Digitalisation is changing the world – and the face of international cooperation. At GIZ, we have been making use of digital elements in our projects for a very long time: for example, an education programme can often reach more people via an online platform than through conventional channels. What is new is that digital applications are, more and more often, the key to the solution, not simply an add-on.
Take Ecuador: here, we offer an app to prevent violence against women, which is a widespread problem across the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around half of the women in Ecuador are at risk from violence at the hands of their partners. The app has an emergency function, so women can call for help at the touch of a button – without their attacker noticing. The advantage is that the app is pre-installed on all mobile phones supplied under contract from the national telecoms provider (CNT), so no one has to explain why they have it on their phone. We were commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to develop the app in conjunction with CNT. Partners are important to us. They may be major digital industry companies, innovative start-ups or NGOs working in the technology sector – we cooperate with them all.
Satellite images to evaluate crop damage
Apps such as the one in use in Ecuador are just one aspect of our work. In many other projects, it’s all about data. In South-East Asia, we are using satellite images to monitor rice production in five countries. This enables a faster response if there is a threat of crop losses that would pose a risk to food security. We are also working with partners such as Allianz to develop crop insurance for farmers. With the data, insurers can offer cheaper cover. It’s no longer necessary to travel to the region to evaluate damage – the insurance experts can simply make an assessment based on the images, substantially reducing their costs.
There are new opportunities in health care as well. For example, hospital management projects are looking at ways of collecting and evaluating patient data more efficiently, not least to combat corruption. What diagnosis was a patient given? Which treatment regime was prescribed, and which drugs were they given – and what were the charges?
We have to mention the risks too
Digitalisation has many possible applications but it is not a cure-all. Making use of digital tools such as apps or data analysis only makes sense if we reach the target group. Many people still have no access to the internet – or the skills to use it. So we are developing e-skills training, especially for women, who are often at risk of becoming disconnected from the digital world. Education has always been one of GIZ’s priorities, and here we are seeing how the more traditional type of development cooperation and digitalisation can operate in tandem.
When talking about digitalisation, we have to mention the risks too. Data should be managed responsibly. Surveillance is another topic of relevance to us, especially in countries with authoritarian regimes. We often operate in countries where data protection is well below German standards, and that can cause problems for us as a federally owned enterprise. In future, we would like to offer targeted advice on data protection in such cases.
The digital revolution is about rethinking international cooperation. It is not just about the technologies for their own sake: it is about working with partners to identify solutions with users in mind. It’s about being flexible and constantly improving the way we work.