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Bangladesh Hopes To Lead To A “Zero Digital Divide” World

Date: 9 August, 2023

Writer : Saman Rizwan
Source : Forbes

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

9 August, 2023
Writer : Saman Rizwan
Source : Forbes
· Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Bangladesh Hopes To Lead To A “Zero Digital Divide” World

Bangladesh Hopes To Lead To A “Zero Digital Divide” World

For Decades digital technologies have transformed societies in all aspects—from connectivity, financial inclusion, public services, health, education, trade, media communication, transportation.

This expansion of technology has not always been inclusive. The equitable distribution of such technologies has often been overlooked. Some countries in the Global South like Bangladesh have digitized rapidly and were proud of their accomplishments—then came COVID-19.

“COVID proved us wrong. COVID actually showed us that we left a huge set of pockets across the entire country, as far as the digital divide is concerned,” COVID-19 brought a change to that perspective,” said Anir Chowdhury who is policy advisor for a2i, the Innovation Agency for the Bangladesh Government, “And that’s the new quest right now. So it’s not only about digitization. Really, it’s about reducing the digital divide, bringing it to zero.

These concerns are not limited to emerging nations; digital divide breeds inequality in both developed and developing nations. Globally, about 3 billion people continue to be deprived of a quality digital experience because they are not connected to the internet, while over half the world does not have access to high-speed internet.

With that said, a 2021 report from the United Nations highlights just how grave the situation is in least-developed countries (LDCs). Accordingly some 80% of the population still lack internet connection in these countries.

Suffice to say, the digital divide thus between the Global North and the Global South is particularly striking—and one that requires immediate action to bridge. In an increasingly globalized world which threatens to also be increasingly polarized and unequal, addressing the digital divide could be as vital as addressing the issue of climate change for a more equitable world.

Bangladesh has been among the success stories of digital transformation in the 21st Century; for the past 15 years, it adopted a national agenda of creating a “Digital Bangladesh” to ensure ease of public service delivery for citizens, particularly those most marginalized. COVID-19 was a setback but, the country is a gain moving forward.

In its quest to digitize, it witnessed first hand how emerging technologies can, in addition to simplifying service delivery for millions, also lead to significant digital divide, where a certain section of the population disproportionately benefit. Other countries in the Global South have taken a look at this leadership.

LDCs in the Global South are on their own technological transformation journeys. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR) and the dawn of AI, technology is set to become even more ubiquitous. Innovation will transform more nations and at a faster pace than ever before, but to ensure that this innovation is inclusive shall be the real challenge.

“As advanced economies improve conditions for the digital economy, more 4IR investments are diverted solely to the developed world, leading developing countries to fall even further behind,” said Landry Signé, Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Africa Growth Initiative.

It is therefore necessary to have dialogues concerning digital divide with the same fervor that we see conversations about other issues such as climate change. Consider the Conference of Parties (COP) event held each year to tackle this challenge.

Bangladesh’s leadership is an example of the rest of the world to neglect the scale of the potential digital divide that may arise as a result of this acceleration of technology adoption—and treat it with the seriousness it warrants.

Bangladesh has been at the forefront of a concept called e-Quality, which is defined as the input required to achieve the intermediate objective of digital inclusion or digital equality, which in turn, contributes to achieving the ultimate goal of overall equitable development.

And this month, it has begun the process of establishing what it calls an “e-Quality Centre” for Inclusive Innovation. The intention of such a centre, a first of its kind, is to be a platform on which to build the global commitment towards a world with zero digital divide.

The Bangladesh government is all in with its intent to get the rest of the world involved in addressing the digital divide, as recognized with a side event to the High-Level Political Forum of the United Nations which addressed not the potential threat of digital divide but also how the e-Quality centre could be the first step to start bridging that divide & champion the cause of Zero Digital Divide.

“Developing countries of the Global South face common challenges in this regard, including lack of infrastructure, high cost of digital equipment, the lack of digital skills and literacy,” said Mohan Pieris, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations at the event, “the e-Quality centre for Inclusive innovation, with its ambitious vision to ensure Zero Digital Divide for the world, [is] definitely a fantastic dream.”

This event drew participation of representatives from United Nations member states attending the UN HLPF, government officials, ambassadors, and delegates from various countries of the Global South, and representatives from development agencies, international organizations, civil society, academia, and the private sector.

Throughout the event, the disparate composition of the attendees drew expectedly lively discussions, yet there was one consensus: Digital divide was real and growing. The problem, though global, was worse in the Global South. And something had to be done to address it immediately.

“[The] e-Quality centre for Inclusive Innovation, with a vision to ensure zero digital divide, is just the medium we need right now, to ensure that inclusive digital transformation is being practiced,” said Naguib Sinarimbo, Minister of the Ministry of Interior and Local Government from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in the Philippines

Technological innovation is here to stay and accelerate. With the Sustainable Development Goals promising to leave no one behind, initiatives such as this one offer a chance to create a zero digital divide world. With the e-Quality center, countries in the Global South can rally together and face the global digital divide together under their own leadership. The rest of the world too must act accordingly. The possibility is open for CEOs and corporate leaders to join this effort. The sooner there is urgency behind this call to action, the sooner meaningful work will be done to address and mitigate digital divide.

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