Introduction: Emerging Technologies and the Challenge of Inclusive Growth
The advent of technology presents a paradox. On one side, it brings unprecedented opportunities for growth and prosperity. On the other, it poses a risk of widening the global economic divide, particularly between developed and developing nations. As Bill Gates insightfully noted, “Technology is just a tool,” and the effectiveness of which depends largely on the capacity to utilize it meaningfully and inclusively. This article will explore the transformative potential of various technologies in developing nations, the unique ways these nations are utilizing them, and the challenges and opportunities that emerge in this process.
The Green Tech Revolution: Promise and Disparity
The green tech revolution promises to redefine global economies, with a market value projection of $2.1tn by 2030, a significant leap from $590bn in 2020. However, the UNCTAD warns of an increasing disparity. The developed world is seizing most opportunities, while developing countries lag in tapping into these market opportunities. As green technologies exports soared from $60bn in 2018 to over $156bn in 2021, developing nations saw a modest increase from $57bn to $75bn. This discrepancy underscores a pressing need for intervention to ensure the green tech revolution benefits all countries.
Mobile Technology: A Digital Leap
In many parts of the developing world, the digital revolution didn’t start with bulky computers or cumbersome landlines, but with sleek, portable, and affordable mobile phones. GSMA reports that, as of 2020, there were more than 5 billion unique mobile subscribers worldwide, with the majority in developing regions.
The impact of mobile technology is far-reaching, spanning across sectors. For instance, in Kenya, a mobile money transfer service called M-Pesa has revolutionized banking. Mary, a small shop owner in Nairobi, recounts how M-Pesa has helped her business grow by allowing her to transact with customers who previously couldn’t pay due to a lack of banking access.
While mobile technology is transforming digital access and services, it’s the realm of renewable energy where some of the most profound changes are taking place.
Renewable Energy: The Green Revolution
As the world grapples with climate change, renewable energy technologies are making inroads into developing countries. With abundant sunlight, countries like India, Morocco, and Kenya are harnessing the power of the sun with groundbreaking solar power projects.
Morocco’s Noor Ouarzazate complex, the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, exemplifies this trend. The plant provides electricity to 2 million Moroccans and significantly reduces the country’s dependency on oil.
In sub-Saharan Africa, startups like M-KOPA Solar are leveraging mobile technology to provide pay-as-you-go solar power to off-grid rural homes. Grace, a farmer in rural Kenya, shares how M-KOPA has brought reliable electricity to her home for the first time, transforming her family’s quality of life.
Financial Technology: Bridging the Banking Gap
Financial technology, or fintech, is another area where developing nations are leapfrogging traditional models. Innovations are bringing financial inclusion to regions where traditional banking structures have failed to penetrate.
In Nigeria, a fintech startup called Flutterwave simplifies doing business across Africa by providing a unified payment solution. This platform enables seamless transactions domestically and internationally, fostering growth for local businesses and attracting foreign investments.
In India, a platform called ZestMoney is offering a unique credit scoring system, giving people without any formal credit history access to loans and EMI-based purchases. Rajesh, a small business owner in Mumbai, narrates how ZestMoney helped him secure a loan to
expand his business despite having no formal credit history.
Agricultural Technology: Empowering Farmers
Agriculture is the backbone of many developing economies, yet it’s often fraught with inefficiencies and vulnerabilities to climate change. Emerging technologies are stepping in to empower farmers and improve productivity.
In Colombia, a company called Agrapp is helping small farmers access vital information and resources. Using their smartphones, farmers can access data about market prices, weather forecasts, and pest diseases, contributing to better decision-making and productivity.
In East Africa, the Tulaa platform enables smallholder farmers to access credit, high-quality inputs, and advisory services through their mobile phones. Charles, a small-scale farmer in Kenya, shares how Tulaa has helped him improve his crop yield and connect with better markets, effectively increasing his income.
The Power of AI and Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are no longer reserved for tech giants in Silicon Valley. These advanced technologies are finding meaningful applications across the developing world.
In Peru, an initiative named Rainforest Connection is utilizing AI to protect the Amazon rainforest. They use old smartphones, powered by solar energy, to record the sounds of the forest. AI algorithms then analyze these sounds to detect illegal logging activities and alert authorities in real-time. This system has already helped stop several illegal logging activities, helping to preserve this vital ecosystem.
Halfway across the globe, in India, a startup called Niramai has developed a non-invasive, AI-based method for early-stage breast cancer detection. Their technology, Thermalytix, is a low-cost solution with the potential to save many lives in regions where access to regular medical screening is limited. One user, Sunita, recounts how an early diagnosis by Niramai’s system allowed her to receive timely treatment and effectively battle the disease.
Challenges and Opportunities
Despite the promising strides, it’s essential to acknowledge the challenges that these countries may face in adopting emerging technologies. Infrastructural limitations, digital illiteracy, regulatory hurdles, and data security are among the pressing concerns that need addressing.
However, these challenges also present opportunities. The need for robust infrastructure could drive investments in telecom and internet services. The digital literacy gap can stimulate educational initiatives, creating jobs and fostering a tech-savvy workforce. Regulatory challenges could push for better governance and policy frameworks, and concerns about data security could lead to the development of local data centers and stringent cybersecurity measures.
The unseen revolution of emerging technologies in developing countries is a testament to human ingenuity and resilience. While the road ahead may be fraught with challenges, the potential for positive change is immense. As these nations continue to harness the power of technology, they’re not just playing catch-up with the developed world—they’re crafting their unique path towards a sustainable and inclusive digital future.
The personal stories included in this article are a testament to the transformative power of technology. From Mary in Nairobi to Charles in Kenya and Sunita in India, we see how technology can fundamentally change lives, opening up opportunities and solutions previously unimaginable.