Justine Greening: Open Up! Using technology to build open societies and make aid smarter

Speech by Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, to the DFID/Omidyar Network Open Up! conference, at LSO St Luke's, London.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Justine Greening

Speech by Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, to the DFID/Omidyar Network Open Up! conference, at LSO St Luke’s, London.


Speaking notes:

Thank you for that introduction David, and for Wired’s support to this event. I’m delighted to be here at Open Up!

I would also like to extend my thanks to Omidyar Network, our co-hosts for today. They have been a pioneer in this field and I am delighted that my Department is deepening its partnership with them.

What I think is so exciting about this event is that it brings together technology developers with social entrepreneurs, civil society groups and governments to find ways to use the potential of mobile and internet technologies as a power for good.

On my recent visit to Kenya I saw exactly how mobile phones are giving new opportunities to poor people to hold their governments to account. I think now is the moment when we can really grasp the opportunities that mobile and internet technology offers to change the ways that citizens and governments interact, to generate economic opportunities, and to transform service delivery.

Since taking charge of my Department, I have been clear that technology and innovation will be a constant theme in my work at DFID, and that I expect to see the department making the most of the latest advances in technology and research. Earlier generations did this, investing in the research and technologies that underpinned the Green Revolution of the 1970s, and the medical research in the 1990s that developed vaccines and treatments that are now saving lives all over the world.

The challenge to our generation is to use the technologies of the 21st century to transform people’s lives. Great progress has been made using mobile to deliver better services to more people - in health, in agriculture, in education. For instance, in Uganda, UK Aid and UNICEF are supporting a programme called mtrac. Using SMS, health workers and members of the public can send instant reports of low stocks of essential drugs direct to the Ministry of Health. The Ministry can then rectify problems in the supply lines and get those drugs to people that need them most.

There is another area where we can do more - giving people and governments mobile and web tools to use information and data to change societies for the better.

New opportunities with mobile & internet

Today I want to talk about three things.

Firstly, I want to talk about how we can use these opportunities to build more open societies, make progress on gender equality, and make our aid smarter.

Secondly, I will explain why I think development agencies like mine need to do more, and I will announce new work that my department will be pursuing.

Thirdly, I want discuss some of the challenges that I see ahead.

Freer, fairer and more open societies

Around the world, people recognise that where open societies and open economies prevail, people and communities are more prosperous, healthier and safer. People want information they can use to hold governments to account and to change their lives and their communities for the better.

Open societies should not only be richer, but freer and fairer, too. Where everyone has a place - where women and girls are not ‘locked out’ of opportunities to participate fully in social, economic and political life. Where all citizens can use information to make their choices, to say what they think, to challenge and to get things changed in areas that matter to them.

The Prime Minister talks about this as the ‘golden thread’ of development. The Arab Spring demonstrated vividly how mobile and the internet can be a powerful facilitator of change when people want their societies, government and economies to be more open.

**Making progress towards gender equality **

In a world where access to a mobile is becoming essential for accessing information, money, or identification, the so-called gender digital divide remains a significant barrier to participation. That 300 million fewer women own mobile phones than men, means that 300 million women are not getting access to information that could save their lives and those of their children. Changing this is a huge opportunity.

I think this mobile revolution could go one of two ways for women and girls. Either, we don’t challenge those barriers, attitudes and practices that keep information and power away from women. As a result ‘information as power’ will continue to largely benefit men. Or, it can be the moment where we really start use mobile and internet technology to make progress towards gender equality.

I want to see more women, even in some of the poorest countries in the world not only using their phones to access information or to connect with people, but to get actively involved in developing new solutions with mobile or software that change others’ lives for the better. You’ve already heard today from inspiring women like Juliana Rotich and Jen Pahlke who have done just that.

Making aid smarter

What about making aid smarter? Mobile and internet tools can deliver a redistribution in information and knowledge in favour of citizens, be they market traders, business associations, farmers, health workers or voters. This matters for development, and it matters for how we deliver that development.

This is a great opportunity to make our aid smarter. DFID has led the way on aid transparency amongst donors. We were the first to publish data to the new standard from the International Aid Transparency Initiative, and we were recently assessed as the world’s number one organisation on aid transparency in the 2012 Aid Transparency Index. I want us to go further and also to challenge the whole aid community to follow suit.

So today we are using this event to get valuable feedback from you on my Department’s new Open Aid Information Platform. I had a look at it recently, and I think it’s really exciting. If you are interested, you’ll be able to see a demonstration during the lunch break. It has the potential to transform the way that we and our partners provide information about our work - the funding that we make available, and the results that we achieve.

This will provide a clear line of transparency from UK taxpayers to those we seek to help, enabling them to track our aid programmes from start to finish, almost like a parcel tracking service. It is still work in progress but we want to share it now so that we can get more ideas from those of you here who are passionate about open data.

The Platform is also designed to make aid traceability a reality. But traceability relies on the data of organisations and intermediaries we fund. I can announce our intention, therefore, to deepen our commitment under the UK Aid Transparency Guarantee by launching a challenge to all of our funding partners and aid intermediaries to commit to publishing full information on disbursements of DFID funds using the same open data format as DFID.

Smarter aid also needs to be a global effort. I hope that many of you here will be actively involved in the debates about the framework that will replace the Millennium Development Goals. The process of developing that framework needs to be inclusive and transparent.

That is why my department is supporting work by the UN Millennium Campaign, the Worldwide Web Foundation, Overseas Development Institute, UNDP and ONE, to develop a global survey to give people a say in what should be at the heart of the post-2015 development framework. This survey, called ‘MyWorld’ will enable people across the world to say what changes would make the most difference to their lives and what they would like to see at the top of the world leaders’ ‘to-do’ list.

