The opportunity

An inclusive digital society will ease our ability to communicate with everyone and allow new opportunities for innovative services to flourish.


The promise

Digital technology is having a profound impact on society, enhancing our ability to solve long-standing global development challenges. One estimate suggests that digitization of the global economy could yield as much as $4.4 trillion in GDP for the world’s most vulnerable people, creating 64 million new jobs and helping to lift 580 million people out of poverty [1]. Mobile phones have become commonplace, with 3.7 billion unique subscribers worldwide– nearly half of the world’s population [2].

gapThe gap

For the most vulnerable, the digital divide exists and is growing. The world’s vulnerable do not yet benefit equally from the new digital economy. While 3.7 billion people have mobile phones, another three billion people still lack basic access to mobile phones and four billion people still lack Internet access [3]. Women, in particular, face an access gap; in South Asia, women are 38 percent less likely than men to own a phone [4].


The barriers

Persistent challenges that slow awareness and adoption of digital technology and services in the developing world include the limited reach of technical infrastructure and software maturity, the misalignment of financial incentives, uncertain policy environments, and scarce technical capacity. These factors impede the scale and speed of delivering digital services to millions of people, preventing them from realizing the full potential of better health, education and economic opportunities. This imbalance must change.

Several particular barriers inhibit collective progress towards an inclusive digital economy:

  • Fragmentation
    Even with the best of intentions, the diverse set of governments, companies, NGOs and others in the digital ecosystem often lack the incentives and mechanisms to collaborate. This fragmentation undermines the collective influence, impact and value for money for donors, governments, implementers and industry as they innovate.
  • Expertise
    Digital tools are still new for many governments, donors, NGOs and others – not to mention the end-users themselves. Many of these actors are still learning how to design and deploy large-scale, cost-effective sustainable digital services for low-income and vulnerable consumers, often resulting in duplication of effort.
  • The value proposition
    Mobile devices offer a game-changing delivery channel that can increase reach and decrease the cost to serve users across a wide range of digital services. However, approaches for demonstrating the value of various digital investments and approaches to inform responsible decision-making have not yet evolved to enable governments, donors or others to invest in and realize the potential of digital technologies.
  • Understanding of what works
    The business models, policy frameworks, partnerships and other levers for improved access and services for the underserved are not yet fully understood. While exciting examples of innovation have emerged, more coordinated efforts to understand the value of potential solutions and promote their adoption are required.