Riccardo Puliti is the Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank. In this position he leads the Bank's global efforts to build effective infrastructure in developing and emerging markets and supports the World Bank Group’s strategic business priorities such as the climate change action plan. He oversees the Bank's critical work across energy and transport sectors, digital development, and efforts to provide access to renewable energy and low-carbon transportation and quality infrastructure services to communities through public-private partnerships.
What are some of the biggest opportunities you see when it comes to working toward a digital transformation in Africa?
Digital technologies offer a chance to disrupt this trajectory – unlocking new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation and access to services which would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. Yet there is also a growing ‘digital divide’ (for example, between urban and rural, between genders), and increased cyber risks, which need urgent and coordinated action to mitigate.
How can digital infrastructure in Africa support energy and climate goals?
The shift to renewables creates a multiple-win, people-focused scenario for developing countries as well. Other technologies, such as small, off-grid solar installations, offer transformative potential to electrify rural areas and support local small business development. And the sector is responsible for notably gender-inclusive job creation: In 2020, renewables created 11.5 million new jobs, 32 percent of which went to women — better gender balance than comparable sectors.
It’s clear that there is a tremendous opportunity here.
Can you speak about how you see the digital economy contributing to job creation in Africa?
that are essential to thrive in an increasingly digitized global economy. Governments need to find more nimble and effective means of delivering services and interacting with citizens. Businesses need to utilize digitally-centered models to connect with the hundreds of millions of customers previously out of reach due to geography or low income. We have seen again and again how investments in developing digital infrastructure, services, skills and entrepreneurship create jobs, boost livelihoods and help communities prosper.
Why is it so critical to focus on this now?
Around the world, we saw that during the pandemic in particular, many of those who were not digitally connected lost access to health services, education, and livelihood opportunities. The World Bank supports countries on the continent in efforts to change this.
Achieving this digital transformation will take a collective commitment by all African countries, development partners and the private sector to massively scale up resources dedicated to building the foundations of a vibrant, inclusive and safe digital economy throughout the continent. It will need leadership and a vision to push the frontiers of innovation so that Africa can own its 21st century.