"Development in the Age of Digital Platforms" Conference


In this joint conference, the Münchner Kreis, the World Bank and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale  Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) brought together leading academics, policy makers, development practitioners, and industry representatives on the topic of digital platforms. These experts discussed how development projects can influence, use, and support digital platforms in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals. The conference focused particularly on Africa but also included examples from other developing countries. The main goals of the conference were to promote dialogue and knowledge sharing about platforms and to generate recommendations for a policy paper on designing and implementing platforms in a sustainable, equitable way.

Through a unique combination of online workshops, keynote videos from African policy makers, and online discussions, the conference addressed the following questions: 

  1. How can platforms be designed and leveraged to support economic growth in developing countries, especially in Africa? 
  2. What are some existing examples of platforms that have been successfully leveraged for development? 
  3. How can platform business models be developed in a sustainable way? 
  4. What framework conditions and policies are needed to make sure platforms support the Sustainable Development Goals and work to close the digital divide?

The conference focused on digital platforms in six sectors: Manufacturing, Education, Health Care, Agriculture and Food Production, Mobility, and Finance / E-Commerce.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis and travel restrictions, the workshops, which were originally planned as face-to-face events, were held as online workshops between April 2020 and September 2021 

The policy paper has been completed and was presented in the launch webinar on December 8 2021: 

Policy Paper “Development in the Age of Digital Platforms”

Slides from Launch Webinar for Policy Paper



Our workshop will look at the emergence of digital finance and e-commerce platforms and share lessons learned from implementations of innovative solutions. We’ll then discuss how the potential of these platforms can be unlocked further, as a key driver for development:

  • How can digital finance platforms be best designed and leveraged to support economic growth in developing countries, especially in Africa?
  • How can their business models be developed in a sustainable way?
  • What framework conditions and policies are needed to help ensure that these platforms can support the Sustainable Development Goals and close the digital divide?

The results of the workshop will feed into the recommendations for the Policy Paper being developed as part of the "Development in the Age of Digital Platforms" Conference.

Organizers: Saliya Kanathigoda (GIZ) 

Speaker and projects: 

  • Ashley Olson Onyango GSMA) - Head of Financial Inclusion & AgriTech (BIO)
  • Clarisse Iribagiza (HeHe) - Chief Executive Officer (BIO)
  • Nika Naghavi (MFS Africa) - Director Strategic Projects (BIO)
  • Wolfram Zunzer (GIZ Africa) - Digital Platform WIDU (BIO)
  • Emmanuel Khisa (Smart Africa) - Project Manager, Digital ID, Payments & eCommerce (BIO)


If you wish to attend, please send a short confirmation to Lynn Apelt from the organising team (lynn.apelt@giz.de) and we will send you the link to join the event. Please note: the deadline for registration is 16th August 2021.

Interactive map (LINK)

    2.0GIZ Financial Services and E-Commerce

Organizers: Münchner Kreis, Technische Universität München, University of Oslo, Center for Global Health.
Prof. Dr. Dr. Andrea S. Winkler (TU München and the University of Oslo) and Prof. Dr. Michael Dowling (Münchner Kreis and the University of Regensburg) hosted and facilitated the workshop. The well-attended workshop provided a broad overview of the opportunities and challenges of platforms in healthcare, their impact on society, and the general access problem seen in the context of the digital divide. 

