Finding an Address for the Next Wave of Innovators

In places like Johannesburg and Rio, millions of people live in shantytowns and favelas – homes that literally don’t show up on the map. Less than one percent of these major urban settlements have been mapped. While these people may not have formal addresses they are not sitting on the sidelines of technology. For instance, smartphone penetration in Brazil is estimated to be up 34% year over year. At Bing, we think there is a huge opportunity to help. That’s why we are taking part in the Global Innovation Summit this week in San Jose, CA. The event brings together NGOs, governments and subject matter experts to explore how we can help accelerate the untapped potential in these communities.

How do you build the next Foursquare or attract new customers to your restaurant if you’re not on the map? At Bing we have the opportunity to bring our computational power and mapping infrastructure to these communities. With the ability to take advantage of localized information online these local economies will be able to access the benefits of a platform for innovation and economic mobility. The opportunity is expansive, but extends beyond a search engine or a mapping solution. It requires many actors to come together to enable these populations with the affordances take for granted in the United States.

Oct 24, 2013; Rio de Janiero, BRA; An aerial view of a low income housing community also known as a favela in the city of Rio during the first world press briefing for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Mandatory Credit: RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

A Microsoft team in Brazil has begun a project to start building out this mapping infrastructure in the favelas. The team is seeking to build the necessary infrastructure to enable the many parties necessary for the communities to fully participate in the digital town square in ways that many of us in the developed online world take for granted.  The lessons they learn, and the insights derived from the Global Innovation Summit we hope will serve as a model to reduce the digital divide across the world.

We’re excited about the possibilities and will have more to share in the coming months.

– Stefan Weitz, Senior Director, Bing