Ambassador David Gilmour’s Remarks at the Opening of the Open Data Conference 

Official family photo with David Gilmour Ambassador and the Togolese Minister of Digital Economy

S.E.M. David Gilmour

Ambassador Gilmour Remarks
Open Data Conference 
Hotel 2 Fevrier 
November 30, 2018

Madame the Minister of the Digital Economy
Monsieur the Coordinator of the UN System in Togo
Madame the Ambassador of the European Union
Representatives of different Ministries
Members of the diplomatic corps
Representatives of international organizations
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

It is with great pleasure that I take the floor this morning within the framework of this historic conference. Just a decade ago, the concept of Open Data was barely known. Today, Open Data is widely recognized as one of the most powerful tools available to accelerate sustainable development and create economic growth.

Open data is government data that is available to everyone to access, use and share. During today’s conference, you will hear about how Open Data can help development by improving the efficiency and expanding the reach of government services such as healthcare and education. You will also hear about how Open Data can play a critical role in improving governance by increasing transparency, accountability, and citizen participation.

What I would like to discuss, however, is the potential of Open Data to spur economic growth. Today, thousands of companies are using Open Data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of existing processes; invent new products, services, and markets; and create value for individual consumers. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, Open Data used in seven sectors of the economy could create three to five trillion dollars annually in economic value worldwide.

These numbers are staggering, and it may seem unbelievable that simply making government data “open” could create so much economic value. But let me offer you an instructive example of how it happens.

In 2009, the U.S. government launched the Open Data Initiative to publish government data and the data.gov website to distribute the data. The data.gov website now has more than 200,000 different data sets, supplied by dozens of federal agencies. This includes census information, records of deeds and titles, weather data, maps and other geospatial information, data about roads and transport, registers of businesses, environmental and agricultural data, and so much more.

Once the data was online and open, it didn’t take long before companies started accessing and using it to create new products. One of these is Zillow. Using information available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and the Census Bureau, Zillow provides a home and real estate on-line marketplace to help homeowners and home buyers find and share vital information about homes, real estate, mortgages and home improvement. It is driven by a database of more than 110 million U.S. homes. Today Zillow is worth $3 billion dollars and employs nearly 1,000 people.

The story of Zillow demonstrates the value of Open Data, but there are many other examples. When the city of London made Open Data available about its transportation system, more than 500 new mobile applications were created to capitalize on this data and provide it in an easily accessible way to consumers.

And it is not only in the West that we see this kind of innovation. Just across the border in Ghana, a company called Esoko helps farmers by repackaging data from different sources (including government agricultural data) and disseminating the information via mobile phones with call-center support in local languages.

In short, Open Data represents an enormous new vector for creating economic growth. The question we must ask today is: What must Togo do to join the ranks of countries that are benefiting from the Open Data revolution?

A 2014 report by the World Bank titled “Open Data for Economic Growth” explained that to promote Open Data, government must play two key roles: supplier and catalyst.

As a supplier, the government needs to release data publicly and regularly, and steadily improve quality and access.

As a catalyst, the governments should strive to nurture an ecosystem of data users, coders, and application developers and incubate new, data-driven businesses.

I believe that in Togo, under the strong leadership of the Minister of the Digital Economy, the government is already playing these roles. And I congratulate the government of Togo for having launched the national open data portal, www.opendata.gouv.tg 

However, to truly benefit from Open Data, Togo must go further. It is in this optic, thus, that I humbly offer the following recommendations:

First, the government should invest in building Open Data skills within the whole of government, including at the regional and municipal levels. This involves investing in training and resources for the government focal points charged with collecting the data, and constant collaboration between ministries to ensure that the data is up-to-date and shareable.

Second, the government should prioritize the release of “core reference data.” Essentially, this refers to the subset of government data that is most valuable for businesses of all kinds. Typical examples of such data include maps, address databases, demographic data from the Census, data about roads and other transport links, official data about registered companies and other businesses and data about public procurement. In consultation with business, governments should identify the datasets which would comprise the “core reference data” and should then ensure that the release of this data is prioritized.

Third, the government should actively support and incubate innovation using Open Data. It can do so by creating incentives for innovators and entrepreneurs in specific sectors. For example, in the U.S. the government launched the American Energy Data Challenge, which offers $100,000 for the most innovative company that generates energy efficiency and clean energy solutions using publicly available data. Such challenges, in combination with more open data portals will drive innovation and economic growth.

Finally, Togo should seriously consider joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a multilateral network established in 2011 which now includes 70 countries. To join, countries must create a national action plan that commits to using Open Data to foster greater transparency, generate economic growth, empower citizens, fight corruption, and more generally enhance governance.

I believe strongly that by taking these steps, Togo will position itself as a leader in harnessing the power of Open Data to crate economic growth and accelerate development.

I wish you all a very productive and stimulating conference.

Thank you for your attention.