When world leaders meet this week for the UN’s general assembly to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they will also call for a “data revolution”. In a world where almost everyone will soon have access to a mobile phone, where satellites will take high-definition pictures of the whole planet every three days, and where inputs from sensors and social media make up two thirds of the world’s new data, the opportunities to leverage this power for poverty reduction and sustainable development are enormous. We are also on the verge of major improvements in government administrative data and data gleaned from the activities of private companies and citizens, in big and small data sets.

But these opportunities are yet to materialize in any scale. In fact, despite the exponential growth in connectivity and the emergence of big data, policy making is rarely based on good data. Almost every report from development institutions starts with a disclaimer highlighting “severe data limitations”. Like castaways on an island, surrounded with water they cannot drink unless the salt is removed, today’s policy makers are in a sea of data that need to be refined and treated (simplified and aggregated) to make them “consumable”. Read more

As finance ministers gather this week in Washington DC they cannot but agree and commit to fighting extreme poverty. All of us must rejoice in the fact that over the past 15 years, the world has reportedly already “halved the number of poor people living on the planet”.

But none of us really knows it for sure. It could be less, it could be more. In fact, for every crucial issue related to human development, whether it is poverty, inequality, employment, environment or urbanization, there is a seminal crisis at the heart of global decision making – the crisis of poor data. Read more

We are living through the era of Big Data with all its promises and consequences. But is the world also splitting into the data “haves” and “have nots”?

That’s the contention of a new report out today from a UN panel of independent experts from academia and business which warns that the world needs to do more to bolster the data capabilities of developing countries in order to fight poverty more effectively. Read more

By Aubrey Hruby of the Atlantic Council and Eliot Pence of McLarty Associates

Last month’s US-Africa Leaders Summit ushered in a new era in US policy towards Africa. Bringing together nearly 50 heads of state and over 150 CEOs from the US and Africa, the Obama administration announced $37bn in commitments in trade and investment from the private and public sectors. More importantly, the Summit highlighted a major shift in how US investors are starting to see the continent. Investors no longer ask themselves whether they should or shouldn’t invest in Africa. They are asking themselves how they should invest in Africa.

According to a recent Boston Consulting Group study, the number of CEO visits to the continent has tripled since 2008. But boardroom discussions and CEO trips do not a make a solid business plan. What’s missing is the granular information that can be fed into financial models and used to accurately assess risk. Read more

You know that things are serious when companies are willing to engage in a price war.

India’s telecoms companies have been pushing data services for a while in their marketing campaigns. But now they are stepping up the battle for customers – by competing hard on rates. Read more

It’s hard to quantify an authoritarian crackdown. How do you measure curbs on free speech? And when a protest movement has many facets and disparate aims, they can be even harder to gauge, let alone put in numbers.

However, when it comes to the internet, there is one source that shows how keen authorities in different countries are on stifling criticism and controlling the debate. And if anyone had been paying attention back in 2012, the current protests in Turkey might have been less of a surprise. Chart of the week takes a look. Read more

The link between one of the world’s most powerful corporate leaders and a small bank in Ethiopia might not be immediately obvious. In this case, it’s an IBM server, which powers Awash International Bank. But soon it could be a lot more if Ginni Rometty (pictured) has anything to do with it.

Rometty, IBM’s chief executive, is spending a week in Africa with her top 15 executives. It’s the first time so many of them have been in one place outside New York. It’s also the first time IBM has convened its chief executives from all over the continent. Read more