From a Dream to the Mainstream

Jaime Comiche (ELP 2006) | Head of Operations, UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Mozambique

My application to the 2006 Beahrs ELP was part of my quest on how I could be better equipped to contribute to overcoming the sustainable development and environmental challenges of my country. Hence, my own “milestones” remain attached to the achievements, or setbacks, of the country in question.

As much as Mozambique celebrated being part of Africa’s fastest economic growth narrative, critical development indicators such as the Human Development Index (HDI) were stagnant, while others like the Gini Index and Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) further deteriorated. Moreover, extreme natural disasters increased in frequency and intensity, adding to poverty-driven challenges to peace and security, in an unprecedented manner.

Prosperity preconized by national priorities and internationally agreed treaties, namely the 2030 Agenda’s SDGs, must be delivered anyway to remote vulnerable communities, even with structural deprivation of basic infrastructure as a background.

After my participation in the Beahrs ELP, I started to realize the amount of human capital, confined to the comfort of cities, or limited to deliver their share of contribution to sustainable development.

Systemic and comprehensive lack of modern infrastructure, in this context, represents a hindrance towards the milestones of an inclusive and sustainable development. Basic infrastructure where it exists is taken for granted, but where it is lacking, it turns prosperity into a rather elusive outcome. Hence, one question emerged as a standing item in my day-to-day to-do list: how best to support vulnerable communities in achieving their own milestones towards prosperity?

Ever since the 2030 Agenda’s SDGs were promulgated by the UN General Assembly in 2015, I wondered, now that SDG nr. 9 encompasses innovation, is there a way to leapfrog inconveniences of no infrastructure? In addition, I asked myself, why was infrastructure and innovation combined in the same SDG?

According to ITU data (cited by the World Bank, 2021), in 1999 Mozambique had 0.45 fixed telephone subscriptions per 100 people and in 2019 only 0.2 subscriptions. During the same period, the country evolved from 0.07 to about 47.7 mobile telephone subscriptions per 100 people. The slow-paced milestones defined for access to the benefits of telephony were leapfrogged by innovations, hard to predict years before their onset. Even remote communities ended up taking advantage of the versatility, and increased accessibility, of this source of digital technology. Nowadays mobile money and access to knowledge through the internet, access to modern electricity through renewable technologies, and delivery of essential goods and services through drones are becoming commonplace, even in remote areas of the developing world. Some of such innovations, at their onset were sort of solutions looking for problems (to be solved), as was alluded by D’Haenens (1962).

Navigating the milestones of the local sustainable development agenda, I met and made friends with several innovators who used their ingenuity to unlock new possibilities to the most deprived, namely in fields such as WASH, solid waste management, and energy access and efficiency, to name just a few. More recently, I came across an outstanding and promising innovation, whose benefits are yet to be fully understood, and ever since started challenging its creator to unpack its potential.

This innovation, a Digital Mobile Infrastructure (https://youtu.be/sEMjmV5y8_A), was intentionally designed to address the digital divide in rural poor communities and using photovoltaic as a source of energy. This duly patented invention was built in Mozambique by Mozambicans for the world.


A photo of women sitting on the ground outside looking at a screen. Title text reads "Graca Machel Empowering Women on COVID-19 in Rural Communities"

Throughout the search for problems solvable by this innovation, it is possible to devise uses such as e-learning, e-entertainment, telemedicine and teleconferencing, and administrative roles. Health and humanitarian duties may benefit the cold storage compartment for vaccination and/or blood donation campaigns, using a sort of four-in-one (awareness, telemedicine, biometric data collection, and cold chain facilities) features.

Photo of a person riding a horse pulling a carriage.

Debating with the creator of the Digital Mobile Infrastructure convinced me that it may help overcome many challenges faced by rural communities, who knows, by “kidnapping the soul” of the digitally divided communities, therefore easing the delivery of vital knowledge and information. Daring to compile this article, I intended to open the discussion about the innovation’s merits and potential.

The journey towards sustainable development may perhaps become smoother if combined by the milestones of moving such an innovation from a dream to the mainstream.