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A Conversation with WBG Senior VP Mahmoud Mohieldin

The SDGs and STI (Science, Technology, and Innovation):

A Conversation with World Bank Group Senior VP Mahmoud Mohieldin



By Samia Melhem

How will new and existing technology impact our ability to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? SDG#9 on infrastructure, industrialization, and innovation includes a target to “significantly increase access to Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

We asked Mahmoud Mohieldin -- the World Bank Group (WBG) Senior VP for the 2030 Agenda, UN Relations and Partnerships -- to talk about how this target  fits within the WBG’s mission and work.

Q: A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on “Digital Dividends“ will be launched on the World Bank Group’s Open Learning Campus on November 7, focusing on Digital Dividends. What are Digital Dividends?

A: Those are the benefits countries receive by using the Internet and related technologies: computers and a variety of digital devices, mobile phones, and other tools to collect, store, analyze, and share information digitally. The MOOC is designed not just for decision makers, but also for the general public. While acknowledging the risks, the online course explains how countries, families, businesses, and individuals can benefit from rapidly evolving technology.  The Google search engine performs more than 4 billion transactions every day, but 2 billion people remain completely untouched by digital technologies.  We have to open the doors to allow these people to get ready for the jobs and opportunities of the future.

Q: So, how does the World Bank help countries reap the full benefits of the Internet and related technologies?

A: Some of these obstacles are called “analog complements” in the course, and include laws and regulations that might impede firms' ability to leverage the internet so they can compete and innovate. Other challenges include a skills deficit, since training (vocational, professional, etc.)  is needed so people can take full advantage of digital opportunities as both users and producers. In addition, institutions need to evolve so governments can respond to citizens’ needs and demands. The WBG helps countries overcome these challenges by helping them implement their digital strategies, moving toward more inclusive and broader development, with faster growth, more jobs, and better services, particularly in low-income countries.

There are multiple examples of how public policy can boost benefits and manage the risks of digital technologies. Low-income countries can actually overcome their development challenges faster by skipping -- or “leapfrogging” -- over legacy technologies, and adopting the new technologies, standards, and policies. This can accelerate their economic development since they learn from the examples of other countries, advancing faster on the path of digital development. The WBG assists countries in identifying the main channels for the Internet and associated technologies to positively affect development, and presents evidence of policy implications in the digital world.  

Q: What is the relevance of the technology and the internet for other SDGs?

A: Access to the internet and technology are critical to achieving most other targets, including areas such as achieving universal health coverage (target 3.9), promoting women’s empowerment (target 5b),  reducing the transmission costs of migrant remittances to below 3 percent (target 10c), providing access to legal identity (target 16.9), and many other targets related to skills, research and innovation under SDG 9, for example.  The MOOC lists several examples in the area of universal health coverage, showing how the Internet and associated digital technologies have the potential to expand health services in developing countries, increase health systems’ efficiency, and lead to better patient outcomes through tele-medicine and access to information related to disease prevention, nutrition, and hygiene.

STI has impacted the way we collect, collate, analyze, and share data, with major effects on our work on the SDGs. This trend will only accelerate in the coming years. In our sectoral engagements at the World Bank Group technology will continue to be a key driver. For example, we are seeking to provide access to financial services through financial innovation. Kenya’s mobile banking is an excellent example of how this can disrupt an industry for the better and improve the lives of people previously shut out were it not for technology solutions.  STI will continue to drive changes in implementation for the World Bank Group and our partners, and these changes will have the biggest impact at the local level, where we have to improve delivery capacity to show improvement on SDG indicators.

Q: What about impact of technology on women and other groups which are often left behind?

A: A large gender digital divide exists, widely documented by the industry experts from GSMA and ITU. Nevertheless, the story can be positive for women, if properly deployed, and technology can increase their incomes under the right set of policies mitigating women’s inclusion in the digital space, especially for poor, isolated women. Online work in some instances can be beneficial to women, youth, older workers, and the disabled, who work from home or need flexible working hours. For example, Samasource, splits jobs into microwork for almost 6,400 workers, mostly in Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya, and Uganda, on average more than doubling their previous income. Forward-looking countries already have a strong policy focus on education reforms, helping youth acquire high-tech skills and encouraging them to adopt STEM careers (Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which hold the potential to create new sources of growth through high tech innovation and digitalization.


For more information, contact Samia Melhem

Global Lead, Digital Development, Transport and ICT Global Practice, World Bank:

Digital Dividends MOOC link here

On November 7, 2017 join the Digital Dividends MOOC,  which has been jointly developed by the WBG’s Open Learning Campus and the ICT and Transport GP.  The content of the course is based on the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends and certificates of completion will be awarded to registrants who complete all coursework.