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Digital Inclusion for Social Good

Today, technology is touching every sector. All industries have understood the benefits of implementing technology in their areas. While, on the one hand, technology is helping companies reduce internal costs, including various overhead costs, it is also helping them reach out to new customers and offer products in cost-effective ways.

Also, customers who are digitally savvy are getting a lot of benefits from the usage of technology. It helps them buy, sell, book tickets, watch videos, etc., at any point in time, from anywhere in the world, in a personalized way. 

So, though it looks like a win-win situation, this creates a divide among the society. Only some members of society can use technology or various digital devices. This is causing a digital divide. If we need to harness the power of technology fully, we also need to ensure that all members of society can use technology equitably. 

That means, for all members of society, equal opportunity should exist to afford technology (that is, they should be able to buy a relevant digital device and should be able to afford the Internet) and should be skilled enough to use various applications on the Internet, should be able to find out relevant information in an efficient way.

Before moving further, I am putting down specific terms and their definitions to help us understand this issue

1. Digital Divide: The gap between those with affordable access, skills, and support to engage online effectively and those without.

2. Digital Inclusion: The Work: The activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged and members of all genders, have access to and use Information and Communication Technology.

3. Digital Divide: The Issue: The digital divide disproportionately affects people of various genders, indigenous people, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, and older adults.

4. Digital redlining: Discrimination by internet service providers in the deployment, maintenance, or upgrade of infrastructure or delivery of services.

5. Current barriers: No access to the Internet and not being able to afford Affordable digital devices, Digital Literacy, Language Access, Fear and lack of trust, Jargon/too technical, Privacy and security concerns, geographical constraints, lack of motivation to use technology, income levels

A look into the history : 

The pursuit of inclusion began in the 20th century when it became evident that there was a significant gap between those who had access to modern information and communication technology and those who did not.

With the emergence of the Internet, the need to address this divide became more urgent, leading to initiatives to bridge the gap in access, skills, and opportunities.

Important milestones include initiatives like One Laptop per Child (OLPC), launched in 2005 to provide laptops to children in developing countries. OLPC laid the foundation for understanding that hardware availability and digital literacy play roles in achieving digital inclusion.

At the time, government-led programs such as India's National Digital Literacy Mission launched in 2012 highlighted the significance of policy frameworks in promoting literacy and accessibility.

Various nonprofit organizations (NGOs) and advocacy groups have also emerged to support the cause, highlighting the importance of promoting inclusion.

Current Challenge

Many times, we equate digital inclusion and digital literacy with poverty. That is, as people don't have money to buy smartphones or smart devices or don't have money to spend on the Internet, they are not using these devices and cannot take advantage of various digital technologies.

Though this is true to some extent, in my opinion, we have a bigger problem. A large section of the population has a smartphone and can afford the Internet but still needs to be digitally literate.

So these are sets of people.

1. People who can't afford a smartphone and the Internet & hence not using it.

2. People who can't afford smartphones or the Internet take the help of their friends and use them in limited ways.

3. People who have a smartphone can afford the Internet but use it only for the consumption of content available on the Internet, to a certain extent. 

Many professionals have high-end smartphones and wi-fi at home but use these only for social media chat and watching videos. They are not investing effort in discovering what else the Internet can do.

This becomes important because, as the head of the family, they don't know about the various benefits of the Internet, and they cannot teach or help other family members or their house help like maidservants or drivers.

I call this phenomenon 'Passive Digital Illiteracy.' 

To give a parallel example here, if the bread-earner in a family is a doctor, often a maidservant or driver takes advice from the doctor in case of need.

But now, in these families, though the bread-earner is using a phone and Internet, they cannot help the driver or maidservant of their house.

So, in case the government has floated a scheme for the welfare of women working in geo or, say, there is an insurance scheme floated by the government for drivers, the woman or driver is not able to avail of the benefit of that scheme.

No one can tell them about the schemes. Also, to avail of the scheme, they must fill out specific details online but don't get any help. As explained, they usually used to reach out to their employer for anything complex or ambiguous. Still, in these cases, their employer cannot help as the employer himself is not digitally literate.

There is a large population that consumes various data that is available on the Internet. That is a one-way interaction. Many of these members have understood how to chat on the Internet and social media and watch videos on social media.

