here and for more details, please click on the links. ICT development index – country ranking  The ITU ICT Development Index 2017 (IDI 2017) featured in the MIS report is a unique benchmark of the level of ICT development in countries across the world. Iceland tops the IDI 2017 rankings. It is followed by two countries and one economy in the Asia and the Pacific region, and six other countries in Europe, which have competitive ICT markets that have experienced high levels of ICT investment and innovation over many years. The IDI has up to now been based on 11 indicators. However, recent developments in ICT markets have led to the review of those indicators. As a result of that review, in 2018 the index will be defined by 14 indicators that should add further insights into the performance of individual countries and the relative performance of countries at different development levels. Measuring ICT development The latest data on ICT development show continued progress in connectivity and use of ICTs. There has been sustained growth in the availability of communications in the past decade, led by growth in mobile cellular telephony and, more recently, in mobile-broadband. Growth in fixed and mobile-broadband infrastructure has stimulated Internet access and use. The number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide now exceeds 50 per 100 population, enabling improved access to the Internet and online services.