Men and women looking at mobile in plantation field.
WEF

The first alliance to accelerate digital inclusion

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

  • Today, 2.7 billion people do not use the internet.
  • Access, affordability and usability of technology and digital services are the barriers to connectivity.
  • The EDISON Alliance is mobilizing cross-sector action to accelerate digital inclusion across health, education, and financial services.

The impact of investing in digital inclusion.

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated digitization worldwide. Access to digital technologies allowed people to carry on with their lives, but the health crisis also exacerbated existing inequalities for the 2.7 billion people who remain unconnected to the internet.

The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance is a global movement of leaders from across industries and governments who are prioritizing digital inclusion and bringing millions of people online, so they can access critical services in healthcare, finance and education.

The Alliance fosters collaboration and cross-sector action to enhance the case for digital investment. It is mobilizing commitments globally to accelerate the delivery of digital solutions to unserved and underserved populations, aiming to improve the lives of 1 billion people by 2025.

What is the challenge?

Although most people in the world live in areas covered by a broadband network, 34% of the global population (2.7 billion people) remain offline and left behind. This is due to the persisting barriers to connectivity: affordability of data and devices, knowing how to use products and services, and a lack of access.

In low-income countries, home to 650 million people, mobile broadband is 18 times more expensive than in developed countries – as a proportion of average income. Even in the most advanced nations, affordable usage of broadband remains a challenge.

Having access to affordable digital services, as well as the digital skills required to use them, is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Leaders from industry and government are pushing this complex and urgent challenge to the forefront of the Forum’s agenda because no one sector can address this challenge on its own.

Our approach to improving digital inclusion.

The EDISON Alliance is the first global mobilization of industry and public sector leaders, bringing actors from the telecoms and broader ICT industry together with 14 other industries (members of healthcare, financial services, education and investors) to lead the way into the digital infrastructure of the 21st century.

In September 2021, the Alliance launched the 1 Billion Lives Challenge to improve 1 billion lives globally through affordable digital access to healthcare, education and financial services by 2025.

The EDISON Alliance published its first impact report, which states that as of October 2022, Alliance partners have impacted the lives of 454 million people by activating over 250 digital inclusion initiatives across 90 countries.

“We are implementing programmes that will ensure that our citizens have access to affordable smart devices and possess appropriate digital skills to harness the benefits of a digital, cashless economy. We invite partners, corporates and governments, within the EDISON Alliance to accelerate their commitments to ensure universal and lasting digital inclusion for 1 billion lives.”

— Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of Rwanda

Mastercard has brought 500 million previously unbanked people into the financial system. As part of the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, it is doubling down on its original commitment to bring another 500 million people into the digital economy by 2025.

“There’s an opportunity to bring more people into the digital economy – that makes communities more resilient and grows markets. An important example is the EDISON Alliance. Through partnerships like this, digital tools can benefit everyone, not just a few. It is one more important step in making technology as trusted, accessible and useful as possible.”

— Michael Miebach, Chief Executive Officer, Mastercard

Verizon has committed $3 billion to help those who need it most, by investing in programmes that foster innovative learning and contribute to re-skilling the digital workforce. While Apollo Hospitals, through its remote intervention programmes in India, is committed to providing healthcare services to 36 million people by 2025.

“Inspired by the vision of the EDISON Alliance, Apollo Hospitals and American Tower joined hands to launch five digital dispensaries in rural Madhya Pradesh, India. Through this partnership, we are bringing quality healthcare services to rural communities and providing them with primary, preventive and speciality teleconsultation services.”

— Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals

The Alliance also supplies ongoing guidance to empower policymakers and relevant stakeholders to make informed decisions that advance digital inclusion. These tools include shared principles for digital health inclusion and an inclusive financial system, a guidebook for digital inclusion bond financing, and the Digital Inclusion Navigator – a one-stop shop of curated case studies and leading best practices to help policymakers decode the digital divide.

 

At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022, the Alliance launched a network of Lighthouse Countries, including Bahrain, Bangladesh and Rwanda, to work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote digital inclusion in their respective countries. The goal is to provide a global platform for local actors to leverage the collective capability of the Alliance.

“The digital revolution is an empowering force for people and planet, yet billions, especially those most vulnerable populations of societies, remain offline or poorly connected. That is why UNDP became a founding member of the EDISON Alliance, and we are very pleased to see how it has accelerated wider adoption of digital inclusion through collective advocacy and country-level initiatives.”

— Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme

How can you get involved?

The EDISON Alliance is an initiative of the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation. Nearly 50 active leaders – from CEOs to Ministers to Heads of International Organizations – are championing digital inclusion.

Companies and organizations can join the 1 Billion Lives Challenge by pledging an existing or new commitment to improve lives through digitally inclusive services, or contributing to an initiative with a recognized pledge.

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