East Africa just saw its fifth straight failed rainy season, pushing the region into widespread severe food insecurity. As we face a warming climate the rainy seasons will be less reliable, resulting in food insecurity, malnutrition and conflict if the region doesn’t adapt to this new normal. One potential solution is targeted investment of irrigation infrastructure in climate-sensitive areas which, in turn, requires access to electricity. Identifying where energy and agriculture investments should be co-located is just one example of how a data-informed systems-level view of climate vulnerability and economic potential can drive impactful public policy.
The Rockefeller Foundation’s Interconnected Pathways to Development project is intended to address systems-level development questions such as this one. Atlas AI is advancing research to inform public policy and investment at the intersection of the agriculture, energy and transportation sectors in East Africa, along with academic collaborators from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Rochester Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, and Columbia University, collectively known as e-GUIDE, and the Kigali Collaborative Research Center. The platform developed through this research will start to identify those cross-sectoral investment decisions and we’ve hit some recent milestones in our work.
To enable the broadest possible access to the results of our research we have deployed a publicly available version of Atlas AI’s geospatial platform Aperture® to host a range of novel data products and reports, to help answer questions that promote local development while combating the detrimental effects of climate change. The platform allows users to visualize and download geospatial data, read documentation on its development, and provides access to policy briefs and reports that highlight specific use cases.
Some of the data products available on Aperture® include the Atlas of Human Settlements and Spending, available for years 2016 - 2021 for Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Human settlements are aggregations of all registered built-up structures protruding from the ground while Spending estimates the number of dollars spent on average per person per day in international dollars. Human Settlements allow you to assess changes over time, or detect people in the most rural areas, while Spending can be used to track socio-economic change and correlate those changes with development investments.
To inform and independently review our research, as well as aid in broad dissemination of the platform and research, we are honored to be joined in this project by an esteemed advisory board of independent experts. Our advisory board consists of:
- Vivien Foster - The Chief Economist for the Infrastructure Vice-Presidency of the World Bank, covering the areas of Digital Development, Energy & Extractives, Transport and Infrastructure Finance. She has over 20 years of experience in infrastructure economics and policy challenges, holding global roles in energy, transport, water and digital infrastructure. Vivien will play a vital role in our advisory board with her deep expertise in infrastructure and its impacts on policy decisions.
- Talip Kilic - A Program Manager at the World Bank Development Data Group and a member of the World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team. His research focuses on poverty, agriculture and gender in low- and middle-income countries as well as survey methodology to improve quality and policy relevance. Talip can aid our research through his expertise in field surveys, large scale data collection and governance and stewardship of data produced.
- Cosmas OChieng - A global development and environmental specialist at the World Resources Institute. His research and teaching interests focus on the theory, policy and practice of development; global climate change and environmental policy; science, technology and innovation policy; and the political economy of African development. Cosmas’ extensive network of stakeholders and development focus will be valuable for dissemination and maintaining a relevant direction.
- Crystal Rugege - The Managing Director of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Rwanda, where she leads Rwanda’s efforts to design and pilot governance frameworks to advance technology’s benefit to society. Crystal will aid in platform dissemination and data governance.
Our advisory board is pivotal in the direction and success of our project. They will guide us in direction, help us connect with key stakeholders, and help inform prioritization of specific workstreams.
Atlas AI and e-GUIDE recently convened two stakeholder meetings, one in Kigali and one in Nairobi with participants from academia, government agencies and non-profit organizations. We presented our motivation for the project, data products developed so far, and highlighted our platform capabilities and availability. We were pleased by the positive nature of the feedback from participants on the potential of the new data products we presented to aid in electricity planning and climate change adaptation. Specifically attendees were excited about using our data products for county level planning initiatives and they were applauded for its usefulness in government planning.
Through the development of novel data products and a publicly available platform, this collaboration has brought us one step closer to our goal of improving development decisions at a systems level. Our platform can enable end users to have a more dynamic view of local conditions, which ultimately has large implications for planning capabilities. Based on feedback from our stakeholders, we are already starting to see the benefits of our data and the potential areas to showcase its impact. As Zia Khan, Senior Vice President of Innovation at The Rockefeller Foundation said at the start of our project, “While data science has been used to improve individual development projects, we haven’t yet unlocked its potential to improve development at a systems level.” With one year into the project, we are already seeing that our work can drive a systems level view and policymakers, investors and governments are excited to test this innovative approach.