Betting Big on Ourselves, for a Better World

Guest post by Tolu Ogunlesi, Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria (Digital & New Media); and Head of the Presidency Office of Digital Engagement. The post was originally published by The Guardian. 

Every year since 2009 Bill and Melinda Gates have written a “Letter” to the world, outlining their thinking about the state of the world, and vision for the year ahead. The 2015 edition, themed to coincide with the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was titled: ‘Our Big Bet for the Future’. That “Big Bet” was that “[t]he lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s.” The Gates’ broke down that Big Bet into 4 strands: Health, Education, Banking and Agriculture. I did interview Mr. Gates shortly after that Letter was published, gleaning insights that enabled me to place the Big Bet within an African and Nigerian context. It is therefore a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to encounter a similar ‘Betting’ venture – this time an assortment of seventeen ‘Big Bets’ on a better and happier world, put forward by a range of highly accomplished individuals from around the world. The ‘17 Big Bets’ Collection, published in 2016, is an initiative of the global consultancy, Dalberg, with the support of the United Nations (UN). Like the Gates’ Bets, the 17 Big Bets are inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals, and should be assessed and received within this context.

The 17 essays that make up the collection touch on various themes; each one fulfilling the Dalberg definitions of a Big Bet – “the chances we take to breed transformative shifts; the creative ideas with which we push our thinking; the investments made in solutions to current and future challenges.”
I will go on to present my thoughts about the Big Bets collection as five underlying principles, which in my opinion sum up and highlight its most important and most essential messages:

One. No digital, no development: One big takeaway is that the future of 21st century Africa lies in harnessing the nearly-infinite potential of ‘Data’ and ‘Digital’, to achieve true and lasting development. And let me say that I’m immensely excited to see flowerings of this harnessing all around me every day. Just days ago I attended a ‘Demo Day’ organized by Ventures Platform, a technology hub in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, at which six young technology companies showcased their work. All of them bound by the same underlying proposition: using the power of digital technology to ‘disrupt’ one or more status quos. In her Big Bet, Ms. Amina Mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, and Deputy Secretary-General Designate for the United Nations, calls for “Integration” within countries (between the public and private sectors), between countries, and, very importantly BETWEEN WORLDS – the real world and the VIRTUAL world. The real strength of Digital Technologies lies in their ability and capacity to create this transformative seamlessness between the physical and the virtual. As her essay points out, by 2015, 95 percent of the world’s population lived within range of a mobile phone signal. The question that arises is a simple one: what are we doing with all of that potential?

Two. We have to prioritize children – and women: In Bet after Big Bet the spotlight focuses on Children and Girls/Women. The message, for me, is an unambiguous one: The world needs to learn to talk to women, and to children, to understand their issues and perspectives from their points of view. Never assume you know what the problems – and solutions – are. The best and most sustainable solutions to the challenges facing them are the ones to which they lead us. Take this much-needed piece of advice from Craig Silverstein & Mary Obelnicki, in their piece, Thought Girls’ Education Was Big 154 Before? It’s Bigger Now. Here’s How. Count, Consult And Connect: A Path to Transformation: If you want to design a programme that works for young school-age girls, start by forgetting all your fancy theories and learning, and consulting them and listening to them. Because, “women and girls are geniuses in meeting their own challenges.” Indeed, the greatest investment any country can make is in the lives and wellbeing – and, very importantly, the self-confidence – of its women and children. And it is to this critical work that many of the contributors to this collection have devoted their lives. (Kailash Satyarthi, for example, was awarded the 2014 Nobel peace Prize, for his lifelong advocacy and action against discrimination and violence targeted at children).

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New Report: Financing Sustainable City Cancer Treatment Infrastructure

By David Humphries, Simon Allan, Sam Lampert, and Erin Barringer

This blog draws on findings from a new report from Dalberg and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), ‘C/Can 2025: City Cancer Challenge – Financing Sustainable City Cancer Treatment Infrastructure’. The publication was released at Davos, the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, as part of the UICC’s City Cancer Challenge (C/Can 2025) initiative.

