3GSM ASIA : World Bank to back content companies

Encouraged by the transformative impact that telecommunications, particularly cellular networks, have had on developing countries in Africa and elsewhere, the World Bank’s private-sector investment arm plans to expand the scope of its investments to include content providers, according to a senior executive.

“We are looking into how we can invest into content and creative industries,” said Mohsen Khalil, the director of global information and communication technologies for the World Bank and its private-sector arm, the International Finance Corp. (IFC), during an interview at the 3GSM World Congress Asia conference in Singapore.

The move to invest in content companies comes as part of a shift to invest more broadly in technologies and applications that help spur economic and social development. “We’re looking at TMT: telecommunications, media and technology. It’s not just technology anymore,” Khalil said.

In recent years, the mobile telecommunication sector in Africa has proved to be very profitable, with high financial returns for operators and investors. Moreover, the networks have been a boon for the citizens of many African countries. “It has a tremendous effect on economic development and growth,” he said.

That was not always the case. “We ventured into cellular very early, ahead of others, including private enterprise. Our first investment in cellular was in 1989 in a project in Zaire,” Khalil said, referring to the country now called Democratic Republic of Congo.

The World Bank and IFC are hoping to make an equally prescient move by pushing into media and content investments early. “We’re looking at what is the next cycle, what will make the most impact,” he said.

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