If there is any doubt about the integration of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into global development, the proof can be found in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Seven of the four SDG indicators relate to digital capabilities. Beyond this, to capture the full scope of ICT as a catalyst for development, the Partnership for Measuring ICT for Development has identified 26 other ICT indicators covering 10 of the 17 SDGs. In addition, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have developed the SDG Digital Investment Framework, intended as an introduction to how digital capabilities can advance specific SDGs.
COVID-19 has highlighted the extent to which our lives are lived online – a digital world in which the private sector is leading and government too often lags behind. Those with access to digital technology have continued to work and study from home and have turned their businesses into an online model. Those who do not have access have lost their income, their learning and their social connections. The pandemic has exposed a deep digital divide within and between countries and communities. Some governments with advanced digital capabilities and strong political leadership have been able to innovate in response to the needs of their populations; others were left in trouble.
While there is a strong correlation between digital development and national income, as Section 2 of this paper shows, national wealth is not enough. Political leadership and openness to innovation are just as many, if not more, determining factors in contributing to digital development. For example, several developing countries have been able to respond effectively to the coronavirus by using digital services to speed up the delivery of relief. Take India, for example, a lower middle income country (LMIC). In one week, the government was able to transfer $ 8 per month to 200 million vulnerable women through Aadhaar, its biometric digital identity system launched in 2009 and now covering 1.3 billion citizens. Sri Lanka, another LMIC, with a strong health management information system, was able to adapt an open source DHIS2 platform in two days to create a system for registering and tracking inbound travelers. from areas at high risk of COVID-19.
More tellingly, Togo, a low income country (LIC), used an existing platform based on unstructured supplemental service data (USSD) to collaborate with telecom companies to ensure mobile network compatibility. . In 10 days, she built Novissi, a monthly digital money transfer system that allows individuals to sign up and automatically receive payment via a mobile phone. Within a week of the launch, nearly 450,000 beneficiaries have received funds. The system is specifically structured to take into account gender inequalities in the country.
In contrast, at the top of the Wealth Pyramid and the Digital Pyramid, the United States issued 169 million payments, amounting to $ 395 billion, thanks to a long piecemeal approach of direct deposits, paper checks. and prepaid Visa cards. According to a calculation, the government’s COVID-19 response programs took 51 days to begin distribution electronically, but 86 days with manual methods.
These examples illustrate the benefits of adopting digital government services in developing countries. With the right platforms, developing countries even have the potential to overtake some developed countries in the provision of digital government services. As the examples above show, countries that had spent the previous decade investing in infrastructure and digital skills found it easier to respond to the pandemic than those that did not. This COVID-19 awakening is expected to catalyze action: Transform emergency systems into large-scale government service platforms and help those without one deploy open source digital public goods for a range of government services modern digital.
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