How public-private cooperation can connect and empower the ‘Global South’
Head of Network and Partnerships; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
- The fact 2.6 billion people remain offline is an opportunity for the public and private sectors to unite toward bridging this divide.
- The EDISON Alliance has reached 78% of its target to enable digital connectivity for 1 billion lives by 2025.
- By focusing on local needs and leveraging the strengths of public and private partnerships, significant progress is being made.
This article has been published in Business Today.
In our hyperconnected world, the stark reality that nearly a third of the world’s population, or approximately 2.6 billion people, remain offline is a concern. This digital divide results in disproportionate access to essential life services such as healthcare, education, and banking and finance, ultimately resulting in inadequate or poor living conditions for those living in the developing world.
Yet, there is a silver lining. The fact that 95% of the people in the developing geographies live in areas with internet coverage is a call to action – and an opportunity for the public and private sectors to unite toward bridging this divide.
Advancing digital inclusion
Concentrating efforts on developing regions such as South-East Asia, the African continent and Latin America is imperative. The sheer size of the population of these regions, as well as the existence of challenges such as affordability, inaccessibility and low levels of digital literacy, provide an opportunity for a bigger impact.
In the past three years, we’ve seen how powerful efforts to advance digital inclusion can be. The EDISON Alliance, a World Economic Forum initiative formed in 2021 to bring leaders from diverse sectors together to accelerate global digital inclusion in health, education and finance, has improved the lives of more than 784 million people, 78% of its target to enable digital connectivity for 1 billion lives by 2025.
Various initiatives across the globe have started to make significant strides. In the remote villages of Madhya Pradesh, India, for example, the Apollo Telemedicine Networking Foundation has partnered with a US telecom infrastructure provider to launch digital dispensaries that enable patients to consult with doctors remotely, receive diagnoses and obtain medications. In just 20 months, this initiative has facilitated over 22,000 general teleconsultations and significantly reduced healthcare costs, particularly benefiting women.
Similarly, in Mumbai’s M East ward – a collaboration between Wipro, AstraZeneca and the Maternity Foundation – has introduced a digital health platform to improve maternal and child health outcomes. This platform integrates technology, diagnostic services and training for frontline workers, showing promise for scalability and broader application.
In Bangladesh, the challenge of a digital skills gap among educators is being tackled through the country’s participation in the EDISON Lighthouse Countries Network. This engagement has led to the development of a white paper that will inform national education strategies, focusing on blended learning and digital skill enhancement for teachers.
And in Rwanda, the government’s ambition to go cashless is being realized through strategic partnerships. Collaborations with Mastercard and the country’s predominant mobile network operator, MTN, have led to bespoke digital financial services and innovative schemes like Mayce Mayce, which has already facilitated the sale of over 120,000 devices, aiding financial inclusion.
A critical aspect of digital inclusion is also addressing the affordability of internet-enabled devices. The EDISON Alliance has collaborated with GSMA to form a coalition aimed at reducing the cost of smartphones and developing innovative financing models. This coalition has grown to include a diverse range of industry players, working together to create accessible solutions for the underprivileged.
The journey towards total digital inclusion
These examples represent just a glimpse of the ongoing global efforts to bridge the digital divide. By focusing on local needs and leveraging the strengths of public and private partnerships, significant progress is being made. As these efforts continue to expand and evolve, they not only address immediate challenges but also lay the groundwork for sustainable development and inclusive growth.
Moving forward, the journey towards total digital inclusion requires continued innovation, investment, and collaboration. With each step forward, we move closer to realizing the immense potential of digital connectivity and building a more equitable and connected world for all.
This article was published as part of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 discussions.