particularly African ones, millions of people are skipping the technological evolution process, leapfrogging over now-obsolete technologies andgoing straight to modern fixes. as a bonus, these often happen to be green, sustainable, and relatively cheap. Here are a few of the industries where leapfrogging tech is having the biggest impact on peoples’ lives.but in developing countries,
Energy is the most basic and most essential resource for development; without it, not much else is possible, and with it, people start adopting other technologies, like mobile phones, much more quickly. The World Bank’s 2017 State of Electricity Access report emphasizes that UN Sustainable Development Goals like health, education, food security, and employment are all largely dependent on consistent, reliable access to energy.
For rural communities in Africa that lack electrical grids, the belief was that, in time, American-style grids would be built. But thanks to the rise of renewable energy, grids may not end up being as necessary.
Startups like Off Grid Electric and Black Star Energy have made a business out of installing solar panels on private homes. Customers pay a down payment followed by monthly installments until they own their home solar kits, which include a panel, a battery, a phone charger, a radio, and LED lights.
Payments can be made by buying scratch cards at kiosks or via mobile phone. The continent’s growing energy supply isn’t just limited to solar. Ethiopia is building the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river—once completed, the country will be able to generate 6,000 megawatts of electricity, more than four times its current total capacity.
Though hydropower isn’t a new technology and does require grid infrastructure, it will help Ethiopia leapfrog over coal as a major energy source. Mini-grids—defined as electrical generation systems of less than 10 megawatts that serve customers through local distribution networks—are springing up in rural areas as well, and they’re often powered by renewable sources. The International Energy Agency estimated 140 million people in rural areas will gain access to electricity via mini-grids by 2040.
If energy is the first rung to climb on the development ladder, connectivity’s not far behind. Beyond being valuable in and of itself, connectivity enables an enormous range of additional capabilities—progress in every one of the industries mentioned here either directly depends on or hugely benefits from the proliferation of mobile phones. Forget land lines; millions of Africans who never had home phones have jumped directly to using cell phones.
According to The Economist, a 10 percent increase in cell phone ownership among citizens of developing countries boosts per capita GDP growth by about 1 percent per year. The biggest driver of this growth is mobile money; people who’ve never had a bank account or a secure way to save, transfer, and invest money now have all of that in the palm of their hands.
A 2016 study by MIT economists found that using mobile money helped 194,000 Kenyans escape extreme poverty over the course of 8 years. The continent’s biggest mobile money service is M-Pesa, which had over 30 million users in 10 different countries as of early 2017. Users can text payments to each other, as well as access loans, international money transfers, and small business services.
Access to new technologies can only get you so far—mobile money, smartphones, and internet won’t be much use without basic reading, writing, and math skills, not to mention the critical thinking and problem-solving abilities that are fundamental to innovation. Beyond these basics, to keep their economies progressing, African nations should also be preparing students for careers outside agrarian or labor-based fields.
A shortage of qualified teachers in many African countries—combined with the fact that these same countries have the fastest-growing school-age population in the world—makes providing high-quality education a monumental task. Tech hasn’t solved this problem yet, but it’s helping.
Bridge International Academies, a chain of private schools started in Kenya, provides teachers with scripted lesson plans read from tablets. The company’s mission is to educate 10 million kids in the developing world, and though its methods have sparked some controversy, its students have consistently performed above average on national exams. Ed tech on the continent goes beyond Silicon Valley-funded private schools.
Eneza Education, a virtual tutor with over four million registered users, gives students digital access to quizzes and educational tools, tracking their progress. Data gathered is analyzed and used to tweak programs and further facilitate learning. Startups like Mwabu and Xander offer digital, customizable curricula and learning tools for teachers and students.