Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

The Digital Roadmap: how developing countries can get ahead

The Pathways  for Prosperity Commission’s final report lays out pragmatic recommendations for developing countries that want to seize the opportunities available in the digital age for positive economic and social change, that benefit everyone.

Digital technologies are transforming the world, and nowhere are the stakes higher than in developing countries. The Digital Roadmap sets out 26 concrete recommendations across 5 priorities to ensure that the digital revolution leads to inclusive growth for everyone.

  • Key findings

This is a critical moment in history. Some countries will prosper in a new global digital economy, but countries that are not ready will risk being left behind.

Countries have the agency to act now. The Digital Roadmap identifies five priority areas for countries to create their own digital future.

Technology will not guarantee success, no matter how innovative it is. Just as important as new technology is the social and economic environment in which technology is used.

Technology will almost always be a force for growth, but technology is not automatically a force for inclusion. Without deliberate effort to include everyone, digital technologies can end up entrenching existing inequality.

Government, civil society and the private sector should come together to craft a shared national vision. Everyone has a role to play in major economic transformation.

With new digital technologies come opportunities for low and middle-income countries to diversify their economies, create new jobs, transform agriculture, and improve health and education. But digital technologies can also entrench exclusion and disrupt peoples’ livelihoods. This report, based on two years of research and analysis, is underpinned by learning and extensive engagement with policymakers, entrepreneurs, civil society and academics from around the world.

  • Five priorities to get ahead in the digital age:

visual outline of digital roadmap chapters

The Digital Roadmap presents an overarching vision for a globally connected world that both delivers on the opportunities presented by technology, and limits downside risks. Importantly, it also sets out how this vision can be achieved.

Craft a digital compact for inclusive development

Embracing country-wide digital change will be disruptive. Navigating it requires coordinated action. Reconfiguring an economy will result in some resistance. The best way to achieve buy-in, and to balance trade-offs, is through dialogue: the private sector and civil society in its broadest sense (including community leaders, academia, trade unions, NGOs, and faith groups). The political economy of upheaval is difficult, but change can be managed with discussions that are inclusive of multiple groups. These dialogues should result in a national digital compact: a shared vision of the future to which everyone commits. The Pathways Commission has supported three countries – Ethiopia, Mongolia and South Africa – as they each developed country-wide digital strategies, using the Digital Economy Kit.

Put people at the centre of the digital future

Rapid technological affects peoples’ lives. Failure to put people at the centre of social and economic change can lead to social unrest. The pace and intensity of change means it’s all the more important that people are at the centre of the digital future – not the technology. This requires equipping people to benefit from opportunities, while also protecting them from the potential harms of the digital age. Governments should take responsibility for ensuring that vocational education is truly useful for workers and for business in the digital age. The private sector needs to be involved in keeping curricula up to date.

Build the digital essentials

Digital products and services cannot be created in a vacuum – essential components need to be in place: physical infrastructure, foundational digital systems (such as digital identification and mobile money), and capital to invest in innovation. These are the basic ingredients needed for existing firms to adopt more productive technologies, and for digital entrepreneurs to build and innovate. Having reliable infrastructure and interoperable systems means that firms and service providers can focus on their core business, without having to build an enabling environment from scratch.

Reach everyone with digital technologies

If technology is to be a force for development for everyone, it must reach everyone. Just over half of the world’s population is connected to a digital life; for the rest, digital opportunities don’t mean much. Without digital connections, people can’t participate in digital work platforms, benefit from new technologies in education, or engage with government services online. Women, people with lower levels of education, and people in poverty are usually those who lack digital access. Reaching everyone requires looking beyond current business models. The private sector needs to design for inclusion, ensuring the poorest and most marginalised consumers, to ensure they are not left even further behind.

Govern technology for the future

The unprecedented pace of change and emergence of new risks in the digital era (such as algorithmic bias, cybersecurity, and threats to privacy) are creating headaches for even the most well-resourced countries. For developing countries, the challenges are even bigger. Digital technologies fundamentally shape what people do and how they do it: freelancers may face algorithms that determine chances to get hired. Banks might face a financial system with heightened risk from new, non-bank deposit holders. These issues, and many others, require new and adaptive approaches to decision-making. Emerging global norms will need to consider the needs of developing countries.

Everyone has a role to play!


Almost every aspect of the Digital Roadmap requires government action.

Government is crucial in steering countries towards inclusive digital transformation. And while other actors must also play a part, it is governments who have a central responsibility for delivering effective change. Almost every aspect of the Digital Roadmap requires government action. The variety of responsibilities and roles in a successful digital transformation requires a whole-of-government approach – not siloed plans confined to individual ministries.

