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Countries looking to harness the power of disruptive technologies need to ensure that citizens, and particularly the poor and those left behind, benefit from the opportunities created by disruptive technologies. It is not enough that disruptive technologies lower costs of goods and services or provide other efficiencies.  Jobs, education, social safety nets, and investments that give opportunities to the poor matter just as much.

At this year’s Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group, stakeholders in the development community will, among many different topics, discuss how best to leverage the potential of disruptive technologies in order to address world’s most pressing development challenges.

Disruptive technologies include innovations that “lead to a step change in the cost or access to products and services with potential to disrupt traditional pathways of economic development.” 

By definition, disruptive technologies —such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, blockchain, cloud computing, big data, three-dimensional printing, Internet of things, automatization, autonomous vehicles, bioengineering, and nanotechnology— have the potential to change people’s lives and transform economies, government, and societies.

From a development perspective, they have the potential to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and for the World Bank Group, to accelerate progress towards our twin goals of eradicating poverty and boosting shared prosperity.

However, to deliver on this potential, it is critical that disruptive technologies are harnessed in a way that is inclusive and generates shared benefits and opportunities for all in society.

Countries looking to harness the power of disruptive technologies need to ensure that citizens, and particularly the poor and those left behind, benefit from the opportunities created by disruptive technologies. It is not enough that disruptive technologies lower costs of goods and services or provide other efficiencies.  Jobs, education, social safety nets, and investments that give opportunities to the poor matter just as much.

Without this duality of outcomes, there is a risk that disruptive technologies will potentially lead to greater rather than lower income disparities between the rich and the poor.

IEG has leveraged our understanding and assessment of what works to enhance the inclusiveness of growth, as well as the experiences and views of various experts and practitioners who have and are using technological advances to promote a more inclusive development.

From past IEG evaluations, we know that The World Bank Group is uniquely positioned to support countries expand the opportunities and mitigate the risks associated with disruptive technologies.  IEG's upcoming synthesis of findings from recent IEG evaluations sheds light on the nature and results of World Bank Group support in key areas that support inclusive growth and enhance equalities of opportunities for all. 

IEG highlights that the Bank Group’s success has tended to come mainly from its policy advice to governments, its support for broad sectoral development and job creation, its financing of ICT infrastructure, and its support for private sector investment and innovation. These are areas where the Bank Group can continue to build on its strengths.

To do even better, IEG finds that the World Bank Group must scale up its work on piloting new development approaches that embrace disruptive technologies. IEG evidence points to the relative paucity of piloting new approaches in the World Bank Group, reflecting internal factors such as incentives, skills, and lending pressures. How can the Bank Group better strike the balance between sticking to the tried and tested, and making room for innovation? This question is even more pertinent when you consider that development, as we have known it for the last 50 years, is itself being disrupted with new actors coming in, and new delivery models being tried.

Overall, the availability of modern technologies presents enormous challenges and opportunities for the way the Bank Group delivers its assistance.

And it also provides enormous challenges and opportunities for all development stakeholders, including government and other policy makers, civil society, the private sector, and citizens at large.

As part of this year’s Annual Meetings in Bali, Indonesia, IEG is hosting a special session on Wednesday, October 10, 2018, where different stakeholders will share their perspectives on the critical success factors for leveraging disruptive technologies. The session will focus on potential solutions for countries and institutions such as the World Bank Group. Our speakers will share their perspectives and help us answer questions that many countries and development partners are grappling with when it comes to how best to harness the disruptive technologies emerging today.

Is there a recipe for success? What options do we have as policymakers and development actors? What can we learn from others?

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