Turning Point 2020: Digitalisation and sustainable development in the Global South

RIA’s Shamira Ahmed delivered a presentation as part of her participation in the German-based, Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) Conference, which included a workshop focusing on: Digitalisation, post-growth and sustainable development: different pathways for the global South and the global North?

The workshop sought to unpack variances in social and environmental sustainability between the Global North and Global South – given the impact of digitalisation – and arguing that the impact on the former had implications for the future of economies, while the impact on the latter had greater significance for sustainable development goals (SDGs). Shamira delivered a presentation on “Digitalisation and sustainable development in the Global South”.

The key points she raised were:

  • The promise of digitalisation underpins many of the UN’s SDGs, but these arguably require strong ICTs systems and the process is not automatic—it has to be sustainable, equitable, and contextually relevant to different groups of people, in order to work for the common good.
  • Uneven distribution of global platforms represents the uneven global ICT landscape—the dominant platforms that reap the benefits of the digital economy widen inequalities and power imbalances between hyper-digitalised and under-connected regions and countries. This rising global market power of certain platforms have implications for competition, data protection & ownership, consumer protection, taxation, and labour policies & regulation in the global South.
  • Without the appropriate multi-stakeholder cooperation and holistic regulatory and policy frameworks which: i) places users, citizens and consumers at the centre of the digital economy, ii) strengthens international policy coherence and coordination, and iii) facilitates an interoperable, dynamic and competitive regional digital ecosystem required to produce shared prosperity from digital dividends, then digital technologies can potentially exacerbate current inequalities or even create new socio-economic disparities and ecological problems.
  • To reap global digital dividends, developing countries will have to overcome the ‘digital divide’, accessible, affordable, secure and reliable Internet is critical to reducing digital inequality. However, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ global strategy and blanket policymaking for digitalisation will not be successful, the context of different regions and countries will need to be considered.
  • Addressing digital inequality isn’t a technology problem. It’s a classical development challenge. The 2018 After Access Survey data shows that offline education, gender, income and locational inequalities are simply being mirrored online – and arguably amplified, as the economic and social value of being digitally networked increases exponentially, COVID-19 has highlighted this. Developing countries therefore need to simultaneously address ‘analogue’ and on-line inequalities and structural deficits that hamper the achievement of digital dividends.

Download her slides below.