The first alliance to accelerate digital inclusion

COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities globally and exacerbated the digital divide.

37% of the world does not use the internet. With more basic services moving online and the pandemic highlighting affordability challenges in wealthier nations, these deep digital gaps are intensifying inequality and preventing the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So, how does a cross-sector alliance help with digital inclusion?

The impact.

During The Davos Agenda 2021, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, a global movement of leaders from the public and private sectors who are prioritizing digital inclusion as foundational to the achievement of the SDGs.

The Alliance fosters collaboration and cross-sector action to enhance the case for digital investment so that everyone can affordably participate in the digital economy. The vision is to improve 1 billion lives globally through affordable and accessible digital solutions in health, finance and education by 2025.

What is the challenge?

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the digitization of economies and societies. Access to digital technologies has allowed us to continue to work, learn and live, but the global health crisis has exposed existing gaps and inequalities for the 2.9 billion people who are not using the internet.

Although most of the world’s population lives in areas covered by a broadband network, only two-thirds are online. Cost, not coverage, is the barrier to connectivity. 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.

COVID-19 has brought a new-found sense of urgency for digital inclusion. Having access to affordable digital services 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 World Economic Forum’s agenda because no one sector can address this challenge on its own. All sectors of the economy need to be mobilized.

Our approach.

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 members of healthcare, financial services, education and investors to lead the way into the digital infrastructure of the 21st century.

The three pillars for digital inclusion

Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the Alliance is harnessing public commitments from governments, companies and other organizations globally to accelerate the delivery of digital services for unserved and underserved populations. One-third of the Alliance has already made commitments to enhance digital inclusion.

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.

In India, Apollo Hospitals has provided telehealth programmes for 16.5 million people. Its commitment to the 1 Billion Lives Challenge is to achieve an additional 20 million service delivery by 2024.

Ericsson has pledged to positively impact 1 million children and youths by 2025 by providing access to digital learning and skill development programmes. While Giga, a global initiative led by UNICEF and ITU to connect every school to the internet, hopes to connect 2.8 million schools and over 500 million children by 2030.

American Tower has built close to 300 digital communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, it has committed to building 2,000 digital communities over the next five years to improve the quality of life in underserved populations.

A multi-sector board steers the EDISON Alliance. Hans Vestberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Verizon, serves as Chair of the Alliance and board. He is joined by Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation; Michael Miebach, Mastercard Chief Executive Officer; Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Group; Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners; and Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme.

A wider group of champions from the public and private sectors advises and supports the EDISON Alliance, with the World Economic Forum serving as the secretariat and platform.

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.

Companies are invited to join the Alliance by nominating an executive or expert, supporting initiatives, and bringing to the Alliance their proposals for digital inclusion.

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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