Ten Frontier Technologies to transform lives of poorest if governments, businesses and communities work together

Published on 31 October 2016

New technologies including drones, 3D printers and crowdsourcing could significantly improve the lives of the world’s poorest, says a new report launched today by IDS’ Digital and Technology Research Group.

Ten Frontier Technologies for International Development, with a foreword by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, calls for strong leadership and collaboration between governments, the private sector, technical and academic experts if the full potential of these technologies are to be realised.

The IDS research commissioned by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), highlights that technological advances could mean better access to essential goods and services for poor, excluded and isolated communities in terms of providing, generating new sources of income and delivering urgent humanitarian assistance. For instance the deployment of drones to great effect in the wake of the Nepal earthquake in 2015 to map the most affected areas has been followed by their growing use in the delivery of essential goods such as medicines and blood supplies.

However the report also underlines the potential risks and challenges. Previous technological advances that did not take these into account have failed to benefit the poorest and most marginalised, underlining the message that technical fixes alone cannot address complex development problems that are embedded in social, political and economic contexts.

Melissa Leach, IDS Director, said:

“It’s excellent to see the UK government investing in understanding these technologies and their potential for development. Clearly local context is key and one of the critical factors is the importance of mutual learning between the most marginalised communities and entrepreneurs, to find effective, affordable, long-term solutions that transform the lives of the poorest people.”

The call for more attuned and attentive leadership was echoed in the report’s foreword by inventor of the World Wide Web and founding director of the World Wide Web Foundation and World Wide Web Consortium Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who said:

“I urge all leaders – be they politicians, development policymakers, or technologists and innovators – to heed this timely call, and to come together to realise the greater promise of open and inclusive technology in creating a more sustainable and fair future for all.”

The report, provides a review of frontier technologies in five areas – manufacturing and consumption, connectivity, transportation and logistics, fresh water and clean energy and aid. Over the next three years a new DFID Frontier Technologies Livestreaming Initiative will pilot a number of the report’s recommendations and technologies. The Initiative will be launched in conjunction with the report by Undersecretary of State for International Development, James Wharton MP.


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