The 53rd Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank drew to a close on Friday, May 25 in Busan, Korea, in an atmosphere of marked all-round satisfaction, especially at the decision of the Board of Governors to authorize the opening of consultations with a view to a general increase in the Bank’s capital.

Following its third and final session on Friday, the Board of Governors commended the Bank’s performance in 2017, which had recorded approvals of US $8.7 billion and over $7 billion of disbursements, results never before achieved since its creation in 1964.

“We, as Governors, here in Busan, note the increase in disbursements in 2017, the highest in the Bank’s history. In this regard, we commend the Bank’s achievements and encourage it to do more in terms of efficiency and impact on development,” emphasized the final communiqué of the meeting.

Thanks to its good performance, the Bank was able to increase its net revenue. Its prudent management of financial and operational risks allowed it to allocate a volume to reserves unprecedented in its history. It also helpd the Bank to maintain its AAA rating with the major global rating agencies.

The Bank’s 80 Governors, who represent the 80 member countries of the African Development Bank Group, both regional and non-regional, also underscored the need for a strong and financially viable African Development Bank – one that is efficient, effective, responsible and results-oriented.

They also authorized the Governors’ Consultative Committee to open discussions on the general capital increase, the purpose of which was to allow the Bank to respond to the financing needs of its regional member countries and achieve its development objectives.

For the Governors, this capital increase should be preceded by the presentation of “a well-targeted strategic report on the role of the Bank Group in the context of the global development architecture and an evaluation of reforms to enhance the Bank’s capacity to achieve its objectives.”

External financing and internal resources

The debates in the 53rd Annual Meetings also highlighted the need to associate the search for external financing with mobilization of internal resources, notably through more effective management of public finances and a relentless campaign to combat illicit financial flows out of the African continent

The Governors welcomed, in this regard, “the efforts deployed by the Bank to encourage reforms of financial regulation so as to attract institutional investments and mobilize global financing in favour of Africa through the Africa Investment Forum(link is external)” to be held November 7 to 9, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The 53rd Annual Meetings officially opened on May 23, in the presence of the Rwandan Prime Minister, Edouard Ngirente, whose country holds the Presidency of the African Union, his Moroccan counterpart Saadine Othmani and the Deputy Mayor of Busan, Jae Min Park. The meetings provided a forum for discussion on “Accelerating Africa’s Industrialization.”

The Governors also urged “the Bank to continue, with other development partners, in the pursuit of new ideas to develop, finance and accelerate Africa’s economic transformation.”

In Busan, the Annual Meetings were an opportunity to celebrate the partnership which unites Korea and Africa, through the bilateral Korea-Africa Economic Cooperation Conference (KOAFEC) under the co-chairmanship of the Korean Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategy and Finance, Dong Yeon Kim, the outgoing President of the Board of Governors of the Bank, and Adesina Akinwumi, President of the African Development Bank.

Good-bye, Busan. Hello, Malabo.

On the occasion, Korea announced the establishment of an envelope of US $5 billion to finance various cooperation projects with Africa, notably in the fields of knowledge development, capacity-building, energy and human resources.

“These Annual Meetings have been an enormous collective success. Thanks to everyone, and especially our Korean hosts, we have been able to work in ideal conditions to arrive at this excellent conclusion,” Akinwumi Adesina said in the closing ceremony.

“Governors, ladies and gentlemen, Bank shareholders, we have listened to you. We have taken note of your expectations and we rejoice in your support. Rest assured that both I myself, the Senior Management and all the staff will spare no effort to pursue the economic transformation of Africa and the well-being of its people,” he added.

For his part, the Governor for Equatorial Guinea, Lucas Abaga Nchama, the new President of the Board of Governors, whose country will host the next round of the Meetings, promised that the 2019 Annual Meetings in Malabo, the country’s capital, would be just as fruitful.

“I urge as many of you as possible to come to Equatorial Guinea next year. You will find a warm welcome and a working environment which will allow us to have highly fruitful deliberations. Rest assured that my country will live up to the confidence that you have placed in it by choosing it to host the 54th Annual Meetings of the African Development Bank.”


RELATED: 5 takeaways from African Development Bank’s 53rd Annual Meetings






Brazilian ICC-UNCTAD Partnership Marks Second Phase of the Intelligent Tech and Trade Initiative

The Brazilian arm of the International Chamber of Commerce and UNCTAD have signed an agreement to work together to harness the power of cutting edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain to enhance and improve trade.

The memorandum of understanding between ICC Brasil and UNCTAD formalizes their cooperation within the Intelligent Tech and Trade Initiative (ITTI). Deploying fast-emerging technology in the trade sector was a headline issue at UNCTAD’s E-Commerce Week in April.

Under the agreement, UNCTAD and ICC Brasil will cooperate in a range of capacity-building, training, research and analysis activities. “Specific issues include the application of artificial intelligence and blockchain on international trade operations, trade logistics, transactions and negotiations,” said Shamika Sirimanne, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and Logistics.

ITTI was founded by ICC Brasil’s chairman, Daniel Feffer, last year. “Creating ITTI is an essential move that can drive trade beyond existing roadblocks. I’m certain blockchain and AI will boost trade growth. These technologies can help both small and medium-sized enterprises and emerging markets seize a bigger piece of the global trade pie,” said Feffer. “Deintermediation, trust and agile market access are made possible by these new technologies. My vision is that very instrumental tools, such as bringing the letter of credit to a 21st century blockchain-intensive marketplace, or modeling negotiation scenarios through AI, will enhance both transactions and trade agreements. But we’ve got to make sure they are inclusive of companies big and small, countries rich or emerging, so all can benefit from their extraordinary potential.”

ITTI is now entering its second phase after publishing a study looking at the applicability of technology in various scenarios. The collaboration with UNCTAD will explore the use of AI and blockchain in multilateral negotiations. UNCTAD’s expertise and database will be essential in helping the initiative build a prototype that could be used these complex negotiations. ITTI is also building, in a partnership with IBM, a prototype that will look into bilateral negotiations. As a first case, the prototype will use negotiations between the Mercosul trade bloc and Canada.

“This software will choose the best products the countries can offer their trade partners, indicating the optimal tariffs,” said Gabriel Petrus, Executive Director of ICC Brasil. “It is like a radar that pinpoints the best opportunities for each side. We are very excited to see the implementation of both of these prototypes.”


For international trade logistics to fully benefit from the digital transformation, we need global standards, cybersecurity, and an open competitive market, says the Chief of UNCTAD’s Trade Logistics Branch.  

Technological progress will never be as slow as today, and the potential for further improvement in international trade logistics is immense. The “Internet of Things”, in combination with ever more availability of data – thanks to tools such as Automatic Identification System (AIS) for ships and tracking devices for trucks and containers – will allow for exponential growth of automated processes and transactions. The combination of enhanced digital and physical connectivity will help carriers, seaports and inland transport providers integrate their processes with the shippers’ globalised supply chains – and all this sooner rather than later with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Smart logistics operations have already led to a significant reduction of expenditures on inventory holdings, while more money is spent on fast, reliable and – where possible – Just In Time deliveries. The growth of e-commerce accentuates the need for further logistics improvements. An upcoming UNCTAD Policy Brief suggests that border agency cooperation, Single Windows, and the facilitation of expedited shipments are particularly relevant to promote e-commerce.

Several recent initiatives are assessing the opportunities that come with these new technologies. Optimising vessel speeds and paths, for example, can reduce waiting times in ports and CO2 emissions. Port authorities and terminal operators have joined forces to optimise port and intermodal connections. Shippers and other stakeholders have been supporting a maritime logistics dialogue to encourage the exchange of data and collaboration along global supply chains.

