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June 9, 2021

World Bank - Data for Better Lives

World Bank - Data for Better Lives

World Bank - Data for Better Lives


Banking on Data

Recently, the World Bank released its World Development Report for 2021. Its focus is on bringing better data connectivity to Africa. Why data and why Africa? Let’s look at the second question first.

Africa is massive, is full of resources, has been inhabited longer than any other continent, various parts of it have been the seat of major civilizations or been ruled by the most powerful empires on the planet. Yet, it remains a technological backwater and is the least digitally connected continent (well, except Antarctica. The penguins don’t need wifi). The reasons for that are so many and various that one could write volumes on the subject. For our purposes here, we’ll just point out that they lack the needed infrastructure, and in many places the social stability needed to develop that infrastructure in the first place.

As for the first question, the World Bank rightly recognizes that data is important, that it underlies everything done in the modern world. Digitally connected data is how most companies, governments and even individuals make decisions in the modern world. Without reliable, truthful data, necessary decisions are either not made at all or are made poorly. Therefore, improving the quality of life for modern Africans means improving their ability to make use of data. 

Unfortunately, the World Bank has forgotten something important – they’ve forgotten that you can’t just drop a bunch of smartphones in people’s laps and expect things to happen. People also need to be educated on the worth and usage of that technology. Even in Western countries with excellent connectivity and established education systems, most people don’t really recognize the value of the super computer they carry around in their pockets. Too often, it’s nothing more than a way to send texts and play Candy Crush. Think of it this way, if someone hands the average IT guy a hammer and says “build me a house” it probably will not turn out well. He doesn’t have the necessary education and experience to be able to do that. Or hand the average carpenter a box of circuit boards and tell him to build a computer. Again, not going to go well at all. 

Sadly, this is a tale at least as old as the colonial period. Often, when the developed world goes into an undeveloped area, they simply try to wedge their systems into place in a culture where it just doesn’t work. Just think of all the nation building experiments of the 1980s and ‘90s. At best, this is just handing someone a fish and assuming that they will figure out how to fish. Even if the locals are more directly involved in the infrastructure projects – teaching them to fish – they are far too often left without any understanding of why these things matter. 

Naturally, these projects are generally well-intentioned. The hope is that by improving physical and digital infrastructure, the economy will grow and bring the standard of living and quality of life up along with it. And of course, that is how things work, assuming that people understand the value of what they are being asked to do in the first place. 

It is great that the World Bank truly recognizes the value of data. Data underlies every decision made in the modern world. It represents people expressing themselves and their interactions with others and the world around them. The only problem is that they are still taking an outside-in approach to everything. They are coming into these areas and saying, “this is how we will help you,” instead of asking, “how can we help you?”.

That distinction is crucial, and it is what separates TARTLE from other technology companies. Instead of trying to impose our own solutions – however well intentioned – we are going to individuals and asking how we can help, and putting the choices in their hands. That approach is truly what is needed. It directly involves individuals and communities in the important decisions being made. By doing so, we can ensure that we are helping people in ways that matter to them, and doing it in ways that won’t inadvertently destroy important aspects of cultures we aren’t a part of and don’t fully understand.

That is what separates TARTLE, we don’t look at data as a mere commodity, we see at as an expression of humanity.

What’s your data worth?

Feature Image Credit: Envato Elements

For those who are hard of hearing – the episode transcript can be read below:


Speaker 1 (00:06):

Welcome to TARTLE cast with your hosts Alexander McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and source data defines the path.

Alexander McCaig (00:25):

Back at it.

Jason Rigby (00:26):


Alexander McCaig (00:28):

I'm on it.

Jason Rigby (00:28):

You're on it, yeah.

Alexander McCaig (00:29):

My brain is like the gears are flying.

Jason Rigby (00:31):

Yes. And you've got the kombucha, which the kombucha has cleared your mind. So you're ready. So let's get into this one. The World Bank's annual world development report for 2021. So this is the World Bank. This is our annual world development report. '21 themed it this way. This is the theme.

Alexander McCaig (00:52):

Who's their target?

Jason Rigby (00:54):

Data for better lives.

Alexander McCaig (00:55):


Jason Rigby (00:55):

That's the theme in their target.

Alexander McCaig (00:57):

And where are the better lives? What's the focus?

Jason Rigby (00:59):

Most of the focus is in Africa.

Alexander McCaig (01:00):

Okay, good. Let's rip it up. So tell me about this.

Jason Rigby (01:02):

Because it's the least digitally connected continent. So they want to launch it in Q1 2021. So that's coming right up because this is end of October... No, this is November.

Alexander McCaig (01:14):


Jason Rigby (01:16):

We're right into it.

Alexander McCaig (01:16):

Yeah we're cooking.