People will be able to take part in the survey using their mobile phones, the internet or through face-to-face surveys. I am delighted to announce today that Kirusa has joined this effort as our first mobile technology partner. Their Voice SMS service will help us reach at least 2m people in over 17 countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America. We hope that other partners will follow their lead and come on board.

What more donors can do?

Now, what more can donors do? Funders and investors like DFID and other organisations here today have a great opportunity to support new ideas, facilitate the sharing of expertise, and use technology directly themselves.

So I am really pleased to announce today that my department, together with our partners USAID, Omidyar Network and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) are launching a new $50m fund - called Making All Voices Count - to support innovation in this area.

Making All Voices Count will support the use of web and mobile technology in developing countries to amplify the voices of citizens, empower citizens to bring about change, and enable governments to open up and be more transparent and more accountable to their citizens. We will screen a short video after I’ve finished speaking that shows why this matters.

Making All Voices Count will provide support, prizes and know-how for people and organisations with the most innovative ideas for how to help citizens and governments use mobile and internet tools. Any software developed with support from this fund will be made open source, so that others can use it and adapt it to their needs. Making All Voices Count will live up to its name - I want it to help open more opportunities for women and girls to get their voices heard, particularly where mobile and internet tools can help them do that.

Sharing ideas and expertise is one of the best ways to promote innovation and the uptake of technology. In the UK, the Prime Minister has set up Tech City, here in London, as a place of excellence for technology and start-ups. As you know, similar hubs are being set-up all over Africa. I want to see closer working and partnerships between these different hubs to promote the exchange of bright ideas and know-how.

I am also keen that my department becomes more tech-savvy in how it conducts its own business. In line with all other central government departments, we will be publishing a Digital Strategy in December. This will commit DFID to use digital tools - internet, social media, mobile tools - to help deliver our programmes, seek feedback from those who benefit from our programmes, and communicate more transparently. Doing this will help us ensure that digital in its many forms can help deliver international development goals. To help us do that, I want to make sure my Department has access to the best expertise and advice on using technology in development, so I may be coming to some of you here today for ideas, advice - and challenge.

Transparency isn’t always easy

As my colleague Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office says, ‘there is nothing soft, cosy or fluffy about transparency’. But under his leadership, the UK has made great progress and data.gov.uk has become one of the largest government data resources in the world with over 40,000 data files. We really hope other governments will attempt something similar - recognising that for many governments the technical challenges are greater than for others.

I know that my colleagues at the Cabinet Office are ready to share their expertise and software with others. And as a co-chair of the Open Government Partnership, the UK is keen to help the OGP drive the uptake of media and technological solutions for publishing and using open data, and showcase innovative ways of working between government and civil society to support open government.

As an example of what is possible, UK Aid will be helping Pakistan’s citizens to report poor performing or corrupt local officials direct to their senior managers and the Chief Minister’s office through their mobile phones. Every citizen who contacts the Punjab province’s local government, tax office, police, health or education services will receive free automated calls or text messages where they can report demands for bribes, corruption or bad customer service. During its pilot phase, thousands of Pakistani citizens gave feedback and several corrupt officials were suspended or sacked.

Some challenges ahead

Finally, I think there a couple of important challenges that we need to think about.

Technology develops and changes with great speed. This means great opportunities to reach masses of people. It means we need to be pretty nimble to keep up. It also means that it can be harder to predict which innovations or new developments have the potential to be real game-changers. Many of you will know of apps, or tools, or organisations that appeared to have the most fantastic potential, only to become redundant after a couple of years. What works in 2012 could be out of date in 2014.

This links to my second challenge, which is whether we know enough about what impact we have in this field, and about what works and why. The unique selling point of the tech world and the private sector is the culture of innovation and risk-taking. That’s a culture that we need to embrace if we want to unlock all this potential.

But as you all know, the history of technology in development is littered with examples of failed projects that were all about the technology, and not enough about either the people using that technology, or the problem that they were trying to solve.

Equally, what works in a small pilot project may not work at scale. What works in Kenya, won’t necessarily work in Nepal. A great app that is popular in Pakistan may not be as popular in Zambia. All these factors make it a lot harder to identify and back winners and to invest for long-term, transformational change.

So to make sure that we get the most value for money from our investments in this field, we need to back innovation, and learn from it. We need to evaluate closely what our programmes have delivered, and how that has happened. Where we do not get the results that we want, we need to be really honest with ourselves and others about why it didn’t work. And we need to share those results, not hide them away.

My Department will be investing more in this area. The joint initiative that I just mentioned, Making All Voices Count, will commission research and evidence gathering into what works, and will itself be rigorously evaluated. That will enable us to understand better how to spot innovative ideas and make them stick, and how to expand small-scale pilots to reach more.

I am also very pleased to announce my department intends to support the work of Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his foundation to assess how the web is changing people’s lives and our societies in all sorts of ways - economic, social, political. This Index will help us all to understand better how to really maximise the opportunities - and to provide evidence to inform policy change - in order to increase the Web’s contribution to inclusive development.

I referred to this being a moment of real opportunity. Today, the global community - represented here by you - has a chance to pool its talents and creativity and technology to open up government and enable people to change their lives. I’ve set out here what we will do, in partnership with many of you in this room, to make sure we help more people seize the opportunities of mobile and internet technology. I hope you will all join us.

Thank you.

Updates to this page

Published 13 November 2012