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Digitally inclusive society - Creating Value at Bottom of the Pyramid

With the rapid advancement of technology in developed countries, we run the risk of creating a Digitally divided society. In one hand Nexus of forces (SMAC) & IoT are changing the urban life like never before, in the other hand section of developing (mostly rural) and under-developed counties have minimum or no access to Digital Technologies and struggling to have access to basic needs like agriculture, food, clean water, education, healthcare.

Recently published World economic forum (WEF) report "The Global Information Technology Report 2015 - ICTs for Inclusive Growth" says - more than 4.2 billion people worldwide are likely to be still unconnected in 2017.

 Create a digitally inclusive society

To build a digitally inclusive society, we need to have:-

  • Right political, regulatory and business environments;
  • Right infrastructure at affordable cost;
  • Right skills to manage technology;
  • High degree of usage and adoption of Technology at individual, business, government levels.

It's important to provide basic and critical services like e-payments, m-learning, and m-health etc in rural and underdeveloped markets. We need increased mobile Internet adoption and shrinking device & data plan prices (similar to or google balloon type of projects), it also requires rapid urbanization to improve higher mobile network coverage and enable middle class growth. Doing it right will reduce the Digital Divide and have profound impact to economy and society at large.

Role of Four key players to create environment to expedite the process

Governments around the world need set the right policy & provide essential services. Brands need to develop local custom content & services. Operators (Telecom, Search etc) should support the monetization of services by improving the aggregation, curation, and discoverability of content; Finally the content developers should build content in sharing platforms to enable higher content based services.

Government should enable the use of low-frequency bands to lower the cost of a network and higher rural coverage. For example in Sweden, 800 MHz license required the connection of specific rural areas in return for a lower fee. Voice and Internet access need to be brought under Universal service. For example Saudi Arabia has allocated 1.3 billion USD over 7 years to improve the rural networks. Provision for shared service access will also help improve digital access. In Bangladesh and Ghana, Internet access has been established at community centres and libraries so that citizens do not have to pay for individual subscriptions. Private and public partnership in Egypt public private partnership doubled the penetration of household fixed broadband, and mobile penetration has risen fivefold.

Support for targeted segments like  students with notebook to improve their ICT skills and get Internet access. Providing information in local language and other critical services like mobile banking giving craftsmen, fishermen, and farmers new business opportunities. For example, M-PESA in Kenya and EcoCash in Zimbabwe are examples of successful m-banking services. E-government services like contact forms, tax filing, and social security services, as well as chats, tweets, and newsletters should be made available. E-health services like launched in Bangladesh with private-public partnership program called Aponjon to advise pregnant women in poor rural areas, with the aim of lowering maternal death.

Higher internet penetration opens up greater possibilities

The reason for people to get connected are mainly to get entertained (video, game, music etc), access information (news, jobs, sports etc), to access utility (Govt service, health, education etc), participate in business (e-commerce, banking, online services etc). In addition to this, people also access sharing platforms (Facebook, Twitter etc), communicate (skype, Whatsapp etc). When the internet penetration is low (5-13%)people tend to get connected for information and entertainment, also some cases to access utilities, such as e-government services. When the internet penetration improves a bit (13-43%), people tend to use sharing platforms like Facebook to engage & get entertained. With internet penetration of 43-62% content developers look for ways to make their content profitable and beyond 62% internet penetration with a large base of online users, businesses see value in offering Internet services.

How Digital initiatives are benefiting the bottom of the pyramid

Knowledge distribution- MIT OpenCourseWare project to make its course materials available for free online, results of innovation are often themselves available online via open source in order to lower the cost of further innovations. This helped 3D printer developed in Togo.

Crowdfunding - Pebble, the first notable smartwatch, is to date the most successful Kickstarter project. Other platforms—such as Indiegogo and Ulule are available in many countries. The inventor of the W.Afate 3D printer in Togo raised over €4,000 online using the crowdfunding platform Ulele. Freelance sites such as Elance allow workers to overcome obstacles and improve their economic standing. Nabbesh provides flexible employment opportunities that are particularly important for women who are required to work from home.

Assistance to do business - Recent years have seen the rise of a new model for supporting entrepreneurs in developing countries: the innovation hub. For instance, iHub in Kenya fostered the recently launched BRCK, an Internet connectivity. device that provides power and access in challenging environments. In Ghana, a notable success is Dropifi, a customer engagement tool that helps businesses to communicate with customers in a faster and more efficient way.