Speakers and projects:

  • Prof. Dr. Helmut Krcmar (TU München) -“Introduction to Platforms” (LINK)
  • Prof. Dr. Josef Noll (University of Oslo/Basic Internet Foundation) - Digital Health and Public Goods - “Complexity and the Need for Policy” (LINK)
  • Uwe Wahser and Saurav Battarai (GIZ) - Open IMIS Platform (LINK1) (LINK2)
  • Dr. Felix Sukums (Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences) - DHIS2 in Tanzania (LINK)
  • "Governing Digital Health Futures": Dr. Samuel Knauss (Charité) - A Digital Health Insurance Platform: mToday
  • Christian Franz (The Lancet and Financial Times Digital Health Commission) - Platforms and The Governance of Data 
  • Nanjira Sambuli (Independent researcher, policy analyst and advocacy strategist) - COVID-19 and the Implications for Digital Health Platforms 

Interactive map (LINK)

    2.0 GIZ Health Map

    Healthcare received about 10% of the total venture and institutional funding allocated to startups in 2020. While the sector has seen a significant expansion when it comes to products and services, the bulk of funding has focused on telemedicine, hospital management (which includes electronic medical records, appointment booking platforms, and patient records), distribution (mainly including e-pharmacies), and biotech. A large portion of funding into the sector still involves traditional private equity and development finance focusing on infrastructure, such as hospitals and private clinic networks across the continent. Among the companies gaining traction to date, when excluding Zipline’s investments, Vezeeta, M-Pharma, CarePay, and 54 Gene are some of the fastest-growing.
    Navigating regulatory frameworks, infrastructure gaps, and capital scarcity remain significant obstacles for health tech entrepreneurs. The barriers to entry and scale remain high if compared to other fast growing industries such as fintech and e-commerce.

    Protocol (LINK)
    Summary (LINK)

Organizers: Dr. Sylvia Van Ziegert (GIZ), Samia Melhem (World Bank) and Prof. Dr. Michael Dowling (Münchner Kreis) 

Summary: (LINK)

Speakers and projects: 

  • Dr. Sylvia Van Ziegert (GIZ), Samia Melhem (World Bank) - Platforms in Education, Vocational, and Digital Skills Development (LINK)
  • Ekua Nuama Bentil (World Bank) - Africa Centers of Excellence (LINK)
  • Martin Hecker (CEO Amalitech), Kathrin Russner (GIZ, Special Initiative Training and Job Creation) - Digital Skills Accelerator Africa e.V (LINK)
  • Volker Lichtenthäler, Dominic Orr (GIZ Sector Programm) - atingi / Africa Cloud (LINK)
  • Margaret Koli, Yannick Schillinger, Prof. Dr. Zeinab El Maadawi (United Nations University-EHS) - RARSUS and GlobeDrought (LINK)
  • Robert Stüdemannn, Noela Tenku (GIZ Cameroon) - Go On platform 
  • Nader Imani (Festo Didactic SE) - Festo Didactic SE 

Interactive map (LINK)

  • 5.0 GIZ Map Education (2)

    The question of developing educational alternatives remains one of the most complex themes in the debate around the contributions of the private sector to capacity building in Africa. The educational sector, historically, has almost solely relied on public subsidies and funding and the emergence of technology-based solutions to deliver educational content has largely remained on the sidelines, despite raising some modest interest by governments - such as in the case of the One Child One Laptop initiative.

    Over the past few years, while technology companies have been playing a major role in innovating existing, traditional industries, in the educational sector, a significant share of the funding, especially from private equity investors, has gone into (private) school networks such as Bridge International, African Leadership University, and Enko Education, while venture capital and philanthropic money have been targeting organisations focused on critical and digital skills training and employment generation, such as coding schools. Some of these include Moringa School, Andela, Gebeya, Le Wagon, as well as ad-hoc boot-camps run by local technology hubs.

    Though increasing attention is being put on digital education and the role of e-learning, especially in the face of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown measures, private capital in this space remains limited. Learning Management System (LMS) companies, albeit to some extent boosted since the beginning of pandemic, still face structural challenges such as high data prices and lack of reliable power in several non-urban or periurban areas.

