In recent decades the global growth of digital technologies has transformed the lives of many people. Of the 3.2 billion people using the internet globally, two billion are from developing countries. 2 Among the poorest 20% of households, nearly seven out of ten have a mobile phone. 3 If harnessed and used in the right way, digital innovations have the power to accelerate human development and bring improvements to the lives of poor people and the hard to reach. Digital technology is the force behind countless new frontier technologies that can increase people’s access to services, increase the flow of information and finances including to remote locations, and strengthen the opportunities of millions of people to learn, remain healthy, and secure livelihoods.

Technology is seen to be essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But while the coupling of innovation with digital technology presents unprecedented possibilities for human development, the phenomenon also has a problematic side. The United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) points to the negative impact that digital technology in development can bring. Contrary to opening up the world for all, there is a risk that access to new technology and connectivity will exacerbate inequalities across countries and people that have greater wealth, from those with less. These imbalances can further marginalise women and other vulnerable groups.

The World Bank 2016 report Digital Dividends warns that without a supportive enabling environment, including appropriate education and governance structures, negative consequences of new digital technologies can include the concentration of market power, greater inequality and excessive government control.

HDIF case studies and the principles for digital development

Purposes and methods

This paper focuses on the following three digital principles:

  • Design with the user
  • Understanding the existing existing
  • Be collaborative

These three principles focus on the people and partnerships that are the key components of any development project. They draw attention to the necessity of engaging with a range of clients, users and partners whose engagement and ownership are critical to the long- term success of the project. In addition, these principles emphasise the importance of not operating in silos, but instead identifying the partnerships needed to ensure success at all stages of implementation, from start-up through to close-out and at all levels of engagement.

HDIF’s work in understanding the Tanzanian innovation ecosystem

Determining the types of intervention needed to support social innovation requires us to unpack and scrutinise every aspect of the innovation ecosystem itself – from the actors and the roles they play to the processes and infrastructures holding it together. During the past six years, HDIF has been convening players that are involved in the innovation process including the government, funders, the private sector and the innovators themselves – to create the network and systems needed to take innovations beyond the prototype phase and realise deep and lasting impact.

HDIF has been catalysing new approaches to delivering basic services and the uptake of new technologies; involving new providers; and establishing new partnerships between the private sector, development agencies, and public–private partnerships. It has also connected and supported the innovation hubs, which play a crucial role in assisting innovators in prototyping, commercialising, and anchoring their solutions. And HDIF continues to work in partnership with Tanzania’s Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), a network of hubs, donor-funded programmes, and other stakeholders, to support a culture of innovation and the country’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem. Over time, HDIF has supported a range of innovations with divergent needs and routes to scale.

Next steps for HDIF

HDIF will continue to gather learning around the other principles and across sectors. The results will be disseminated to stakeholders in Tanzania and globally, through platforms such as DIAL and through HDIF events, its website and social media.

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