Jason Rigby (01:17):

So the World Bank, which is a major international development partner, they teamed up and they want, this is what they said, "On improving lives through data and technology is the most timely now for 2021." And this is particularly true for Africa. And like I said, the least digitally connected continent, Africa lands behind the rest of the world in internet access, digital device access, and digital skills.

Alexander McCaig (01:41):

That's correct. And so they have trouble getting schools built.

Jason Rigby (01:46):


Alexander McCaig (01:46):

School books, political stability of their governments.

Jason Rigby (01:50):


Alexander McCaig (01:52):

Fundamental resources, like getting water piped around. They have no water infrastructures in most places.

Jason Rigby (01:57):

Did you hear about how they got in trouble with Facebook here recently with the government?

Alexander McCaig (02:00):

No, no, tell me.

Jason Rigby (02:00):

Different government? So this was interesting. So they were getting their information. So Facebook came out and said, "We're going to give you phones, but, and if you're on Facebook it won't go against any type of data." Because you have to actually buy data on their phones. So of course what's going to happen, everybody's going to go Facebook constantly.

Alexander McCaig (02:19):

Of course. It's a perverse [crosstalk 00:00:02:20].

Jason Rigby (02:21):

So there was end up like, and somebody have to look this up, because I don't want to be putting any misinformation out there. But what I was reading in an article was there was actually a coup that was formed off of, and people were killed based off of information that was being put out there on Facebook, back and forth and relaying to where this revolt was going and who was involved and the different families and the people because they were posting and-

Alexander McCaig (02:44):

When you, and this is where the World Bank wants.

Jason Rigby (02:47):


Alexander McCaig (02:47):

Not people to get killed, but they want connectivity.

Jason Rigby (02:49):


Alexander McCaig (02:52):

But they want connectivity and they want lines of communication to happen in a more efficient manner.

Jason Rigby (02:58):


Alexander McCaig (02:59):

Now to some benefit of less developed African countries that have these sort of uprisings, it's almost beneficial to have broken lines of communication because you can hide. Okay. You can not expose things that you otherwise wouldn't want to expose giving you specific risks. We know this now. Here in the United States, everything we do is so digital, we're constantly exposed. The second we put something out on the internet, it's public info. And we do it constantly.

Jason Rigby (03:27):

And it stays there forever.

Alexander McCaig (03:28):

And now this is a cultural shift. So the World Bank is saying, "We want to develop the digital infrastructure of these countries, right? We want to give them the affordability, this communication, but this is also another risk that comes with it at the same time." Now in order to do so, that's going to require people to have a device. Okay. It's going to require that device to connect to some sort of transmission medium, LTE satellite, if it might be Elon Musk, Starlink, which is 100 megabytes per second at $3.30 a day, which is still too much for people in Africa. But it's going to work generally around here for lower-income places in the US, other developing nations. And then I think there was another piece that they said is also a requirement [crosstalk 00:04:09]

Jason Rigby (04:09):

Yeah, it was internet access, digital device access and digital skills.

Alexander McCaig (04:13):

Yeah, digital skills. So you can't... This is a funny concept here. You can't just give someone a tool, right? Jason, I've given you a hammer, and I love using this metaphor. I've given you a hammer, go frame me a house. Do you know how to do that?

Jason Rigby (04:28):


Alexander McCaig (04:29):

No, you don't.

Jason Rigby (04:29):


Alexander McCaig (04:30):

No. You have to be educated on the tool.

Jason Rigby (04:32):


Alexander McCaig (04:33):

Right. Like a function of what TARTLE does. We can't just create a tool and give it to the world. The reason ours is adopted so well and so on understood is because we educate on it. We educate on all the individual facets of it, because then it becomes something of value. If I just give someone a communication device and say, "Have at it," what do I do on the internet? What's an effective place for me to go on the internet so I can learn more, do more? Wikipedia, Khan Academy, all those things?

Jason Rigby (04:57):

Yeah. Something that's completely understood would have ultimate value.

Alexander McCaig (05:00):

That's when it has ultimate value. But if you just dump an infrastructure and then give someone a tool and they have no idea how to actually extract the full value of it, there's no worth to it. So one of the largest facets that's being pushed here, especially in the 2021 progress report or whatever World Bank's trying to do is having that educational part of the infrastructure. Education is an infrastructural thing. It is probably more important than all the other things. Before you even hand something to someone, let them know about it, let them know the risks of sharing information that much, especially in a public manner.

Jason Rigby (05:34):

Yeah, no. And one of the things that they shared here, World Bank's focus on data and technology in '21, it should rally governments, industry academia, and civil society.

Alexander McCaig (05:48):

Wants to rally them?

Jason Rigby (05:49):

Yes. It wants to rally them to push for the actualization of development, developmental targets focused on digital penetration and adoption.

