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Our Foundation kicks off a new focus on the potential for drones to be development game-changers /

Crown Agents Foundation is exploring the potential for new technologies to make game-changing impact on the development prospects of poor countries and to save lives in humanitarian crises.  The initiative starts with an event in partnership with the RSA on 24 January in Central London looking at unmanned aerial vehicles, drones.

Speaking at the event are Jonathan Ledgard, former Africa Correspondent of the Economist and Director of Afrotech-EPFL and Founder of Redline; Tamara Giltsoff, Head of Innovation at DFID; and Marie Staunton, Chair of Crown Agents.

Drones are rapidly emerging as a potentially effective tool for addressing the needs of people in crises and as a means to overcome major development obstacles such as poor infrastructure and speed of access to remote areas.  Improved access to data and analytics could help with services such as healthcare supply chains or gathering intelligence in rapid onset crises such a refugee flows or natural disaster damage.  But, the practicalities need to be tested.

Crown Agents Foundation recognizes the potential of new technologies in international development, but is mindful that there is a lot to learn from past experience. The challenge the Foundation is laying out for developers is to show that they understand the development or humanitarian context they are intended to impact on, that they demonstrate that they add value to the existing market and that the national and local communities benefiting have the right amount of oversight and control to ensure trust and proper participation.

Speaking ahead of the RSA event on 24 January, Marie Staunton, Chair of Crown Agents, said:

‘New technologies do have potential to be game-changing for less developed countries but the conditions with which they are introduced need to be right.  History is littered with some amazing tech successes, but there have also been some monumental failures.  First and foremost, the market for new tech needs to understand the development problems it wants to solve and be able so show real, measurable added value.  Crown Agents is keen to find out if unmanned vehicles, among other new technologies, can do so.’

Jonathan Ledgard, former Africa Correspondent of the Economist and Director of Afrotech-EPFL and Founder, Redline, said:

‘On a crowded planet, with limited resources, it is inevitable that we will use flying robots to move goods and capture data more rapidly and affordably.  Indeed, the drone is just an early example of cheap robotic technologies that together have the potential to significantly improve outcomes in the poorest communities.  Our mission is to make this happen.’

Tamara Giltsoff, Head of Innovation, DfID, said:

‘DfID is committed to the application of frontier technologies, such as drones, to address development and humanitarian challenges.  We believe there is great potential for exponential impact and efficiencies.  We have recently launched an internal programme designed to pilot the use of frontier technology in our programmes and countries of operation.  But alongside the excitement for new technology and an investment in it, we must also invest in methods of piloting, measuring, learning and iterating the use case for technologies.  We must be as committed about the impact and results of technology innovation as we are about the technologies themselves.’

The Crown Agents Foundation wants to work with innovators, investors, entrepreneurs, companies and regulators. Its brings nearly 200 years’ worth of understanding the needs in different development and humanitarian situations to explore the practicalities of deploying new technologies.  Already the Foundation has identified some partners to work with such as Unilever, UAV Aid, DfID, Red line/Afrotech and WeRobotics and is openly inviting others interested to come forward.  The kick off event on 24 January is aimed at drawing in new partners.

The investigation will run throughout 2017. Anticipated outputs are shared knowledge, data and good practice to shape the market, and more robust evidence, from tested ‘use cases’ for the value of new tech in development and humanitarian situations.

Crown Agents Foundation is the not-for-profit parent company that wholly owns the social enterprise Crown Agents Ltd.  Any surplus generated from Crown Agents’ work with clients to improve health systems, financial management, customs operations, and supply chains, as well as from our humanitarian response activities, is returned to the Crown Agents Foundation to support better development thinking aimed at improving lives in the most fragile parts of the world.