Toward collaborative and interconnected platforms for digital inclusion

December 15, 2021

UNDP Kyrgyzstan

The digital divide is emerging as one of the 21st century’s steepest hurdles to global equality. Digital tools and technologies are increasingly becoming integral components of everyday life – mostly accessible however to people living in developed countries. More than a third of the world – 2.9 billion people – don’t use the internet. Most of those who are unconnected live in developing countries, where only 57 percent of people access the internet. This is driven by a lack of key infrastructure and/or compatible devices, and further exacerbated by unaffordability of data and a lack of basic skills needed to use the internet.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened this digital divide and progress to bring more people online has slowed down. As essential services have moved online during and in the wake of the pandemic, those not participating in the digital economy are in danger of being left even further behind. Schools have been a prime example of this phenomenon. Public education systems with pre-existing knowledge and experience running distance and multimodal learning delivery have fared significantly better than in-person systems.

A concerted effort is needed to reduce these deepening inequalities. We must address the accessibility of affordable technology and the availability of digital services to increase opportunities for everyone.

But for actors engaged in policymaking or influencing policy, both public and private, it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to furthering digital inclusion. Reliable information from credible sources is often siloed, scattered across thousands of platforms and websites, taking hours to sift through. What’s more, approaches are constantly changing and adjusting to new best practices, meaning that by the time a project design is finished, it can already be out of date. Common protocols, standards, and other governance mechanisms required to achieve cohesion between efforts are missing. Therefore, competing interests and redundancy are hindering digital inclusion.

To address this challenge, the EDISON Alliance – a global movement of 45 champions from the public and private sector – is committed to prioritizing digital inclusion as foundational to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals so every person can affordably participate in the digital economy. A primary component of the alliance is to empower policymakers with tools and resources to enhance and accelerate the policymaking process – enabling more stakeholder engagement, more knowledge exchanges, and more informed decision making.

As part of this effort, the World Economic Forum (WEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) are working together to develop a centralized, trusted platform of curated information on topics related to digital inclusion and the digital economy to foster real-time engagement with peers across sectors, regions, and contexts. The three organizations believe that collaborative engagement and access through easy-to-use platforms will make these examples and good practices available for everyone to learn, adopt, and adapt.

The Digital Inclusion Navigator will provide policymakers across various levels with best practices, playbooks, data sources, and real-world examples along three primary verticals of digital inclusion:

  • Inclusive healthcare: expanding access and care toward universal coverage.
  • Inclusive financial services: expanding access to allow people and businesses to participate in local economies and better manage their financial lives.
  • Inclusive education: expanding access to quality education for children and continuing learners.

The navigator brings together the best of the participating alliance partners: UNDP’s expertise in global development, the leading public-private platform capabilities of the forum, and the cutting-edge strategies and approaches of BCG. Under development, the plan is to enable open access by mid-2022.

Learning by doing has been central to the capacity building approach of this project. This included facilitation of co-creation space, allowing end-users and stakeholders to actively participate, inform, as well as gather learnings from the various processes. From concept to beta testing, to focus groups and bespoke interviews, the combined team of all three organizations worked with experts from government, the private sector and other institutions, resulting in a user-centric platform.

As the world becomes more digitized, there is an increasing need for feedback loops and mechanisms to ensure global agendas can be effectively implemented. In practice, the EDISON Alliance plans to use tools like the navigator – together with the expertise and learnings from its partners – to start a movement for cross-sectoral collaboration and cooperation. For the forum, UNDP, and BCG, we intend for the navigator to become a people-centric platform that helps drive digital inclusion.