In this study for the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, we investigated how the Internet of Things is used in development cooperation work. In the health sector, sensors can help to reduce losses of vaccine stocks by monitoring their storage temperature and sounding an alarm via an app when the cooling system breaks down. But in order for the IoT to really blossom in the social sector, three fundamental things must be observed.


You can download the study here as a PDF:

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The report “Internet of Things – Using sensors for Good: How the Internet of Things can Improve Lives” shows that especially in the fields of health, agriculture and disaster prevention, there is already a diverse range of effective applications. The associated projects improve poor infrastructure, strengthen the productivity of smallholder farmers or enable marginalised ethnicities access to services such as insurance. Many of these solutions are based on affordable sensors, which form the foundation of the Internet of Things.

In this way, sensors on things such as vaccines monitor their temperature and send notifications about critical values in order to minimise losses of these life-saving materials. For it is precisely in places where infrastructure is not so well developed that there is little information about how much of which vaccine is stored where and whether it can still be used. If that data provided by the sensors is available in real time, government agencies and health centres can use algorithmic prediction models to react before an emergency situation arises.

In agriculture, automated irrigation systems that respond to data from weather sensors can significantly increase the productivity of smallholder farmers. In combination with a micro-insurance policy such as Kilimo Salama from Kenya, weather sensors can also automatically deliver financial compensation in the case of crop failure or drought via the mobile phone of those affected.

In disaster prevention as well, sensors have a crucial role to play. An example of this is the Rio Operations Centre, which gathers the data from thousands of sensors on water levels, air quality and earth movements, and when something unusual is registered – once again, with the help of big data models – the public can be warned ahead of time.




Local, open and approachable: three demands to create a socially responsible IoT

How can people involved in international development cooperation work now support initiatives such as those mentioned above in their pioneering work on the IoT? How can the resources of funders be most effectively invested? Our answer takes the form of the following three demands.

  1. Above all, local initiatives must be supported: developers and programmers on the ground have the best information about the opportunities and risks of the Internet of Things for specific target groups such as small farmers. “Context matters” is the motto. Local developers are usually more effective than the big development policymakers, since they can better estimate which applications are needed where, and which technical possibilities fit best with the conditions on the ground. This knowledge absolutely has to be incorporated into the development of applications for the Internet of Things. Innovation Hubs, for example, play an important role in the transfer of knowledge between government, supporters, developers and the target group. They need to be supported as the initial points of contact for the development of innovations in the Internet of Things.
  2. Facilitating new partnerships on a level playing field: many IoT applications in emerging and developing countries are based on partnerships between groups with diverging interests. For example, telecommunications companies, international and national IT firms, development cooperation organisations, NGOs and local ministers. In order to be able to create equal relationships, the local protagonists must know which technical and also ethical demands are to be complied with by the applications – for example, with regard to data privacy. Clear frameworks for such partnerships and open exchange are a good opportunity to transmit this knowledge.
  3. Supporting open standards: we believe that open standards are a prerequisite for an Internet of Things that is to serve all. For only with open standards can sensors and network systems from various manufacturers communicate with each other and continue to be enhanced over time. There are already many committees and associations which advocate the strengthening of Open Source solutions in the Internet of Things. These initiatives must be supported and networked more effectively.

The examples show that from Accra to Nairobi to Rio de Janeiro, programmers and designers are working on applications for the Internet of Things which will help to solve fundamental social problems. By the way, the biggest boom in the IoT can be observed in emerging and developing countries. In Africa, for example, between 2010 and 2013, the annual growth rate of the IoT was 41 per cent – as opposed to a growth of 29 per cent in Europe. And as early as 2020, the Asia-Pacific region will possess more than 50 per cent of the connections in the Internet of Things in the world. Some governments have recognised the potential of the Internet of Things. To this end, for example, in October 2015, the Indian government published the world’s first policy strategy on the Internet of Things.

PS: From Wikipedia: “The Internet of Things refers to the networking of uniquely identifiable physical objects (things) with a virtual representation in an internet-like structure”. These things use sensors to record information from the environment and automatically carry out actions without human intervention, for example in the form of movements, temperature increases or the like.