Digital transformation challenges in developing countries

8 Dec 2021 14:05h - 15:35h

Session page

Event report

This session tackled the impact of digital transformation on economic growth and the lessons that can be drawn from successful policy solutions to universal access and meaningful connectivity around the world. Ms Olga Cavalli (Co-Founder and Academic Director, Argentinian School of Internet Governance) moderated the discussion and considered that digital transformation has a direct impact on how the world does business and communicates and develops nationally and internationally. Investment in digital technology has a positive impact on economic growth and productivity.

Mr Vint Cerf (Vice-President, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google) called for more digital cooperation. ‘To cope with the global system, one must apply global methods’. He explained that the internet is an artefact. It was deliberately designed as a global shared infrastructure. As such, it bears some of the characteristics of other natural shared ecosystems like the atmosphere, oceans, and space. Learning to maximise the utility of the internet and developing common norms can provide lessons to address other SDGs that are based similarly on common infrastructure.  For example, the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace has proposed a variety of norms aimed at protecting the use of the internet and users. He warned against initiatives that are risking fragmenting the internet in the name of data sovereignty. Although data sovereignty is a concept close to privacy, there are other means to protect and encrypt data.

On the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) he affirmed that ‘SMEs are the stem cells of national economies’ for they can develop into virtually anything that conditions and circumstances permit. However, for SMEs to flourish, we need the reliability of infrastructure, transportation, energy, education, finance, housing, food security, computing devices, and more.

He concluded that trans-sectoral and trans-national cooperation and collaboration are essential to thriving SME-driven economies. The challenge is to learn what kinds of cooperation and collaboration are effective for creating conditions in which SMEs can take advantage of and rely upon digital technology. The IGF is an example that maximises the sharing capacity and spotlights opportunities for multistakeholder cooperation for local and global benefit.

Ms Ndeye Maimouna Diop (Co-Founder, Internet Society Chapter, Senegal) focused on the digital divide in particular the aspects related to the rural divide, the gender divide and shared the current efforts in this regard in Africa. ‘We are in a world where access is not for everyone’. As of December 2020, the internet penetration rate in Africa amounts to 42%. With the unfolding of the pandemic, universal access to reliable internet has become even more crucial. The access divide is further exacerbated if looked from a gender perspective, especially when it comes to the difference between rural and urban areas. Senegal is particularly active in this regard, promoting many ICT initiatives and programmes for women with the aim to connect women from rural areas to the internet and help them have access to financial services. However, she concluded that despite all these efforts, the gap is still wide.

On the gender gap related to connectivity, Mr Vladimir Stankovic (Programme Officer, Strategic Planning and Membership DepartmentSince its inception, ITU and WSIS have put a lot of energy into mainstreaming gender, especially for STEM. However, in terms of connectivity, the gender divide still persists, especially for other marginalised groups such as people with disabilities, indigenous peoples and communities that cannot access the internet in their local language. This is a problem that concerns society at large as ITU’s secretary-general recently reminded ‘by holding back half of the world’s population we hold back human progress’.  There is an estimated 37% of the world population or 2.5 billion people who have still never used the internet. Stankovic then illustrated ITU’s current efforts. In line with the WSIS declaration principles, ITU has recently launched the WSIS Stocktaking Repository of Women in Technology. It is a global portal that highlights national initiatives and programmes that would be of interest and relevance to gender mainstreaming.

Mr Antonio Zaballos (Lead Specialist, Technology, Inter-American Development Bank) considered that the digital divide is still an issue even in those developing countries that have basic infrastructure. This is because often the access is also a matter of quality and stability of the connection. He raised two important considerations. First, we cannot talk about proper digitalisation if we do not have regional integration and regional interconnectivity. For example, Latin America is lagging behind in terms of infrastructure because significant investments by multilateral development banks, the private sector, and governments are still needed. The private sector has a role to play when it comes to providing additional regional submarine cables and governments need to address the lack of border connectivity. Second, connectivity gaps still exist at the national level. Despite the fact that many countries have adopted national digital agendas, not that many actually have specific national connectivity plans tackling the investment in infrastructures.

It is crucial to understand that connectivity is vital for the continuity of the economy, as well as for the continuity of public services.

Mr Matthias Markus Hudobnik (Advisory Committee Member, ICANN) first stressed that data flows are growing enormously and are difficult to measure. It has been estimated that internet traffic in 2022 will exceed the overall traffic up to 2016. Moreover, data flows are also immensely imbalanced. Only 20% of people in the least developed countries use the internet and when used it has very low bandwidth and very high cost.

He stressed that the multistakeholder model still represents a meaningful step towards developing a global data governance framework. Technical coordination at the global level would be of significant help to avoid further fragmentation of the internet. When it comes to IoT and 5G, global coordination could also ensure that we can make the most out of these technologies while preserving common security standards.

By Marco Lotti

Session in numbers and graphs

Most frequent noun chunksMost frequent names and entitiesWordcloudProminent verbs with adverbs

Automated summary

Diplo’s AI Lab experiments with automated summaries generated from the IGF sessions. They will complement our traditional reporting. Please let us know if you would like to learn more about this experiment at The automated summary of this session can be found at this link.