    Despite the obstacles and nascent state of financing for learning platforms in Africa, there is a vibrant and emerging landscape of over 200 learning platforms on the continent. The solutions range from e-learning, professional skills development lessons, tutoring, online courses and school management software. Some of top deals across Africa’s startup ecosystems that happened over the past few years in the educational sector, include GetSmarter’s mammoth deal - selling for over $100 million - and the notable investments in Andela, a company which has recently been pivoting towards a more senior talent outsourcing model vs the entry-level training it initially put forward. Nigeria’s uLesson, Eneza Education, and Middle Eastern companies such as Noon Academy are some of the other top businesses that have managed to attract substantial capital in recent years, and impact donors such as the Mastercard Foundation have also been supporting early-stage initiatives with grants in the order of $20-100,000.

    The very nature of digital platforms and online tools for learning and management means that most LMS and edtech solutions are accessible and relevant across borders. Numerous platforms also offer their services in several languages, especially those originating in Portuguese, French, or Arabic speaking countries, extending the reach of the solution to a global scale. Noon Academy, for instance, is active in 8 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and France-based Superprof is active in 29 countries across 6 continents. Many platforms such as gidimo (Nigeria) and eLearning Solutions (Kenya) offer standard e-learning courses on popular topics including IT topics (such as How to Develop an App) and business topics (such as Entrepreneurial Skills, Digital Marketing, Public Speaking, and Management). Some platforms such as etudesk (Côte d'Ivoire) also offer the opportunity for organizations to create and publish their own e-learning courses on a ready-made learning management system (LMS).

    In sum, while the sector is ripe for disruption and ready for more sizeable capital, the dialogue between traditional funding and new models, especially those brought about by innovative startups, is key to define synergies and efficiency in the coming years.

Organizers: Michael Dowling (Münchner Kreis) 

Summary: (LINK)
Speakers and projects: 

  • Prof. Dr. Michael Dowling (MÜNCHNER KREIS and University of Regensburg) - Introduction (LINK)
  • Sylvia Van Ziegert (GIZ)

    Manufacturing Platforms in China
  • Ms YANG Wen (HaierCOSMOPlat) - COSMOPlat Empower the Digital Transformation of SMEs (LINK)
  • Dr ZHOU Yinya (Tencent Cloud) - Practice on Digital Manufaturing Platforms (LINK)
  • Ronald Metschies (GIZ Beijing) - Digital Manufacturing Platforms in China (LINK)

    Manufacturing Platforms in Africa
  • Hagen Ettner (GIZ) - Centre for Sustainable Development (LINK)
  • Dario Giuliani (Briter Bridges) - A Map of the Ecosystem of Manufacturing in Africa (LINK)
  • Vinesh Maharaj (PWC South Africka) - Factory Intelligence (LINK)
  • Edward Akani, Jorge Appiah (Ghana Tech Lab) - Conditions and Examples from Ghana (LINK)

    Discussion and next steps
  • Prof. Dr. Michael Dowling (Münchner Kreis and University of Regensburg)

Interactive map (LINK)

    4.0 GIZ Map Manufacturing

    The development of the manufacturing sector, across the world, has been closely linked to the path to the industrialisation of a country. While the West has enjoyed over 200 years of industrial production and is now fully embracing what many refer to as the 4th Industrial Revolution - i.e. that of connectivity, advanced manufacturing, and digital transformation - Asian countries, spearheaded by Japan and China, have only entered the race since the 1950s. African economies, however, despite experiencing double-digit growth for decades, have been lagging behind global standard when it comes to manufacturing capacity.
    Extensive capital expenses make it hard for small businesses to enter global competition, especially in light of the increasing imports of cheap hardware, from laptops to mobile phones, vehicles and data centres, as well as world-class industrial machinery from China, Japan, and Europe. Most importantly, while countries like Ethiopia and Ghana have begun being seen as future manufacturing hubs, China and Southeast Asia remain the go-to destinations for the outsourced production of leading US and European brands across all sectors. The startup landscape for technology for manufacturing remains extremely nascent, although robotics and additive manufacturing companies have appeared in countries like South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.
    On a more reduced scale, innovation hubs and universities have been allocating resources to building manufacturing labs, mainly equipped with basic low hardware tools and small scale 3D printing machines.

