How to bring digital inclusion to the people who need it most

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Govind Shivkumar, Director, Responsible Technology, Omidyar Network, Kevin O’Neil, Associate Director, Strategic Insights, Rockefeller Foundation & Liv Marte Kristiansen Nordhaug, Co-Lead, Digital Public Goods Alliance, NORAD ,

  • Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) solutions can improve the lives of citizens’ around the world by enabling digital inclusion.
  • Successful governments have been able to harness these digital tools to address urgent challenges facing society.
  • We outline four ways in which DPI can be a global force for good with responsible public-private sector collaboration.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is fundamental to well-functioning economies and citizens’ well-being.

DPI refers to digital solutions that enable basic functions essential for public and private service delivery, i.e. collaboration, commerce, and governance. Think about our existing shared public infrastructure such as roads and education, but online: that’s DPI in a nutshell.

Typical examples include digital identification platforms such as Aadhaar in India, data exchange streams such as X-road in Estonia, or digital payment systems such as UPI in India and Raast in Pakistan.

Here are four reasons why you should care about DPI.

1. DPI proved invaluable to countries in fighting COVID-19

Countries that had existing comprehensive DPI before the pandemic were able to build a coherent, comprehensive and rapid response to the virus.

Take Togo, for example. The West African country used digital payments and data to target COVID-19 emergency cash transfers to the most vulnerable and got the programme up and running in 10 days. The programme paid more women than men, and also provided support to informal workers.

In another example, Sri Lanka built and deployed a real-time COVID-19 screening, contact tracing and monitoring system on its existing health platform and began deploying it within days after the first case of COVID-19 was registered. The country also shared the new tools with other countries using the same health software platform.

2. Digital public goods are helping DPI reach a global scale

The beauty of software and standards is that anyone, anywhere, can contribute to and use them and that they only gain value as they are shared and reused. Software developers have understood this and used open source as the basis for collaboration for years. We can do the same in building digital public infrastructure to address urgent global challenges and development needs.

Digital Public Goods (DPGs) – open source software, open data, open AI models, open standards, and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable best practices – are a critical tool for building infrastructure in ways that address some of the limitations of solutions that rely on proprietary software.

A good example is the District Health Information Software 2 (DHIS2) which was first created in post-Apartheid South Africa to address gaps in health data collection, access, and use at the local level. Today it is the world’s largest health management information system platform, managed by the University of Oslo, Norway, and is used by ministries of health in 73 low and middle-income countries representing 30% of the world’s population. digital, COVID-19, EDISON Alliance

What is the Forum doing to close the digital gap?

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).

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.

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.

Companies are invited to join the EDISON Alliance – read about how in our Impact Story.

During the pandemic, countries such as Sri Lanka built new modules on DHIS2 for real-time disease surveillance and for vaccine rollout planning and monitoring. The core DHIS2 team refined and shared these modules with the broader community and they are now in operation in 41 countries and in development in others. The system has accelerated vaccine rollout in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries and streamlined clinical lab and travel certification processes.

MOSIP, also a digital public good, is a foundational digital identification system available to all governments for deployment as part of their DPI. It is designed to be secure, inclusive, and protect privacy. Morocco, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Guinea, Ethiopia, and several other countries are now assessing or implementing their own systems based on MOSIP, making adaptations to meet their own needs.

3. If DPI is not “good”, it can be very bad for everyone

Reports from Afghanistan indicate that people are worried that databases held by the collapsed government could be used against them by the Taliban. No one should have to feel this way, highlighting why it is crucial to get things right from the start and anticipate how things could go wrong. Bad DPI can have dramatic consequences – which is why building “good” DPI should not be an afterthought when developing such infrastructure.

“Good” infrastructure must be inclusive, protect the privacy and security of citizens, and be governed by regulations that ensure accountability and transparency in their implementation. It must be built to enable governments to collaborate with the private sector and to promote vendor diversity and innovation on top of the foundational systems. This is essential for ensuring that users get access to a range of services like healthcare, insurance and financing and that thriving local ecosystems evolve to provide these services. And there must be alternatives and redundancies to ensure those who can’t or choose not to use them aren’t excluded.

This is not easy to get right for any country and the consequences of getting it wrong can be dire – not only in terms of cost overruns and delays but also in terms of human rights abuses. As governments worldwide try to respond to the pandemic, the least developed countries in particular, need urgent comprehensive support to implement good DPI, and as a protection against hasty implementation of badDPI.

4. It’s a business opportunity for everyone

Building meaningful public-private partnerships is going to be instrumental in developing good DPI, and businesses, large and small, will also win from this.

In India, the digital payments ecosystem grew after Aadhaar and UPI were put in place, and attracted many new companies – domestic and international – who were able to build and deliver new services and gain sizable market shares. By bringing in over 330 million people in the formal financial sector, India’s digital infrastructure was driven by and has driven innovation both in the public and the private sector.

