Not Enough New Tech for the Developing World Is in Progress, Study Says

More needs to be done

  • The developing world needs to be the focus of more technological innovation, a new report says. 
  • One example of a project that could help is a company that sells electric motorcycles in Rwanda.
  • One recently developed app allows people in remote communities to diagnose their water supplies.
A farmer using a laptop in the field.

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More needs to be done to build technologies that can help the developing world, according to a new report. 

The recent study finds that companies and governments are driving too much technology research in the Global North, sometimes referred to as the developed world. Experts say that the technology gap contributes to the growing inequality between different parts of the globe. 

"Developed countries will generate the bulk of revenues (so goes the thinking), and therefore, building technology that is accessible and helpful for those in underdeveloped nations is not a priority," Art Shaikh, the CEO of the software company CircleIt, told Lifewire in an email interview. "The other reason is a bias that exists within the tech industry. As many countries are viewed as poor, they are also seen to have inferior technological understanding and therefore won't 'get' the latest developments."

More Progress Needed

The study's authors find science, technology, and innovation research is not focused on the world's most pressing problems, including taking climate action, addressing complex underlying social issues, tackling hunger, and promoting good health and well-being. Research and innovation worldwide are not focused on meeting the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), a framework to address and drive change across all social justice and environmental issues. 

The report finds that research in high-income and middle-income countries contributes disproportionately to a disconnect with the SDGs. Most published research (60%-80%) and innovation activity (95%-98%) are unrelated to the SDG. 

The report's authors urged an increase in funding for SDG-related research and innovation, particularly in lower-income countries, on social issues, social policy and grassroots innovations, and research. 

"If we don't see an urgent overhaul in the way science and technology research is undertaken, we will not do justice to the biggest problems we face—including preventing disease, tackling climate change, and fairly distributing food," Andy Stirling, a professor of Science & Technology Policy at the University of Sussex, said in a news release. "Failing to address this challenge will further embed research and innovation as just another way to accumulate power and wealth for those who already have it. What we need is more equality, diversity, and democracy in research and innovation."

Motorcycles for Good

Building out tech in the developing world might be improved by better communications. Tech expert Kamales Lardi, author of "The Human Side of Digital Business Transformation," said in an email interview that more needs to be done in the developing world to reduce the high costs of mobile data. 

"I believe one way to do this is to invest in establishing these basic infrastructures in the developing regions," Lardi added. "Additionally, investments in technology infrastructure, as well as the capacity to adapt to these technologies, will be critical in developing regions. Creating incentives that shift the focus of large tech companies to developing regions could be a possible solution."

Poor infrastructure is another issue in the developing world, and micromobility might be one solution, Geoff Eisenberg, a partner at EIF, a venture capital firm specializing in climate tech, told Lifewire via email. Ampersand is the first electric motorcycle provider in Rwanda. The company offers electric motorcycles to taxi and other commercial drivers. It exchanges batteries and conducts bike maintenance at its proprietary stations throughout Kigali. 

A family using a laptop at home at night.

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"The company is enabling the replacement of highly polluting petrol with hydro-based renewable energy for zero-emissions transportation," he added. "The result is reduced carbon emissions, reduced air pollution, increased energy security, improved livelihoods for moto drivers, local job creation in motorcycle engineering, assembly, charging/swapping, and maintenance."

Software can also play a part in increasing the availability of drinking water. The recently launched Well Beyond app allows community members to independently maintain and diagnose water systems.

"While well-intentioned, the majority of water infrastructure that is installed in these remote regions fail to work after a few months, if ever at all," Sarah Evans, the founder of the non-profit organization Well Aware, which developed the app, told Lifewire in an email interview. "With the growing landscape of connectivity—Wi-Fi coverage and mobile phone accessibility—as well as new talent that's graduating from universities within these regions, we can leverage these new opportunities to create solutions that last."

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