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Nadait Gebremedhen presented Hagoush at the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference

AI can be the main ally in reducing existing gaps, enabling the creation of a society where information and opportunities are available to everyone, everywhere, and democratizing access to digital technology devices.

As recalled by NADAIT GEBREMEDHEN MD, Founder & Executive Director, Hagush, bridging gaps in education and employment can help reduce poverty.


Good afternoon everyone. Thank you, Peter, for the introduction, and thank you Dame Gloria Star Kins and Mr. Saporito for inviting me to speak at this year's Infopoverty World Conference. 
As stated in the introduction, I lead Hagush, a social enterprise dedicated to making digital technology access universal. Our work is democratizing access to digital devices, such as smartphones and personal computers. We collaborate closely with startups that are deploying AI-driven solutions to close existing gaps in education and employment, improving food security, helping reduce poverty, increasing access to finance, and contributing to climate action. Our work is a key enabler of such solutions because we are helping build the digital infrastructure necessary for them.
Today, I want to share with you a particular AI-driven solution that perfectly demonstrates the immense potential of AI to materially improve human welfare but also highlights a key challenge that lies ahead to realizing that potential, especially for the Global Majority of the world. 
This solution, developed by an agri-tech startup in Kenya, uses earth observation tools such as satellite imaging to provide smallholder farmers with critical insights into their farms, including soil and plant health, which enables them to increase their agricultural yield. A team of agronomists interprets the data and sends it to the farmers in simple, easy-to-understand messages via SMS and phone calls. The impact of this AI-enabled solution is evident: it contributes to increased food security and reduction of poverty. However, its adoption has faced hurdles, primarily because many farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to smartphones. Herein lies the role of Hagush: through our program, Pay Later, a digital technology financing initiative, we are increasing smartphone access for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
There are plenty of such startups across the Global South that are leveraging AI for social impact. But many of these startups face the same challenge: a lack of digital infrastructure which is limiting their use and impact. There is no question that these solutions have the potential to improve human welfare. They are bridging gaps in education and employment. They are increasing food security and helping eradicate poverty. They are contributing to climate action. They are accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. But there is a question worth asking here: Are people everywhere well positioned to realize the potential of these solutions? At present, the answer to that question is categorically NO. 
An AI divide is emerging – the economic and social benefits of this technology are geographically concentrated, mostly in the Global North. At the end of last year, Global Insights published their Government AI Readiness Index which scored 193 governments on their readiness to use AI in public services. Perhaps not surprisingly, high-income countries scored high. The lowest-scoring regions were Sub-Saharan Africa, some central and south Asian countries, and Latin American countries. Why is this the case? Why are Global South nations less prepared to leverage AI? There are several factors at play, including a lack of data and technical infrastructure, low practitioner capacity, and the high cost of building and deploying AI-based solutions. And then there is the issue that doesn’t get a lot of air time. Even when AI and other tech-based solutions are deployed, not everyone can use them because of the digital divide, which after decades of effort to bridge it, is still very much an issue.
For context, Here are some numbers to give you an idea of where we are with the digital divide. In South Korea, 98% of the population has access to smartphones, 1% have no phones, and the remaining 1% have cell phones that are not smartphones. In contrast, In Nigeria, only 47% have access to smartphones and 10% don’t have phones at all. The rest have regular phones. 
In summary, while AI-enabled solutions hold promise for advancing the SDGs and fostering sustainable and inclusive growth, we must confront the challenges ahead. It is imperative that people in emerging economies and developing countries are equipped to harness the potential of AI solutions; otherwise, existing digital and economic disparities will widen.

1. All nations must invest in AI innovation and integration while developing robust regulatory frameworks to maximize the benefits and mitigate risks.
2. Emerging markets and developing economies should prioritize investment in digital infrastructure to prevent the widening of the digital divide, ensuring that billions of people can access and benefit from AI. Thank you so much.”


The FINAL DECLARATION of the 23rd Infopoverty World Conference is now available! The Plan of Action including a list of projects and proposals that emerged from the discussion will be available soon. STAY TUNED!

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