Now, for the time being, the exchange of data between players in the supply chain is not as smooth as it could be. Key obstacles include 1) the use of different standards, 2) concerns about data security and 3) potential objections from competition authorities.

  • Standards: The most important standard for international trade has been the container. In today’s digital transformation, standards for data will be just as important. The challenge is to encourage the use and development of the necessary standards, including by the industry itself, while avoiding that these become closed standards that could exclude some players.
  • Data security: Cyber-security is of growing concern as we become more and more dependent on sharing and storing data online. The recent scandals with social networks and their sharing of private data serve as a reminder that our data may be difficult to control once shared in cyberspace. Some tools, such as distributed ledger technologies, promise to be secure, yet they still depend on interfaces that may not be so secure.
  • Competition: Sharing data to improve operations is one thing. Using this same data after that to collude in capacity management or price setting is another. Before a shipping line or terminal operator can share a client’s data with suppliers or other clients, it will need to be sure that this complies with competition legislation. The challenge for governments and competition authorities is to ensure that service providers can make the best use of the digital transformation, while at the same time safeguard that these benefits are passed on to the clients, the shippers.

Container transport providers, shippers and intermediaries compete in wanting to control the entire supply chain. This competition helps the rise in end-to-end visibility to manage capacity utilisation better. Fully controlled supply chains are one way to facilitate the effort of total supply chain visibility, as data can be shared more efficiently within a company than between different parties. Maersk, the largest container shipping company, has recently decided to focus its business on transport, including liner shipping, terminal operations, and logistics, while at the same time divesting from energy and bulk shipping. To also benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital transformation, smaller companies participating in the supply chain need to find ways to collaborate more – within applicable laws that govern data protection and competition.

Often, technologies are not the main problem. Within a seaport, setting up the technological dimension of a Port Community System is not necessarily the most difficult part; the challenge is instead the politics of making different stakeholders cooperate and trust each other. The same applies for national Single Windows for foreign trade or global platforms for international trade logistics. While the technologies for sharing data exist, many stakeholders don’t feel ready to do so yet – and there lies the principal challenge that the logistics industry faces as it looks to benefit from the digital transformation.


See also UNCTAD’s work on Technology, Innovation and Logistics, including specifically our Review of Maritime Transport, support to trade logistics, and the eTrade for all initiative.

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As momentum to build new ‘AI for Good’ projects emerges from last week’s AI for Good Global Summit, experts and leaders are recognizing the need to share resources to help such projects achieve significant scale.

Discussions towards ‘AI and Data Commons’ are gathering pace.

Commons would offer assemblies of AI tools and datasets – and supporting knowledge and expertise – to launch new AI projects, scale-up fast, and contribute new and improved resources to the AI for Good community.

All four ‘breakthrough’ tracks at last week’s summit – which looked at healthcare, satellite imagery, smart cities, and trust in AI – highlighted the value of common platforms in testing, launching and maximizing the impact of new AI projects.

The ‘breakthrough teams’ leading these four tracks have each proposed a ‘Project Zero’ geared towards the development of such common platforms.

The healthcare team, for instance, proposed a shared ‘laboratory environment’ to strengthen and improve the coordination of AI-related healthcare resources. A proposed ‘global service platform’ aims to support new satellite data projects in achieving immediate scale. An ‘Internet of Cities’ could assist the replication of successful smart city projects. aims to be an incubator for new projects to build trust in AI, a community able to host multidisciplinary collaboration.

‘Roadmap Zero’ to AI and data commons

“In the track presentations, the various projects, data has come up several times in different contexts,” says Urs Gasser, Executive Director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Gasser led a team of ‘Data Rapporteurs’ tasked with monitoring the data dimensions of Summit.

“There is a notion, almost a kind of vision, that you need data commons as we think about AI for the social good,” says Gasser.

Reporting on the discussions of the summit’s four tracks, the team of Data Rapporteurs offered a ‘Roadmap Zero’ towards AI and data commons.

The figure below presents “a snapshot and some sort of bottom‑up version 1.0 of such a taxonomy or roadmap as it is emerging,” says Urs Gasser.

The layered model builds on a ‘narrow’ version of data commons – three core technical fields – with three fields more ‘broad’ in functionality. The model calls for interoperability across its six interdependent layers.

Core technical foundations

“For this narrow version of data commons, the role of standards and standardization is really important,” says Gasser.

Data Rapporteur for satellite imagery, Sean McGregor, Syntiant Corporation, illustrates the importance of standardized data formats and the interaction of different layers.

Mobile phones are a valuable source of geo-location data, says McGregor. Labelling agricultural resources with geo-reference data crowdsourced from mobile phones – using standardized formats – could provide the ‘data from the ground’ required to improve AI’s ability to monitor agriculture and biodiversity using satellite imagery.

Metadata could also bring greater transparency to datasets, says Data Rapporteur for trust in AI, Ryan Budish, Harvard University.

Labelling datasets with information on their provenance and limitations, says Budish: “[could be] a guardrail of sorts to help prevent using the data in ways that may not be appropriate, that may introduce unintentional bias into the outcomes.”

Building broader functionality

The three upper layers of the model bring distinctly human elements to Roadmap Zero.

Urs Gasser asked how the AI for Good community might encourage the emergence of organizational practices emphasizing collaboration, challenging the community to explore incentives to share data, move towards greater interoperability and establish related best practices.

“Thanks to all of the previous smart city initiatives, we have a lot of data already,” says Data Rapporteur for smart cities, Marie-Ange Boyomo, AI Project Manager at ANIMA. “If we pileup all the layers of data, then we have an overview and we can create a place where people can try, people can fail, people can have success … what we have called the ‘Internet of Cities’.”

Institutional arrangements including law and policy can both enable and form barriers to the use of data for good. Debates around IP regimes, data protection and privacy – and data governance more generally – will all factor into the level of institutional support for AI and data commons, says Gasser.

Building trust at the ‘human layer’

The model’s top-most layer focuses on knowledge-sharing and education. This ‘human layer’ calls for collaboration to build trust and common understanding among AI developers and stakeholders.

“The health conversation was very much at the intersection of institutions, policy, law and then what we call the human layer,” says Data Rapporteur for healthcare, Elena Goldstein, Harvard University.

The healthcare sector hosts a diverse set of stakeholders and diverse forms of data, complicating discussions around data commons.

Can we trust AI like a doctor?

We cannot fully explain the decisions of AI algorithms, but the same could be said of doctors’ decisions.

“In the health context it’s often about life-saving treatment. It’s essential that we do have a view of how these decisions are being made,” says Goldstein.

“This presents a unique opportunity perhaps for AI and some of these diagnostic tools to actually offer increased transparency, which, as we look to a data commons, is extremely promising.”

See highlights and interviews from the summit.


Following is UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ message for Africa Day, observed on 25 May:

In March this year, Africa’s leaders launched the African Continental Free Trade Area.  Representing one of the largest markets in the world, with 1.2 billion consumers, the Free Trade Area can boost regional integration, drive economic growth, generate jobs for young Africans, alleviate poverty and lead to more stable and peaceful societies.

This is just the latest example of achievement under the umbrella of the African Union — formerly the Organisation of African Unity — which marks its fifty‑fifth anniversary this year.  Across Africa, entrepreneurship is up, access to education has increased and child mortality has declined.  More women are serving in parliaments, and economic growth in several countries is greater than in other parts of the world.

