• A significant proportion of the world’s population is cut off from the digital economy. This problem is three-fold: it’s a lack of accessibility, affordability and/or usability.
  • The EDISON Alliance is launching two new initiatives aimed at further reducing the digital divide: the Lighthouse Countries Network and the Digital Inclusion Navigator.
  • These initiatives can further the work of the Alliance, and continue to alleviate the roadblocks that currently prevent billions from accessing a critical part of the global economy.

We live in an increasingly digitized world. For many, online commerce, free access to information, and the universal storage and transfer of data have become critical components of 21st-century life.

In fact, I’ve long said that mobility, broadband and cloud services are the 21st century’s infrastructure. And the last two years have never made that more clear.

But progress is not always linear, nor is it equal. While we are witnessing huge advancements in how people connect, we are also witnessing the development of an increasingly problematic divide. A digital divide.

The digital divide

I believe that it shouldn’t matter where you’re born, where you live or how much you make to participate in the digital economy.

As things stand today, a significant proportion of the world’s population is cut off from the digital economy. This problem is three-fold: it’s a lack of accessibility, affordability and/or usability.

From employment opportunities to the provision of healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the stark contrast that exists between those that have, and those that do not.

Despite the strong growth in internet use over the past two years, the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technologies, the International Telecommunication Union, recently found that 37% of the world's population – or 2.9 billion people – have still never used the internet. Only a third of the population in Africa is using the internet. Meanwhile, in Europe, 90% of the population is online.

If society is to make full use of its digital capabilities, and meet the many challenges we face as a global community, it’s obvious that something has to change. It is not only our moral imperative, but our duty as leaders.

Digital inclusion

Fortunately, events like the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos provide leaders with a critical opportunity to focus on some of the world’s most pressing challenges, like digital inclusion, and formulate a path to success.

The event also provides leaders, like myself, with a crucial opportunity to highlight the work that is being done to tackle those barriers, and ensure progress continues to be made in the right direction.

In my role as chairman of the EDISON Alliance, I have seen firsthand how improving connectivity, and facilitating greater digital inclusion, can boost services that are critical to creating an equitable, well-functioning society, including healthcare, finance and education.

For the past year, the EDISON Alliance has been mobilizing a global movement, working with government and industries to prioritize digital inclusion in global agendas as foundational to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals – so that everyone can affordably participate in the digital economy. When we launched, we had 22 Champions join the Alliance – from CEOs to Ministers to Heads of International Organization – and today we have 46 active leaders championing digital inclusion.

Notably, last September we launched the 1 Billion Lives Challenge to improve 1 billion lives globally through affordable and accessible digital solutions across health, finance and education by 2025. A third of the EDISON Alliance has already pledged commitments to the 1 Billion Lives Challenge to build digital communities, implement telemedicine programmes, connect schools and children through access to digital technologies.

This year, I am pleased to announce that the EDISON Alliance is launching two new initiatives aimed at further reducing the digital divide.

Lighthouse and Navigator initiatives

The first initiative is called the Lighthouse Countries Network. This new, revolutionary network will build a global group of ‘lighthouse’ countries that will act as accelerators, leveraging the full power of the Alliance as they make concerted efforts to reduce the digital divide that exists in their country.

Global problems require global solutions, and building strong networks is critical to ensuring the entire international community continues to make positive, forward progress.

The second initiative is the launch of the Digital Inclusion Navigator, a one-stop shop of curated, high-quality information, real-world case studies, leading policy papers and other content designed to help advance the adoption of digital inclusion best practices.

Given the inequality that currently exists across the digital ecosystem, it is right that countries with an abundance of experience share their knowledge, so that others can make the most of their expertise and benefit from sharing best practice.

Together, these initiatives can further the work of the Alliance, and continue to alleviate the roadblocks that currently prevent billions of people from accessing an increasingly critical part of the global economy.

I firmly believe that, if we can help empower policymakers, businesses and public bodies with the information they need, they will be better prepared to help us make a real difference where it matters most: their communities.

I would like to invite more organizations and governments to engage with the EDISON Alliance and join the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, so that together we can maximize the potential of technology to bridge the digital divide.

After all, if there is anything that the past three years has demonstrated, it is what the world is capable of when faced with what seems like an insurmountable task.

Now more than ever, it is clear that many of the biggest challenges we face as a society can only be tackled together. And, as is often the case, progress is not progress until everyone is able to benefit.