The threat of cancer has never been higher. Cancer now kills more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, and by 2025 most of its victims will be found outside of high-income countries.

The growing cancer crisis will hit cities first and hardest. Currently, 54% the world’s population live in cities, and that majority is set to grow to above 60% over the next ten years. People living and working in cities are at a higher risk of cancer due to several risk factors that are more common in urban populations – such as sedentary lifestyles, vehicle pollution and longer working days.

Cities need to invest in cancer treatment now. Prevention services for cancer and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are already being scaled up globally. Infrastructure for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer services will need to follow suit in order to meet the global commitment to combat the human and economic cost of cancer deaths.

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Now is the Time to Reverse Urban Gender Inequalities

By Andrew Fleming

Today, 54% of the world’s population reside in cities, and collectively, these 4 billion people generate as much as 80% of global GDP. Cities are currently the most dynamic spaces of economic and social growth in the world. And women are integral to this growth: they boost the economy, and are at the forefront of industries creating social value, such as caregiving. However, cities are often sinkholes of poverty for women, where gender inequalities in economic access, infrastructure, and access to services limit women’s opportunities for advancement.

Women living in cities spend, on average, 4.5 hours each day taking part in unpaid work – more than double the time men do – leaving less time for paid jobs and education. Even when women are able to work, heightened informality excludes them from employee benefits such as healthcare, schooling, and legal protection.

Gender inequalities in cities go far beyond employment. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 72% of the daily burden of collecting water, if it isn’t available in the house, falls to women. And although many cities are increasing their investment in sanitation facilities, women are still disproportionately affected by poor or non-existent toilets. The WHO estimates that one in three women globally don’t have access to safe toilet facilities – a factor that heightens women’s vulnerability to sexual violence.

Economic and infrastructural inequalities further drive an urban gender health divide. In Sub-Saharan African cities, HIV prevalence among women is 1.5 times higher than it is for men due to the increased exposure of women who work in vulnerable industries, such as sex workers. Women’s health is also affected negatively by their domestic duties. Women spend disproportionally more time in front of indoor cookstoves which produce toxic fumes, and consequently, they have a higher rate of related diseases like pneumonia, lung cancer and strokes.

For cities to live up to their roles as catalysts for growth and development, we need to make them spaces of equal rights and opportunities for women. To create real progress, an explicitly gender-inclusive approach to urban development – focusing on the structural inequities women face – needs to be adopted.

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The Five-Minute Loan: How India Stack is Speeding Loans to Small Businesses

By Niloufer Memon, Vibhor Goyal, and Varad Pande

We recently met Ajay, a fruit vendor in Mumbai who struggles to pay the 60 percent annual interest rate on a loan from his local money lender.

Ajay was saddled with this debt, unable to refinance or raise more capital to buy a second fruit cart. Last month, that changed. Using just his mobile phone, Ajay got a 15,000 rupee (£185) loan from one of India’s largest private banks, at a moderate interest rate. It took five minutes.

Rajesh has a similar story. He got a 50,000 rupee (£615) working capital loan on his cell phone – without stepping out of the mobile phone repair store he owns and runs in Delhi.

Neither filled out lengthy loan applications, submitted complicated documentation, or queued up in bank branches on futile visits. Their reaction: “Mujhe yakeen nahi hota ki aisa bhi ho sakta hai” (I cannot believe that this is even possible).

This revolution in access to credit was made possible through the digital infrastructure created by ‘India Stack’ – the set of powerful open and programmable capabilities that build on India’s digital ID program Aadhaar.

Capital gap

India has a huge credit gap: 90 percent of all small businesses are dependent on informal sources for credit. These micro-entrepreneurs are grossly underserved by traditional lenders because they typically do not have collateral or credit histories that make them “lend-able.”

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Q&A: Reflecting on Our Internships

With the recruiting season for Dalberg’s internship programs well underway, we talk to Dalberg team members about their internship experiences, and learn about what they have been doing since joining Dalberg full time.

Applications for our Graduate School Consultants Program are open until Jan 8, 2017. D.Capital are also recruiting for their Summer Investment Associate Program – applications are open until Jan 8, 2017.