Africa is increasingly driving its own future.  The guiding vision for Africa’s development is the African Union’s Agenda 2063.  Fully complementary to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Agenda 2063 provides a foundation for resilience and social and economic progress for the entire continent.  The United Nations is fully committed to supporting Africa’s efforts.  To that end, the two organizations have in the past year signed frameworks on peace and security and on the coherent implementation of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda.

Peace and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin — one cannot be achieved without the other.  To promote peace, the United Nations will continue to support prevention.  We must collectively strengthen our ability to detect and defuse crises before they escalate and sharpen our tools for addressing their causes.  The United Nations will also work to support the African Union’s commitment to “silence the guns” by 2020 and promote the indispensable role of women and youth in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

On this Africa Day, I urge all nations to support a peaceful, prosperous Africa.  What is good for Africa is good for the world.

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Geneva, May 24, 2018

The Republic of Korea is adopting WIPO’s ground-breaking “artificial intelligence”-based translation tool for patent documents, making it the first member state to use WIPO Translate in an important advancement for the use of machine learning in the technology-heavy patent sector.

WIPO Translate uses cutting-edge neural machine translation technology to render highly technical patent documents into a second language in a style and syntax that more closely mirrors common usage.  It out-performs patent-translation tools built on previous technologies as well as other web-based products also using artificial intelligence.

Video: WIPO Director General Francis Gurry on Artificial Intelligence.

WIPO Translate powers PATENTSCOPE, a 70 million record strong database used for research by inventors before filing international patent applications around the world via WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).

WIPO has “trained” the new technology to translate all patent documents in one of the official languages of the PCT (Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish) into English and vice-versa.

The Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) and WIPO signed a memorandum of understanding on the sidelines of the May 23-25 “Meeting of Intellectual Property Offices on ICT Strategies and Artificial Intelligence for IP Administration.” Under the agreement, KIPO will begin integrating WIPO Translate into its own patent filing and examination processes.  This makes the Republic of Korea the first of WIPO’s 191 member states to implement WIPO Translate under a program designed to help IP offices around the world use the latest technologies.

Memorandum of Understanding

“KIPO’s adoption of WIPO Translate underlines the importance of this industry leading tool, which promotes the widespread dissemination of the knowledge contained in highly technical patent documents,” said WIPO Director General Francis Gurry.  “The WIPO Secretariat is pleased to have developed this high-quality, artificial intelligence-based translation program and is sharing it as widely as possible to benefit innovators and IP offices around the world,” he added.

“KIPO is very pleased to be adding WIPO Translate, as we have found that this artificial intelligence-based language tool leads to a higher quality of translation for patent documents,” said Mr. Han Gyudong, Director, Information Management Division, KIPO, who is attending the Geneva meeting.

WIPO Translate is trained exclusively with huge amounts of patent texts and includes a “domain-aware-technique” that translates according to the specificity of the invention. The tool internally integrates 32 technical domains taken from the International Patent Classification. This allows the system to eliminate ambiguity in the translation process.  The technology takes into consideration the specific domain when translating a particular sentence thereby yielding more accurate translations.  This is unique in the world of patent translations.

WIPO’s PATENTSCOPE database now fully integrates this new technology, making translations of patent documents retrieved through PATENTSCOPE more readily accessible.  Previous statistical-based translation technology remains available for comparison purposes

Neural machine translation

Neural machine translation is an emerging technology. It is based on huge neural network models that “learn” from previously translated sentences. The specificity of neural machine translation (compared to previous “phrase based” statistical methods) is that it produces more natural word order, with particular improvements seen in so-called distant language pairs, like, Korean-English, Japanese-English or Chinese-English. Even languages that are considered closer (like English-French) benefit from this new technology which results in better quality translations.

To develop WIPO Translate, WIPO created its own software, based on open-source software and libraries and capitalized on in-house expertise in handling large datasets.

WIPO has also made WIPO Translate technology available to a number of international organizations including the United Nations Secretariat, several specialized agencies of the UN and the World Trade Organization.

Note to Editors

The PATENTSCOPE database provides access to international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications in full text format on the day of publication, as well as to patent documents of participating national and regional patent offices.  The information may be searched by entering keywords, names of applicants, international patent classification and many other search criteria in multiple languages. The database contains some 70 million records.




The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Monday, May 21 to step up collaboration to boost Africa’s industrialization.

“The Bank launched in 2016 its Industrialization Strategy for Africa 2016-2025, which was the outcome of collaborative work with UNIDO and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The signing of the present MoU is key to our Strategy’s implementation,” said African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina. “The Bank already benefits enormously from UNIDO’s expertise in developing policies, programmes and knowledge tools which supports our member countries to industrialize.” In 2017, the Bank allocated US $1.2 billion to Industrialize Africa – one of the Bank’s High 5 development priorities – mostly to projects for financial sector operations.

The new agreement facilitates the Bank and UNIDO cooperation on joint activities of shared interest in areas such as agro-industry development, circular economy, eco-industrial parks, investment in innovation and technology, enterprise development, trade and capacity-building, and access to finance, among others. The MoU is in line with objectives set in the Bank’s High 5 strategy, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III), the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the G20 Initiative on Supporting Industrialization in Africa.

“Achieving Africa’s industrial potential will not happen by chance; strong partnerships such as the one our two organizations have now formalized are key,” said Philippe Scholtès, Managing Director at UNIDO. “This partnership will create significant opportunities and facilitate our work together towards the operationalization of IDDA III (2016–2025)”.

The two entities have already initiated working level collaboration including within the framework of UNIDO’s flagship Programme for Country Partnership (PCP) model, which helps synchronize development efforts and mobilize resources to support countries in accelerating industrialization. The Bank and UNIDO recently undertook a joint mission to Morocco as part of the initial development of the PCP and will continue exploring cooperation opportunities in the ongoing PCPs in Senegal and Ethiopia. Collaboration has also been initiated for the establishment of staple crop processing zones in a select number of African countries.

The Memorandum was signed by Adesina and Scholtès in Busan, Republic of Korea, on the sidelines of the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the African Development Bank Group, held under the theme of “Accelerating Africa’s industrialization.” The signing ceremony was attended by African Industry Ministers, representatives of regional Member States, development partners and private-sector executives.

Read the press release here


If there was ever a time to watch progress in Africa, it would be now. As we have seen so many times before, the continent has the ability to leapfrog technological trends and with the rapid scaling of digital technologies we believe there are huge opportunities awaiting to be exploited. The explosion of digital continues to gain momentum and digital, data, design and the emergence of the fintech sector are all fast becoming the driving force behind this.

All organizations across segments and sectors need to evaluate their strategies and their response to these trends. As a result, new business models are emerging, partnerships forming, innovation is scaling and the time is now to harness these trends to create more opportunities. Africa is in a unique position to take advantage of the digital trends that are emerging at present. As a continent, it remains the leader in mobile money with over $22 billion moved annually and that trend is likely to continue. With the underlying improvements in technological capabilities, connectivity and the proliferation of mobile devices he anticipates exciting times ahead for the digital transformation of the continent.

The growing use of big data, mobile, cloud computing and artificial intelligence gives organisations the ability to re-imagine client experiences, deliver products & services instantly to large numbers of clients at a lower cost. The other big trends that cannot be ignored are blockchain technology as well as the much talked about cryptocurrencies. These shift the way we think about international payments, trade finance, identity as well as the future of money itself. Over time Blockchain will bring transparency, cost reduction and efficiencies that organizations haven’t been able to offer before.