Organizers: Arturo Ardila Gomez (World Bank) 

Speakers and projects: 

  • Prof. Dr. Michael Dowling (MÜNCHNER KREIS and University of Regensburg)
  • Sylvia Van Ziegert (GIZ)
  • Yang Chen (World Bank) - Wuhan Integrated Transport Development Project
  • Eric Ho (Wuhan Project Management Office) - Implementation challenges
  • Verushka Araes (GIZ) - LezGo in Namibia
  • Melkies Ausiku (LEFA Transportation Services) - LezGo

Interactive map (LINK)

    2.0GIZ Map Mobility (1)

    As African cities witness a steep urbanisation rate, the question of transport sustainability has become a core discussion for local administrations. Urban transportation across the continent remains predominantly led by informal matatus / taxi buses or private rental companies. Galvanised by the global Uberisation trends, ride-hailing companies have enjoyed significant interested from the investor community and, since the COVID-19 outbreak, several such businesses have explored new avenues by expanding leveraging their fleets to enter the e-commerce and delivery market. Regulation around transport across Africa has been a hot topic in the past few years due to the fast rise in digital mobility companies from ride-hailing to carpooling and private buses. Some of the major markets such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa have in fact been pushing back by imposing fines or extra taxes on these companies.

Organizers: Christian Merz (GIZ) and Casper Strydom (WFP) 

Summary: (LINK)

Speaker and projects: 

  • Leesa Shrader (Mercy Corps) – Digifarm (LINK)
  • Rikin Ghandi (Digital Green) – FarmStack (LINK)
  • Parmesh Shah (World Bank) – One Million Farmer Initative  (LINK)
  • Hillary Miller-Wise (Africa at Bolt Food) - Tulaa (LINK)

Interactive map (LINK)

    2.0GIZ Map Agriculture (1)

    Agriculture in Africa still employs around 60% of the population and the continent remains predominantly rural. With less than 10% of total capital deployed in 2020 going to agriculture and agtech companies (data from Briter Intelligence, Q4 2020), agriculture is offering an untapped room for opportunities ranging from food production to crowdfunding for farms. Africa’s food imports have spiked over the past two decades to keep up with the fast population growth.
    While digital startups have been proliferating across the continent, it is only a handful of organisations which have managed to reach critical mass and scale and expand to other markets. Digital solutions for farm management have become popular, especially when able to syncronise connected devices for measurement and crop health monitoring and geospatial technology such as drones for precision agriculture.

Keynote videos from African policy makers

Additional information


    2.  Examples of Local African Platforms (LINK)
    3.  Success Factors for Platforms in Africa (LINK)
    4.  Business Models and Stakeholders for Platforms in Africa (LINK)
    5.  Framework Conditions and Policies for Platforms and Digital Transformation (LINK)
    6.  Support from the International Community (LINK)
    7.  Vision for promoting Innovation and Econimc Well-Being (LINK)

    Definition and design principles of platforms

    Further Segments:

    2.  Reaching the SDGs and Closing the Digital Divide (LINK)
    3.  Examples of Local African Platforms (LINK)
    4.  Success Factors for Platforms in Africa (LINK)
    5.  Business Models and Stakeholders for Platforms in Africa (LINK)
    6.  Framework Conditions and Policies for Platforms and Digital Transformation (LINK)
    7.  Support from the International Community (LINK)
    8.  Vision for Promoting Innovation and Economic Well-Being (LINK)

    Definition and Design Principles for Platforms

    Further Segments:

    2.  Examples of Local African Platforms (LINK)
    3.  Success Factors for Platforms in Africa (LINK)
    4.  Business Models and Stakeholders for Platforms in Africa (LINK)
    5.  Framework Conditions and Policies for Platforms and Digital Transformation (LINK)
    6.  Support from the International Community (LINK)
    7.  Vision for promoting Innovation and Econimc Well-Being (LINK)