But two-way interaction is not happening. By two-way interaction, I mean people should be able to interact with various apps. Some of the things can be

1. Ability to open an APP and create a login ID.

2. Ability to create passwords and ability to change passwords at frequent intervals or whenever required.

3. Ability to apply necessary software patches, which APPs provide, to secure the APP and user from any security risk, data leakage, etc.

4. Ability to search and retrieve relevant information.

5. Today, the Internet is filled with a lot of content. There is always a danger of fake news and fake videos. One should check and validate the information from 2-3 APPs before taking any action.

5. Ability to check that the APP or website is the one they were searching for. For example, if there is a bank called 'ABCD' and its correct website is www.ABCD.com. There may be some websites with names like www.ABED.com. One should be able to distinguish between these two and avoid falling prey to dubious websites.

Advantages of digital inclusion: Why people should be digitally literate.

With digital technologies and devices, it makes things easy for the consumer. So, for a shop selling branded shirts, its consumers can search through the catalog on its website and order anytime from anywhere.

Naturally, for the company, now with the Internet and with its website, it can reach more customers. Shop need not open physical stores at prime locations.

And even if it opens a physical shop, it need not store shirts for all types ( all possible colors, sizes, etc.). Their online catalog can show whatever is available, and once a customer orders a shirt, the same can be shipped from its inventory store to the customer's house.

We can say that with the Internet, online shopping is convenient for customers, increasing the shop's top and bottom lines.  

The same thing applies to the government.

With the 'direct Benefit transfer' scheme, governments across countries are trying to give money to genuine beneficiaries. In case of need, say if an area is impacted by flood, the government can transfer some amount to the residents of that geo.

Earlier, the government distributed money through various agents, but due to leakage, only a certain percentage of the amount was used to reach the real beneficiary. With technology, 100% of the intended amount can be the real beneficiary. In that way, the government is saving the leakage amount.

Advantages of Enhancing Digital Inclusion:

 1. Economic Empowerment:

Enhancing inclusion leads to increased opportunities. People with skills can access job markets, participate in e-commerce, and engage in digital entrepreneurship, contributing to personal and community economic growth.

2. Improved Access to Education:

Digital inclusion allows for access to resources. Online learning platforms, e-books, and educational apps become accessible in underserved areas, leveling the playing field regarding educational opportunities.

3. Social Inclusion and Civic Participation:

Digital inclusion fosters society. Encourages engagement. Access to media, online communities, and government services enables individuals to participate in political discussions, breaking down barriers to inclusivity and representation.

Improved inclusion requires collaboration among governments, private entities, and local communities. It is an endeavor that demands efforts from various stakeholders.

The historical context emphasizes the importance of both making technology accessible and promoting literacy in efforts to achieve inclusion.

It is crucial to implement strategies like community-led initiatives for literacy, forming partnerships for devices, and initiating global connectivity projects. These actions demonstrate a commitment to addressing all aspects of inclusion.

As technology advances, it remains essential to create an inclusive culture that caters to diverse needs. The benefits of improved inclusion go beyond empowerment; they also contribute to economic growth, enhanced educational opportunities, and broader social integration.

By embracing solutions, fostering partnerships, and advocating for policies, societies can bridge the technological access gap and pave the way for a more equitable and connected future.

Improving inclusion involves a variety of strategies and technologies that aim to ensure access to digital tools and opportunities for individuals worldwide. By examining these features, we can gain insights into the changing landscape of inclusion and the key elements that drive positive change.

How to improve Digital Inclusion :

Enhancing inclusion involves:

1. Addressing multiple aspects, such as ensuring access to technology.

2. Promoting digital literacy.

3. Fostering an inclusive digital culture.

The goal is not only to provide individuals with the means to access digital tools but also to empower them with the necessary skills and confidence to use them effectively.

Steps towards achieving this include:

1. Access to Technology:

Ensuring that technology is reliable serves as the step. This entails initiatives such as offering cost devices, expanding internet infrastructure, and exploring solutions like satellite-based internet connectivity for remote areas.

2. Digital Literacy Programs:

Promoting inclusion requires equipping individuals with the skills needed to navigate the landscape. Community-led programs focused on teaching computer skills, internet usage, and critical thinking about information play a crucial role. These programs are designed with demographics and their unique learning needs in mind.

3. Inclusive Design and Adaptive Technologies:

Recognizing that different individuals need inclusive design principles aims at creating tools and platforms that are accessible for everyone – including those with disabilities.

