Bridging Zanzibar's Digital Divide: A Leap Towards an Inclusive and Sustainable Tomorrow
August 11, 2023
"We urgently need to address the growing digital gender gap and put digital technology to work for those who need it most: the vulnerable, the marginalized, those living in poverty, and people suffering from discrimination of all kinds"António Guterres, UN Secretary General.
In the turquoise waters of East Africa lies Zanzibar, an island renowned for its historic tales and aromatic spices. However, today, its narrative is extending beyond its scenic beauty and rich heritage. The island's latest chapter unveils a transformative journey into the digital realm, driven by collaboration, innovation, and ambition. In a recent initiative that signifies this drive, UNDP Accelerator Labs in Tanzania and the UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (BPPS) teamed up with UNICEF Zanzibar and the State University of Zanzibar. Our shared vision? To lay the foundation for Zanzibar’s digital future through a comprehensive Digital Readiness Assessment of its green and blue sectors.
Charting Digital Waters
The initiative kicked off with a vibrant stakeholder workshop. It wasn't just any meeting but a crucible where ideas melded, strategies formed, and aspirations took flight. The agenda? Demystifying what digital readiness truly means for Zanzibar, mapping out its current state, and crafting a transformative path ahead. It wasn’t just a closed-door conference. Instead, a wide array of voices from Zanzibar's innovation and development ecosystems echoed within its walls. Governmental dignitaries, entrepreneurial spirits from startups, thought leaders from educational institutes, and representatives from civil society came together. Their united goal was to ensure a digitally inclusive Zanzibar, where technology serves all, leaving no one behind.
However, for those less acquainted with the terms 'green' and 'blue' sectors: the green sector encapsulates industries such as renewable energy, sustainable farming, and eco-friendly construction. They hold the promise of a greener future, focusing on sustainability. Meanwhile, the blue economy dives deep into activities related to our vast waters—like fishing, coastal tourism, and marine biotech—with an emphasis on preserving the delicate balance of aquatic ecosystems.
The overarching goal of the Digital Readiness Assessment, was dual-pronged. Firstly, it aimed to recognize that the digital transformation, as potent as it is, doesn't overshadow the looming environmental challenges. Secondly, it stressed the importance of ensuring that the fruits of this digital era are equitably shared, especially among those most vulnerable. During the assessment, various facets of Zanzibar's economy, from agriculture to renewable energy, were critically examined. The approach combined quantitative questionnaires with engaging group discussions, aiming for a comprehensive view of the island’s readiness to embrace the digital age.
One might wonder, why all this fuss about digital readiness? As Ms. Laxmi Bhawani, UNICEF’s Chief of Field Office in Zanzibar, eloquently put it,
"Digital readiness transcends technology. It's about molding a digital landscape where every child, every individual, finds their place and purpose.”
Moreover, Prof. Mohamed Makame, the Vice Chancellor of the State University of Zanzibar, emphasized the transformative potential of this digital wave. In his words,
“This initiative isn't just about keeping pace with the digital age. It's about steering Zanzibar to its forefront, tapping into digital tools to enhance education, research, and societal engagement."
So, what crystallized from this workshop? A shared dream emerged: to harness digital technology as a catalyst for a sustainable, inclusive future for Zanzibar. The talks revolved around enhancing digital literacy, fostering digital entrepreneurship, and ensuring tech solutions that are eco-conscious. Above all, there was a unanimous call for digital tools to be made accessible to everyone, including those in remote areas and those with disabilities.
Zanzibar’s strides in digital inclusivity and sustainability are setting a gold standard. As nations globally grapple with the rapid pace of digital transformation, Zanzibar’s narrative serves as a timely reminder: the essence isn't solely about embracing technology. It’s about ensuring that technology touches every life, fostering unity, equity, and ecological mindfulness.
The Digital Readiness Assessment, with its collaboration of international and local agencies, has spotlighted the milestones Zanzibar must achieve to pioneer this digital evolution. Reflecting on the myriad voices from the workshop and the insights the assessment brought forth, one thing is clear: shared vision, relentless effort, and collective action are the way forward.
Zanzibar's digital quest resonates far beyond its shores, illuminating the path for regions and nations. It underscores the significance of unity in vision and action in the digital epoch.
As anticipation builds for the final report's release, one thing remains certain: Zanzibar is not only writing its digital chapter but is also inspiring countless others to pen theirs. Let's champion their vision, and as global stakeholders, join them in shaping a future that's both tech-driven and heart-centered.
Peter Nyanda, Head of Exploration, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Tanzania
Ms. Michelle Ndiwaita, Communications Associate, UNDP
Tabea Mbughuni, Head of Experimentation, UNDP Accelerator Lab, Tanzania
Special thanks to:
Reina Otsuka, Lead, Digital Innovation for Nature, Climate and Energy (BPPS, UNDP)
Eleonora Gatti, Climate Innovation Lead (Global Climate Innovation Portfolio), UNICEF
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