Introducing our interviewees:

John Kidenda is a Senior Consultant in Nairobi. He joined the internship program in 2014, while pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. Before attending Grad School, John had been working in Healthcare Tech in Austin, US. He became a permanent member of the Nairobi team in 2015.

Ellen Kendall is an Associate Consultant in Paris. Ellen started at Dalberg in London, completing her internship there in 2015 and joining as full time member of the team, before moving to Paris in Spring 2016. Prior to the internship, she had been studying a Master’s in Development Studies at the University of Cambridge, and had been working with an NGO in Thailand for two years.

Amanda Dawes Ibanez is a Senior Consultant in San Francisco. Amanda completed an internship in 2015 with Dalberg’s New York office. She joined the team in San Francisco in 2016, after completing a Master’s in Public Administration in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School. Before attending Graduate School, Amanda worked conducting impact evaluations using randomized control trials to test the effectiveness of policies aimed at reducing poverty in Latin America.

Scott Hosking is an Analyst in our Johannesburg office. He started his internship in 2015, straight after completing a Master’s in Economics and a BSc in Economics and Law at the University of Cape Town. While studying, Scott had worked with NGOs in and around Cape Town, mainly focused on supporting small entrepreneurs in townships to increase their effectiveness.

Sikai Chen is an Associate Consultant in Dalberg’s Singapore office. He joined the internship program in 2015, after just completing a BSc in Economics from Singapore Management University. As a student, he’d volunteered with Southeast Asia’s first social change consultancy, and had also completed internships in the healthcare and automotive industry. Sikai joined the Singapore office permanently in 2015 as an Analyst, and was promoted to Associate Consultant in 2016.

And now for the questions:

What did you work on during your internship?

John: I worked on a World Bank project to devise a unified metric for measuring pharmaceutical supply chains across Africa. The topic resonated with me given my professional background in healthcare, and it was an interesting experience to approach this topic from the perspective of a strategy consultant. I was on the project from start to finish, so I gained real insight into what a project lifecycle, and the day-to-day, is like at Dalberg.

Sikai: During my internship, I focused on identifying the gaps in India’s education sector that the Tata Group could invest in as part of their sustainability efforts. I was part of a team that carried out a landscape study of the sector, and identified issues of quality and access across the education lifecycle of an individual from kindergarten to tertiary standards.

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The Private Sector Could Help Us Save the World’s Oceans

By Michael Davis

The importance of the world’s oceans, and the challenges they face cannot be overstated. Oceans are home to the earth’s most diverse ecosystems, and are crucial to fighting climate change as they absorb 30% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. The total economic value of the world’s oceans is estimated at USD 2.5 trillion per year, with the livelihoods of 660 – 820 million people globally supported by the fisheries sector alone. Yet, despite this environmental and economic importance, ocean mismanagement is rife. The major fish stocks people consume are on the edge of collapse, as fish stocks are severely over-exploited. The world’s reefs are stressed, and mangroves – the lungs of the ocean – continue to be removed at destructive rates.

The impact of ocean degradation, and collapses in marine ecosystems will be most keenly felt in the global south. In Africa, fish accounts for 40% of protein intake across the continent, and the fishing industry generates livelihoods for an estimated 100 million people, many of whom already live below the poverty line. The fishing industries currently contribute USD 24 billion to African GDP – already quite a substantial sum, which could even be much higher if supply chains are improved. Poor management, rampant illegal fishing, and poor policing of coastal areas have drastic consequences on seafood production, with countries such as Ghana (one of the few where adequate data exists) experiencing up to 90% reduction in the amount of locally produced seafood.

Read the full article on Global Daily.

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Protecting Tigers from Asia’s Infrastructure Development Boom

By Will Green and Jamie Chung

This blog draws on findings from a new report from Dalberg and WWF — Protecting Tigers from Asia’s Infrastructure Development Boom.

Tigers have travelled a rocky road over the past hundred years. Decimated from rampant poaching and merciless habitat destruction, the tiger population fell from over 100,000 at the start of the 20th century to just 3,200 in 2010. This rocky road is fast approaching a cliff edge.

