Tackling Digital Deserts: Launch of First Cross-Sector Alliance to Close the Digital Divide

28 Jan 2021

Alem Tedeneke, Public Engagement, ated@weforum.org, +1 646.204.9191

  • COVID-19 has exposed digital inequities and exacerbated the digital divide; it revealed the affordability challenges in wealthier nations and deepening digital divide – nearly half the world is still not online
  • World Economic Forum launches the EDISON Alliance to accelerate digital inclusion, address inequality, and connect critical sectors of the economy
  • It is the first global mobilization of public sector and industry leaders from all industries to ensure everyone can participate in the digital economy

Geneva, Switzerland, 28 January 2021 — – Access to digital technologies has enabled many to work, learn and live during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing gaps and inequalities: almost half of the global population, some 3.6 billion people, remain offline and broadband services are too expensive for 50% of the population in developed countries. These “connectivity deserts” hamper access to health, education and economic inclusion.

To ensure global and equitable access to the digital economy, the World Economic Forum is launching the Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network, or EDISON Alliance. The Alliance will work with governments and industries to accelerate digital inclusion. Its goal is to ensure an unprecedented level of cross-sectoral collaboration between the technology industry and other critical sectors of the economy.

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 Champions Leaders will advise and support the Alliance.

“This marks the first time so many private and public sector leaders from across industries are coming together to close the digital divide. Accelerating affordable access to digitally enabled services – like healthcare, education or financial services - is foundational to economic recovery and social cohesion. Achieving this will take deep, sustained collaboration. It is critical that we move together and that we move fast.” Derek O’Halloran, Member of the Executive Committee, Head of the Digital Economy at the World Economic Forum.

The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as a platform of partners with a common purpose for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2021, the Alliance will focus on increasing digital inclusion in healthcare, education and financial services.

Quotes from the EDISON Alliance Board Members:

  • Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO, Verizon – Chairman of The EDISON Alliance: “Over the past ten months we have seen just how impactful connectivity and access to digital technologies is to working, learning and transacting. I've long believed that mobility, broadband, and cloud services are the 21st century’s infrastructure, but to use them to their greatest impact, we need to galvanize both the private and the public sectors. This is a critical moment for leaders across all sectors to join forces and recognize access and affordability to digital services as a top priority for recovery in every country.”
  • Ajay Banga, Mastercard Executive Chair: “There is no Internet of Everything without the inclusion of everyone. But by putting our collective capabilities to work connecting people and businesses in the right way—with secure access and informed usage—we can start to tackle other barriers, like access to capital, and provide other opportunities for growth. Digital Inclusion sets people up for so many other kinds of inclusion.
  • Paula Ingabire, Minister for ICT & Innovation, Rwanda: “We have seen tremendous collaborations during the pandemic to enable greater access to digital services. Moving forward we need even greater mobilization of all levels of government and private sector organizations to develop impactful solutions that will ensure equitable and affordable access to broadband connectivity, in order to achieve the targets set for 2025.”
  • Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals: The age of health IOT was propelled to warp speed during the Covid pandemic across the globe. Geography, distances and convenience converged to make teleconsults available not only to those in distant locations, but also to cities in lockdown. In the US, telehealth usage jumped from 11% in 2019 to 46%, whilst in India, there was a massive jump of 300%in online consultations. Digital health is on trajectory to make health & well-being ubiquitous, affordable and life enhancing and as we transition to the post-Covid world, we will need to accelerate this effort through value-based digital services.”
  • Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners: “Connectivity is oxygen for opportunity. The global pandemic laid bare the divide between those who are connected and the billions who are not. Just as we push for equitable access to clean air and water, we also need to scale up access to broadband, devices, and digital literacy, which are onramps to education, healthcare, financial services, and human empowerment. This will require investment and coordination across countries and sectors, and the EDISON Alliance is an important platform to advance this mission.”

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