Infrastructure is all about easy movement and connectivity. It’s the roads, rails, and airports that we need to trade goods, and supply food to shops and medicines to clinics. It’s the water, electricity, and internet that’s crucial to our daily lives. Investing in technology and innovation would unlock the potential for hundreds of millions of people and is the key to promoting meaningful economic growth. In order to unleash the potential of Africa, we need to make sure everyone — regardless of gender, age, location, etc. — has access to the infrastructure that they need — including transport systems that are safe and reliable, the internet and mobile networks, and the skills to use technology to transform their lives and their communities.
The Internet is critical to sharing new ideas. It can promote job creation and improvements in education and health outcomes. It can even bolster efforts to strengthen the relationship between governments and citizens. But the lack of access in the poorest countries — particularly in Africa — limits the opportunity for growth. And for women and girls, the barriers to access are increasing. Given current trends, to meet the SDG target would require connecting an additional 725 million people in Africa alone by 2020. Unless there are major steps taken to increase Internet access for the poorest countries, current trends suggest that there will be 350 million women and girls still unconnected by 2020 in those countries.
Lack of access to the internet means there are fewer opportunities for people to explore education and skills development. It leaves communities out of important parts of the economy. The world needs an ambitious plan to identify and connect the unconnected and to ensure that everyone has the skills and literacy to use the Internet.
Access to the internet unlocks opportunities for societies to be better counted, better served, and more engaged in the formal economy. It also gives girls, who are more likely to be out of school and underemployed, the opportunity to continue their education and helps them develop skills that allow them to enter the formal economy. However, women are less likely to have training in the technology sector and early access to the internet. Connectivity should be prioritized through connecting every classroom and ensuring that digital learning is a standard part of an education curriculum, as well as ensuring that connectivity is available in non-formal learning environments.
The internet can be a vital tool for fighting poverty, but the lack of access in Africa and particularly Least Developed Countries ( LDCs) significantly limits opportunity. Even when access to the internet is available, many are reluctant to take advantage of it because they lack the basic educational skills necessary to harness the opportunity of the internet — and women and girls are particularly impacted. If we can invest in digital skills for all people and make the internet available for everyone, then there are unlimited benefits for societies. Farmers can use mobile technology to better track their supply chains, people can set up small business and open bank accounts through mobile technology, and women and girls can be trained in digital skills that prepare them for jobs opportunities in the digital economy. For this to happen, internet needs to be available and cost-effective. Even in countries where internet is available, the cost is a barrier to entry for the poorest.
A second barrier concerns digital literacy. When digital learning is integrated into school–based learning, teachers become more equipped with skills and resources to be more effective and students are given the opportunity to learn how to use the internet in a meaningful way. The internet can be a game changer in education, particularly when there is a lack of available material or trained teachers, the internet and web-based learning can help ensure students are still learning and getting an education. If we invest in connectivity, we are investing in vital skills training for the next generation of workers.
In order to be on track to meet SDG 9, we need to commit to an aggressive agenda that prioritizes expanding connectivity (among other necessary investments in infrastructure that provides transport, energy, water, and jobs). We should:
- Invest in a digital skills revolution: To ensure digital literacy to those not yet connected – particularly women and girls – so that they have the skills to use the Internet effectively.
- Break down barriers to accessing the internet: To make sure that every citizen in the world can access relevant content, overcoming cultural barriers that stop them from accessing the Internet.
- Invest in open data on connectivity: To index the percentage of unconnected and connected citizens to track the unconnected and commit to connecting them.
- Build infrastructure for the digital future: To ensure affordable access for the world’s most marginalised people.
We believe that if world leaders deliver on their commitment to connecting everyone in LDCs by 2020 and create action plans towards that goal, then the power of the internet can help pull millions out of poverty and set them up for meaningful and productive work.