Connecting the poor: The challenges of delivering universal digital connectivity and financial inclusion

May 06, 2016 / by / 0 Comment
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On April 14, the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, joined by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry led the recently concluded Global Connect Initiative (GCI). The initiative gathered technology industry representatives from 26 countries, private sectors and multilateral development bank leaders, telecom and internet industry. The global initiative is to connect another 1.5 billion people online by the year 2020. According to a press statement, there are already 65 new and ongoing initiatives, which are valued at $20 billion, in support of enhancing internet connectivity.

Insights from McKinsey revealed that there will be an additional 500 million to 900 million people expected to go online by 2017. Still, at that rate, 4.2 billion people remain offline. The offline population, according to the report, faces barriers, such as lack of awareness and cultural acceptance on the value that internet can offer, that hinder adoption of technological advancements. Furthermore, lack of digital literacy, mobile coverage or network access, and low income and affordability of technology remain the predominant barriers that limit the poor from accessing the internet.

The US Department of State’s official blog wrote that part of the initiative involves US development agencies to focus on internet access projects and to champion productive internet policies. There is also a move for widespread awareness on the role of internet connectivity which is important to economic development as building roads, having electricity and other infrastructure. Add to that, the state believes that economic growth and broadband access go hand-in-hand.

“Internet is essential to economic prosperity in the 21st century,” said Kerry during the meeting. Internet connectivity, which the UN believes is a basic human right, becomes a significant medium in delivering economic opportunities such as employment, accessible education, and communications during disaster relief and even health care among nations.

The fact remains, however, that not all countries can keep up with the dynamic technological development, thus, limiting their opportunity to grow and expand economically. In relation to this, the GCI has created awareness and encouraged actions among its participants to eliminate poverty through connectivity.

How connectivity can end poverty

“Two things we know for sure will be needed: connectivity for everyone and also the ability of people to engage in that new digital world,” said Kim during the GCI event. “We have to move quickly on connectivity, but we have to move equally as fast in making sure that people are able to take advantage of that connectivity.”

To achieve this goal, first, there should be a deeper understanding of the lives of the poor and how connectivity can change their lives. Online publication Wired discussed how, each year, 60 million people see their incomes rise above the poverty line. As a result, these people start to adopt financial instruments that will continue to make their lives better, such as smartphones, bank accounts, and even online access. Such technologies are adopted at great speed that it reaches even people who remain below the poverty line.

While this situation highlights the prevalence of more affordable technologies such as smartphones and mobile devices, this means also means taking a step further into the connected world for the underprivileged. It means having a glimpse of hope that opportunities will come once they gain access to a wealth of information through the internet.

Further discussions from the blog suggested that when poor people are given the chance to connect, they conquer new possibilities that will make their life better. Having online access opens up new opportunities for people and Zuckerberg has recognized this.

“When communities are connected, we can lift them out of poverty,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his UN speech. Through the internet, people are given access to tools, knowledge and opportunity, added Zuckerberg. This also means gaining access to education, healthcare, and even job opportunities.

The internet has dramatically changed the world and people’s lives in terms of communication that it is now the most preferred medium, from online messaging to social media. In fact, numbers from Pew Research revealed that 65 percent of American adults use social networking sites for communication.

Even simple transactions are dependent on the internet, such as ordering pizza, getting a medical prescription, hotel reservations, banking transactions and applying for college. The world has become dependent on the internet that seamless connection and strong network signals are a must. In fact, signal boosting technologies and network extender devices, such as those from 5BARz International, have become more than a necessity but a lifestyle. When this lifestyle is made more accessible and technologies more affordable, new doors and opportunities are opened, especially for the less privileged.