The rapid spread of digital technologies has been a development success. But has it also resulted in successful development? No, not when the basic foundations of economic development are missing, argues the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends.
Increased prosperity and our incessant desire to stay connected have contributed to the rapid spread of digital technologies. More households in developing countries own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or clean water. Nearly 70 percent of the bottom-fifth of the population in developing countries own a mobile phone. The number of Internet users has more than tripled in the last decade—from 1 billion in 2005 to an estimated 3.2 billion at the end of 2015.
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Pop quiz: Which of these statements do you agree with?
- If you build “IT” they will come.
- Poor people don’t need mobile phones. They need clean water and food instead.
- Digital skills are only relevant for people who work in the ICT sector. The rest of us don’t need them.
Global economic growth is projected to pick up modestly in 2016 to 2.9 percent after a disappointing 2015, the January 2016 Global Economic Prospects report says. Growth slowed last year to a 2.4 percent rate, 0.4 percentage points below earlier projections, amid falling commodity prices and weak flows of trade and capital.
Growth is expected to edge up this year as advanced economies grow more solidly, commodity prices stabilize, China continues to gradually rebalance its economy and global financial conditions remain benign despite rising United States interest rates. Even so, the forecast is lower than projections of six months ago, principally due to the simultaneous slowdown in major emerging market economies.
This is a key message in the Global Monitoring Report 2015/2016 – Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change, recently issued by the World Bank and the IMF. The countries in this category are labeled “pre-dividend,” (see Figure 1); two thirds of the world’s countries most affected by fragility, conflict and violence belong to this group.
Figure 1. Global Monitoring Report Demographic Country Typology: Pre-dividend countries.
Digital technology dominates our everyday lives, and with each passing day, even more so. How can the global community benefit from the new digital era?
The World Bank’s World Development Report 2016 (WDR 2016) provides a useful framework and guidance for harnessing the potential of the internet for development. “To get the most out of the digital revolution, countries also need to work on regulations, skills and institutions—by strengthening regulations that ensure competition among businesses, by adapting workers’ skills to the demands of the new economy, and by ensuring that institutions are accountable,” says the Report. This may sound familiar, but it is not. Let me explain.
- Male, from Madurai, India, Age between 16-25, intermediate diploma holder
“ I am a full time independent freelancer and my 100% earning comes from online. So definitely internet is one of the most important things in my life”
- Male, from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Age between 26-45, completed Bachelor and above
These quotes are just a glimpse at the power of digital technologies, coming from many amazing stories as people answered the following question online: “how has your life changed (personally or professionally) after you began to use the internet?” A key message from the responses is “Internet provides an opportunity to learn, earn, make friends, connect with family and friends, apply for jobs easily, and shop online.” As discussed in the upcoming World Development Report 2016 “Digital Dividends,” the internet, and other digital technologies, are changing the way people work, entertain, interact, and find jobs across high, middle and low-income countries.
“Within two days, I was able to hire the right people from the right locations” -- Employer using Souktel
In West Bank and Gaza, women are 19 percent of the total labor force (figure 1). But among the users of Souktel, an online job matching platform, more than one third of the users are women. This is one of the many promises of digital technologies for development.
Figure 1: Share of the labor force, nationally and in Souktel
Source: Souktel and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, prepared for World Development Report 2016.