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Connecting across Borders: South Asia's Digital Opportunity

March 31, 2022



VIDEO Mar 31, 2022

  • ABOUT THE EVENT: Our 10th OneSouthAsia Conversation explores how South Asian nations can leapfrog and transform into dynamic digital economies, societies, and governments, with concerted actions at national and regional levels. The event will coincide with the release of World Bank’s flagship report on South Asia’s Digital Opportunity: Accelerating Growth, Transforming Lives. 

    BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT:  COVID-19 has highlighted the critical role of digital technologies for inclusive development, resilience, and protecting lives and livelihoods. The shocks brought by the pandemic have exposed the real cost of digital divides within and among countries, as well as the opportunities to build back better. People and businesses who lacked digital skills, connectivity, and devices faced challenges accessing online services and new opportunities created by the growing digital economy.  Similarly, the countries that had strong digital stacks—interconnected platforms for digital identity, digital payments, and data sharing—and other digital capabilities were better equipped to mount an effective economic, social protection, and public health response, as well as maintain the continuity of government operations and commerce.  

    For the almost two billion people living in South Asia, digitalization can expand access to services and markets, promote economic diversification and job creation, reduce transaction, and trade costs, and stimulate innovation. There are many examples across the region of how governments, businesses, and people are harnessing this potential. For instance, India’s Aadhaar system revolutionized government-to-person (G2P) payments and spurred other platforms that have created a dynamic innovative ecosystem in the private sector; digital payments in Pakistan have increased fourfold since 2015; and the share of South Asia’s population, which was out of the reach of mobile network signals, fell from 30 percent in 2014 to 8 percent in 2021. 

    Yet challenges remain. Only a third of the region’s inhabitants subscribe to mobile internet services,  women in the region are 36 percent less likely to use mobile internet than men, and very low levels of digital literacy limit the use of innovative services in rural areas or lower-income households. Early research suggests that such gaps and the resulting economic divides have widened during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

    South Asian countries can tap this immense digital potential with better infrastructure, improved digital skills, enhanced digital inclusion and protection. In addition, more can be done to promote regional cooperation and unlock opportunities by improving access to capacity and connecting currently disadvantaged landlocked countries; boosting cross-border trade and investments, digital payments, and partnerships in sectors like health, education, finance, and disaster risks; and enabling cross-border data flows based on common frameworks and standards.


  • Panelists


    Helani Galpaya

    CEO, LIRNEasia, Sri Lanka

    Helani Galpaya is CEO of LIRNEasia, a pro-poor, pro-market think tank working on digital and infrastructure policy issues across the emerging Asia-Pacific. She researches issues related to digital access and digital marginalization among people and micro small- and medium enterprises. Her current work includes analyzing changes to labor markets in the digital platform economy, and ways to counter information disorder in the region. Helani serves on the Board of Editors of the Information Technology and International Development journal, the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and is a member of the Working Group on Innovation and Commercialisation of the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence.


    Jigme Tenzing

    Director, Information Technology & Telecom, Bhutan

    Mr.Jigme Tenzing has been working as the Director of the Department of Information Technology (IT) and Telecom since 2019. Prior to this, he worked as a system’s analyst, transforming government systems and managed the technical teams in e-Government Innovation & Transformation. He has been a board member of Bhutan’s state-owned telecom company, Bhutan Telecom since 2016.


    Pramod Varma

    Chief Architect Aadhaar and India Stack

    Pramod Varma is the CTO of EkStep Foundation, a not-for-profit creating learner-centric, technology enabled platform aiming to provide learning opportunities to 200 million children in India. In addition, he continues to be the Chief Architect of Aadhaar, India's digital identity program that has successfully covered more than 1.2 billion people in a short span of 7 years.


    Sewa Pathak

    CEO, Vianet Communications, Nepal

    Sewa Pathak is the CEO of Vianet Communications, the first internet service provider to use fiber to the home service in Nepal and the early adopter of digital payments in Nepal. Sewa speaks on the challenges of providing services during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and its role in recovery.



    Cecile Fruman

    Director, Regional Integration and Engagement, South Asia, World Bank

    Cecile Fruman is Director, Regional Integration and Engagement in the South Asia Region (SAR). She is responsible for fostering collaborative activities amongst SAR countries and managing partnerships and engagements with SAR and global development partners.

  • More about #OneSouthAsia Conversation

    Our #OneSouthAsia conversation is a part of an ongoing bi-monthly series that explores ideas for regional cooperation in economic connectivity, climate change, and human development in South Asia.  The online conversation will broadcast on the World Bank Group Live, and is a public event, which does not require pre-registration. The event is targeted toward a mixed audience including policy makers, regional influencers and stakeholders, academic institutes, civil society organizations, private sector, and the general population in South Asia.

    Examples of Previous #OneSouthAsia Conversations:


    Toward a Green, Clean and Energy-Secure South Asia

    Path to Recovery: Embracing Intraregional Investments In South Asia

    Pivoting in a Pandemic: Women Entrepreneurs Tap Regional Opportunities

    Turning the Tide on Marine Plastics in South Asia

    Breathing Uneasy: Regional Response to Air Pollution in South Asia

    Harnessing Technology to Build Human Capital in South Asia


  • WHEN: March 31 , 2022, 8 am to 9:30 am ET
  • Social Media Tags: #OneSouthAsia #DigitalEconomy