How Open Data and Higher Ed Networks Can Decrease Poverty

A former White House appointee calls for technology collaboration between government, higher education and the community at large.

by Tanya Roscorla / April 7, 2014
Chris Vein, chief innovation officer for global information and communications technology at the World Bank Jessica Mulholland

This century, we face a much larger challenge than bringing 100 gigabyte connectivity to college campuses. We have to figure out how to feed 9 billion people and decrease poverty.

Government, higher education and citizens must all come to the table and work together to solve this problem with the help of technology, said Chris Vein, chief innovation officer for global information and communications technology at the World Bank.

In a keynote at the 2014 Internet2 Global Summit in Denver on Monday, April 7, Vein said that the World Bank is shooting for two goals: Nearly end extreme poverty by 2030 and grow the income of the bottom 40 percent of the population in each country. 

This problem calls for a drastic disruption of every major economic sector and piece of the supply chain in the world. But the conditions throughout the world's poorest regions makes this task tough. "How do you innovate when you don't have data plans, infrastructure, cell phones, academic research institutions?" asked Vein, former deputy chief technology officer at the U.S. Office of Science and Technology and CIO of San Francisco, whom Government Technology, sister organization to the Center for Digital Education, named to its list of Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers in 2010.

Current technology creation and adoption practices pose major challenges to innovation as well, Vein said. The government and citizens are disconnected, and it's difficult to bring in pieces of technology that address the problem in the best way.

"Procurement has always been the bane of my existence," Vein said. "The idea here is we get so caught up in our procurement rules that we never let the people who identify the problem talk with people who can solve the problem."

Three of his keys to solving this worldwide problem of hunger and poverty include bringing Internet connectivity to another billion citizens, transforming bureaucracy and innovating innovation itself. By bringing together public entities, private organizations, citizens, and the higher education research and development community, everyone can start building small solutions to solve these problems. 

He suggested that governments needs to let go of control over data and open it up to the community so they could create panaceas for problems together. And they also need to highlight projects that are working well.

For example, the Sense-T project is bringing together the University of Tasmania, Australia; the Tasmanian Government, Australia's national science agency CSIRO, and IBM to work on an intelligent sensor network. Real-time data, apps and sensors work together to help business leaders make smart business decisions that will improve their production.

In Australia's fast-growing aquaculture industry, the project has already produced an app that saved one oyster farmer $150,000 a day, Vein said. By attaching sensors to oysters and analyzing the data that they generate, oyster farmers can understand how pollution is affecting the water, and ultimately the oysters. Then they can figure out what to do next to safeguard their oyster production.

While this project is still a relatively small collaboration, it's one of the most amazing sensor networks in the world, Vein said. And small is the best way to start.

Research and education networks are the key to helping solve problems with technology, and the World Bank wants the help of those who are involved with these networks, he said. Hackathons can act as a catalyst for government leaders to better understand what the problems are, disrupt the system, and ask the higher education community to help deal with the problems

"We can't solve the problems; we can only enable other people to solve the problems they face," Vein said. "Technology does that. Connectivity is absolutely important. But we have to teach people how to use it so they help themselves.

"And that's really what I ask you to do is to come together through Internet2 and help us do that," Vein continued. "Because if we don't, we're going to have to figure out in a crisis how to feed 9 billion people in a world where everyone is fighting each other, and that's not a world I want to live in, and I need your help in making sure that doesn't happen."

This story was originally published by the Center for Digital Education

Platforms & Programs