• Opinion
  • October 16, 2018
  • 7 minutes
  • 1

With creative partnerships, we can harness data to end extreme poverty

Opinion: Multi-stakeholder ecosystems are helping close data gaps from Kenya to the US

data gaps

This opinion piece was written by Philip Thigo, Lead, Data & Innovation, Executive Office of the Deputy President, Republic of Kenya. This year, he was featured in Apolitical’s 100 Most Influential People In Digital Government.


In the run-up to the Sustainable Development Goals, the former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, commissioned an Independent Expert Advisory Group on the data revolution. This was a multi-stakeholder group of experts, selected from different fields around the globe to draft a report that would inform the world on how data and innovation can be harnessed to end extreme poverty and leave no one behind.

This process and its output, the A World That Counts report, brought to light some key insights that resonated with developing countries such as Kenya. The critical realisation that the greatest development challenge revolves around the invisibility of the poor is based on the problem of planning without evidence, planning that is unmindful of data-gaps. This results in inequalities that skew the distribution of development dividends.

Following the launch of the report, H.E. the Deputy President of the Republic of Kenya, Hon. William Ruto published an op-ed in a leading newspaper in Kenya signalling the beginning of a disruptive strategy to ensure digitisation leaves no one behind.

The greatest development challenge revolves around the invisibility of the poor

In this piece, he stated that “The President and I are committed to the creation of an inclusive data ecosystem involving the government, the private sector, academia, civil society, local communities and development partners that tackles the information aspects of development decision-making. We recognise that if Kenya is to move ahead, we must deliberately pursue collaboration between the government, academia and entrepreneurs. It is no longer an issue of political will, but a matter of rational economic and political choice.”

In order to leave no one behind, our office recognised that the business of development can’t be left to governments alone and must equally draw on the strengths, comparative advantage and energies of all sectors. It was also acknowledged that the data revolution had already taken root in private sector.

This was only possible through a concerted effort between the government and private sector

Innovations such as M-Pesa were already scaling up financial inclusion for previously unbanked populations, disrupting financial flows and enabling access to new financial services to those who have often been unbanked. This was only possible through a concerted effort between the government and private sector to co-create an enabling environment for the success of this innovation.

In Kenya, we have also recognised that the development value of disruptive technology is not confined within national borders; its successful adoption depends on how well the technology inspires other nations facing similar challenges. This awareness has led to our co-founding of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) with the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Senegal and France. This network has energised collaborative initiatives between governments, private sector and academia, especially in African Countries such as Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.

To give one example, this initiative has catalysed access to Earth Observations Data through an African Regional Open Data Cube (ARDC), providing 17 years of geodata that would have previously been inaccessible for development decision-making. These datasets are intended to help farmers and others to access weather and precipitation data and to adapt accordingly to climate shifts.

Governments and agencies have been under-funding the data aspects of food security and, therefore, a catalytic grant to reduce invisibility and inequality in resourcing food production systems and other agricultural value chains has long been necessary. Now, we are making progress. In the just-concluded UN General Assembly, the Government of Kenya, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) co-hosted a Data for Hunger resourcing event that raised over US$214 Million for 50 countries by 2030.

We will need unusual partnerships to ensure the best leverage of resources, talent and expertise

These examples of collaboration over the last three years are an indication that we will need unusual partnerships to ensure the best leverage of resources, talent and expertise in service of nation states’ development agendas. And, our consistent approach to these issues has led to the honour for Kenya to host the International Open Data Conference (IODC) in 2020, under the theme of bridging data communities; a theme that is consistent with our thinking around coalescing players to deliver as one.

Multi-stakeholder ecosystems with high political anchorage, devoid of bureaucracy, espousing values of complementarity and focused on delivering specific development goals are one of the most important disruptive communities that must be nurtured in order to end extreme poverty. — Philip Thigo

(Picture credit: Flickr/Xiaojun Deng)

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