Data is the key to unlocking investment for emerging markets

Over the past few years, the rapid economic growth experienced by emerging markets since the turn of the century has faced significant challenges. In the face of the pandemic, they were forced to be more adaptable than their mature market counterparts, taking on fresh debt. And while many economies have rebounded, recovery has been far from even. If emerging market economies are to return to their previous growth trajectories, then investment will be critical. 

Those investments, at least in the cumulative sense, have to be big too. In 2020, for example, South Africa revealed that it would need just under US$87 billion just to finance its infrastructure development needs over the next decade. A year earlier, meanwhile, Bangladesh revealed that it would need somewhere around US$24 billion annually to meet its infrastructure needs. Those figures, which have undoubtedly climbed in the wake of the pandemic, are mirrored to varying degrees in emerging-market countries around the world. 

Nowhere is the need for such investment clearer than in the transportation sector. Transport remains at the centre of life in busy and bustling cities. It is what keeps the city moving, getting people from A to B, and ensuring a stable economy. Without efficient, reliable, and safe public transportation systems, any attempts at improving a city’s economy is futile. This is especially true in emerging markets. But if these markets are to attract the kind of investment they need, data will be critical. 

The power of transport 

In order to understand why effective transport data is so critical to economic growth in emerging markets, there are a few things worth considering. 

First off, there’s the time spent commuting and ultimately lost from an economic productivity perspective. Take Lagos, for example. A 2021 report found that by the time the average Lagosian reaches 55, they will have spent nearly seven years in traffic. Imagine what you could do and achieve if you were given an extra seven years back. Multiply that by the millions of people who live in the city and you can see how much of an economic cost traffic represents. 

That’s to say nothing of the environmental costs (according to the World Economic Forum, mayors in more than 100 cities have said that investing in public transport could create 4.6 million jobs by 2030 and cut transport emissions) that come with all that traffic or the mental health costs that place a burden on healthcare systems around the world.              

Even if you can’t give a city’s inhabitants back all of the time they spend in traffic, half an hour on either end would allow commuters to study further, spend more quality time with their family and friends, or even launch a side hustle. 

In order to unlock that value, data is critical. After all, unless you know where pile-ups and traffic jams take place, you can’t begin to address them. That’s especially true in emerging market cities where public transport networks are often informal and don’t follow fixed routes. But the value of transport data goes much further than just making life easier for commuters. 

Making business and investment easier 

That’s true for governments and transport authorities: with the right data, they can map and plan new transport routes, tailored to each and every city. That, in turn, can drive investment. We’ve seen this first-hand, with data from WhereIsMyTransport used by the Sarajevo Canton in Bosnia and Herzegovina in evaluations that helped them secure an infrastructure investment loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).    

But public transport data can also be useful for attracting private sector investment. Retailers, for instance, can get a much better idea of where to locate their stores. In emerging market cities especially, it makes sense to have stores as close to transport hubs as possible. With most people relying on informal public transport, rather than their own vehicles, it’s vital to ensure that companies receive maximum return on their investments. 

There are further benefits from this kind of data too. Developers and construction companies can more easily figure out where to put their next big real estate project, logistics companies can plan the most efficient routes for their drivers, along with various other benefits.  

Ultimately, the more they know about the opportunities in a specific city or market, the more willing organisations will be to invest and keep investing.    

Beyond recovery, towards growth 

It should be clear then that data, and transport data in particular, is crucial to securing the kinds of public and private investment that will take emerging market economies from recovery, towards sustained (and sustainable) growth. In order for it to have that effect, however, it’s critical that this data is accurate and up-to-date at all times. The fact that cities can attract this kind of investment while also improving the lives of their citizens, should make gathering and sharing the required data a no-brainer. 

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Devin is the CEO and founder of WhereIsMyTransport, leading a team inspired by a shared vision to bring the benefits of high-quality data and technological innovation to people living and working in emerging markets. In the world’s 30 largest emerging-market cities, over 300 million people use public transport every day. At WhereIsMyTransport,  Devin and the team produce mobility and location data for these high-growth markets. WhereIsMyTransport's data assets improve the public transport experience for their consumer product users, and help clients like Google and the World Bank develop new business.

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