Putting Inclusiveness at the Heart of Digitalization

February 24, 2021

Written by: UNDP Mongolia's Accelerator Lab Team

The COVID-19 pandemic became an unexpected driver of digital transformation all around the world taking over and transforming many aspects of our lives by making them simpler and more accessible. People can listen to music, read books, send e-letters, go shopping, and talk to people internationally from the comfort of their homes. As one of our Accelerator Lab members puts it, world-class education at the world-renowned university is now just a few clicks away.

However, digitalization has its challenges related to the access, information security and privacy of data. With every internet transaction, I am giving away my personal data and, without knowledge and experience, my privacy and security might be jeopardized. On the other hand, lack of access to the digital world could further exacerbate many of our existing issues such as inequality, if not addressed properly.

UNDP understands that it should consider all complexities around the new aspects of the digital shift, by moving fast to address the development challenges, and ensuring that ‘no one is left behind.’ It is important to be mindful of the potential digital divide that prevents people from enjoying the full benefits digitalization can deliver. Hence, UNDP started its Accelerator Labs, a vast network of 92 labs working in 116 countries, to look at innovation and acceleration with a holistic approach.


Photos: UNDP/ABS Project, Zayajargal Batjargal and Tumursukh Jal


Though the digital divide is understood as a gap between those who have access to digital technologies and those who have not, it is not only about the mere absence of technology. It is also about the divergence in digital literacy – people’s ability to access, understand, and manage information through digital technologies for betterment of their lives. Often, this difference is rooted deep within existing inequalities due to location, education, and socio-economic status.

According to a study conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mongolian students from centrally located schools performed at least 60 points better on entrance exams than the students from schools in sub-urban and rural neighborhoods. Full shift of education to online mode since early 2020 has raised concerns of both parents and educators alike that this is creating a further educational gap with varying and unequal technological access and digital literacy, both on the part of teachers and students. Therefore, without proper structural and behavioral transformations, increased digitalization could worsen the digital exclusion and exacerbate existing inequalities.

We at UNDP Mongolia’s Accelerator Lab, are aiming to raise awareness of this divide and provide creative approaches to learn more about these fundamental shortcomings. Innovation doesn’t mean technology only. It means looking at things differently, changing the way we do things, our behaviors, and approaches. Technology is here to aid the process and help us to accelerate towards inclusive and sustainable growth, but it shouldn’t be identified as the answer to everything. We strongly believe that digitalization has an enormous potential and it will be the driving force of the future; however, our lives should not be too dependent on it.

As a part of the global learning network, Accelerator Labs draw inspiration from both local solutions and the global development trends. Contrary to project implementation, we are platforms that are managed collaboratively and horizontally, and to test innovative methods to channel people’s insights, views and actions towards complex development problems.

Empowered by our local and global perspective, we will work towards ensuring inclusiveness in digital transformation and improving digital literacy by providing human-centered insights on the issues and looking into the challenges through the eyes of those who are not benefitting from the digitalization process. Our strength and success on this journey will be highly dependent on our ability to crowdsource brilliant ideas to generate effective and collective solutions and with that we invite all interested partners to reach out and work with us to build Mongolia forward better to a more inclusive and sustainable future.

Powered by your collective intelligence and local innovations, three of us at UNDP Mongolia’s Accelerator Lab are looking forward to mapping, exploring, experimenting, and implementing uncharted and different development solutions for Mongolia.