Engines in new extractives

17th December 2021: „Planetary scale Systems: From the internet packet to the algorithmic factory”

23rd February 2022: „Planetary scale systems: Anatomy and geology of media technologies”

23rd March 2022: „Planetary scale systems: Engines of new extractivism” 

Empowered by the digital extractivism tools of the information age, everything becomes a potential frontier for expansion and extraction. From the depth of DNA code in every single cell of the human organism to vast frontiers of human emotions, behavior and social relations, to nature as a whole—everything becomes the territory for the new extractivism. At this moment in the 21st century, we see a new form of extractivism that is well underway: one that reaches into the furthest corners of the biosphere and the deepest layers of human cognitive and affective being. Traditional colonial practices of control over critical assets, trade routes, natural resources and exploitation of human labor are still deeply embedded in the contemporary supply chains, logistics and assembly lines of digital content, products and infrastructure. Those relations define future development and distribution of wealth and power on a planetary scale.

The series of lectures is hosted by the University of Belgrade / Faculty of Political Sciences.

Reimagining ways to achieve SDGs – innovations in finance and digitalisation

Royston Braganza is a CEO of Grameen Capital which aims to provide debt financing to social enterprises across sectors such as affordable education and skill development, affordable healthcare, clean energy & innovation, agriculture, financialinclusion and livelihoods. Having a background in banking being in his earlier assignment a head of HSBC’s SME Business and Senior Vice President with HSBC, Royston Braganza was instrumental in setting up and heading HSBC’s Microfinance & Priority Sector business inIndia. Prior to that, he worked in Citibank India for over 8 years in various assignments across both the Consumer Bank andthe Corporate Bank.

In his talk titled Reimagining Ways To Achieve SDGs Innovations In Finance And Digitalisation, Royston Braganza pondered on how to respond to crises, how to make our life better, greener, cleaner and more inclusive. Keeping in mind that people are all interconnected in today’s world, he made it elear to reimagine the innovation and moving forward by focusing on two areas, finance and digitalisation. Considering the current health crisis which tums into an economic crisis and theninto a humanitarian crisis, it affects every part of life, state-wise and individual-wise. The urge to reimagine capital, whichshould be a capital with conscience. Covid-19 has distracted the norrnality but it is also an opportunity to build new systemsbłock by błock. A crisis urges to rethink values and actions and can cause a boost to build greener and inclusive life, as it has been said by the speaker: „In terms of digitalisation, it changes everything and helps to improve life. At the moment, we use mobile phones for contact tracing, whether in India, Nairobi or Riviera, the situation is the same. We use newtechnologies – solar power in Africa; AI, machine learning.

They say that data is the new oil. It’s actually better than oil because you can use data several times, and creatively. We nowneed to leam how to use it for making life better, and we should focus on serving every single person, so nobody is leftbehind.”

The speakers used an example of Grameen Foundation that in 2007 acknowledged that 400M people in India have to live with 2$/day and set a goal to bring microfinancing to 400M people via helping microfinancing companies to raise capital.Eventually and gradually microfinance NGOs tumed into mainstream banks and in 2008, through these NGO tumed into banks, Grameen had emphasised the impact on 52M clients, affecting the lives of about 300M people counting in the familymembers. Microfinancing has been a positive story, showing that one can do good and do well at the same time. lt is possible to make profit by facilitating affordable healthcare, education or housing to people who very much need it. This sentiment has been echoed in every aspect of life, including in churches and company boards. Now impact has become mainstream and fast­ growing, supporting the achievement of SDGs. Thanks to Grameen Foundation, 200M accounts were opened in a very short period in India, which was supported by the fact that 1B people got an ID, and that mobile technologycan be used. Nowadays, it is obvious that companies invest in their employees, are customer centric, reimagining the way todo business.