Furthermore, the advancement of technologies, like screen readers and voice-controlled interfaces, ensures that digital experiences are designed to be inclusive.

4. Policy Advocacy and Regulatory Support:

Governments and regulatory bodies play a role in shaping the landscape of inclusion. Policies that promote internet access, subsidize devices, and mandate education on digital literacy contribute to creating an environment where everyone can benefit from digital inclusion.

5. Private Partnerships:

Collaborations between governments, private sector entities, and nonprofit organizations impact efforts to promote digital inclusion. These partnerships drive innovation in creating devices, expanding connectivity, and scaling up programs for promoting literacy.

6. Can an online shop-owner whose business increases by online commerce pay some amount to a kitty, which can be used to increase digital literacy among the masses? That fund can be used to recruit some instructors who will help people across the income class learn about the Internet and how to use various apps.

7. Now, the government can do direct transfers of money to beneficiary accounts and save the amount that was earlier leaked or taken by an intermediary. So, they can allocate a portion of that amount to the kitty so that more instructors can be hired to teach the masses how to use digital apps. These instructors can help government agencies make simple and intuitive APPs.

8. Also, to improve digital inclusion, we must make apps that work with various languages ( and not English alone). A better approach would be for apps to work with voice. In that scenario, APPs should be able to recognize various languages and dialects spoken by members of that society.

9. Suppose everyone uses digital media, devices for communication, buying, selling, booking appointments with specialists like doctors and lawyers, digital media for prescriptions, legal advice, etc. In that case, ultimately, it will help create big data for that society.
After consent from the users, that data can be processed to understand various issues and bottlenecks in that society.

10. I know some apartments where the apartment resident members' management council decided to put IoT devices near the society's water tank. It helped them detect the leakage in one of the houses in that apartment, which led to massive water and money savings.

On a similar note, installing CC TVs and cameras helped in better security and, in one case, retrieving back a lost purse.

11. Apart from these, we also need to make these things available: affordable Internet, appropriate devices, digital literacy training, availability in vernacular languages, friendly and easy-to-use interfaces, and sandboxes for trial.

12. Empowering Local Communities through Digital Literacy:

Engaging communities in literacy programs not only equips individuals with essential digital skills but also promotes a sense of collective responsibility. These community-led initiatives are designed to cater to the needs and challenges of populations, making digital inclusion a collaborative effort.

13. Collaborative Efforts for Devices:

Tech companies collaborating with profit organizations are driving the development of affordable and accessible digital devices. This includes low-cost smartphones as adaptive technologies for individuals with disabilities. The aim is to make technology universally available, addressing the hardware aspect of inclusion.

14. Breaking Geographical Barriers through Global Connectivity Initiatives:

Ambitious projects focused on expanding internet connectivity, such as satellite-based internet services and high-altitude balloons delivering internet access to areas, showcase innovative approaches to overcome geographical barriers. These initiatives strive to ensure that digital inclusion knows no bounds, reaching the most underserved regions.

By embracing these strategies, we can work towards improving inclusion and building an inclusive world where everyone has equal access to technology and its benefits.

Improving inclusion is a concern in our increasingly interconnected world. Inclusion aims to ensure that everyone, regardless of their socio background or geographic location, has equal opportunities to access, use, and benefit from digital technologies. 

Other Interesting Approaches to Improve Digital Inclusion:

1. Gamifying Digital Literacy:

Some programs focused on enhancing digital literacy use gamification techniques to make learning engaging and interactive. By incorporating game elements into the learning process, these platforms make it more enjoyable for younger demographics to develop skills. As a result, more individuals participate actively in initiatives to improve literacy.

2. Learning Apps for Mobile Devices:

Taking advantage of the use of smartphones, mobile-based learning apps have emerged as tools for promoting digital inclusion. These apps provide access to content on the go, allowing individuals to enhance their digital skills at their own pace. Community wi-fi Initiatives;

There is a growing trend of communities setting up and managing their wi-fi networks, known as community-driven wi-fi initiatives. These initiatives give communities the power to control their connectivity, reducing dependence on internet service providers and promoting self-reliance.

Other Key Features for Digital Inclusion : 

1. Embracing Universal Design Principles:

Universal design focuses on creating products and environments that are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds. By implementing design principles, we can ensure that digital tools are usable by everyone regardless of their age, disabilities, or technological proficiency.