Priorities for government

Craft a digital compact for inclusive development

      • Collaborate with the private sector and civil society to design a shared vision of the future, a holistic national digital strategy to manage technology for inclusive development. (Digital Roadmap recommendations 1 and 2)

Put people at the centre of the digital future

Build the digital essentials

      • Create foundational digital systems, including digital ID and digital payments, which are interoperable and easy for others to build upon. (Digital Roadmap recommendations 11, 12 and 13)
      • Nurture an enabling investment environment by improving the supply of bankable projects in local digital industries, and making it easier for investors to assess potential deals, for example, by standardising accounting standards or creating a business registry. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 14)

Reach everyone with digital technologies

Govern technology for the future

    • Take an adaptive and flexible approach to technology regulations, making sure regulations are right for the local context and leveraging data to inform regulatory decision-making. (Digital Roadmap recommendations 23, 24 and 25)
    • Coordinate internationally with like-minded countries to ensure that technology governance is designed to meet the needs of developing countries, rather than simply adopting regulations made by richer nations. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 26)
    • Use digital technologies to improve the quality, cost-efficiency and reach of public services for a healthier and better-educated population. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 22)

Private sector

This is not only a matter of the private sector’s social obligation, but of mutual benefit.

The private sector is vital for national digital transformation – creating new jobs and delivering digital products and infrastructure. Countries cannot truly embrace digital transformation without leadership from the private sector. Business leaders should be involved in crafting a national digital compact – a shared vision for the future – that recognises their central position in the economy. This includes: designing affordable digital products, embracing the disruptive competition of new digital industries, and building digital skills across the workforce. This is not only a matter of social obligation, but of mutual benefit. The private sector stands to gain from better livelihoods, a wealthier customer base, and a more skilled labour force. The Digital Roadmap outlines how business leaders across the economy must contribute to this vision of shared prosperity.

Priorities for the private sector

Contribute to a digital compact for inclusive development

      • Commit to being part of a national compact for inclusive development in a digital age, alongside government and civil society. This requires identifying opportunities for the country at large and also, crucially, embracing disruptive and competitive innovation. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 1)

Put people at the centre of the digital future

      • Contribute to skills upgrading across the economy by providing on-the-job technical training and apprenticeship programmes, and also supporting work-readiness programmes to encourage the development of transferable soft skills. (Digital Roadmap recommendations 3, 4 and 5)

Help to build the digital essentials

      • Work with governments to develop and implement foundational digital systems – digital ID and digital payment services – which are interoperable and easy for others to build on (for example, which allow payments between different banks or mobile money providers). (Digital Roadmap recommendations 10, 11 and 12)
      • Help to close the funding gap for digital entrepreneurs by developing funds and financial tools that channel global capital into digital industries. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 15)
      • Take the initiative to foster a better investment environment, by developing tools and services that bridge the gap between global institutional investors and entrepreneurs in emerging markets. (Digital Roadmap recommendations 13 and 15)

Make digital technologies accessible to all

      • Pursue novel business models that bring affordable connectivity to the poorest people, such as cross-subsidisation, freemium models, or public access solutions. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 16)
      • Create useful digital products for the poorest people, which may involve designing specifically for inclusion, developing ‘lite’ products, automating processes, or selling at different scales. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 18)
      • Create opportunities to specifically promote women’s digital inclusion, for example, by establishing women-only internet cafes or skills labs, and by leading social campaigns against restrictive gender norms. (Digital Roadmap recommendations 20 and 21)

Contribute in good faith to new forms of regulation

    • Constructively help governments develop new systems to monitor the industries they regulate, and support new approaches to regulation. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 24)

Donors and philanthropists

The Digital Roadmap sets out where philanthropic and donor-led efforts can make a real difference

Given the resource constraints in many developing countries, donors and philanthropists can play an important role in providing support, funding, and concessional finance to achieve an inclusive digital transformation. In such resource-constrained settings, the availability of funding and support is likely to be crucial for the priorities in the Digital Roadmap.

Funders can also help channel capital towards risky innovation and put resources behind new global public goods: open research, tools, and standards that no other actor will provide for free. However, donors should be clear-sighted and strategic, investing in coordinated plans rather than piecemeal pet projects. The Digital Roadmap sets out several activities where philanthropic and donor-led efforts can make a real difference for digital transformation.