Thriving Fintech Ecosystem

But it’s not just emerging technologies that are changing the way Africa does business. The significantly lower barriers to entry technology has provided small businesses, has seen a thriving FinTech ecosystem emerge. In 2016 there was a 33% growth in investments into start-ups, that saw $367m flow into the sector. While there is a concentration of the Fintech’s around South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria this trend actually continues across the continent. Fintech companies on the continent are looking to go after African problems and opportunities, and many of these companies look into payments, remittances, identity, financial inclusion and leveraging data to improve credit scoring and access to basic financial products. These companies not only offer job creation, new revenue opportunities and cheaper methods of delivery but also improve financial inclusion. As of 2014 over 60% of the adults in Sub-Saharan Africa didn’t have bank accounts so by embracing the FinTech revolution, we will significantly improve basic access to financial services.

Partnerships and evolving business models

The World Economic Forum believes that partnerships with Fintech’s is one of the biggest business trends to watch this year, particularly in the technology space. It was initially feared that FinTech’s would disrupt the big players in the various fields however these previous ‘enemies’ are coming together to use one another’s strengths for mutual benefit.

Through these partnerships and start-ups, business models are starting to evolve and move into new and sometimes unexpected places. From this new digital perspective, the payments landscape is changing and becoming more competitive as young companies look to reduce the cost of transacting as well as bringing speed and agility to companies operating in the African corridor.

According to the 2017 PwC Global FinTech Report, 82% of the Financial Institutions interviewed expect to increase their FinTech partnerships in the next three to five years. This will most probably be met with quite a bit of internal resistance as bigger organisations grapple with the new ways of working required to partner effectively with more agile and quick acting start-ups. However, the key to making this a success is to choose the right people to partner with.

We cannot ignore the digital growth on the continent – as it opens up a wealth of opportunities to bring banking to the previously unbanked. With financial inclusion high on our list of priorities for Africa, we are excited about accelerating our digital growth in Africa.

By James Scott, Chief Digital Officer, Absa Corporate and Investment Bank



Innovative Licensing Approaches: Enabling Access in Hard-to-Reach Places Through Collaborative Partnerships

By Jane Coffin & Konstantinos Komaitis


In the Republic of Georgia, high in the mountains of the Tusheti region, a community network has been built to bring faster Internet connectivity to those that did not have it. The story is compelling, not only for the determination of people to make sure that the Internet is available in one of the remotest places in the world, but also for their strong belief of what connecting to the Internet could bring to the people of Tusheti. “Tourism is a beacon of hope for us,” said Ia Buchaidze, who owns a local bakery, “and the Internet is very important for that.”

The project was a true collaborative partnership involving many parties: the Georgian Government, the Internet Society and its Georgia Chapter, the Small and Medium Telecom Operators Association of Georgia, LTD Freenet, and the Tusheti Development Fund (TDF). This network did not need a license, but it did need an authorization from the Georgian Government for it to be built and for the spectrum to be used. The objective was to provide access to a remote region through a locally-built and developed community network.

Similarly, in Mexico, a community network has been built in a remote and rural mountainous area – by a local team to provide more affordable local access. The project was initiated by Rhizomatica and the local community in Oaxaca. The project has a “social purpose license” to operate and use spectrum thanks to an innovative licensing approach taken by the Mexican regulatory authority, Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT). The objective of this project was to build and operate a community network in an indigenous region.

Two community networks. Similar objectives; similar needs. Community networks provide for an innovative path to connectivity, and are built and operated by local communities, with local communities, for local communities. Innovative licensing options enable connectivity in hard-to-reach places. At the Internet Society, our goal is to help support these types of projects and to promote innovative policy approaches such as innovative licensing and partnerships in order to fill connectivity gaps that exist worldwide.

There is a profound connectivity gap in many parts of the world and the Internet Society believes that it is urgent that we address it. According to the World Bank and the International Telecommunciation Union (ITU), roughly half of the world’s population is without Internet access. The gap exists in urban, rural, and remote areas of many countries, particularly developing and least-developed countries, and the consequences are well documented. Connectivity and the exchange of information strengthens democratic processes, spurs economic opportunity, and enables sharing of culture and ideas in ways previously unimaginable. Without Internet access, socioeconomic development is hindered. As the pace of technology development continues to accelerate, a growing digital divide may contribute to broader socioeconomic divisions both within and among communities.

The United Nations acknowledges the importance of connectivity, and as part of its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it seeks to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology” and “strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

Community networks can help close the digital divide. Community networks originate from the ground up. They are the result of people working together, combining their resources, organizing their efforts, and connecting themselves to close connectivity and cultural gaps. They’re fundamentally different from traditional communications networks in that they are bottom up. They are complementary, filling gaps and providing local access where commercial networks generally do not find it economically viable to operate.

Through common-sense regulatory and policy approaches and open dialogue with experts, communities and civil society, governments can assist in unleashing the potential of community networks, thereby enabling unserved and underserved areas to realize the transformative benefits of access to affordable connectivity.

The Internet Society’s Innovative Licensing policy brief demonstrates that innovative licensing approaches and other complementary regulatory action can enable access in places where access has been limited or unaffordable. It complements and builds on “Policy Brief: Spectrum Approaches for Community Networks.

We look forward to working with communities and our partners to continue to identify innovative ways to support community networks. Through collaborative efforts we can close “access gaps,” enable socioeconomic development, and support local innovation. Help us enable community networks by working with your local government to support them, by supporting new approaches to licensing, by building a community network, or by sharing a story about a local community network with us.



A manager of the organization Solar Sister says that affordable, clean energy products can reduce poverty, curb household pollution and empower women in rural areas.


Thanks to improvements in renewable energy technologies, poor households in rural Africa can now afford solar lamps, and some can even buy a fuel-efficient stove. And for these families, even just one lamp can have a transformative impact, said Olasimbo Sojinrin, who works for Solar Sister, a not-for-profit social enterprise selling inexpensive clean energy products.

Ms. Sojinrin was speaking at a session of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland this week from 14 to 18 May.

With more than 1 billion people – about 14% of the world’s population –  still without access to energy, finding affordable ways to get electricity in their homes is crucial if many countries are going to have a shot at achieving some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including clean energy for all, zero poverty, good health and well-being, and gender equality.

In sub-Saharan Africa, where Solar Sisters operates, about 600 million are off the grid. Those without power live primarily in rural areas, where poverty is most rampant and where, according to Ms. Sojinrin, women and girls make up 70-80% of the population.

Without electricity, children are left to study with candles or kerosene lamps and women have no choice but to cook with an open fire, exposing them to fire hazards and toxic fumes.

Although energy poverty affects everyone in the home, it hits women and girls the hardest, she said.

Solar lighting


According to her, “If energy poverty were a person, it would be a woman.”

“Traditionally in Africa, women are responsible for how the home is lit, how the food is cooked,” she said. “So a lot of their daytime hours are spent gathering wood for fuel.” And this leaves less time for school or for work outside the home.

For her, energy poverty helps explain why girls account for most of the estimated 10 million children who don’t go to school in Nigeria, the country where she manages Solar Sister’s operations. It’s also one of the reasons why the majority of the world’s poor are women.

“Energy poverty leaves women and girls disadvantaged educationally as well as economically,” she said.

But cooking with firewood not only stifles their education and economic opportunities. It also seriously affects their health. According the World Health Organization, it’s as harmful as smoking between three and 20 packs of cigarettes a day and kills almost 100,000 women in Nigeria each year.

In fact, household pollution, of which open fire kitchens are a main source, is the biggest killer in the country after Malaria and AIDS.

