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A Great Success: World Bank has a 70% failure rate with ICT4D projects to increase universal access

By Wayan Vota on August 17, 2011

We all know that developing countries have seen rapid growth in information and communication technology (ICT) access and use – from basic Internet access to the explosive growth of mobile phone ownership – and this growth is uneven. While the hype points to mobile phone saturation, high-speed Internet access and broadband connectivity is still limited and poorly used by business and government to create and deliver key services.

world bank ict4d evaluation

The World Bank Group had the strategy to promote ICT access and adoption across all sectors of the developing world through:

  1. ICT sector reform,
  2. access to information infrastructure,
  3. ICT skills development, and
  4. ICT applications.

Recently, it’s internal Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) completed an Evaluation of World Bank Group Activities in Information and Communication Technologies, a review of the $4.2 billion in World Bank support to the ICT section during fiscal 2003–10. During that time, the Bank Group was the largest multilateral financier in telecommunications in Africa. (Yet that was about 1 percent of private investment in telecommunications of $400 billion between 2003 and 2009.)

The IEG’s findings are quite impressive – in it’s transparency and its recommendations – on the Bank’s ICT expansion activities:

Among these areas, the Bank Group’s most notable contributions have been in sector reforms and support to private investments for mobile telephony in difficult environments and in the poorest countries, where most of its activities have taken place. Countries with Bank Group support for policy reform and investments have increased competition and access faster than countries without such support. In other priority areas, the World Bank Group’s contribution has been limited. Targeted efforts to increase access beyond what was commercially viable have been largely unsuccessful.

In general, the Bank has a 60% success rate across the four strategies, with one major exception:

Regarding efforts to promote universal access, targeted World Bank ICT projects with the objective to directly promote target access for the underserved and the poor had limited success; only 30 percent have achieved their objectives of implementing universal access policies or increasing ICT access for the poor or underserved areas. Bank operations to promote universal access often were slow to get off the ground and were superseded by the rollout of mobile phone networks by the private sector, in some cases supported by Bank sector reform


Congratulations to the World Bank!

I am sure there will be many people who see that 40-70% failure rate in ICT projects and ask why the Bank is doing such a bad job. Expect the calls for reduction in ICT investments to start soon after. Both are misguided. Rather than bemoaning the failure rate, let us congratulate the World Bank on such transparency and risk taking.

First, it takes great bravery to critically examine any project, and even more so when donor country funds are at stake. It is even harder to be honest that many projects fail, and harder still to make those failures public. On Monday, we asked, “How Do We Break Oscar Night Syndrome in ICT4D M&E?,” and I am quite impressed that the Bank did just that even when the results were seemingly so unflattering.

Next, let us be realistic about where the World Bank is often working. It is supporting programs in relatively challenging environments, even market failure situations, where there is minimal private sector investment and considerable resistance to reform. What do you expect the success rate to be in situations like that? I would consider 30% to be a remarkable success rate. It’s better than the 20% success rate of Silicon Valley start-ups who are coddled by the most business-conducive environment in the world.

So let us not be critical, let us actually be ecstatic that the World Bank is brave enough to invest where others fear to tread and is honest about it’s success in doing so. In this case, may we all be more like the Bank.


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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7 Comments to “A Great Success: World Bank has a 70% failure rate with ICT4D projects to increase universal access”

  1. Mika Välitalo says:

    Thanks for posting and commenting the World Bank’s evaluation. I agree that considering the difficult environment and average success rates of any ICT projects (including the ones in the Western countries) World Bank is actually, and honestly, doing pretty well.

    It would be useful to have more detailed information on how “success” and “failure” are defined in this/these report(s). Meeting 50% of the goals is a different kind of failure than reaching only 1% of objectives (just as Madonna).

  2. Wayan Vota says:

    Worlali Senyo makes an interesting point via Twitter. He asks, “is the reason for high failure rates in #ICT4D projects not because indicators of success are often misplaced?” In the World bank report, it does talk about indicators requiring revision during projects. This isn’t always a bad thing, as often initial goals move once implementation starts and expands.


  3. Hi Wayan,

    Absolutely agree that the World Bank is doing something great by putting this data out there. And really, if we’re honest, I’d guess most would think that a 30% success rate in development projects is pretty high. That they are honest enough to open themselves up for this type of scrutiny is potentially trendsetting. If only the UN orgs would follow suit…

  4. Jonathan Mativo says:

    ICT4D has been a hype i must comment and i would think that the world bank targetted a different spectrum all together. Infrastructure, Acess and Utilization are all different levels of ICT4D.

    As an organization we have been keen on ICT4D in Kenya and one of our interesting findings out of a project geared towards improved ICT literacy in kenya, indicates that ICTs are a phenomenon least know to the poor. By that we focused on the rural and set up a remote ICT training site. During our feasibility study we envisaged getting a maximum of 40 participants for a comprehensive 2 months training on ICTs.

    Amazingly we got 173 with an exciting turn out of the the elderly. We have a 82 year old man who came in to learn computers at that age.

    As the training comes to and end next week, we are all struggling with follow up and obtaining start up capital for the business skills invested in the participants.

    I would then think that the beneficiaries of these projects must be re-evaluated and targeted to the right group.

  5. Imtiaz says:

    I think we must face reality-this is rewardful in long run. Such evaluation enhances organizations credeibility and importance. This is why WB got huge credibility.

    A good evaluation reveals results with no or minimal biase; changing 30% access to 90% is neither professional, not ethical and nor advisable.

    I congratulte the evaluators and WB who brought and produced real facts. Other professionals and organizations should follow the WB approach; say good thing if they are good or the other way around.

  6. […] for reduction of ICT investment. However, there are other ways to interpret the same result. The ICT works post provides a more positive insight into the statistics. It states that rather than criticizing, we […]

  7. […] year, the World Bank came out with a study of their ICT4D projects that suggested the bank had a 70% failure rate with these types of projects. As you might expect, there was much hand wringing and […]