Priorities for donors and philanthropists

Support a digital compact for inclusive development

      • Help fund and support country initiatives that are backed by a broad compact between leaders across society and the economy. Coordinated initiatives under such a compact are likely to be more effective than piecemeal funding. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 1)

Put people at the centre of the digital future

      • Actively invest in digital platforms designed to involve citizens in decision-making and ensure their voices are heard in decision-making. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 7)
      • Support governments, at least initially, to build and finance stronger social protection programmes that protect those left behind by technological change. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 9)
      • Empower citizens by funding initiatives to make government data accessible and meaningful to people. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 6)

Build the digital essentials

      • Provide technical frameworks and funding to assist governments and private companies in creating foundational digital systems, such as digital ID and digital payments. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 10)
      • Help to close the funding gap for digital entrepreneurs and innovators in emerging markets by providing guarantees, insurance, and aggregator funds to de-risk venture investment. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 15)
      • Support the development of projects and tools that seek to reduce the costs and frictions of investment in emerging markets, to help to create a favourable investment environment. (Digital Roadmap recommendation 13)

Help to ensure digital technologies reach everyone

Contribute to better technology governance for the future

    • Fund bold, new efforts to develop regulatory solutions that meet the needs of developing countries. (Digital Roadmap<
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Related News


Gender equality and digital development are inextricably linked. Yet globally, men are 21 percent more likely to be online than women, a figure that rises to 52 percent in low-income countriesThe Web Foundation estimates that barriers that keep women and girls offline — high device and data costs, lower digital skills, and restrictive social norms, to name a few — have cost developing countries about $1 trillion over the last decade.

The Digital Development Global Practice recently launched a new approach to accelerate its work on gender equality, with an ambitious vision that centers women and girls across its financing and analytics. The approach orients solutions to the five foundational pillars of the digital economy: digital infrastructure, digital public platforms, digital financial services, digital businesses, and digital skills. It also emphasizes the need for more and better sex-disaggregated data and to tackle risks, such as algorithmic bias and online gender-based violence.

Digital Infrastructure

Within infrastructure, practical solutions that increase access, affordability, and usage are critical. Intentional design that locates public Internet access points in safe spaces (for example, libraries and community centers) is a good start. Other interventions that support the closing of adoption gaps improve the affordability of devices and data plans and tailor digital skills programs for women. Traditionally underutilized universal service and access funds can help. However, only four out of 69 countries have deployed these funds to close the gender digital divide.  Device affordability schemes also show promise. The recently approved Uganda Digital Acceleration Project will test some of these innovations.

Digital Public Platforms

Access to digital public platforms often requires digital identification, which women lack compared to men. Barriers that women face often include legal requirements to present additional documents, for example, a marriage certificate. High registration costs and inconveniently located registration points also deter women. The Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project conducted a qualitative study designed to understand the needs of women and marginalized groups, which surfaced several solutions. These include working through trusted networks and women’s groups to share information; locating registration centers close to communities; and designing registration policies that prioritize vulnerable groups. Other options include women-only registration centers, mobile registration services, and female enrollment agents.

Digital Financial Services

Digital payments, whether to provide wages, social assistance, or agricultural transfers, can save women time and provide added privacy, security, and control, thereby contributing to women’s empowerment. This is a key focus on the G2Px initiative, launched in early 2020 in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In Benin, where an estimated 19 percent of women make or receive digital payments compared to 38 percent of men, another World Bank initiative aims to provide women smallholders with a safe and private place to store their money and connect them with other financial services. Complementary training on digital financial literacy for recipients and promoting a network of women agents can also help, as social norms often limit women’s ability to interact with male agents.

Digital Businesses

Women entrepreneurs often face a range of barriers, including unequal access to financing, legal discrimination, differences in skills, less access to networks, and more care responsibilities. They are also poorly represented in technology startups. To address these constraints, the Digital Cabo Verde Project aims to support women entrepreneurs with business and entrepreneurial mindset training, access to business networks, peer support, and mentoring.

Beyond comprehensive support for women-led businesses, tackling investor bias is critical. Research suggests that the persistent gender gap in financing cannot easily be explained by differences in education, experience, sector, intellectual property, or geography.

Digital Skills

Building digital skills starts early with hands-on exposure to technology to build girls’ interest and confidence. Typically, complementing technical skills training with soft skills, engaging role models, and creating structured linkages to the labor market through internships, apprenticeships, and job placement programs have positive outcomes. The Kosovo Digital Economy Project, which trains rural women in programming and web design to become online freelancers, shows how digital skills training can create pathways to economic prosperity. Women with disabilities, older women, and illiterate adults may require tailored curricula and flexible programs with active outreach to develop their basic digital skills — another key area for engagement.