And with an estimated 2.8 billion people – about one third of the world’s population – still cooking with polluting fuels such as kerosene, charcoal and dung, this is an issue that affects almost all rural communities in developing countries.

That’s why, according to Angel Gonzalez-Sanz, chief of UNCTAD’s science, technology and ICT branch, SDG 7 – the affordable and clean energy goal – “is not only about increasing the share of renewable energies in the energy mix but also about the elimination of the traditional biomass, which is also dirty biomass.”

Ms. Sojinrin and Mr. Gonzalez-Sanz were speaking during a session on the topic “The role of science, technology and innovation in increasing substantially the share of renewable energy by 2030”.

To help guide the discussion, UNCTAD, as the host organization of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, had prepared a background report on the topic.

Solar Sister currently works in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. Since its creation in 2010, the not-for-profit organization has trained more than 2,500 local women as entrepreneurs to sell affordable clean energy products in the most impoverished and remote communities.

A recent assessment of its work by the International Centre for Research on Women concluded that Solar Sister’s work model had improved women’s lives and made communities safer.



Theme 2018:  Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for All



Enabling the positive use of Artificial Intelligence for All is the theme of WTISD-18 and will focus on the potential of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to accelerate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In recent years there has been significant progress in AI technology, made possible by tremendous advances in contributing fields, such as Big Data, machine learning, computing power, storage capacity and cloud computing, among others. AI-based technologies are already emerging as a key component of proactive tools and applications being used to help people lead better lives by improving healthcare, education, finance, agriculture, transportation, and a wide range of other services.

The 2018 theme will allow ITU Membership and other key stakeholders to focus on the opportunities for how AI can help accelerate the achievement of the SDGs by 2030.



WTISD-18 will coincide with the second edition of the Artificial Intelligence for Good Global Summit at the ITU headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.




Dozens of top artificial intelligence (AI) experts from industry, academia, government and civil society are meeting this week for the AI for Good Global Summit at the ITU headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

Day 1 of the three-day Summit, the United Nations’ top platform for dialogue on AI, was dedicated to framing the enormous potential – and great challenges – for AI to improve lives worldwide.

Distinguished experts in the ‘Transformations on the Horizon’ panel framed some of the top issues facing the growing AI for Good movement. Below are four key areas highlighted by the group.

1) The great potential of AI for Good

From detecting cancer to precision agriculture to more accurate climate models, experts detailed some of the top ways AI can accelerate progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“We need to transform the way we think about AI, give it a positive attitude to help societies,” said Wolfram Burgard, Professor of Computer Science at the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität in Freiburg, Germany.

He added that AI for Good has applications in logistics and manufacturing, self-driving, health care, and precision farming — and that fresh advances in highly precise robot mobility will be a ‘key enabler’ for industry in Europe and beyond.

“It’s an exciting moment for AI. We are at point where startups and industry can use technologies that a decade ago only a handful of research labs had access to,” said Celine Herweijer, Partner, Innovation and Sustainability at PwC UK, adding that PwC is trying to embed ‘responsible’ AI advice into work they do for both industry and government clients.

Ms. Herweijer spoke of how AI can speed up natural cycles of intelligence and deliver massive productivity gains to optimize systems for water, mobility, farming, and the sustainable use of raw materials.

But to realize this great potential, all stakeholders need to work together to ensure real progress on this growing AI for Good movement.

2) Need for partnerships, accelerators for innovation for good

“We are at critical juncture for AI,” said Terah Lyons, Executive Director of the Partnership on AI, pointing out the tech policy should be developed with more voices than just tech developers. “We need to confront and address questions now. This is crucial to ensure we develop AI that benefits all. We cannot determine solutions alone. We are united by interest in collective multi-stakeholder approach to this.”

“We are not as subservient to tech idealists as we were last year. That is good news.” — Wendell Wallach, Yale University

“We also all think untapping AI’s potential means grappling with its challenges,” said Ms. Lyons.

3) Need to proactively address challenges and risks

Panelists shared Ms. Lyons view that more needs to be done proactively to tackle the range of critical challenges and risks that AI raises. As AI is moving so fast, these are not theoretical concepts.

Critical issues include weaponization, bias in AI algorithms, lack of transparency, manipulation of our behaviours through AI, job displacement, data ownership and more, said Wendell Wallach, a consultant, ethicist, and scholar at Yale University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics who wrote a book on how to keep tech from slipping beyond our control, and another book on whether we can teach robots rights from wrong.

“We are not as subservient to tech idealists as we were last year,” Wallach said, referencing the first AI for Good Global Summit in 2017. “That is good news.”

So what do we need to do?

There needs to be more focus on ways we can protect each other, more focus on what can go wrong, said Wallach.

He also spoke of a distinction between “outwardly turning” AI, which would seek to consistently focus on how specific applications can help the billions of more vulnerable people worldwide — and “inwardly turning” AI, which would consistently seek to identify and mitigate societal harm that could come from specific uses of AI. Such societal harm could include appropriation of technology by rogue actors and elites for self-serving purposes, for instance.

4) Keep it simple

There is a need to focus on the simple AI applications for good that exist already, not on arcane considerations for technologies that don’t even exist yet, experts agreed.

Too often, the discussions around AI become hypothetical whereas there are real use cases now that can be scaled up to great effect. One example given by Wallach is a small insurance company that uses deep learning to analyze satellite data to deduce rainfall for crop production in particular areas and send important messages to African farmers’ mobile phones to precisely time purchase of seed or fertilizer.



Technological change and innovation need to be directed towards inclusive and sustainable outcomes through a purposeful effort by governments, in collaboration with civil society, business and academia. This is one of the key recommendations of a major new report published on May 15 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

“If policy-makers are not proactive technological disruption can entrench inequality, further marginalise the poorest, and fuel reactionary movements against open societies and economies,” writes UNCTAD secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi in his introduction to the report.

“Most crucially, there is an urgent need for a sustained effort by the international community to ensure that the multiple gaps in technological capabilities that separate developed and developing countries are closed. Investment in hard and soft infrastructure and human capital, complemented by a scaled up, coherent and accelerated effort to enhance innovation systems for sustainable development are necessary to spread the economic, social and environmental benefits of frontier technologies.”

During her opening address at UNCTAD’s annual commission on science and technology for development, during which the report was launched, the organisation’s deputy secretary-general Isabelle Durant said that the pace of political decision-making – and its implementation – is inversely proportional to that of technological change.

“The gap between the two continues to grow and raises serious and multiple ethical, governance, equality and equity issues that governments must address,” she said.

The report explains how harnessing frontier technologies – combined with action to address persistent gaps among developed and developing countries in access and use of existing technologies, and to develop innovations (including non-technological and new forms of social innovation) – could be transformative in achieving sustainable development goals and producing more prosperous, sustainable, healthy and inclusive societies. They offer the prospect of solutions and opportunities for sustainable development that are better, cheaper, faster, scalable and easy to use.

Given that the extent of the developmental impact of technological advances has already been seen in the transformative effects of information and communication technologies in many low-income economies, while the potential to increase the environmental sustainability of development is evident in recent advances in renewable energy. However, new technologies threaten to outpace the ability of societies and policymakers to adapt to the changes they create, giving rise to widespread anxiety and ambivalence or hostility to some technological advances, hence the report’s efforts to raise awareness of the risks unequal technological advances can present.

Read the article here

Download the full report here

A conversation between mathematician Sir Roger Penrose of Oxford University and Swiss chemist Jacques Dubochet spotlights the need for ethics and caution in scientific innovation.

