Attention towards the importance of the internet as a key enabler for social and economic development is growing into a global movement, with a myriad of new initiatives emerging.
Calls to action are developing, ranging from “connecting the unconnected”, “the next 2 billion”, and the World Economic Forum’s “Internet for All” initiative.
This is a good time to reflect on how we can ensure that the good will, energy, and attention will result in a real and sustained impact, enabling the more than 4 billion people – 55% of the world’s population – currently not on the internet.
Firstly, to achieve internet for all, our research, as summarized in our report “Internet for All: A Framework for Accelerating Internet Access and Adoption”, shows that an ecosystem approach that addresses four key barriers together is needed.
The four barriers can be summarized as infrastructure, affordability, skills & awareness, and relevant content.
Focusing on just one or two of these – such as providing the required physical infrastructure and connectivity, and even making access affordable (both device and access charges) – does not guarantee that citizens will use the internet.
An example of this is Brazil, where 70% of non-internet users cite the main reason they are nor on the internet is due to lack of perceived need, or lack of skills, not because they don’t have access or cannot afford it.
Secondly, on the political and global development agenda, we must make sure that the myriad of multilateral, bilateral, private sector, and civil society initiatives that have been launched in the last few years, do a better job of coordinating their activities, and where possible, even collaborate.
The alternative – a series of uncoordinated efforts, resulting in one off and non-saleable projects – is not an option.
Finally, we need to work together and turn the talk to action. This will not only require new models of public private collaboration between business, government, civil society, and academia.
It will also need the engagement of new actors who have traditionally not been involved in ICT and internet development: banks, healthcare, agricultural companies from the private sector; and government leaders from a variety of Ministries such as Finance, Planning and Industry, and even Justice.
By working together and inclusively, “internet for all” means the opportunity to deliver new services that will allow even the most disadvantaged to have access to healthcare, financial inclusion, and can engage in the digital economy.
This is a global effort that will begin in Africa. Working with the governments of Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Uganda as well as partners from business, international organizations, and civil society.
Our first “Internet for All” project will aim to accelerate the connection of the 75 million out of 112 million people in these countries that are currently on the wrong side of the digital divide.
It's not a uniform challenge; internet penetration rates vary drastically from 11% in South Sudan to almost 50% in Kenya. One thing we do know is that the relatively low internet penetration across this 'Northern corridor' represents huge potential for empowering millions and developing a model that could define the next phase of Africa's transformation. And we hope to launch similar efforts in Asia and Latin America in the coming year.
There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone… if you want to go further, go together”. Not only is this wise guidance for many aspects in life, it particularly should serve as a guiding principle as we work towards Internet for All.