Overcoming the Digital Divide to Drive Society Forward
As more activities move online, access to digital infrastructure and technology becomes increasingly crucial for social and economic development. However, the recent pandemic has highlighted the deepening “digital divide,” which disproportionately affects marginalized populations and exacerbates inequalities within and between every country. However, not all hope is lost. According to UN DESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs), development cooperation can significantly expand access to digital technologies and thus, narrowing the divide.
THE DIGITAL BARRIER
Digital divide remains stubbornly wide despite more than 1 billion new internet users coming online in the last five years. Information from International Telecommunication Union suggests that in mid-2022, just over one-third of the world's population—many living in developing countries—could not access the internet. On top of that, a survey conducted by UN DESA found that a lack of efficient and effective information and communication technology was a significant barrier for countries to manage development cooperation effectively.
CREATING PARTNERSHIP TO OVERCOME THE ISSUE
Development partners should prioritize inclusivity and vulnerability assessments to address these challenges in their digital transformation efforts. The financial sector can play a crucial role in this—convening the necessary digital and financing actors to explore and promote new mechanisms to ensure a more inclusive digital transformation. Apart from that, UN DESA recommends participatory approaches with potential beneficiaries and affected groups in the form of Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). Robust monitoring systems, adaptation to local contexts, effective accountability mechanisms, and investment in education, capacity-building, and organizational development are examples of what these partnerships can achieve.
THE ROLES OF NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL POLICYMAKERS
Development cooperation stakeholders from the public and international sectors are critical in bringing different resources to bear on closing the digital divide and driving digital transformation. According to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), this includes providing concessional finance, capacity-building, technology, knowledge transfer, and the movement of technology between developing countries (South-South cooperation). As stated in the UN General Assembly, the latter, in particular, can play an important role in not only facilitating technology transfer among developing countries but also strengthening cooperation between them.
Development partners must work together to connect underserved groups and countries to digital infrastructure and skills, leveraging different resources and cooperation mechanisms to ensure a more equitable and sustainable future. By taking these steps, humanity can drive the global society forward, leaving no one behind in this digital age.
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