Shared service access - Innovative solution to make drinks dispenser in local community an Internet access point  helps connect local community. Modern vending machines are Internet-connected so they can report on stock levels and automatically send replenishment orders. A pilot partnership between a soft drinks manufacturer and a telecommunications company is doing this in Umtata and Nelspruit in South Africa.

Expanding access to education - Katha open opened the Katha Information Technology and E-Commerce School (KITES) in Govindpuri, Delhi; a not-for-profit publishing and teaching organization empower deprived children through education in interactive, technology-based classrooms, open up the world to individuals via the internet, wants students to access online chats, email exchanges, blogs, and online stories and essays.

Expanding access to jobs - Using social media to add depth to unemployment statistics - A recent study from the United Nations’ Global Pulse initiative uses linguistic analytics to demonstrate how government agencies can predict to prevent joblessness. Analysts collected anonymized digital data from social media, blogs, forums, and news articles related to unemployment, and then performed sentiment analysis to categorize the mood of these online conversations. The research revealed that a rise in chatter about postponing vacations, increasing the use of public transportation, and downgrading one’s automobile could indeed predict an unemployment spike. In the United States, hostile moods increased four months before a spike in unemployment; in Ireland, confusion and anxiety increased three months prior to such a spike.

Well-being: Tracking infectious disease - After the SARS outbreak of 2003, the Department of Health in Hong Kong modernized its analytics to link many different systems for a better flow of information. In essence, the department took massive amounts of diverse data and linked them together in a social network that took into account how people interact and where. Once these social networks are mapped, the department can identify hotspots to forecast where disease is likely to spread next. Where an outbreak originates determines how it will affect the population, so predicting infection paths shows where and how to deploy resources for maximum effectiveness.

More than 90 percent of the 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS reside in developing nations with limited access to treatment. The Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) uses analytics to create updated forecasts of demand for medications for HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis, which has led to greater availability and the ability to negotiate lower prices on the drugs. CHAI also analyzes global HIV treatment cost drivers, shares forecasts and models with the United Nations Programme on AIDS and the World Health Organization, and develops treatment models in partnership with health ministries around the globe to identify how best to spend limited resources.

Stop leakage: Ensuring funding for social programs - Belgium is fighting carousel fraud through its Special Tax Inspectorate with an advanced analytics tool that identifies at-risk companies and extracts relevant data from the unwieldy cluster of data gleaned from community transactions, company data, social media data, and so on. Hybrid detection has allowed Belgium to use multiple complex modeling techniques to practically eradicate this VAT fraud. Belgium’s VAT losses came to €1.1 billion in 2002, but by 2012 the country had reduced that figure by 98 percent and continues to use hybrid detection techniques to save billions of euros.

Empower community to avoid unnecessary welfare benefits - In New Zealand, the Ministry of Social Development is using data to design targeted programs for at-risk populations. Two-thirds of the agency’s total liability was attributable to those who entered the welfare system under the age of 20—plainly, empowering young people with confidence and life skills reduces the cycle of long-term benefit dependency.

Connected Healthcare - Women in semi-urban and rural areas in emerging economies often die from preventable complications during childbirth. Many of these deaths could be avoided with basic imaging technology. Mashavu in East Africa have built innovative mHealth services based on telecommunications networks.

In Indonesia, Philips is running a pilot project in Mobile Obstetrical Monitoring (MOM). Using a mobile phone application, midwives can collect data from physical examinations and tests performed at local nursing clinics or even at the soon-to-be-mother’s home. They then send these data to obstetricians or gynecologists in a different location, who can determine whether a pregnancy might be high risk. If so, women can be referred to appropriate medical services for immediate and adequate help.

What lies ahead in future..

In the longer term, more integrated services can be provided. Starting from measuring your fitness, food habits, sleeping habits, work habits, spending habits etc at individual levels to more aggregated services at community and national levels by collecting all data anonymously at central location; ultimately enabling consumarization of services reaching the lower end of the society, bridging the Digital divide.

Note: the article is inspired by World economic forum (WEF) report "The Global Information Technology Report 2015 - ICTs for Inclusive Growth".


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Abhishek Chatterjee

Abhishek Chatterjee

Managing Partner

Gartner Inc.

Member since

16 Dec 2014



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