2. Enhancing Affordability and Accessibility of Devices:

To improve inclusion, it is essential to make devices more affordable and accessible. This includes developing low-cost smartphones and adaptive technologies for individuals with disabilities as initiatives to refurbish and distribute used devices to underserved communities.

3. Empowering Communities through Digital Literacy Programs:

Community-led digital literacy programs play a role in building digital skills. These programs are designed to cater to the needs of communities while fostering collaboration and collective learning.

4. Promoting Inclusive Internet Connectivity Solutions:

Innovative approaches to internet connectivity, such as community Wi initiatives and satellite-based internet services, aim to overcome barriers to provide inclusive connectivity solutions.

These solutions aim to address the issue of providing internet access to underserved areas, ensuring that more people can participate in the world.

Important Technologies Related to Enhancing Digital Inclusion:

1. Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR/VR):

AR/VR technologies can potentially improve inclusion by offering learning experiences. These technologies can create classrooms and training programs, making education more engaging and accessible.

2. 5G Technology:

The deployment of 5G technology contributes to internet speeds and better connectivity, which is beneficial for efforts towards inclusion. With more reliable internet connections, accessing resources and services become smoother, especially in areas with limited infrastructure.

3. Artificial Intelligence for Accessibility:

AI is increasingly used to develop accessibility features for products. Through AI-powered voice recognition text-to-speech and image recognition technologies, usability for individuals with disabilities is enhanced. This contributes to a digital environment.

Apart from these, Big Data and IoT play an important role here. 

Examples of Improving Digital Inclusion:

1. Mobile-Based Learning Apps for Digital Literacy:

Similar to having a tutor, mobile-based learning apps simplify acquiring skills. These apps make it easier for individuals to learn how to navigate the world. 

These applications offer lessons, quizzes, and tutorials, enabling individuals to improve their skills at their own pace. It's like having a guide in the palm of your hand.

2. Community wi-fi initiatives can be compared to building bridges that connect communities digitally. Just as physical bridges bring people together, these initiatives connect individuals to the resources on the Internet, promoting a sense of connection and inclusivity.

3. Affordable and accessible devices act as tools for equality, similar to how the introduction of the printing press democratized access to information in the past. By making devices available to a population, people from communities can participate in the digital era and have an equal footing.

These sectors are utilizing advancements in inclusion

1. Education:

The education field is leveraging efforts in inclusion to revolutionize learning experiences. Online educational platforms, digital textbooks, and interactive learning materials make education more accessible for many learners.

2. Healthcare:

Digital inclusion transforms healthcare by enabling consultations, telemedicine services, and digital health records. Individuals residing in underserved areas can access healthcare information and services online, leading to improved healthcare outcomes.

3. Financial Services leading to financial inclusion : 

The financial industry is embracing inclusion to expand access to banking services. Mobile banking applications, inclusive financial technologies, and digital payment solutions empower individuals previously excluded from banking systems.

Conclusion 

Enhancing inclusion is a multifaceted endeavor requiring collaboration, innovation, and a solid commitment to inclusivity.

Inclusion concerns principles like design, affordable devices, and community-driven programs. These aspects are crucial in building an interconnected society.
Technological advancements such as augmented reality/ reality (AR/VR) 5G networks and artificial intelligence (AI) significantly enhance inclusion.

They open up possibilities for accessibility and connectivity, improving people's lives. For instance, mobile-based learning apps, community wi-fi initiatives, and affordable devices demonstrate the impact of these efforts.

Prominent companies are taking the lead in driving inclusion. They recognize their responsibility to ensure that everyone benefits from technology. This commitment spans across sectors. Education, healthcare, and financial services. Where advancements in inclusion are revolutionizing how individuals access information, services, and opportunities. 

As we progress along this path of inclusion, it is crucial to commit ourselves to inclusivity. We must ensure that the advantages of age reach every corner of the world. Ultimately, striving for improved inclusion goes beyond technological pursuits; it is a fundamental step toward creating a more equitable and interconnected world.

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Raktim Singh
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Raktim Singh

Senior Product Leader

Infosys

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Technology for Social Good

The true strength of technology lies in its potential to act as a driving force for initiatives that tackle challenges and foster positive societal transformation. Technology can be used for various societal goods like financial inclusion, sustainability, financial literacy, digital inclusion, uplifting impoverished people, circular economy, and sharing of best practices across the business, resulting in a profitable business; A win-win for all stakeholders across the globe. This group should help us in sharing those ideas.


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