Statement by World Bank Group Senior VP Mahmoud Mohieldin at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, Geneva, Switzerland,

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

As prepared for delivery:

Secretary General Houlin Zhao, Excellencies, Distinguished Ministers, and guests, on behalf of the World Bank Group, I am honored to participate in this year’s World Summit on the Information Society Forum to discuss how to leverage ICT for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs).

Disruptive technology has the potential to dramatically accelerate progress towards the achievement of the SDGs. It will also help the World Bank Group achieve its twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity by 2030.

Some recent technological changes have brought transformational benefits to the poor:

For example, in Kenya, after the introduction of the M-Pesa digital payment system, the cost of sending remittances from workers in urban areas to their families in the countryside dropped by up to 90 percent.

In India, the Aadhar digital identification system has already reached more than 1 billion people, enabling many of the poor to access services more easily, and saving the government billions each year by reducing corruption and waste.

Estonia is perhaps closest to becoming a digital society as citizens can access more than 3,000 public and private services, using nothing more than their mobile phones.

And in China, Alibaba’s e-commerce platform has created more than 8 million “netprenuers” (net entrepreneurs), of which 62 percent are small-scale entrepreneurs, one-third are women, and one percent are people with disabilities.

Our recent World Development Report, entitled Digital Dividends, documents many more examples where digital technologies have promoted inclusion, efficiency, and innovation.

However, automation is disrupting labor markets, and will displace a significant number of jobs over the next few decades. And let’s not forget that 3.6 billion people still have no internet access at all.

At the World Bank Group, we are developing a corporate approach to disruptive technology. We are engaging people and governments, development partners, and the private sector to do four things.

First, we are expanding digital connectivity, with a focus on scaling up affordable access to broadband for all—including for women, persons with disabilities, disadvantaged communities, and people living in remote and rural areas.

Second, we are developing digital platforms and solutions that can improve public service delivery.

Third, the World Bank Group is strengthening the analog foundations of the digital revolution. Countries need to invest in people for stronger human capital and skills to match the demands of this new economy. They need better business climates with pro-competitive regulations so technology can take root fast. And they need good governance and robust institutions that promote accountability and uphold the necessary legal frameworks.

Regarding human capital, the World Bank Group is already investing in skills and capacity building in sciences, technology, engineering, computer sciences, and entrepreneurship in the several digital projects we are financing globally, in partnership with leading high-tech companies, academic institutes and regional centers of excellence.  These activities can help equip youth with the needed skills to find jobs or to create their own enterprises.

Fourth, we are providing financing for the construction or upgrade of ICT infrastructure. Through our approach called Maximizing Finance for Development, we support countries efforts to raise more domestic revenues and attract more private financing and solutions — to complement and leverage both public funds and official development assistance.

While we realize the great potential of new technologies like blockchain and crypto-assets, there are voices warning of the risks associated with the so-called cryptocurrencies, including fraud, money laundering, environmental effects, and the financing of terrorism. These observers have also suggested the need for policy and regulatory changes to ensure the integrity of financial systems in this new area.

If we can mitigate these risks, then distributed ledgers could be used to address persistent challenges in the financial sector, and to change the roles of financial sector stakeholders. If properly deployed and regulated, it potentially can have a transformative impact on various sectors like manufacturing, government financial management systems, and clean energy.

Leveraging technology for the public good requires global cooperation and partnerships to amplify its benefits, and to identify the risks and mitigate them. Ten years after the financial crisis, we have learned that preventing and dealing with risks early on is less costly in financial and human terms than doing it too late.

Disruptive technology is pushing development institutions to step out of their comfort zones, and to seek innovative partnerships. Just two weeks ago World Bank Group President Kim announced in Barcelona a partnership with GSMA and mobile network operators around the globe to harness big data from the “Internet of Things” — to help end extreme poverty and to unlock new drivers of economic growth.

The disruptions and changes in ICT can be transformative. Through global cooperation and partnerships – putting SDG 17 into action — we can and must ensure that the benefits and risks are shared more equitably, and that ICT is used as a catalyst to achieve the 2030 Development Agenda.

Thank you.