Digital dividends just for the wealthy – report

SHARE   |   Tuesday, 23 February 2016   |   By Staff Writer

Despite the spread of digital technologies in much of the world a recent report by the World Bank Group has shown that most countries (including Botswana) still fail to benefit maximally from digital dividends.
According to the new ‘World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends,’ authored by Co Directors, Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann and team, the benefits of rapid digital expansion have been skewed towards the wealthy, skilled and influential around the world, who are better positioned to take advantage of the new technologies. In addition, though the number of internet users worldwide has more than tripled since 2005, four billion people still lack access to the internet.
Making a presentation of the report recently in Gaborone, one of the authors, Tim Kelly said the transformation brought about by technology especially the Internet cannot be ignored. According to Kelly, although there are many individual success stories, the effect of technology on global productivity, expansion of opportunity for the poor and middle class, and the spread of accountable governance has so far been less than expected.
“Digital technologies are spreading rapidly, but digital dividends – growth, jobs and services – have lagged behind,” said Kelly.
He was of the view that because the advent of the Internet has reached almost all corners of the world, the question now should be - ‘what should be happening?’ There is evidence on the ground, according to Kelly, that given a conducive environment technology can bring about satisfactory dividends to countries including African countries.
“The mobile money transfer is one area that has proven the usefulness of technology in people’s everyday life. Currently there are more mobile money account holders than there are bank account holders across Africa,” he said.
Digital technologies can promote inclusion, efficiency, and innovation. More than forty percent of adults in East Africa pay their utility bills using a mobile phone. There are eight million entrepreneurs in China—one third of them women—who use an e-commerce platform to sell goods nationally and export to 120 countries.
India has provided unique digital identification to nearly one billion people in five years and increased access and reduced corruption in public services. And in public health services, simple SMS messages have proven effective in reminding people living with HIV to take their lifesaving drugs.
To deliver fully on the development promise of a new digital age, the World Bank suggests two main actions: closing the digital divide by making the internet universal, affordable, open, and safe; and strengthening regulations that ensure competition among business, adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and fostering accountable institutions—measures which the report calls; analogue complements to digital investments.
It is imperative according to Kelly to have in place analogue complements to digital investments, for the main reason that
According to the report, digital development strategies need to be much broader than information and communication technology (ICT) strategies. To reap the greatest benefits, countries must create the right environment for technology: regulations that facilitate competition and market entry, skills that enable workers to leverage the digital economy, and institutions that are accountable to people. Digital technologies can, in turn, accelerate the pace of development.
Investing in basic infrastructure, reducing the cost of doing business, lower trade barriers, facilitating entry of start-ups, strengthening competition authorities, and facilitating competition across digital platforms are some of the measures suggested in the World Development Report that can make businesses more productive and innovative.
In addition, while basic literacy remains essential for children, teaching advanced cognitive and critical thinking skills and foundational training in advanced, technical ICT systems will be key as the internet spreads. Teaching technical skills early and exposing children to technology promotes ICT literacy and influences career choices.
Digital technologies can transform economies, societies and public institutions, but these changes are neither assured nor automatic, cautions the report. Countries that are investing in both digital technology and its analogue complements will reap significant dividends, while others are likely to fall behind. Technology without a strong foundation risks creating divergent economic fortunes, higher inequality and an intrusive state.
Over the last decade, the World Bank Group has invested a total US$12.6 billion in ICTs.

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