Royston Braganza also focused on ways to attract mainstream capital to combat the consequences of Covid-19 in his lecture, which tums to be the most relevant issue and barrier to achieve SDGs. Again, using an example of Grameen Foundation that has shown that taking a bigger risk can pay off – the foundation created an impact fund and distributed it in smaller shares of it to smaller distributors (at the moment it is a Covid-19 impact bond, which supports women artisans who get a monthly stipend and a training, which will help them to overcome the difficulties created by the pandemie). The existing models, Royston mentioned, are transferrable to other SDGs, for example to the climate: when big companies like Shell or Nesquik become funders of the bond, it should be distributed to communities through smaller NGOs and entities to fund activities and create impact at grass root level. The existing models can be scaled by awareness raising, and by creating one’s own networks.

Concluding the lecture, Royston Braganza mentioned that Grameen Foundation imagines financing the sustainable developmentgoals 1) through technology, 2) by measurement (for example, avoid green washing and rely on facts), 3) by results-basedapproach – by paying not for building a hospital but paying for a health outcome, 4) using a total ecosystem approach, i.e. taking into account that everyone is connected, and therefore we need to work together, 5) by the principle of universal inclusion.
The event was moderated by Dr Mihkel Solvak.

#KAPTalks interviews: Planetary labour market

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s. Have the world’s development challenges changed since then? What was the biggest challenge then and what is it now?

In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

To me it is a question about justice. There is a global lottery that some of us win and some of us lose. The fact that some of us are born in countries that have high living standards and get to benefit from that is not because we worked harder or because we’re smarter than anyone else. It is simply luck. People born into contexts with low life expectancies or high rates of disease simply have bad luck.

As human beings, we can, and we should do better. We need to broaden our sphere of empathy to encompass our increasingly connected planet. It is much harder to plead ignorance about the breadth of human suffering than it used to be. But if we now are able to know as much about people on the other side of the world as we are about people in the cities that we live in, then sitting on our hands shouldn’t be an option.

This isn’t an argument for a blind faith in 'development’. But rather an argument in favour of sharing wealth and resources. If we acknowledge that luck, due to the geographic lottery, plays a massive role in how long we live, whether our children survive childbirth, our odds of surviving disease, and our chance of finding a rewarding and decent profession, then it isn’t good enough to be satisfied with the current scale of global inequalities. Because of the luck that those of us in the Global North were born with, we have a responsibility to develop and support structures and systems that facilitate global sharing.

What is the biggest challenge/hindrance to successful development?

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others?

What’s the most striking thing you have personally witnessed in relation to development? i.e. a challenge, opportunity or just personal observation about a human story.

With over half of the world’s population now connected to the internet, one of the most striking things I see happening today is the creation of what I’ve referred to as a ’planetary labour market’. Millions of workers from around the world are escaping some of the constraints of their local labour markets and competing for the same jobs. This has enormous implications for workers in parts of the world where jobs are scarce. However, the sheer scale of what is happening brings with it concerns about a massive global over-supply of labour power, and a consequent race to the bottom in terms of wages and working conditions.


Netflix for Agriculture? Digital Technology for Development

The rapid spread of mobile phones in developing countries, coupled with recent advances in our ability to analyze big data through tools such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, has generated considerable excitement about the potential of ICT for development. How does the reality of ICT use for development stack up to this excitement? And, which institutional arrangements best promote the use of ICT for development? Michael Kremer begins to answer these questions by examining the case of mobile-phone enabled agricultural extension for smallholder farmers.

Recent changes in technology have made it possible to disseminate personalized agricultural information to smallholder farmers via their mobile-phones. In this lecture, Kremer explores the rapidly accumulating evidence on the impact of mobile-phone based agricultural extension. There appear to be at least some settings where farmers change their behavior and increase their yields in response to advice delivered via their mobile phones. Preliminary evidence suggests this may be highly-cost effective. However, due to market failures and asymmetric information private markets will typically undersupply this public good.

Governments tend to fail as well due to design flaws that make their solutions difficult for farmers to understand. Kremer discusses potential hybrid solutions that incorporate elements of both private and public provision and argues that zero (or negative) pricing for such services is likely optimal. Finally, the lecture ends with a speculative vision of a “Netflix for Agriculture” in which farmers would provide information, knowing that this would allow the system to make better recommendations for them, and this would in turn improve the performance of the system in offering recommendations to other farmers.

Pivotal digital

E-society and E-citizens: from Technology Transfer to Human Empowerment and Development