What can Big Data Do for Development?
By admin May 22, 2017

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Last week, May 17th, marked the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day. It is celebrated to raise awareness of the use of Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) to promote social and economic development. Themed on Big Data for Big Impact, this year’s focus is on the power of big data for development and the opportunities to convert unprecedented quantities of data into information that can drive development, according to the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication, Union Houlin Zhao.

In a White Paper published by the United Nations Global Pulse, the idea of Big Data for Development along with the opportunities and challenges are identified for the development community. “Big Data” is an umbrella term for the explosion in the quantity and diversity of high-frequency digital data. With the greater affordability of ICT, this digital data is not only produced in industrialized nations but also across the developing world. In addition, the advances in data science technology also contribute to real-time data analysis, which represents a powerful tool to facilitate development goals.

Take Africa as an example; today ICT innovations are changing the way governments and businesses operate and driving entrepreneurship and economic growth. By early 2013, some 750 million mobile phone subscriptions were in use, covering two-thirds of all African adults (World Bank). In Kenya, the Kilimo Salama scheme is providing crop insurance for farmers, using the M-PESA payment gateway, helping them to better manage natural hazards such as drought or excessive rainfall. In Ghana, farmers deliver their cocoa to warehouses where their beans are weighed digitally and assigned a traceable bar code. Funds then are transferred to the farmer’s phone or e-wallet using e-money through partnerships with mobile payment companies.

In addition to agriculture, a huge amount of data is being created every day in the fronts of international development. In Uganda, a simple text message-based application can be used in health centers to report when lifesaving drugs are not available. The application improves transparency and provides convenience for patients with difficulties reaching the health workers. In Malawi, a deforestation project is training local communities to map their villages using GPS devices and empowering them to develop localized adaptation strategies by engaging communities.

“Big Data for Development is about turning imperfect, complex, often unstructured data into actionable information,” according to the White Paper.

It is important to distinguish between big data for development and the private sector’s use of big data. Big data for development emphasizes on collecting and analyzing data for the purpose of development. While microfinance data can be used as traditional big data, it can also be utilized in the development community to inform economic empowerment and poverty alleviation efforts.

This year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day “provides an occasion to take a closer look at the importance of governance and regulation,” says Mr. Zaho in his message, highlighting the implications for personal privacy and security with the exponential growth in data. Indeed, one of the key concerns for big data is privacy. Other important challenges include expanding access to digital devices and infrastructure, exploring public-private partnerships, as well as technical challenges for data analysis. If used properly, big data is a genuine opportunity for policy makers to facilitate effective evidence-base decision-making.

Read more:

Big data can have a ‘big impact’ on achievement of Global Goals, UN says on IT Day

Big Data, Big Impact: New Possibilities for International Development

Big Data for Development: Challenges & Opportunities

Africa: Using ICTs for transformational development

ICTs to transform health in Africa: Can we scale up governance and accountability?

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