Cutting across these pillars is the need to address restrictive gender norms that prevent women from fully participating in the digital economy. Solutions to tackle these vary with context but addressing gender stereotypes and engaging men and boys are essential steps in shifting beliefs and behaviors.

Ensuring that women and girls have equal access to and use of digital technologies — mobile phones, computers, and the internet — is central to their economic and social empowerment and inclusive economic recovery. As we accelerate our efforts on the digital inclusion of women and girls, we call on our partners to join us in this ambitious agenda.


Some 2.9 billion people still have never used the internet, and 96 per cent live in developing countries, a new UN report has found. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the estimated number of people who have gone online this year actually went up, to 4.9 billion, partially because of a “COVID connectivity boost”.

This is good news for global development, but ITU said that people’s ability to connect remains profoundly unequal – as many hundreds of millions might only go online infrequently, using shared devices or facing connection speeds that hamper their internet use.

“While almost two-thirds of the world’s population is now online, there is a lot more to do to get everyone connected to the Internet,” Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General said.

“ITU will work with all parties to make sure that the building blocks are in place to connect the remaining 2.9 billion. We are determined to ensure no one will be left behind.”

‘Connectivity boost’

The UN agency’s report found that the unusually sharp rise in the number of people online suggests that measures taken during the pandemic contributed to the “COVID connectivity boost.”

There were an estimated 782 million additional people who went online since 2019, an increase of 17 per cent due to measures such as lockdowns, school closures and the need to access services like remote banking.

Uneven growth 

According to the document, users globally grew by more than 10 per cent in the first year of the COVID crisis, which was the largest annual increase in a decade. But it pointed out that growth has been uneven.

Internet access is often unaffordable in poorer nations and almost three-quarters of people have never been online in the 46 least-developed countries.

A ‘connectivity Grand Canyon’

Speaking in Geneva, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU said: “The internet divide runs deep between developed and developing countries. Only a third of the population in Africa is using the internet.

“In Europe, the shares are almost 90 per cent, which is the gap between those two regions of almost 60 percentage points. And there is what the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, has called in his Common Agenda blueprint for the future, “a connectivity Grand Canyon”.

‘Digitally excluded’

The report found that younger people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the Internet than older adults, women and those in rural areas, with the gender gap more pronounced in developing nations.

Poverty, illiteracy, limited electricity access and a lack of digital skills continued to hinder “digitally excluded” communities, ITU noted.


For citizens in countries around the world, paying taxes is among their most challenging and time-consuming interactions with government.  For many governments, enhancing tax compliance and collecting sufficient revenue have been a matter of necessity to finance public goods and services.

That is why tax administrations are undertaking the digital transformation and automation of their systems. The adoption of technology can enable successful and sustainable tax reforms, ensure the proper taxation of the digital economy, and reduce the obstacles to compliance. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a boom in the use of digital commerce, made this change especially urgent for tax administrations.

The transformation has progressed increasingly rapidly over the past decade, as the cost of digital technologies has plunged and powerful tools to develop applications have become more user-friendly. One example of the falling cost: Cloud storage is now over 50% cheaper than it was a few years ago.

The rise of big data is an important factor in the shift because it can allow easy cross-checking of information, which enhances compliance by taxpayers. Overall, global data volume from mobile payment providers, electronic cash registers, online marketplaces, and other digital sources is expected to nearly triple from 2020 to 2024. 

Digital transformation is also being driven by the rapid growth of e-commerce, which is projected to expand 24% from 2020 to 2025, making it an increasingly important part of the tax base.

The increasing use of cashless payments, through mobile phones and other devices, is also powering the change. Such payments can be easily reviewed by tax administrations and often leave a digital trail that can be audited.

Digitalization makes life easier for authorities by easing the administrative burden, which gives officials more time to focus on higher-value activities.  But it also allows authorities to simplify procedures and reduce the compliance burden on taxpayers. Research shows that in South Korea, for example, digitalization has reduced compliance costs by as much as 19% in the 2011-2016 period.