Though we should applaud technological advances like artificial intelligence, we must remember that human intelligence is behind our new devices, and that whether innovation leads to a better world depends on us, renowned mathematician Sir Roger Penrose and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Jacques Dubochet told the opening session of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development.

The commission is meeting this week from 14 to 18 May at the Palais des Nations on the banks of Switzerland’s Lake Geneva to discuss how countries can ensure that scientific research and frontier technologies lead to better lives for all.

For one hour, government ministers and civil society representatives in attendance could tap into the great minds of Mr. Penrose, an Oxford University professor who has made significant impact in the world of mathematics, quantum mechanics and physics, and the Swiss academic Mr. Dubochet, whose work has often been about creating a link between science and social issues.

Roger Penrose

Technological innovation is making the unthinkable possible every day, the event’s moderator, Didi Akinyelure of the BBC, said, citing the example of hydroponic systems and LED technology that allow Londoners to grow salad in an abandoned bomb shelter some 30 metres below the city.

But the question that remains, she said, is whether we’re prepared for such innovation.

For Mr. Dubochet, the scientific community must give more importance to how knowledge and innovation are used, not just to how they’re produced.

“We scientists are good at producing knowledge,” he said. “And, indeed, we produce a lot of knowledge which is transformative for the world – artificial Intelligence is one of those.”

“But, do we use it for the best of mankind?” he asked.

Unfortunately, “this is clearly not the case,” he said, citing the example of research in the scientific field of genetics.

“I think this is a typical case where progress is remarkable – the knowledge is improving very rapidly – but where we’re not prepared to control it, so that it is used for the best,” he said.

“It will be used for very great things. That’s clear. But it could also be used for very nasty things.”

Remain in control of your devices

So who’s responsible for anticipating the impact of science and technology on people and society?

“At the beginning, scientists are responsible,” Mr. Dubochet said. “They must feel this responsibility. It’s not enough to just produce knowledge,” he said, adding that scientists must remember they are citizens first.

“I think for a lot of these new technologies, it’s not possible to just leave the scientist alone,” he said, suggesting that the precautionary principle should be applied “in all these areas of science where the possibility of danger is open.”

Similarly, Mr. Penrose said that for innovation to lead to the right kind of progress, we must remain in control of our devices.

Though digital technologies seem to have taken over, often performing many tasks far better than humans, our devices don’t understand what they’re doing and get their intelligence from humans, he said.

“And I want to emphasize that we have to be not overawed by the success of these technologies, because these technologies are a partial story,” he said, urging for a more “symbiotic relationship” between humans and their devices.

We need computers to cope with the huge amount of information out there, he said, but we need humans to design and understand them, and to teach others how to use them.

“And I think this is an important message,” he said. “We have to maintain our control over the devices. We have to show their limitations. We have to point out the dangers.”

He added: “I think perhaps my role here is, I hope, to point out where there are dangers rather than celebrate the successes. And I think the successes are great. But nevertheless, we have to understand this in the broader context.”

And according to both acclaimed scientists, UN meetings like the Commission on Science and Technology for Development are needed to place innovation in the broader context of development and human wellbeing.

Mr. Dubochet said: “When I got this Nobel Prize in Stockholm, I expressed the view that everything that deals with medicine should be under the control of the World Health Organization. This is right for everything which has to deal with medicine. It should be the same for any kind of knowledge – computer, of course.”

Mr. Penrose added: “I think it’s fundamental that the United Nations rather than any particular country should be concerned with these issues.”

The event was livestreamed on Facebook (starts at around 3 minutes).



 Pakistan has told an international conference in Beijing that digital trade is trade of the future and future of global South.

“It can be great stepping stone for millions at the bottom of pyramid of e-commerce, a great enabler for Small and Media Enterprises (SMEs), young entrepreneurs and women in trade in developing economies. We accept that future is digital, but it has to be a common future and not divided like the past. It has to be inclusive organised and transparent. The gains from the digital revolution have not been shared widely. Digital technologies can be transformational by promoting inclusion, efficiency, and innovation, but if digital economy is not accessible, affordable and open, it will result in inequality, control and concentration,” Pakistan’s Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dr Tauqir Shah said.

He was speaking at the Ecommerce and Development Conference in Beijing. China is hosting a series of policy roundtables, focusing on MTS and e-commerce for development. Representatives from Pakistan, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, Nigeria, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Benin, Chad and Moldova are attending the e-commerce policy dialogue.

Most of the participating countries belong to a like-minded group at WTO – “Friends of Ecommerce for Development (FEDs). Pakistan is the founder coordinator of this like-minded coalition.

The ambassador said that achievement of future agenda of inclusive prosperity is only possible if the South is proactive about its interests and intensifies its engagement with the Multilateral Trading System (MTS).

He advocated a proactive role for developing countries at the WTO. While calling for action by global development community, he said there are huge challenges facing developing and transition economies in reaping the gains from e-commerce. These challenges include poor infrastructure, inadequate logistics, low adoption rates of information and communications technology, outdated legal and regulatory frameworks, and lack of payment solutions and financing, and huge national deficit in digital skills needed for e-economy. All development community has to focus collectively on these issues. Pakistan views e-commerce as a tool that brings together the digital, social and development agendas and as an enabler of sustainable and inclusive growth, and most effective vehicle for achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

Dr Tauqir said many ills of globalisation can be cured through e-commerce provided it is developed in an inclusive manner, with an integral development dimension. “We are of the belief that ultimate aim of trade policy and trade rules must be poverty reduction, growth, welfare and development that works for all members of the global economy. Same holds true for digital trade. The development dimension of e-commerce is essential for inclusive rules-based MTS.

He said they have to keep the agenda of development central in digital discussions within the MTS. It is extremely important for the South to remain engaged with the e-commerce debate in the MTS, as they learnt from the Uruguay trade negotiations round that to be disengaged is to be marginalised in the long-run. “We want to be on the table when fundamental issues about e-commerce are being debated in MTS.”

The ambassador also highlighted the challenges faced by developing countries in e-commerce and said: “We are in an era where people no longer go online; they are 24/7 online. Destiny of our society is digital. Internet is a Global Good, and a Global Common. The challenge is how to mutually benefit from this Global Good that is Internet, and its role in trade.”

He cited the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) e-commerce Readiness Index Score to highlight issues faced by developing countries. “E-commerce Readiness index for the developed world is 87; Africa is 28; developing Asia is 54; and Pakistan is 36. This has seeds of deepening the digital divide and institutionalising it in trade too. Thus, it is critical that we focus on the development dimension of e-commerce. The UNCTAD index clearly shows that the capacity and ability to engage successfully in e-commerce varied significantly among countries. This index clearly shows that digitally we are a multispeed planet.”



ITU News recently had the opportunity to speak with Arancha González, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC), to discuss the key roles of women in trade and how the ITC is advancing women’s leadership in e-trade through SheTrades initiative and EQUALS partnership. 

1. How does ITC’s work help to support e-commerce and development efforts?

During the WSIS Forum in March 2018, ITC launched its new e-Trade for Impact strategy that focuses on using e-commerce and online platforms to foster inclusive growth. In the context of emerging technologies, online and social media platforms offer innovative routes to connect to markets, challenging the structure of global value chains.

E-Trade for Impact considers three areas: the first one is e-networks: which includes access to information, strategies, learning, and platforms on-line; the second one is e-entrepreneurship focused on growing entrepreneurial ability to capture digital business models’ and the third one is the e-commerce proper which looks at empowering Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in online marketplaces. But more important is how e-Trade is supporting men and women to connect to markets.

