The fourth industrial revolution, characterized by the merging of technologies, is changing the way we interact. This has led to unprecedented opportunities in the digital space and digital inclusion is an essential part of the entire equation. Both digital literacy, access to the internet, relevant content and services, and availability of both software and hardware are essential in transforming societies. The rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning and the internet of things (IoT) is shifting the ground on which many conventional socio-economic cogs of life used to stand on. Emerging technology has massive potential to aid in positive social development.
Less developed countries are paying a hefty price due to poor digital infrastructure development. Coupled with other external factors such as climate change, the slow adoption of digital technology dilutes comparative advantage. Access to information is limited. A vast majority is left in the dark mostly operating on the basis of guesswork as opposed to concrete data which is readily available online and can be accessed using smartphones. Digital inclusion helps marginalized communities access information thereby opening doors for social and economic development through raising awareness on various fundamental issues such as regulation and legislation. It is also being used as a tool to support social inclusion.
Ensuring the growth of digital skills, connectivity and internet accessibility is a prerequisite for digital inclusion. Governments need to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place, thus enabling communities and organizations to take advantage of today’s growing online knowledge and information.
Lack of digital inclusion is characterized by societies left behind in terms of critical education, health, and economic opportunities. Digital inclusion enables students and teachers to access a wealth of knowledge online. Intellectual nutrition is the key to solving unique societal challenges in the long term. Healthcare has been enhanced through applications such as ‘Hello Doctor’ and ‘Matibabu’ providing free essential healthcare information and enabling diagnostics. Farmers are now able to control pests and diseases using their smartphones wherever they are. The rise in the number of smartphones in developing countries and the benefits that come with it render improving access to the internet a chief investment. More people connected means more people sharing knowledge and more people learning how to overcome challenges.
Digital inclusion has the capacity to reduce costs on many fronts along value chains. Increasing incomes and improving social welfare lead to more prosperous societies.