Road to Addis: Partner2Connect Meeting

Posted September 20, 2021

Excellencies

Ladies and Gentlemen

Dear Colleagues

We are honoured to be part of this event and the Partner2Connect Initiative.

Building strong and inclusive digital ecosystems is a critical aspect of the global effort to ensure safe and meaningful connectivity for all.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a number of key lessons that have informed how we must approach digital transformation. Firstly, we have seen how countries that had more developed digital infrastructures were often able to respond more quickly to the pandemic than those that had not made the same investments. In fact, a World Bank study showed how early implementers reached twice as many citizens through their social protection programs versus late starters (39% coverage vs 19%). In Pakistan, which already had a national digital ID system with wide coverage, the government was able to reach 7 million people with emergency cash funding within 2 weeks. Secondly, it became evident that many digital responses suffer from fragmentation and they are often isolated pilots that do not or cannot scale. Thirdly, the pandemic also highlighted how digital transformation has the potential to make inequality worse if it is not done with an intentionally inclusive lens.

Based on these observations, we strongly believe in the need to create national digital ecosystems that bring together key stakeholders and take a holistic and integrated approach to digital transformation. In many cases, digital platforms and approaches are implemented in isolation of one another – spread across different ministries or parts of society without consideration of how they may be linked or interoperate. UNDP has been working with our partners to bring a more strategic vantage point to how governments can pursue digital transformation in an integrated way at the national level. We see five key building blocks to create a flourishing national digital ecosystem:

    1. Infrastructure, including physical infrastructure for connectivity;
    2. Government, including leadership/governance of the transformation effort, digital public services, procurement of digital products and services as well as monitoring;  
    3. Regulation, including policies, regulations, and ethical guidelines to promote accessibility, affordability, adoption, and application of digital technology;
    4. Business environment, including financing and a robust startup environment; and
    5. People/communities, including digital literacy skills and necessary culture conducive to safe and meaningful usage of digital platforms.

Importantly, inclusion of all people in society needs to be placed at the center – both as the goal as well as the underlying principle that binds and guides these 5 key components.  At UNDP, we call this the “whole-of-society" approach. For example, instead of simply supporting our partners in building out digital infrastructure, we are exploring ways to provide affordable and accessible connectivity, digital skills training, and relevant local content, whilst also ensuring that safeguards are in place to protect privacy and security.

Needless to say, we cannot achieve this alone. We are partnering with stakeholders across industries and sectors to develop this ecosystem.  Together with ITU we have created a Joint Facility on Digital Capacity-Building to help boost digital literacy and skills training.  UNDP has recently joined the board of the Digital Public Goods Alliance - a multi-stakeholder platform that promotes the development, use of and investment in digital public goods, which we believe can serve as accelerators for national digital transformation and help to promote universal and equal access to digital technology.  And with UNCDF we work on integrated approaches to digital finance and financial inclusion.

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Building strong and inclusive digital ecosystems is a complex task. It will require strategic leadership and governance from governments and inter-governmental organizations, investment and innovation from the private sector, intellectual contributions from academic circles, and active engagement from civil society to create a digital ecosystem that advances our efforts to achieve the SDGs and empowers marginalised communities rather than alienating them.

However, it can and it must be done.  We very much look forward to being part of the Partner2Connect platform and working together with all of you on this critical journey.