For example, partnering with ITC, Phyllis Mwangi, owner of an online flower shop in Kenya, created Tandao Commerce, a new e-commerce platform that is now revolutionizing how people shop and SMEs sell in Africa.

2. How is ITC supporting women’s economic empowerment through e-trade, specifically under the framework of the SheTrades initiative?

The SheTrades initiative has a goal of connecting 1 million women to international markets by 2020. SheTrades works with partners from governments, private sector companies, and international organizations, among others, across a series of 7 pillars of actions to better integrate women in global trade and investment. SheTrades also offers a free-to-use web and mobile application to help women connect to partners, buyers, and investors.

In 2017, eBay launched a partnership with SheTrades to help women entrepreneurs digitize their businesses. Over 50 selected participants are receiving one-on-one e-commerce coaching, support to digitize their products, and a free-of-charge eBay shop for one year. This partnership allows women business owners to reap immediate benefits from increased business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce exposure.



3. Can you discuss the opportunities for women’s participation in e-commerce?

Cross-border e-commerce already accounts for 12% of global goods traded and is expected to grow at twice the rate of domestic e-commerce. From ITC’s 2017 E-commerce Competitiveness Survey we know that over 80% of companies exporting internationally solely through e-commerce, are micro and small.

Women spend at least twice as much time on unpaid domestic and care work as men, which means the time they could spend on remunerated opportunities is reduced. This in turn means that a disproportionate number of women-owned businesses are micro or small. This is where e-commerce help level the playing field for women in business.

Only one in five firms in offline trade are women-owned SMEs, whereas four in five companies in cross-border e-commerce are women-owned. Providing access to digital skills and tools as well an affordable option to showcase products on-line can help women overcome restrictions and actively participate in the global market. In fact e-commerce opens up new business opportunities with the international market and potential for broad socio-economic impact, especially for women.

4. ITC is one of the co-founders of EQUALS, the Global Partnership for Digital Gender Equality. Why did you start this partnership and how are you supporting women’s economic empowerment through technology, and in particular e-commerce?

The EQUALS partnership was co-founded in 2016, bringing together public and private actors to help create an environment where women and girls can participate equally in the digital technology revolution through targeted efforts on access, skills, and leadership.

ITC is proud to head the EQUALS Leadership Coalition, which empowers women as ICT sector leaders, creators, and entrepreneurs by providing training, mentoring, and networking opportunities; facilitating access to finance; and addressing regulatory and policy barriers that limit women’s ability to monetize opportunities. The Leadership Coalition will work with partners to mobilize a professional network of women and offer training and mentoring opportunities on e-commerce.

Do you know a leading woman in tech? You can nominate her for the annual EQUALS in Tech Awards here.

Arancha González, an expert in international trade issues with 20 years of experience, has served as Executive Director of the International Trade Centre (ITC) since September 2013.

Attitudes towards technology in the maritime sector are in transition and 2018 could be crunch time for many concepts launched in the last few years as shipping and port providers focus strongly on defining the true commercial value of digital and automated, argues Lars Jensen in this guest editorial ahead of TOC Europe 2018

As we approach the middle of 2018, it is increasingly clear we are in a transition in relation to the digitisation and automation wave in the maritime industry.

The past few years have been increasingly filled with a mix of grand visions and buzz-words surrounding the impending digital transformation. Especially 2017 saw these topics take front and center stage at virtually every industry conference and gathering, not to mention at C-level and board meetings within the industry itself.

When one questions why this is happening, the answer appears obvious. Introduction of these new technologies ensures reduced operating costs and higher performance – and holds out the promise for even greater gains to come.

Not that there is anything wrong with the obvious – but to what degree are we seeing true transformations taking place?

First of all, we need to distinguish between automated hardware – some would say Internet of Things (IoT) devices – and the actual process of digitisation. The hardware boom has been driven by sharply declining device prices combined with the fact that much of the technology used for automation is not developed solely for the maritime industry but rather leverages technology also developed for other industries – such as self-driving cars, improved battery technology and automated industrial equipment. In this context, we are indeed seeing a genuinely new drive of automation within the industry.

On the topic of digitisation, the answer is not quite as clear-cut. Looking at many of the initiatives which rose to prominence in 2017, two elements are important. The first is that the clear majority were not started in 2017. They were instead launched in the 2012-2016 period. This indicates that despite the seeming sudden rise in digitisation, it is actually the result of several years preparing the groundwork for these concepts.

Secondly, and as importantly, it is hard to see genuinely ground-breaking new concepts amongst these. That is of course a provocative statement – and one likely to be disputed by virtually all of said companies. And naturally, every new concept has elements that will differ from previous incarnations of the same idea. But essentially all these ideas have been launched before in the period from the hey-days of the dot-com bubble in the 1990s up until the financial crisis hit. And with a few exceptions – such as INTTRA and CargoSmart, for example – none made much of an impact.

However, this is besides the main point in this context. The important part is that fundamentally the rise of digitisation as seen in 2018 does not have technology as its main driver.

Technology is usually what is being talked about, but the critical thing we have begun to see changing is the industry’s view on how to use the technology. We are increasingly seeing the launch of pilot projects where not only the tools but also the business models are not fully in place yet. Instead customers are invited to participate in the further testing and development. And the focus is shifting to how new tools can solve actual problems.

“The critical thing we have begun to see changing is the industry’s view on how to use the technology. We are increasingly seeing the launch of pilots where not only the tools but also the business models are not fully in place yet. And the focus is shifting to how new tools can solve actual problems”

And this brings us back to automation. From an engineering perspective it is hard not to be impressed at what can be achieved in terms of autonomous terminal design and unmanned vessels. But if we look forward, we will likely to an increasing degree see the digital and automated agendas merge, with the commercial focus of digitisation taking the forefront.

Automated equipment will – even more than currently – be evaluated on the basis of whether it can drive actual business value. And herein lies an important point. It is not sufficient that a certain piece of automated equipment can be shown to for example have a savings potential. The implementation of that equipment must also be accompanied by a change in associated business processes, as otherwise the value remains theoretical.

“The lesson learnt from digitisation a decade ago is that commercial value must be the driver, otherwise projects will peter out”

The lessons learned from digitisation a decade ago are that commercial value must be the driver, otherwise projects will peter out. In the realm of terminal automation, this is already making itself clear, as the predominance is a focus not on full automation, but on automation where there is an actual beneficial business case associated with process changes. In the case of autonomous vessels, it is equally likely that the focus will shift more to smaller coastal vessels and barges, whereas futuristic large autonomous deep-sea vessels might take more of a back seat.

On the digital agenda, 2018 is a year where the many concepts which emerged in 2016-2017 are truly being tested in the market. This also means that by the end of 2018 it will likely become crunch time for many of these. Did the concepts stand the test of the market in terms of commercial value, or will they be running out of investment funds? After that, the scene is set for 2019 to be the year where the successful concepts begin to grow in earnest.

Lars Jensen is CEO & Partner of maritime advisory firm SeaIntelligence Consulting, CEO & founder of maritime cyber security consultancy CyberKeel,, CCO of LinerGrid, a cloud-based tool to optimise networks in liner shipping, Partner at LinerGame, an interactive simulation game for liner executives and Board member at New York Shipping Exchange. A frequent advisor and contributor to TOC, he speaks this year in the Shipping & Port Watch session during the Container Supply Chain conference at TOC Europe 2018 in Rotterdam, 12-14 June



LOS ANGELES, May 1, 2018 

The World Bank Group (WBG) today announced the launch of the Disruptive Technologies for Development Fund in partnership with Credit Suisse to harness technologies such as blockchain, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things to pioneer innovative solutions for development challenges.