Tiger landscapes contribute to economic growth in developing economies. Attracting millions of tourists each year, tiger landscapes provide local communities with sustainable sources of income and employment. In India, for example, three million people each year participate in wildlife tours, and this figure is growing each year. Tiger-related tourism today is mainly concentrated in the national parks, reserves and sanctuaries of India and Nepal, and is estimated at USD 2.2 billion per year. Given the difficulties of finding secure employment opportunities in tiger landscapes that are often remote, the jobs supported by tiger-related tourism are crucial for local communities.

Tiger landscapes also provide an abundance of environmental and socio-cultural value at local, national, and international levels. A recent report, for example, estimated the value of carbon absorption across six of India’s 50 tiger reserves is estimated to be over USD 17 million per year. Tiger landscapes also provide water for drinking and irrigation for downstream communities, and protect these communities from natural hazards, such as floods and landslides. In some areas, tigers are named national animals, while in others, the presence of tigers has led to their designation as World Heritage Sites. Additionally, tigers are inextricably linked to the millions of indigenous people that co-exist with them.

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User-centred Financial Inclusion

In Live Mint, Varad Pande and Nirat Bhatnagar explain why digital financial services should be tailored to the habits of the underserved. While financial service firms in India are beginning to explore digitizing their services and products for the BoP, two key dilemmas – user-experience and user-interface – are limiting innovation.

India is going through a “golden age” of financial inclusion. The government and the private sector have been equal players in this with key initiatives such as Aadhaar, the licensing of new institutions (payment banks and small finance banks), and the emergence of a vibrant fintech sector. The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has been launched and promises to herald a new age of frictionless payments across devices and interfaces.

Now that the rails have been laid, the conversation is moving towards the creation of digital financial services that cater to the needs of the millions of underserved—the so called base-of-the-pyramid (BoP)—and bringing the benefits of the formal economy to them. Traditional banks, microfinance institutions (MFIs) and fintech companies are all taking steps that express their intent to target this segment.

However, there remain two dilemmas or “fuzzy choices” that are holding back innovation in this space. Firstly, the the user-experience (UX) dilemma, and secondly, the user-interface (UI) dilemma.

Read the full article on Live Mint.

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Financial Inclusion Fit to Size: Customizing Digital Credit for Smallholder Farmers in Tanzania

For the fourteenth briefing note in a series from the Initiative for Smallholder FinanceDalberg’s Design Impact Group (DIG) explores the causes of low uptake in digital credit for smallholders to better understand how we can develop concrete product solutions to jump-start adoption of digital credit products by them.

[Download the full briefing here] 

Digital credit products represent an important financial inclusion opportunity for smallholder farmers in Tanzania, where close to 80% of the workforce is engaged in farming. Uptake of these products by smallholder farmers, however, remains limited.

To address this challenge, Dalberg’s Design Impact Group used a human-centered design (HCD) approach across three regions of Tanzania to produce behavioral insights around smallholder farmers’ interaction with, and demand for, digital credit products.

Based on insights collected during their research, DIG designed and prototyped a new digital credit product for smallholder farmers and evaluated their response to it. This idealized digital credit product builds on existing products available in the Tanzanian market, but has five new components, each with multiple differentiated features, that meet the unique credit needs and behaviors of smallholders. These new components include:

  • Design enhancements to the core product to make loan sizes and repayment terms more relevant and manageable for smallholder farmers
  • Supporting features to improve customer engagement with the product
  • Ideas to increase the effectiveness of marketing, customer training, agent support, and other functions that drive product adoption and usage

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James Mwangi on the Development Plan for the 21st Century – Podcast

James Mwangi, Executive Director of the Dalberg Group, joined the ‘Maintaining the Momentum for the SDGs’ event, convened by The Guardian around the UN’s General Assembly in New York.

James joined the first panel discussion on ‘How to Implement 17 Goals and 169 Targets’, and detailed the increasing need for tri-sectoral athletes: people who feel equally comfortable across civil society, government, and business.

A podcast summarising the key takeaways of the event is now available.


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