7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Putting digital into development: connecting people’s potential

Putting digital into development: connecting people’s potential

How can we turn food, water, health, energy and digital challenges into opportunities for market solutions that help the poor

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 13:30 to 14:45

Key points

  • Technology can open up isolated communities.
  • Digital connectivity can facilitate data collection and analysis.
  • New technology opens up new avenues for health care.
  • Connectivity can help create economic growth and counteract poverty.


The tale of Africa leap-frogging the western world in mobile telephony is only the beginning of the story. Today, mobile telephony accounts for 7 % of Africa’s GDP and is likely to grow alongside technological advances. Already mobile technology is used for payments, to improve healthcare and to monitor the effectiveness of health programmes.

Recognising the huge potential for connective technology, the Belgian government now includes it as a basic requirement for organisations seeking development funding. The rationale is that it will make for a more effective use of resources, shifting evaluation for the government to outcomes rather than on spending as a percentage of GDP.

A programme by Africa Mobile, a company that partners with local network providers, is bringing connectivity to rural areas. This is improving many lives, promoting social inclusion and opening up employment opportunities. The huge potential for connective technologies in Africa has meant an increase in private sector interventions in areas more traditionally covered by public bodies or NGOs.

Africa Mobile is working with the European Investment Bank, which considers it as a viable business opportunity with social goals. To be successful, the company has to work with organisations at a local level to support infrastructure building and licensing, and also provides local employment and training opportunities in areas where they are scarce.

Delivering healthcare in Africa is very challenging: lack of trained staff and medicines, or medicines used inappropriately mean that people are not receiving the care they need. Mobile technology is being used to help improve health care. GSK, partnering with the World Health Organization, has an extensive child immunisation programme. It is currently studying health outcomes in 160 rural healthcare centres, half of which are being tracked using mobile technology. Data from the 40 families in each of the other 80 centres in the control group is collected only once a year.

Nobel prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus, Bangladeshi creator of microcredit, described a healthcare project he is supporting for pregnant women in rural Bangladesh. The women wear a health monitor in the form of a bangle, which tracks key health indicators and sends an alert if anything abnormal is detected.

Yunus also sees entrepreneurship as an important part of development in Africa, empowering women and young people and enabling them to achieve greater independence. An early method of increasing mobile phone penetration was for women in local communities to sell network cards and airtime. Following on from this, many have gone on to develop other small business activities.


Connective technologies have a huge potential to improve lives in Africa, however they should not be seen as a universal panacea.

Organised by

    Shada Islam
    Director of Policy
    Friends of Europe
    Pim Van Ballekom
    European Investment Bank
    Lisa Bonadonna
    Vice-President - Head of GSK-Save the Children Partnership
    Muhammad Yunus
    2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
    Alexander De Croo
    Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Development Cooperation, Digital Agenda, Telecom and Postal Services
    Government of Belgium
Photo gallery

Password for download : EDD2017