COVID-19, like most crises, is exacerbating inequalities in the region. To contain the pandemic, most Latin American countries have closed their schools, affecting the learning of 154 million students. However, not all students are affected equally. While distance education can contribute to alleviate the immediate impacts of school closures, it requires a number of conditions to deliver meaningful results. Students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds tend to suffer the most and risk bearing lasting consequences in terms of learning outcomes and, ultimately, opportunities. In particular, three interconnected dimensions stand out.
By Tim Unwin, Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, Royal Holloway, University of London1, and Co-Founder of TEQtogether2
The numerous initiatives created over the last 20 years using Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) have transformed the lives of many people living in poorer countries. However, at the same time, they have also greatly increased the economic power and wealth of the owners and shareholders of large global technology corporations. In 2017, Oxfam reported that eight men owned the same wealth as the poorest half of humanity; five of these men made most of their wealth directly from the technology sector.3 Of course, such technologies can reduce inequalities, but the hidden, ugly secret of “digital development” is that instead of improving the lives of the poorest and most marginalised, such technologies have actually dramatically increased inequality at all scales, from the global to the local.
Few people and organisations emphasise this, focusing instead on the glass being half-full rather than half-empty. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and countless others have thus recently praised the achievement that 51.2% of the world’s population were using the Internet by the end of 2018.4 However, this means that 48.8% are still not using it. If the Internet brings benefits, then just under half of the world’s people are being structurally disadvantaged. Yet, this need not be. If we have the will to do so, we can indeed work together with people with disabilities, children at risk of living and working on the streets, refugees, women and girls in patriarchal societies, ethnic minorities, and those living in geographically isolated areas to help empower them through the design and use of relevant technologies.
The rapid rise of the Internet, together with emerging technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced robotics and drones, Blockchain, the “Internet of things” (IoT) and 3D printing, are unleashing new opportunities and transforming the global economy. While these technological advances can address some of the most pressing 21st century challenges – from education, health care and public services to agriculture, economic inclusion and the environment – the benefits are not being shared equally. Despite Internet connectivity having finally reached 50% of the world’s population in 2018, the rate of Internet access growth has slowed down considerably.2 In Africa, specifically, only about 20% of the population has regular Internet access3 – a challenge with significant implications for harnessing the transformative power of the technology-driven Fourth Industrial Revolution for inclusive and sustainable development.
Women from developing countries comprise the majority of the unconnected. The gender divide has narrowed in most regions since 2013, but it has widened in Africa. The proportion of women using the Internet on the continent is 25% lower than the proportion of men.4 Notwithstanding the significant potential of mobile phone technology to spur women’s entrepreneurship through mobile banking and payment services as well as improved access to information and finance, sub-Saharan Africa follows South Asia with the second largest average gender gap in both mobile ownership and mobile Internet use.5 A widening gender digital divide concerning the availability, affordability, accessibility, and use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) negatively impacts women’s economic empowerment. It further undermines full gender equality that lies at the core of human rights and is integral to the African Union’s Agenda 2063, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
To read more about this topic, check out the upcoming release
of theDevelopment Co-operation Report 2018: Joining Forces to Leave No One Behind on 11 December 2018
The 2030 Agenda presents a historic opportunity to set the world on track to a sustainable future. In twelve years’ time, a litmus test for its success will be: have we made good on the promise to ‘leave no one behind’? The answer will depend, in some measure, on our responses to the fourth industrial revolution.
The speed and ubiquity of technological change offers unparalleled opportunities for sustainable development, but it also comes with the risk of rising inequalities within and between countries. It is up to policy makers to leverage this transformation for good, and to mitigate their risks.
Artificial intelligence can improve the quality and reach of health care with half of the world’s population still not having access to essential health services. Digital technologies can boost agricultural productivity. Satellite imagery can help combat deforestation. Big data analytics can identify needs and help track progress in real time. Drones can deliver essential supplies. And digital finance can enable new models to deliver basic services. Continue reading “Technological change raises the stakes for action to leave no one behind”
By Atul Mehta, Director, IFC, Telecom, Media & Technology, Fintech, Venture Capital & Funds; Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, Senior Director, World Bank Group, Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice; and Jose Luis Irigoyen, Senior Director, World Bank, Transport and Digital Development Global Practice
If we wish to create a future built on shared prosperity, digital technology will be critical.
In fact, as technology innovation accelerates, it may be the best path to inclusive growth. Extending Internet access in developing countries to levels seen in developed countries could enhance productivity by as much as 25%, according to Deloitte. The resulting economic activity could generate USD 2.2 trillion in additional GDP and more than 140 million new jobs.
At the World Bank Group, we have been putting quite a lot of thought into understanding what it takes to create a successful and inclusive digital economy, in light of our mission to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. Technology can be a force for good — by promoting economic inclusion, efficiency, and innovation. But it can also cause upheaval — by displacing jobs or imperiling the security of personal and government data, and even critical infrastructure. And it can widen the digital divide — increasing the gap between those who benefit from technology and those who are excluded and risk falling further behind. That’s why technology’s risks and opportunities must be carefully managed. Continue reading “How to Build Inclusive Digital Economies”
By Lord Mark Malloch-Brown,Chair, Business & Sustainable Development Commission, former UNDP Administrator and Ex-UN Deputy Secretary-General, and UK Minister of State for Africa, Asia and the United Nations
A critical transition from a heavy reliance on international public development finance to locally generated private sector solutions to development problems is underway. Earlier this year, the Business & Sustainable Development Commission launched its flagship report, Better Business, Better World, which makes the case for why the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer the private sector a growth strategy that opens new market value and helps solve significant social and environmental challenges at the same time. The Commission shows how sustainable business models could unlock economic opportunities across 60 “hot spots” worth up to USD 12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030. In Africa alone, sustainable business models could open up an economic prize of at least USD 1.1 trillion and create over 85 million new jobs by 2030. Continue reading “The Global Goals’ Business Opportunity in Africa”