Lydia Hatch | Palladium - Oct 31 2019
How Technology Can Make the Poorest Cities "Smart"

By 2050, the world's population will increase by approximately two billion people. Most of that growth will come from urban areas in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Yet, most of the investments into "Smart Cities" are geared towards developed countries with more wealth and already-advanced systems.

While this may seem easier to investors, technology companies, and the cities themselves, companies are missing huge business opportunities to build Smart City advancements where they're arguably needed the most. Technology is an entry point for even the poorest cities toward becoming "smart".

What's a Smart City?

A Smart City incorporates technology to increase the efficiency of operational services (such as transportation and infrastructure) and basic public resources (such as water and utilities), improving the daily life of its citizens overall. These cities typically integrate high-tech dashboards and use data to understand how to streamline services, adding "digital intelligence" to solve public problems and achieve a higher quality of life that touches on health, jobs, safety, time, cost of living, connectedness, and the environment.

Technology for Basic Services

Many urban areas in developing and emerging countries struggle with lack of infrastructure or governance for basic services like clean, reliable drinking water and waste management. It's imperative that these cities implement access to basic services, and this will only become more critical as these cities grow.

This lack of structured systems is also where new technologies can play an important role. When technology companies don't need to adhere to established, structured systems, as they would in highly developed cities, there is more room for innovation. Filling in these gaps provides tremendous business opportunities.

In Kenya, many people are not connected to fuel grids and thus rely on expensive and harmful alternatives like charcoal. KOKO Networks, a technology company in East Africa and India, has developed a mobile cooking station that uses bioethanol liquid that is cleaner and cheaper than previous solutions. KOKO set up "fuel kiosks" in neighbourhood shops and partnered with the fuel industry to deliver to the kiosks. It's a win-win solution: the mobile fuel network creates business for clean energy companies and cheaper, quicker access for people to use clean energy.

Following the success of the fuel kiosks, KOKO has developed a cloud-based purchasing system where people can purchase goods that were otherwise unavailable to them from their neighbourhood kiosks.

"KOKO Networks is focusing on improving life for everyone in Africa's cities," says Greg Murray, co-founder and CEO of KOKO Networks. "Our platform enables mass-market consumers, shopkeepers, and suppliers to transact with greater speed, efficiency, and insight than ever before. This is the future of commerce in urban Africa: smart, local, and social."

Technology also makes it possible to create and store reliable information that allows businesses, investors, and public officials to make informed decisions.

In Dar es Salaam, the Institutions for Inclusive Development (I4ID) project uses drones to solve both waste management and flooding. Because the city lacks waste management services, locals dump waste near rivers, which increases the risk of malaria and dengue fever and leads to severe flooding during the rainy season. Drones were used to identify and map local dumping sites and generate data on user actions. From this data, the project is developing successful waste management processes and is helping remove the waste before the rainy season.

I4ID also uses Geographic Information System Mapping (GIS) to help service providers geo-database their customers, enabling better customer billing and management. The program piloted GIS for service providers throughout three wards of Dar es Salaam and were ultimately able to improve revenue management by 50%. Following the success of the pilot, this technology is now being scaled and applied in Tanzania's capital city, Dodoma. The program is even testing a low-cost mobile application for smaller companies in low income areas that would enable geo-registration, payment collection, and customer management.

Many cities are beginning their transformation to "smart" already with wealth and existing tech industries. But even the poorest cities, where solutions will be most needed, can use technology to access the most basic services, and attract investors and companies to this business opportunity.

Palladium implements the Business Partnerships Platform on behalf of the Australian Government. The Business Partnerships Platform partners with KOKO Networks.

Palladium implements the Institutions for Inclusive Development (I4ID) project, which is funded with UK aid from the British people and IrishAid.