The development basket includes the following public policy issues: the digital divide, access, and development. Development issues are cross-cutting affecting all other baskets, ranging from the telecommunications infrastructure in developing countries, through capacity building for cybersecurity protection, to questions of multilingualism as a way to broaden use of the Internet in the developing world.
5 trends for 2022 in digitalisation for development
1. Should development support focus on affordable access for the ‘next billion’ or the ‘bottom billion’? It is estimated that ⅓ of the world population (2.7 billion) is not connected as of early 2021. The next billion are easier to connect, as they are likely to be closer to networks and have basic digital literacy skills compared to the bottom billion who will certainly sink further down the poverty line without digital inclusion.
This choice between supporting the ‘next’ or the ‘bottom’ billion of global citizens will have far-reaching consequences on poverty reduction and the realisation of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), especially SDG 1 on poverty reduction.
2. How can digitalisation evolve to the cross-cutting and invisible ‘18th SDG’ of the 2030 Agenda? As illustrated in our SDG/digital mapping, meeting the 2030 Agenda increasingly depends on how digital technology is being deployed. Digitalisation and the SDGs must progress at different speeds.
Some SDGs are ‘more digital’ than others, such as SDG 4 on Quality Education and SDG 3 on Good Health and Well-being which have a correlation of 73% and 71% with digital technology according to a study by Huawei and GeSI. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased dependence on digital networks across all SDGs. In 2022, development communities must sync this changing reality with their plans, projects, and priorities.
3. How can the ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ approach in digitalisation become more harmonised? While it is certain that digital technology has improved the conditions of many, it is also certain that some boats have raised much faster. Thus, digitalisation has become one of the main engines of inequalities (SDG 10) from local to global levels.
As an illustration, the market capitalisation of Apple (US$3 trillion) is higher than the total GDP of African continents (around US$2.6 trillion). See more comparisons (open on a private device due to firewall). Ensuring that the benefits of digital technologies are more widely and fairly spread remains a challenge for 2022 and beyond.
4. How can advancements in AI, big data, quantum computing, and other frontier technologies prevent the widening of digital gaps? Many developing countries do not have the technical, economic, institutional, and human capacities to keep up with the latest developments. As frontier technologies are much more demanding in terms of hardware, processing power, and expertise, it is likely that the gap between developed and developing countries will become wider than with web technologies.
5. How can the negative impact of the emerging USA-China ‘digital cold war’ on development assistance be minimised? As tensions between the two digital powers accelerate, developing countries will face increasingly complex situations of having to choose between competing technologies, standards, and approaches provided by the two countries.
The first glimpse of this tension was the Trump administration’s request for developing countries not to use Huawei technologies for their 5G networks. In the context of these geopolitical tensions, multilateral solutions for cybersecurity, standards, and digital governance will become increasingly important for small and developing countries.