Trade and Investment

Digital can lift the developing world out of poverty. Here's how

A boy looks out from his classroom at a school in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, November 16, 2009. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (BHUTAN EDUCATION SOCIETY RELIGION IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTXQSZA

Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Ratnakar Adhikari
Executive Director, Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF)
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Trade and Investment?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Trade and Investment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Trade and Investment

The internet has revolutionized the way of doing business in industrial countries, but are the poorest nations also benefiting from this transformation? Only one in seven people living in the world's least developed countries (LDCs) has access to the internet.

Being connected can improve access to education, job opportunities and better healthcare. More importantly, it helps small and medium‑size enterprises to boost e-commerce, thereby reaching global markets at lower costs. This means building up digital infrastructure, strengthening digital skills – especially for women – and reducing the cost of internet use. However, these changes do not happen overnight.

Firstly, greater competition in telecommunications could help develop much‑needed infrastructure and attract new consumers. Today, most of the LDCs have an independent telecom regulator, and 62% of them have established competition authorities to avoid anti-competitive practices. However, fixed-line services – the main source of reliable internet connection in most countries – remain under monopoly in several nations, and this contributes to extremely low levels (below 1%) of fixed-line internet access. Internet access may be growing more mobile, but the speed remains a huge challenge.

Image: World Bank

Secondly, e-government initiatives play an important role in reducing the cost of doing business and getting users online. While online government services are still nascent in many LDCs, there is a clear role for initiatives such as Aid for Trade (AfT) to support them. In Bhutan for example, 107 government-to-citizen services are now available, thanks to the government's initiative to include information and communications technology as a priority for national economic development. The country is establishing an internet‑ready infrastructure with investment from the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF), an AfT programme aimed at helping poorest countries.

Thirdly, a focus on developing digital strategies are a powerful way to expand telecoms across developing countries, as well as a good way of ensuring digital initiatives by different government services all complement one another.

Improving internet access in the LDCs requires governments, donors, development partners and the private sector to step in. While donor funding has doubled since 2006, it is still below 2% of the total accumulated by Aid for Trade. LDC governments and the private sector need to invest now, in technology, infrastructure and people.

So how do we connect the world's poorest countries? First and foremost, the LDCs have to be ready to commit their political capital and financial resources. Secondly, these countries need to identify their priorities. (For this, e-trade readiness assessments, such as those carried out in Burundi, Liberia, Nepal and Samoa, promise to be highly useful.) Thirdly, donors and the private sector should be on board to address these priorities. Digital government services backed with a solid strategy can be a good place to start. And finally, infusing competition into the telecom sector can boost efficiency and accessibility.

Digital technology offers a million ways to lift people out of poverty. Let's not allow it to fade. Development partners, starting with us here at the EIF, need to be ready to help the world's poorest countries realize the full potential of digital connectivity.

H.E. Lyonpo Lekey Dorji, Minister for Economic Affairs, Bhutan and Ratnakar Adhikari, Executive Director of the Executive Secretariat of the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) at the WTO, provide their perspectives on the role digital connectivity can play to foster inclusive and sustainable development ahead of the Aid for Trade Global Review 2017: “Promoting Trade, Inclusiveness and Connectivity for Sustainable Development” taking place at the World Trade Organization in Geneva from 11 to 13 July 2017.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Trade and InvestmentEconomic Progress
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

International trade: What you need to know this month

Mariam Soumaré

March 28, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum