Technological progress is a considerable driving force behind economic growth, citizen engagement and job creation. Information and communication technologies (ICTs), in particular, are reshaping many aspects of the world’s economies, governments and societies.

In developing countries, public officials, businesses and citizens are working together to harness the transformative power of ICTs to make services more efficient, catalyze economic development and strengthen social networks. More than 75 percent of people around the world now have access to a cell phone, with the number of global mobile-cellular subscriptions quickly approaching 7 billion. In addition, new services and industries are rapidly emerging.

In Tanzania, for example, mobile money agents now outnumber all other financial intermediaries by a factor of 10 to one. More than half of those living on less than US$2 a day in that country have access to mobile technology.

At the same time, access to mobile and fixed broadband remains prohibitively expensive in some countries where lack of ICT infrastructure and regulatory bottlenecks still hamper broadband development. Residential fixed-broadband services cost about 30 percent of average monthly Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in developing countries – compared to just 1.7 percent of average national income in wealthy countries. This average masks vast discrepancies between and within countries, affecting opportunities available to citizens. In Djibouti, for example, a mobile broadband package costs more than the income of the country's poorest 60 percent of the population.

When done right, ICT infrastructure investment and policy reform can empower poverty reduction and shared prosperity. A 10 percent increase in high-speed internet connections leverages a 1.4 percent increase in economic growth (on average) in developing countries.

Last Updated: Oct 02, 2014

The World Bank Group’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector strategy, adopted in 2012, aims to help developing countries harness the potential of ICTs to transform the delivery of public services, drive innovations and productivity gains, and improve competitiveness. 

The strategy reflects rapid changes in the sector over the last decade, including a dramatic increase in the use of mobile phones and the Internet, a sharp drop in the prices of computing and mobile internet devices, and the increasing prevalence of social media. Under this strategy, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) focus on three priority areas:

  • Transformation: Making development more open and accountable, and improving service delivery – for instance, by facilitating citizen feedback to governments and service providers.
  • Connectivity: Scaling up affordable access to broadband – including for women, disabled citizens, disadvantaged communities and people living in remote and rural areas.  
  • Innovation: Developing competitive IT-based service industries and fostering ICT innovation across the economy – with a focus on job creation, especially for women and youth.

World Bank Group lending for stand-alone ICT projects in Fiscal Year 2013 (FY13) totaled US$171 million for six projects. ICT components, however, are increasingly included in projects across different sectors such as education, health, agriculture and public sector management.

The Bank’s portfolio of active projects with ICT components has grown from about US$500 million in 2006 to approximately US$1.7 billion in 2014. The IFC has provided US$8.3 billion to more than 150 telecom, media and technology projects in 80 countries over the past years. In FY14, the IFC committed financing for 28 projects with a net volume of US$638 million and mobilized US$135 million in additional financing.

MIGA has provided investment guarantees totaling US$2.1 billion in the ICT sector over the past 25 years, including US$825 million for projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. FY14 guarantees totaled US$114 million, supporting three projects.

The World Bank’s ICT work is informed by in-depth analytical work. Recent publications include:

Last Updated: Oct 02, 2014

The World Bank Group’s work in the ICT sector aims to empower people socially, economically and politically to reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. Below are some recent examples of projects that have lowered barriers to mobile and internet access, boosted jobs and improved government effectiveness and transparency.

In the Pacific region, the World Bank is helping the populations of remote islands gain access to broadband internet, making it easier and cheaper for people to connect to friends, jobs and knowledge. In August 2013, a new 830-kilometer fiber optic cable connected the country of Tonga, made up of 176 islands spread across 700,000 square kilometers of ocean, to Fiji and onwards to global broadband networks. As a result, the household price for a month of internet service, per gigabyte, has fallen by 60 percent, and bandwidth utilization has grown tenfold. The arrival of broadband in Tonga is expected to help create more local jobs through business expansion, as well as facilitate access to remote health and education services. Similar benefits are expected to spread throughout the Pacific as other countries join the Pacific Regional Connectivity Program.

In Afghanistan, a US$22 million credit supported sector reform that made the telecommunications market more competitive and attracted more than US$1.2 billion in private investments. This helped increase the number of telephone subscribers from 57,000 to 13.4 million between 2002 and 2010, and reduce costs from US$2 a minute to 10 cents a minute.

The World Bank Group is now financing a US$50 million project that aims to provide internet access to more users in Afghanistan, build on widespread use of mobile phones to improve the delivery of public services, and support nascent entrepreneurship in the ICT sector. To date, about 186 kilometers of fiber cable have been constructed. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has adopted an open access policy for the national backbone network, ensuring non-discriminatory access to wholesale internet bandwidth for all firms. In addition, approximately 600 Afghans have been trained to become skilled information technology (IT) professionals.

Boosting skilled job creation in the IT industry is also at the core of MexicoFirst, an institution supported by the World Bank Group in Mexico that trains and certifies IT workers for higher- paying jobs. As of 2013, more than 64,000 people were certified by MexicoFirst. An impact evaluation study found that graduates received an average salary increase of 36 percent after going through the certification program. ICTs are also creating new types of work, such as online contracting and micro work, in environments constrained by lack of quality physical infrastructure, travel restrictions or social norms.

In the Palestinian Territories, where youth and female unemployment rates are particularly high, the World Bank Group provided technical assistance to facilitate the creation of online work business partnerships between Palestinian workers and international online work companies.

The power of mobile technology was tapped to ensure food security in Uganda. In March 2013, ICT specialists helped the Ugandan government obtain rapid feedback on an outbreak of wilt infection in the country’s banana crop, a major staple consumed by over 14 million people in Uganda.  They did this through U-reporters, a network created by UNICEF that includes more than 190,000 volunteers who use mobile technology to report on development issues.  Over a period of just five days, text messages to and from U-reporters helped track the outbreak and raise awareness of treatment techniques.

In Moldova, the World Bank Group and its partners have helped usher an ambitious agenda that aims to transform the delivery of public services using ICTs, including the first public sector-shared cloud infrastructure for a client country, and the launch of many online e-services that have improved citizen-government interactions. There are now 395 services on the Government Services Portal, of which 95 are online e-services. Moldova has won several international awards, including one by Transparency International, for its Bank-supported work in this area.

Last Updated: Oct 02, 2014

6.319 billion
Global mobile cellular subscriptions
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