Asian family taking a selfie

Make the digital economy serve the less privileged: wisdom from the G20

Tengfei Wang, Economic Affairs Officer

Jonathan Wong
, Chief of Technology & Innovation

A defining feature of the post-pandemic world is the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “…as we recover and rebuild, digital technology will be more prominent and important than ever.”


However, the “digital divide” means that the less privileged are often excluded from opportunities to benefit from the digital economy. What policy measures can countries in Asia and the Pacific take to address this challenge?

A compendium, based on a survey of G20 member states and jointly prepared by ESCAP, the G20 Indonesia Presidency and Griffith Asia Institute, sheds light on policies which have successfully enhanced the meaningful participation of women, children, older persons, rural communities, persons living with disabilities and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the digital economy. The key policy recommendations, highlighted below, can provide guidance to countries beyond the G20.

Design and implement “targeted” policies

Policymakers need to acknowledge the diversity and intersectional needs of the targeted groups. Policies and initiatives must reflect the challenges of the digital divide caused by lack of access to technology and affordability of digital devices. For example, the Be Connected programme in Australia includes a flexible online learning option, supported by geographically dispersed and diverse network partners. This has proved a successful approach to engaging learners with little or no experience with digital technology. In Indonesia, Women in Digital Entrepreneurship aimed to increase the awareness among women entrepreneurs to enhance their use of technology and digital devices for business development.

Improve digital infrastructure and connectivity

Stable and speedy digital connectivity is a prerequisite for accessing and benefiting from the digital economy, and G20 members have taken various measures to enhance connectivity in rural areas. For example, in China, 10 ministries and government agencies are jointly implementing an Action Plan for Digital Village Development which aims to develop e-commerce and drive modernization of agriculture and rural areas in China

Broaden consultations

In order to take into account the specific needs of vulnerable groups, policymakers need to adopt the “nothing about us without us” model for co-creation of policies. Furthermore, policymakers need to undertake multi-sectoral consultations to achieve the various objectives that relate to the entire digital ecosystem. In Canada, the government recognizes the diversity and intersectional needs of persons with disabilities and has been actively engaging in consultations with the disability community to ensure their participation in the design, delivery and evaluation of policies.

Take a whole-of-government approach

Policymakers need to adopt a whole-of-government approach in designing, implementing and evaluating policies. Collaboration with all levels of government and locally placed agencies reduces the risk of fragmentation and redundancy.

Build partnerships

To obtain greater support in the implementation of targeted policies and programmes, policymakers should leverage public-private partnerships and take advantage of the synergies between different stakeholders, such as the government, private sector, academics and practitioners. Furthermore, policymakers should promote the integration of available resources (such as schools, libraries, associations and digital facilitation points), as well as the communications opportunities offered by radio, television and the web, to support the target groups.

Monitor and reform policies

As the saying goes, “if it cannot be measured it cannot be managed”. Measurement of policy effectiveness is always difficult to undertake, but it is essential to ensure that the most suitable policy is developed and introduced. In the Republic of Korea, for example, the government measured the digital competency of trainees before and after training. It was found that the training programme increased participants’ digital competency by nearly 30 per cent.

Implementation of any policy needs to be contextualized and tailored to the national situation. Nevertheless, experience and lessons learned from the G20 countries, as documented in this compendium, can guide policymakers in the region in reviewing their national policies and taking effective measures to support the less privileged and vulnerable groups of people to participate in and benefit from the digital economy.

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