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FEATURE STORY February 8, 2022

Realising a Digital Future for Maldives


The High-Level Roundtable explored how the Maldives can use digital technologies to better rebuild for green, resilient, and inclusive growth in the post-COVID era.

World Bank

Story Highlights

  • The World Bank Group and the Ministry of Economic Development recently hosted a High-Level Roundtable on Digital Development in Maldives.
  • The event explored how the Maldives can use digital technologies for green, resilient, and inclusive growth in the post-COVID era.
  • While Maldives has a high internet penetration rate, legal, regulatory and policy constraints hinder accelerated digitisation

Many of us can recall hauling our heavy bags to and from school. It wasn’t good for kids back then, and it’s still not healthy for kids now. But the backpacks keep getting bigger and heavier, with more and more children complaining about the weight on their backs.

This is where Hologo comes in. Hologo is a digital education start-up from Maldives that develops digital resources for teachers and students that are proven to improve learning outcomes. Armed with a mobile learning app with full augmented reality (AR) capabilities and a website with a 3D lesson player, Hologo has now become a world leader in 3D, AR and VR content for education. It counts the likes of Apple as its partners.

Like Hologo, OdiApp is another Maldivian creation aiming to solve a real-world problem – transport around all of Maldives’ different islands. The creators of OdiApp are on a mission to harmonise the sea transport industry, which is made up of numerous individual players. With OdiApp, travellers can book tickets from a transport service provider of their choice with just a click of a button!

Hologo, OdiApp and several other Maldivian start-ups were showcased at a recent High-Level Roundtable on Digital Development, co-hosted by the World Bank Group and the Maldives’ Ministry of Economic Development. These Maldivian entrepreneurs shared the opportunities and challenges they had been facing in growing their businesses in the Maldives.

“Entrepreneurs like you represent how Maldives can develop its innovation capacity and create businesses that compete globally in the digital economy,” Hartwig Schafer, the World Bank’s Vice President for South Asia, said after the start-up pitches.



Boosting services-led economy, future-proofing workforce

Hosted as part of a visit to the Maldives in late November by VP Schafer and Dr. Merza Hasan, the World Bank Group’s Executive Director, the event featured insights from international experts and policymakers, as well as industry leaders and representatives on how the Maldives can use digital technologies to better rebuild for green, resilient, and inclusive growth in the post-COVID era.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the Maldives’ digital shift. Mobility constraints like in other countries, have underlined the necessity of e-payment systems, telemedicine, online education, and a variety of other digital uses. Given the country’s relatively high broadband and mobile internet penetration, there is enormous opportunity for expanding the use of digital technology in numerous industries. For example, greater use of technology can help the government improve delivery of health and education services throughout the hundreds of small, scattered islands that comprise the Maldives, thereby fostering social inclusion and decentralisation.

Wider access to affordable broadband internet will help link people and businesses to information, services, and markets. Businesses that are digitally enabled can grow faster when they operate in connected markets with more people having access to affordable internet, in a resilient policy and regulatory environment encourages competition and innovation, and with access to finance and payment systems and a skilled talent pool to draw from.

“Digital technologies are specifically important for the services-led economy of Maldives. They can support geographic decentralisation, economic diversification, and decarbonisation,” Schafer said, in his opening remarks.

In an ever-changing corporate environment, all confront the task of developing a digital-ready workforce. To do so, the panellists concluded, every organisation must fill the shortfall of talent in the technology capabilities that are critical to digital strategy and upskill their existing workforce.

“It is vital to promote digital literacy among all Maldivians so that everyone can benefit from emerging technologies. Developing strong digital skills would ‘futureproof’ the local workforce, allowing it to capitalise on new possibilities provided by the digital economy,” Faris Hadad-Zervos, the World Bank Country Director for Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, said during the panel discussion.

Digital tools to address climate emergency

At the recently concluded COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, the Maldives Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology gave a stark warning: the Maldives might vanish by the end of the century if the world did not act fast and cohesively to tackle climate change.

According to Minister Aminath Shauna, 80% of the country’s 1,190 islands are now less than a metre above sea level, leaving them especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. She said that 90% of the islands have already seen floods, 97% have experienced coastline erosion, and 64% have experienced repetitive erosion.

With the Maldives working towards a net-zero target by 2030, digital technologies have a huge role to play in reaching a net-zero world. Digital technologies can help individuals and industries foresee and react to climate change, as well as manage catastrophe risks, by gathering and analysing reliable real-time data.

Digital innovation can also promote a more sustainable, green economy by generating new paths to employment and growth for the country. Green solutions for conventional, non-technology sectors can also be aided by technological innovations.

“Maldives is associated with picturesque beaches and clean waters, and rightfully so. But we must also understand that the Maldives is one of the most vulnerable countries to the detrimental impacts of climate change,” Dr. Merza Hasan, the World Bank Group’s Executive Director, said.

“Going forward I would like digitisation, especially digital technologies for climate resilience, to be on the top of the Maldives’ development agenda and to be synonymous with the country’s brand,” he added.

Closing legal and regulatory gaps

Maldives has achieved impressive results in promoting digital technologies. The Internet is used by more than 60% of the population, the number of digital government services is increasing, and corporate use of digital technology is also on the rise.

But many constraints remain. Broadband connectivity is limited and costly for many homes, particularly in the outer islands. The panellists recommended that government resolve spatial gaps in access to affordable, secure, and reliable high-speed connection so that digital development can play a more catalytic role in the Maldives' economic recovery.

Increasing coordination of digital government efforts, as well as resolving legislative and regulatory loopholes, to support corporate digitalisation and the development of the ICT sector, were also advocated, as was the importance of building capacities and skills to cultivate a digital-savvy population.

Implementing important regulations relating to electronic transactions, privacy and data protection, and cybersecurity would aid in the creation of a more secure environment for digital transactions, boosting transparency and confidence in the use of data and digital technology. A cybersecurity law would enable the Maldives to respond to cyber-attacks, categorise vital infrastructure components and assets vulnerable to such attacks, and assure the availability of technologies and specialists to prevent and recover from them. The government could also adopt a national broadband strategy.

 “To guarantee that no Maldivian is left behind in the digital transformation process, a wide range of actions are required to enhance the institutional, policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks connected to digital development, as well as to boost digital skills. Strengthening the underlying digital foundations that support digital businesses, including the ICT sector, would assist the Maldives in capitalising on the potential of digital technologies to build economic resilience,” Shafer concluded.