“The urgency of the challenges around us – from climate change to forced displacement – requires a re-think of strategic partnerships,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “Collaborating with new partners to end poverty will help us make innovative use of technology and maximize finance for development. We have no time to lose. If we work together, we can tackle the biggest global challenges of our lifetime.”

With this fund, the WBG is pushing forward its commitment to harness public and private sector technology, data, and expertise to help its clients manage the opportunities and risks of rapid technological change. The fund aligns a global network of technology leaders, philanthropists, and development experts to identify and pilot the use of technologies to foster sustainable, tech-enabled growth in developing countries. The fund will seek contributions from donors, who, for the first time, can leverage the World Bank Group’s global expertise and portfolio of operations to maximize their philanthropic impact.

For the next generation of strategic philanthropists, the fund will support a technology component in new or existing WBG projects, helping donors achieve social impact at an unprecedented scale. It also establishes a unique knowledge and networking platform to inform future grant making. The first disbursement is expected in the Fall. Credit Suisse will act as an intermediary, arranging donor contributions and reaching out to technology partners on project proposals.

Credit Suisse CEO, Tidjane Thiam added “We are delighted to partner with the World Bank Group on launching this major impact initiative following the formation of Credit Suisse’s Impact Advisory and Finance (IAF) Department in the Fall of 2017. We believe this Fund can serve as a showcase to demonstrate the significant impact that innovative public private partnerships can have on society.  Our strategic ambition is to leverage Credit Suisse’s 15-year history in impact investing through the IAF Department to continue to innovate with key partners and clients in order to foster greater socio-economic progress”

The future objective of the fund is to scale up pilots that harness disruptive technology to accelerate progress towards the World Bank Group’s goals of ending poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity.



TBILISI – May 8, 2018 – With economic growth in Europe and Central Asia having peaked, following 2.7% growth in 2017 and a projection of 2.3% for 2018, countries in the region should take advantage of new digital technologies to innovate and improve their services, says a new World Bank report, Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain: Europe and Central Asia Economic Update.

Policymakers in the region will need to strike a balance between unleashing the full potential and curbing the hype around new technologies. At the same time, policies also need to support citizens in adjusting to increased flexibility in labor and product markets.

Among the new wave of technologies to emerge are blockchains – digital technologies that enable person-to-person transactions and information flows without the need for a trusted intermediary. The first applications of blockchain technology were cryptocurrencies, which create digital money without central banks and facilitate payments without financial institutions.

“Many countries in Europe and Central Asia have proven to be fertile ground for the development of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies,” said Hans Timmer, World Bank Chief Economist for Europe and Central Asia, at the report launch in Tbilisi. “In Georgia, for example, mining of cryptocurrencies is surprisingly widespread, driven largely by tax exemptions and low electricity prices. Going forward, it will be important for the government to ensure financial oversight and protection of consumers.”

A multi-billion-dollar industry today, cryptocurrencies continue to evoke widely divergent views, says the report. The extreme volatility of cryptocurrency values raises doubt about their viability as an alternative to legal tender, while the increasingly high electricity costs associated with mining cryptocurrencies are cause for concern.

The underlying blockchain technology, however, is being adopted more broadly, with several governments in the region already experimenting with blockchains to digitize and streamline public services, in order to make them more secure, transparent, and efficient.

In Ukraine, Estonia and Georgia, for example, governments are looking to set-up land and real-estate registries using blockchain technology. Azerbaijan is experimenting with digital IDs for banking, while Lithuania has opened a blockchain center to incubate start-ups. Switzerland aims to become a blockchain hub and is leading in adjusting regulations to these technologies.

“Blockchain technologies are putting competitive pressure on private financial sectors, while also triggering creative ideas and approaches within governments,” added Mr. Timmer. “At the same time, they have introduced a range of policy challenges for countries.”

Some of the key challenges include ensuring financial oversight and combatting money laundering, tax evasion and illicit transactions. In addition, governments need to address the massive use of electricity involved in the mining of cryptocurrencies, while determining how much they should support start-up companies that specialize in blockchain technologies.

The report finds that economic growth has been strong in Europe and Central Asia, the fastest growth in a decade, and was especially strong in Central Europe and Turkey. However, reduced unemployment and rising inflation indicate that growth in the region will likely decelerate going forward.

During the economic upswing, many countries in the region increased their exports and reduced fiscal deficits, providing a cushion if cyclical headwinds materialize. Going forward, however, the region will face additional challenges navigating the global tightening of financial conditions, and the rising tendencies toward protectionism.

Download the Full ReportCryptocurrencies and Blockchain: Europe and Central Asia Economic Update



The SICC platform aims to vastly improve transparency, security and efficiency in authenticating trade documents.

On 8 May, Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) became the world’s first chamber to offer a blockchain-based e-Certificate of Origin (eCO) platform to drive the digitalisation of trade.

A certificate of origin (CO) is an international trade document which certifies that the goods in a specific shipment have been wholly obtained, produced, manufactured or processed in the stated country.

As the first chamber in the world to implement blockchain-based eCOs, SICC seeks to provide its members, trade-related agencies and users of complementary services such as trade financing and insurance with a trade facilitation system that offers higher security, efficiency and flexibility.

The launch ceremony for the eCO was officiated by Mr Chua Taik Him, Senior Advisor of Enterprise Singapore, and attended by over 100 senior officials from trade-related agencies and industry leaders.

At the launch, Mr Chua remarked that the initiative is significant as it will strengthen Singapore’s competitiveness as an international trading hub through reinforcing its digital connectivity with the global markets.

Developed by Singapore-based cross-border trade facilitation solutions provider vCargo Cloud, the solution will vastly improve transparency, security and efficiency in authenticating trade documents.

Users of the eCO platform go through the following steps to obtain the eCO: first, an exporter applies for CO online, which the Chamber is responsible to approve and issue. Then, a digital copy of the CO is added into the blockchain. The smart digital CO is propagated to all blockchain nodes. Lastly, the authenticity of the digital CO is verified by the importer(s) and/or bank(s) using QR code printed on the CO.

The platform utilises QR codes, allowing eCOs to be scanned using smart phones and then printed. The number of allowable prints is restricted to prevent unauthorised duplicates. This improves efficiency and minimises the costs of verifying COs, removing a major impediment in the process and a frequent cause of high insurance or trade finance costs.

“This new eCO system revolutionises what are today still essentially 19th century processes, providing greater security for all users as well as a clear, unambiguous audit trail through the use of blockchain technology,” said Mr Victor Mills, Chief Executive of SICC.

Credit: Singapore International Chamber of Commerce and VCargo Cloud

The platform aims to vastly improve transparency, security and efficiency in authenticating trade documents. It permits instant verification of eCOs and runs on a tamper-proof private blockchain network that prevents fraud, alterations and third-party interference.

The launch will see an initial group of users moving to the new system, with the remaining users transiting in subsequent phases.

The launch of the blockchain-based eCO platform comes amidst the Singapore Government’s call for a Self-Certification regime through the ASEAN Single Window, which aims to expedite freight clearance and reduce manual paperwork across all 10 member countries.

Founded in 1837, SICC is Singapore’s longest serving voice of the private sector. It represents over 600 companies, 40 nationalities and 20 business sectors. Membership is equally split between local and foreign multi-nationals and large organisations and medium, small and start-up companies.




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