In May 2016 at the ICT4D conference in Nairobi Dr. Reginald Vachon moderated a session on ‘Smart Cities’. This concept was fairly new to me and as David Gadsden and John Garrity began to unwrap the opportunities of large scale connectivity I began to understand the seemingly boundless potential ‘Smart Cities’ offer for populations around the world.

Whether we like it or not (and there are many who don’t like it) the Internet of Things combined with increased connectivity is creating a new frontier for the future of technology. This will undoubtedly be a challenge for governments to legislate, for communities to accept and for companies to keep up with. In particular the notion of inter-operability becomes much more significant if you consider the potential your service might have if it can inter-connect with, and operate along side, a wide web of ‘Smart City’ services.

It’s a journey and we’re barely out of the starting blocks so there is much to learn and consider.

Therefore this week’s post is more an initial musing sharing some resources that I’ve been reading to follow the evolution of ‘Smart Cities’, I have a feeling this could be the first of many posts on the topic. In addition, one initiative that has been sticking in my mind is the work of ‘Refugee Cities’, more on them towards the end of the post.

Find out more about Smart Cities:

Spot light on ‘Refugee Cities’:

Research collated by UNCHR and GSMA has uncovered that:

  1. Refugees spend one third of their income on connectivity often skipping essentials such as food and healthcare to pay for phone credit or charging facilities
  2. In Uganda 48% of residents living in one camp were using mobile money
  3. Two of the top five questions asked by refugees on arrival at camps and registration centres in Europe are:
  • “Where is the Wi Fi?”
  • “Where do I get a SIM card?”

This behaviour is not so different to individuals with non-refugee status, although the expenditure on connectivity is probably lower. The difference is refugees that are removed from their usual environments, no longer able to work, study or socialise in the same way.

Refugee Cities is taking the concept of ‘Smart Cities’ and looking at it through a different lens. Built around the principle of upholding the dignity of displaced people, Refugee Cities is working to:

“…expand the options of displaced people by promoting special-status settlements in which they can engage in meaningful, dignifying, and rewarding work, thereby providing for their families and contributing to the economic and social development of their hosts and homelands.”

Building on best practice in self-sufficient refugee settlements and special economic zones, Refugee Cities seeks to apply lessons learnt in governance, legislation and economics to create a bottom up approach to stability and empowerment. This model not only provides displaced communities with the environment to continue developing skills and building micro-economies, it also offers economic and social benefits for the host country.

Read more about the precedents here. It will be interesting to see where this initiative goes in 2017.


Photo courtesy of Refugee Cities