Alexander McCaig (05:57):

Yeah. So that's interesting. So when communication opens up, if we look at the United States, pony express, we have the ability to ship mail efficiently first with people on horseback, okay. Then it was on the train and then the US Postal Service had planes, okay. And we still have the little cement arrows that are on the ground. They're all over the US if you can find them. They've lost their color, but those were the routes that went back and forth for the communication lines. And then we had the telephone line that came out.

Alexander McCaig (06:26):

And then it became even more efficient. And then the rest of our infrastructure blossomed at the same time, because we could communicate ideas, information, money, services, all of that stuff at an accelerated rate, whereby there's so many frictional barriers that you find in Africa with a mass of different countries, a mass of different cultures, religions, ideologies, nationalistic uprisings. So communication is something that has to happen first before you even see an economic benefit, is getting people to communicate better. That's a fundamental part of what it means to be a human being and interact in any sort of well-functioning or oiled society is how we communicate, how we speak, share those ideas.

Jason Rigby (07:05):

Yeah. And one of the most recent blogs by the World Development Report, 2021 team, they highlighted this. They gave an example of the use of social media activity to improve traffic safety in Kenya. So just that ability for them to be able to go online, look and say, "Oh, okay there's traffic in this area or this..." We have that very simply here. You have Apple Maps or Google Maps that gives us the red and-

Alexander McCaig (07:30):

People don't know what it's like driving in Africa though. A lot of them are like single track roads where it's like you're almost playing chicken. And then you only drive around one another. You want to know if there's a backup.

Jason Rigby (07:42):


Alexander McCaig (07:43):

They don't have the luxury of pave roads where 99% of our continent, the continental United States has paved roads for us to transport ourselves. They don't have that. So knowing where those effective routes are means they save on gas. They can get the crops from their farm where it needs to go quicker, right. They can transport all these different things-

Jason Rigby (08:01):

Like you were talking earlier with the seaman arrows, it's that building of that infrastructure.

Alexander McCaig (08:06):

That's correct. And so from the digital format, if you can relay that information effectively, that's going to help with the efficiencies of people to make decisions and then change their interactions to go with it.

Jason Rigby (08:16):

Yeah, and I love this. They began to think about what constitutes real digital progress for nations.

Alexander McCaig (08:23):

What did they say-

Jason Rigby (08:24):

It says it's a meaningful connectivity. So meaningful connectivity them and they had this according to Alliance for Affordable Internet, A4AI, "We have meaningful connectivity when we can use the internet every day and regularly using an appropriate device, smartphone with enough data, unlimited broadband, and a fast connection minimum of 4G. Under those conditions..." They say, "Only under these conditions of user experience, can the durable benefits envisioned by the World Bank's data for better lives theme be realized."

Alexander McCaig (09:00):

Okay. Only. So unless these very specific line items are met, the system will fail. It lacks durability. It'll become fragile because one of the supporting pieces in the stool, or this chair I'm sitting on, the leg is missing. If it's not there, then there's nothing for people to stand on. Okay. So unless that digital, frankly, those digital structural pieces are in place, this whole plan is going to fail. So it's going to be fundamental for any instituting of... What the heck is it called? Industrial application or growth in those countries. You have to have that done first and that digital format.

Jason Rigby (09:37):

I mean, you talked about to push back, you talked about education and I see that they want them to have internet. They want them to have a smartphone. They want them to have unlimited broadband, minimum of 4G, but where is the education part?

Alexander McCaig (09:49):

They dropped out because it's not really important.

Jason Rigby (09:51):

And maybe there may be more to this, or I don't want to push back too hard.

Alexander McCaig (09:54):

That's the article from them right there. I hope they would put everything in there.

Jason Rigby (10:00):

Because what they're envisioning is traffic management, mobile money, e-commerce, e-health, software development, which gives opportunities nationally and individually.

Alexander McCaig (10:09):

Yeah. That's great. Everybody knows that a rising economy increase the lifespan of the people there, it increases the quality of life, not necessarily the happiness, but the quality of the living, right. And it also has other tangible economic benefits to the country itself outside of the people. Those don't happen without education first.

Jason Rigby (10:30):


Alexander McCaig (10:31):

No matter how much you want to just pump infrastructure in there, it's useless unless you educate people on its value.

Jason Rigby (10:38):

Well, we've tried that millions and millions of times with indigenous people.

Alexander McCaig (10:41):


Jason Rigby (10:42):

We're horrible at that, infusing our cultural-

Alexander McCaig (10:45):

We're terrible at it.

Jason Rigby (10:45):

...religion and everything else. This is a perfect example. There was a religious group and they went into the Pacific Northwest. And I love this example. And there's 28 tribes just in Western Washington area in the Seattle area.

