Take the 1 Billion Lives Challenge to close the digital divide

(Credit: Unsplash)

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

Author: Derek O’Halloran, Head of Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation; ExCom Memb, World Economic Forum


  • 85% of the world lives in areas covered by 4G, but only half are online. Cost, not coverage, is the critical barrier.
  • Mobile broadband is 18 times more expensive in low-income countries than in developed economies, relative to average income.
  • The EDISON Alliance, through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, will accelerate digital inclusion solutions for 1 billion people through harnessing commitments from governments, companies and other organizations globally.

In a year of online learning, two-thirds of the world’s school-age children don’t have an internet connection in their homes. Although 85% of the world’s population lives in areas covered by 4G, only half are online.

Cost, not coverage, is the critical barrier to connectivity. In low-income countries, home to 650 million people, mobile broadband is 18 times more expensive than in developed countries, as a proportion of average income.

Percentage of children and young people with internet access at home
How many children and young people have internet access at home? Image: UNICEF

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly increased the urgency for closing the digital divide, to ensure everyone can access healthcare, education and financial services online. Yet, deep inequalities persist in the affordability of digital access between least-developed and most-developed countries.

Most of the world’s population lives within the coverage of broadband infrastructure. However, the lack of availability of relevant, affordable services means that 47% of people cannot participate and do not benefit from the internet.

Internet access low among economic vulnerable
Internet access is low among the world’s most economically vulnerable. Image: Statista/Gallup

Achieving digital inclusion is about more than infrastructure – it is about the necessary collaboration and investment across different industries, governments and civil society to bring affordable, safe and meaningful services to people everywhere.

Two billion people still lack access to healthcare, 1.7 billion remain unbanked and 265 million children have no access to education. Enhancing digitally-enabled access for this enormous unserved population will help ensure they are not left behind in an increasingly digital-first world. The three sectors of health, finance and education are, therefore, key areas of focus for the EDISON Alliance, an initiative launched by the World Economic Forum to accelerate and foster collaboration between the information and communications technology (ICT) community and other critical sectors of the economy.

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Quick and decisive mobilization of resources is needed. This is why the EDISON Alliance is launching the 1 Billion Lives Challenge. The programme will recognize, support and inspire concrete commitments to improve the lives of 1 billion people through roll-outs of digitally enabled services across at least health, finance and education. The Alliance Champions are calling on all organizations – private and public – to consider what actions they can take to make a commitment or support existing initiatives.

By spotlighting and accelerating existing and new commitments, the 1 Billion Lives Challenge aims to:

  • Accelerate the delivery of digital services for unserved and underserved populations
  • Inspire more public commitments to digital inclusion
  • Demonstrate that universal digital inclusion is an achievable goal
  • Support EDISON Alliance organizations in the achievement of their digital inclusion goals
  • Develop global relationships and sustainable, scalable models for further impact to 2030

The EDISON Alliance provides the platform for the key enablers to maximize the success of these commitments. This includes a global cross-sector ecosystem of like-minded organizations to tap into for the partnerships needed to be successful, and to learn from peers. The community actively seeks to highlight and accelerate the most successful and promising initiatives for others to support.

In addition to initiatives, it pulls together the latest guidance and research on leading best practices to empower policymakers and relevant stakeholders, and actively aims to accelerate innovative financing tools to ensure that we have the capital to invest in success at scale. These tools are key enablers to help achieve the 1 Billion Lives Challenge and include the Shared Principles for an Inclusive Financial System, Guidebook for Digital Inclusion Bond Financing, and EDISON Navigator, an online tool currently being designed to provide users easy access to curated information on best practices and lessons learned in digital inclusion approaches.

Visit www.weforum.org/the-edison-alliance/1-billion-lives to learn more and take the 1 Billion Lives Challenge.

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