A real-time, more user-friendly future

With these changes underway, taxation is likely to look a lot different in the future:

  • Instead of storing huge amounts of taxpayer data, administrations will have access to encrypted, distributed ledgers that allow them to capture tax information seamlessly and in real time. This has the added benefit of making tax administrations “less visible” to the public.
  • The decisions of the tax administrations will increasingly be supported and strengthened by artificial intelligence. But the system will need to be closely monitored for errors.
  • Tax administrations could become warehouses for more and more government data. That will give them a central role in the formulation of economic policy, enabling policymakers to review transactions in the economy and allowing better forecasting.
  • The tax system could become much more user-friendly. Services could include prefilled tax returns, taxpayers’ access to their own filing information, the sharing of data with banks to expedite credit approval, along with privacy preserving queries on the tax file by researchers and local communities.
  • Tax administrations will streamline the interface between taxpayers and tax officials, for instance by connecting corporate accounting systems with the tax administrations’ e-filing and e-payment platforms.

Making change work

Despite all the benefits, this transformation is up against major challenges. Research shows that most digital transformation initiatives don’t succeed. Of the $1.3 trillion spent in 2018, an estimated $900 billion was wasted.

To have the desired result, the digitalization of tax systems must enlist a broad coalition of stakeholders to make the necessary legal reforms and provide the funding. 

The shift should also focus on providing value by simplifying procedures and permanently bringing taxpayers into the e-filing, e-payment, and e-document ecosystem. The value could be provided by reduced compliance costs, increased tax certainty, and higher compliance.

In addition, reform should aim to change the culture from managing processes to managing data, and administrations should focus on getting the right data. One high-income jurisdiction told us that there were errors in 15% of their taxpayer files and that 98% of returns could be prefilled with data from just banks.

Finally, tax administrations must develop scalable and interoperable systems that can be used across departments, in headquarters and in the field. 

The process can be cumbersome, but by providing finance and technical assistance, the World Bank has already supported administrators’ efforts on automation and digitalization in dozens of countries—benefiting governments and citizens alike.


ITU Digital World 2021 SME Awards showcase sustainable digital solutions, helping creative start-ups forge partnerships and attract investment

​Inspiring technology solutions hold the potential to change and improve lives across the globe through the drive and dedication of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Winning solutions from digital SMEs based in Hong Kong (China), Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, South Korea, and the United States were showcased and announced at the ITU Digital World Awards Ceremony, the finale of the ITU Digital World 2021 event and a key SME promotion programme from the United Nations tech agency on Wednesday.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the UN’s specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) – has highlighted SMEs as crucial contributors to help harness the world’s ongoing digital transformation to ensure sustainable development.

The latest ITU Digital World Awards recognized outstanding SME contributions to advance connectivity, smart cities and smart living, e-health, digital finance, and education technology.

“Innovative tech SMEs – fast-moving and responsive to the needs of different markets on the ground – have a vital role to play in accelerating digital transformation,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “Governments and the ICT industry need to act together to foster a climate that supports technology and business innovation, helping companies like our award winners scale up and flourish.”

Six winners emerged this year, spanning the five key categories.

Winning SMEs

The winners were:
Company Category​ Country
Benefit Vantage Limited – Ipification Connectivity Hong Kong, China
WIWI Connectivity Mexico
URBIT GROUP LLC Digital finance United States of America
Baobabooks Education Sàrl Education technology Switzerland
Mawidy E-health Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
SCE Korea, Inc. Smart cities, smart living Republic of Korea

ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson recognized the winners and presented their certificates in the presence of Viet Nam’s Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Phan Tam.

This seventh edition of the Awards marked the final event of a three-month online conference and exhibition co-hosted by Viet Nam. Opening in September, ITU Digital World 2021 also marked the 50th anniversary of ITU’s flagship Telecom conference and exhibition series.

During the ceremony, a new partnership for ITU with US technology firm Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) was announced, aimed at accelerating the programme next year and equipping SMEs with access to HPE tools, networks, and mentoring.

Competitive selection

The competition was open to all SMEs worldwide, with winning projects ranging from mobile authentication and information accessibility to connectivity for public transport, financial technology (fintech), creative writing, and healthcare powered by artificial intelligence (AI).A jury of experts, representing the fields of business, technology and entrepreneurship, selected the winners from a total of 133 eligible applicants from 53 countries.

Prepping transformative SMEs

The ITU Digital World Awards formed part of an expert-led SME Programme of online masterclasses and pitching for digital SMEs. Maintaining the virtual format, the final awards ceremony celebrated the creativity and innovation behind digital solutions meeting real-world needs.

The special masterclasses explored areas such as sustainable start-ups and SME-corporate collaboration, bidding for government procurement opportunities, customer service and innovation, e-health, designing for disability inclusion and fundraising. The SME Programme and Awards are key components of ITU Digital World 2021, which was co-hosted with the Government of Viet Nam and took place from September-December 2021.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Contact Us