Alexander McCaig (11:00):

I didn't know that.

Jason Rigby (11:00):

Yeah. And so they had those big, long houses and they had totem poles. Beautiful, you see totem poles.

Alexander McCaig (11:08):

I love this story. Go ahead.

Jason Rigby (11:09):

And instantly the missionaries that came into those areas thought that totem poles, they just viewed them as idols. And so they had them tear them down, they tore them down. I mean, you saw them right-

Alexander McCaig (11:20):

We don't worship idols, we worship God.

Jason Rigby (11:22):

Yeah. And with the lack of communication and everything else, what they realize, and now it's a dying art form and there's very few totem poles that are out there that are still original, what they found out and what is known is that they only made a totem pole when it was to deal with a huge event that happened-

Alexander McCaig (11:40):

In the family history.

Jason Rigby (11:41):

...in the family history, yes.

Alexander McCaig (11:41):

Or even for the tribe, right.

Jason Rigby (11:43):

So we went in there in our presumption, and that's what I feel I don't want the, how would you say it? The-

Alexander McCaig (11:51):

World Bank-

Jason Rigby (11:51):

Civilized, the civilized world to come into some place and... But what I thought was interesting, and Alex, you can speak to this is that they're feeling like data is the most important thing to boost a civilization. [crosstalk 00:12:09] What is the World Bank saying about the value of data?

Alexander McCaig (12:12):

World Bank realizes that there's great value in data. So if you go on the World Bank's website, they have all these different charts and all this data on different countries, right. Especially economic data. But what they've realized is that yes, industry has grown, right? But now industry has taken on this new form in the digital format, which is now the underpinning. It's actually supporting physical industry. Physical industry doesn't happen without a communicative base, without actually having all that data. So now three roundabout process, which I could have told you is that, in a not to seem pretentious or like a smart ass, but that if you can't communicate effectively, if there's no transmission of truthful information, nothing can be done. Physical industry can't make moves and make a decision without information. Information is the basis of everything in society.

Jason Rigby (12:59):

So it would be like speaking is finding, building relationships, they have meaningful connectivity. I'm talking meaningful relationships, finding what's value, going in there and say, "Oh, these totem poles are family history, that's amazing. How can we help you build that craft?"

Alexander McCaig (13:15):

Question. How? How can we help you? It's not about helping us. It's not about boosting the world economy. It's about empowering you where you are in your life, on your own time and measure.

Jason Rigby (13:29):

How many corporations and governments have been after Africa? It's the last huge... People don't realize how large Africa is.

Alexander McCaig (13:37):

It's phenomenally resource rich. Africa reminds me a lot of how resource rich Utah is. Yes. And although oil companies, right? Natural gas, mining companies want to get in there and just mine the crap out of it. But we're trying to preserve it. Those are protected lands. But they're also the most mineral rich lands. But they're looking at it strictly from the economic view and not looking at the value of what it is to a human being in preserving that.

Jason Rigby (14:00):

Yes. That's what I wanted to get at.

Alexander McCaig (14:01):

So when they look at Africa, they look at it as a freaking commodity, rather than a land where people live and speak. They literally breathe the same air that you breathe. They ship the damn coffee beans over here that you drink every morning. Respect that, that a human being has to put in that labor. They're living their life like you, and they're at a certain state. And so you need to help uplift them to where you are, but don't force them into a model that you think works best for them.

Jason Rigby (14:26):

Yes, exactly. Yeah, 100%.

Alexander McCaig (14:28):

I'm getting fired up.

Jason Rigby (14:30):

Because in our view, and I want to close in this, Alex, our view on humanity and data and TARRLE's view on humanity and data.

Alexander McCaig (14:39):

They're one and the same, because data is humanity speaking. It is humanity's interaction with one another. And so when you take the humanistic approach, when you look at what it means to be a human being and you apply that model or structure to how TARTLE functions as a whole and treating the person with that value that they deserve to be treated with, the data is just speaking for them in a digital format.

Jason Rigby (15:10):

Right, it's the totem pole.

Alexander McCaig (15:11):

It's their totem pole. The data packet on TARTLE is that's the totem pole, the data categories, it's the whole thing. The whole kit and caboodle. It's the whole family history. Now it's their turn to share it. When you go to that individual on TARTLE and you ask them about that family history, they'll share it with you if they want to. But do not lop it down or take it from them, assume control of it.

Jason Rigby (15:33):

Yes. 100%, I love that.

Alexander McCaig (15:35):

Thank you. All right. Peace out World Bank.

Speaker 1 (15:45):

Thank you for listening to TARTLE cast with your hosts, Alexandra McCaig and Jason Rigby, where humanity steps into the future and the source data defines the path. What's your data worth?