World Bank Group President Dr. Jim Yong Kim today challenged governments and institutions to support a growing international movement to harness data in an effort to foster greater economic prosperity.

Speaking at an international conference on government data, in one of his public appearances since arriving at the World Bank July 2 in Washington, Kim pointed to the bank’s own efforts to make its vast catalog of data available to the public and a growing community of data harvesting groups as a way addressing some of the world’s pressing economic issues.

“How can we successfully engage citizen and the public sector around open data? And what are some of the concrete ways open data can be harnessed to promote prosperity?” he asked a live and virtual audience of government representatives, developers and data specialists from around the globe.

Kim said “I have worked in development and global health all my life” and had seen first-hand how making the World Bank’s economic data available from across the globe has helped citizens and countries make more informed decisions. He said the World Bank had released 8,000 economic indicators collected over eight years as well as data on 30,000 World Bank activities in 143 countries.

World Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey elaborated on the importance of harnessing data to help to help in deciding how best to direct aid to less developed countries.

“We have effectively handed over the keys to the World Bank’s data,” said Anstey, referring to 60 different collections of data, which are now available through a central data catalog. The catalog includes statistics on everything from climate change, agriculture, jobs, poverty, as well as 11,000 lending projects in more than 100 countries.

“We’ve learned that citizen participation and new technology can find solutions that a generation ago, weren’t available,” said Anstey, speaking in an auditorium at the World Bank Group’s headquarters, where the conference was held. Among those solutions is the potential for identifying gaps in data and analysis.

“‘Give us the data and we will finish the job’ could be the rallying cry of citizens today to address poverty,” she said. “With open data, we can set off a powerful chain reaction…for development.”

She highlighted examples of what the public can do with freely available and easily-accessible data from governments and institutions, citing how researchers explored and mapped how records of violence in Afghanistan impacted the delivery of aid. “The results were surprising, and challenged our assumptions,” she said.

That lesson also raises a key issue: “You can only do open data if you have the data to open up,” she said, pointing to major parts of the world, including Africa and parts of Asia, that lack basic data to make the most fundamental decisions.

“We need a concerted effort for data generation to help countries to have transparency,” she said.

“Let’s not forget why we are in the open data business: We’ve seen it improve the lives of people, ” she said, noting, “Today more people have access to a mobile phone than to a toilet. We can harness that technology to harness the gathering of data. The bad news is the world can’t wait,” she said.

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel also addressed the international audience, citing the federal government’s recently-released Digital Government Strategy, which calls for making “open data the new default” in gathering, assembling and publishing data and creating APIs that make the data machine readable.

He also said the next for the government’s initiative “is to create a portal for developers to find data and have programmatic access to that data. You’ll see the transformation of this year,” he said., which has amassed more then 470,000 government data sets in the United States, is managed by the General Services Administration, which organized the International conference.