It has also allowed for competition and innovation, with PhonePe, PayTM, Google Pay, Amazon Pay and others contending to be the consumer’s favourite payments app. But it wasn’t only good for the big players; during COVID-19, digital transactions around the country have reached a new high both for big and small banks. UPI also removed barriers to entry, democratizing innovation to old and new businesses alike.

As these ecosystems grow, the most important goal should be to ensure DPI delivers benefits for the smallest of enterprises and the average person, taking away the barriers of distance, cost, paperwork, and bureaucracy that hold back their participation in the digital economy.

What’s next?

We are part of a rapidly growing international community of organizations working to change how countries are supported in their digital transformation journeys. There are no quick fixes. Only through better coordination, vastly more resources, and a clear vision of what “good DPI” is and why it matters can we accelerate deployments, strengthen national digital sovereignty and local value creation.

We also need to change how we work – silos in government, international organizations and business, and outmoded ways of approaching public technology are holding us back. Later this year, like-minded leaders are coming together to co-develop new ways of working, setting off a programme of action led by the Digital Public Goods Alliance and others.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Australia urged to evacuate offshore detainees amid widespread, acute mental distress

Any doubt?

From funders to partners: elevating community expertise to help communities thrive

German opposition win in Lower Saxony felt all over Europe

London is becoming the world’s first National Park City

Yemen consultations have started, insists top UN negotiator

Commission approves emergency measures to protect eastern Baltic cod

How data can help mining companies tackle their trust deficit

From drought to floods in Somalia; displacement and hunger worsen, says UN

From raised fists at the 1968 Olympics to taking the knee: A history of racial justice protests in sport

Will the European Court of Justice change data privacy laws to tackle terrorism?

This is how travel hotspots are fighting back against overtourism

Do all you can to resolve climate change ‘sticking points’ UN chief urges South-East Asian leaders, in Bali

Four lessons from Africa on building effective business ecosystems

Australian homes are turning to solar power in record numbers

European research priorities for 2021-2027 agreed with member states

Meeting the basic needs of our healthcare workers

Mental health: a medical school’s demand

Embracing the diversity in a multicultural city of Romania

The EU Commission lets money market funds continue the unholy game of banks

How the power of sport can bring us together and drive social justice

EU Blue Card: Commission welcomes political agreement on new rules for highly skilled migrant workers

Why building consumer trust is the key to unlocking AI’s true potential

Ukraine’s new political order not accepted in Crimea

Protecting European consumers: toys and cars on top of the list of dangerous products

This is how New York plans to end its car culture

Progress against torture in Afghan detention centres, but Government needs to do more, says UN report

European Citizens’ Initiative: Commission registers ‘Mandatory food labelling Non-Vegetarian / Vegetarian / Vegan’ initiative’

Is South Korea set to lose from its FTA with the EU?

Anti-vaccers: does the empty can rattle the most?

The role of public affairs in student NGOs

Future Forces Forum: Prague will be hosting the most important project in the field of Defence and Security

Latin America’s cities are ready to take off. But their infrastructure is failing them

Political power of women suffering ‘serious regression’, General Assembly President warns

7 top things to know about coronavirus today

How global trade can save lives and livelihoods – and help protect the planet

EU job-search aid worth €9.9 million for 1,858 former Air France workers

European Semester 2018 Spring Package: Commission issues recommendations for Member States to achieve sustainable, inclusive and long-term growth

COVID-19: Save European culture and values, MEPs tell Commission

Children suffering ‘atrocities’ as number of countries in conflict hits new peak: UNICEF

We need to rethink ESG to ensure access to water and sanitation for all

International Court of Justice orders Pakistan to review death penalty for Indian accused of spying

Rise in violent conflict shows prevention ‘more necessary than ever’: UN chief

Top UN political official updates Security Council on Iran nuclear deal

It’s not summer holidays what lead to the bad August of the German economy

How can the world end viral hepatitis by 2030? 5 experts explain

How to talk about climate change: 5 tips from the front lines

Failure to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia is a mistake

Myanmar doing too little to ensure displaced Rohingya return: UN refugee agency chief

Further reforms in Sweden can drive growth, competitiveness and social cohesion

EU-UK relations: solutions found to help implementation of the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland

Statistics show the ugly face of youth training schemes

Croatian Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

Media and entertainment in flux: it’s time for the close-up

5 droughts that changed human history

Are the G20 leaders ready to curb corporate tax-avoidance?

European Youth, quo vadis?

China is the first non-EU country to invest in Europe’s €315 billion Plan

EU institutions agree on priorities for coming years: A common agenda for our recovery and renewed vitality

Coronavirus Global Response: EIB and Commission pledge additional €4.9 billion

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s