Tackling digital deserts: First cross-sector alliance to close Digital Gap

28 Jan 2021

COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities globally and exacerbated the digital divide.

Nearly half of the world is still not online. With more basic services moving online and the pandemic highlighting affordability challenges in wealthier nations, these deep digital gaps are exacerbating inequality and preventing the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So, how does a cross-sector alliance help tackle the Digital divide?

The impact.

This week at The Davos Agenda, the World Economic Forum launched the EDISON Alliance, the first cross-sector alliance to accelerate digital inclusion and connect critical sectors of the economy.

EDISON will work with governments and industries to accelerate digital inclusion. It is the first global mobilization of the public sector and leaders from all industries to ensure that everyone can affordably participate in the digital economy.

What's the challenge?

Access to digital technologies has enabled many to work, learn and live through the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has exposed existing gaps and inequalities. Some 3.6 billion people globally remain offline, while broadband services are too expensive for 50% of the population even in developed countries. These “connectivity deserts” affect access to health, education and economic inclusion.

Because of the COVID-19 restrictions on public life, communities have had to learn how to work, socialize, shop and collaborate in new ways. We have shifted so much of our lines online – and we expect much of that to remain true after the pandemic.

COVID-19 has brought a new-found sense of urgency for digital inclusion. Having access to affordable digital services is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Leaders from industry and government are pushing this complex and urgent challenge to the forefront of the World Economic Forum’s agenda because no one sector can address this challenge on its own. All sectors of the economy need to be mobilized.

Our approach.

The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as the platform of platforms for partners with a common purpose for achieving the SDGs. Its vision is to ensure that every person can affordably participate in the digital economy.

The coalition is the first global mobilization of industry and public sector leaders from several sectors of the economy, bringing partners from the telecoms and broader ICT industry together with members of the health and healthcare industry, financial services, food systems and investors among others to lead the way into the digital infrastructure of the 21st century.

The coalition will prioritize three focus areas related to the Sustainable Development Goals each year. In 2021, the Alliance will focus on increasing digital inclusion in healthcare, education and financial services.

A multi-sector Board will steer the Alliance. Hans Vestberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Verizon, will serve as Chair of the Alliance and Board. He is joined by Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation; Ajay Banga, Mastercard Executive Chair; Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Group; and Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. The World Economic Forum will serve as the secretariat and platform for the Alliance.

A wider group of Leaders from the public and private sectors will advise and support the Alliance.

How can you get involved?

Companies are invited to join the EDISON Alliance by nominating an executive or expert, supporting initiatives on the EDISON platform, and bringing their ideas and proposals to the Alliance to mobilize joint efforts with other stakeholders towards digital inclusion.

The EDISON Alliance is an initiative of the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation. Find out more and join the Forum’s partners to improve the state of the world through this coalition.

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