• Technological progress is a driving force behind economic growth, citizen engagement, and job creation. Digital technology, in particular, is reshaping many aspects of the world’s economies, governments, and societies.

    In this context, access to the Internet has become a vital development tool. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is a digital revolution that requires universal and reliable Internet access; without it, many developing countries will not be able to fully participate in an increasingly mobile and digital-based economy.

    Public officials, businesses, and citizens in developing countries can harness the transformative power of digital technology to provide more efficient services, catalyze economic growth, and strengthen social networks. 95% of the global population now live in an area that is covered by a mobile-cellular network. In Tanzania, for example, mobile money agents now outnumber all other financial intermediaries by a factor of 10 to 1. More than half of Tanzanians living on less than $2 a day have access to mobile technology.

    But even though the digital revolution is a global phenomenon, there are still huge disparities between and within countries when it comes to the penetration, affordability, and performance of digital services.

    While almost half of the world’s population in 2016 had access to the Internet, the penetration rate in the least developed countries was only 15%, or 1 in 7 individuals.

    One contributing factor is that access to the Internet through mobile or fixed broadband remains prohibitively expensive in many developing countries, where lack of digital infrastructure and regulatory bottlenecks hamper broadband development. As of December 2015, the cost of mobile-broadband services amounted to about 17% of the average monthly Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in the least developed countries, compared to just 5% globally.

    The speed of broadband services also varies. Fixed-broadband speeds of 10 Mbit/s and higher are common in developed countries; by contrast, in the LDCs, only 7% of fixed-broadband services reach 10Mbit/s.

    Under SDG # 9, the world set an ambitious target to “significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020”. It is clear that governments, the private sector, and the international community have a lot to do to reach this target and bridge the digital divide.

    But progress is possible. Effective digital policy reform can trigger greater private investment in broadband infrastructure and make Internet access more affordable. Governments can also ensure fair taxation for the telecom industry, and use universal service funds to focus on broadband rollout, in partnership with others and under open access principles to develop healthy competition. These efforts will directly support poverty reduction and shared prosperity.

    Journalists who want to learn more about our work in digital development can contact Mauro Azeredo, Senior Communications Officer at mazeredo@worldbank.org .


    Last Updated: Sep 19, 2018

  • The World Bank sees digital technology as a game-changing opportunity for sustainable development. To help client countries harness the benefits of digital technologies, our work in the sector focuses on the 5 foundations of the digital economy:

    • Digital infrastructure, such as broadband networks and fiber-optic cables, is the backbone of the digital economy. Access to digital connectivity should be universal and affordable.
    • Digital Financial Services and Digital Identification allow individuals, businesses, and governments to interact and conduct transactions.
    • Digital innovation and Entrepreneurship need a supportive ecosystem of government regulations and access to financing.
    • Digital Platforms, including e-commerce and e-government, drive usage and foster economic activity.
    • Digital Literacy and Skills create a digitally savvy workforce and boost competitiveness.

    The 2016 World Development Report on Digital Dividends showed that digital technologies, primarily mobile phones and the Internet, have contributed to considerable growth: in developing countries, it is estimated that a 10% increase in high-speed Internet connections, for instance, leverages an average 1.4% increase in economic growth.

    Digital technology has the potential to boost economic development in many ways, including: improved services to citizens through e-government projects, job creation in the creative and high-tech industries, additional trade flows, and opportunities for small producers from developing countries to link up to global value chains. Broadening digital access will bring even greater benefits for innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. 

    In Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), the World Bank portfolio included 28 standalone digital development projects, with total commitments amounting to $1.26 billion. In addition, digital components are increasingly included in projects across different sectors such as transport, education, health, agriculture, and public sector management.

    IFC has provided over $7 billion to more than 400 telecoms, media and technology projects in 86 countries over the past years, including investments in innovative technologies across various industries: manufacturing, infrastructure, health, education, as well as e-commerce. IFC’s investment strategy in the digital sector focuses on supporting the build-out of broadband infrastructure to increase access to the Internet, particularly in Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia, where a number of joint IFC/World Bank interventions are planned. Another key priority for IFC is to foster innovation in the provision of digital services such as FinTech, eHealth, eEducation, and eCommerce.

    MIGA has provided investment guarantees totaling more than $2 billion in the telecom and digital sectors over the past 25 years, including $855 million for projects in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    To make digital solutions available to developing countries and operationalize the ambitious agenda outlined by the 2016 WDR, the World Bank recently launched the Digital Development Partnership (DDP), a platform for digital innovation and development finance. The DDP brings together public and private sector partners to foster the creation and implementation of digital development strategies, and to facilitate global knowledge exchange on digital development.

    The World Bank’s digital sector work is informed by in-depth analytical work. Recent publications include:

    Journalists who want to learn more about our work in digital development can contact Mauro Azeredo, Senior Communications Officer at mazeredo@worldbank.org .


    Last Updated: Sep 19, 2018

  • The World Bank Group’s work in the digital sector aims to empower people socially, economically, and politically to reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. Below are some examples of projects that have lowered barriers to mobile and Internet access, boosted jobs, and improved government effectiveness and transparency.

    In Kenya, the Transparency and Communications Infrastructure Project (KTCIP) contributed to a significant reduction in the price of broadband Internet services, while expanding the geographic reach of the network. Concurrently, the project used enhanced Internet access as an opportunity to improve outcomes across multiple sectors. Specifically, the project increased the transparency, accountability, and decentralization of the public sector by rolling out the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) to all 47 County Governments, while making over 945 datasets and 93 digital maps available to the general public in a single portal. Education and job creation was another focus of the program: over 190 higher education institutions and 150 schools were equipped with broadband Internet and WiFi hotspots. A startup incubator, Nailab, has supported creative young entrepreneurs in developing new applications and services, creating sustainable business plans, and obtaining access to financing.

    In the Pacific region, the World Bank is helping the populations of remote islands gain access to broadband Internet, making it easier and cheaper for people to connect to friends, jobs, and knowledge. In August 2013, a new 830-kilometer fiber optic cable connected the country of Tonga, an archipelago of 176 islands spread over 700,000 square kilometers of ocean, to Fiji and onwards to global broadband networks. As a result, the household price for a monthly Internet service, per gigabyte, has fallen by 60%, and bandwidth utilization has grown tenfold. The arrival of broadband in Tonga is expected to help create more local jobs through business expansion, and will facilitate access to remote health and education services. Similar benefits are expected to spread throughout the Pacific as other countries join the Pacific Regional Connectivity Program.

    In Somalia, the ICT Sector Support Project is helping the federal government to develop an enabling regulatory environment for the telecommunications sector, and support the expansion of efficient and equitable connectivity. The government has now provided 15 government ministries in Mogadishu with modern communication rooms and international connectivity, and is now extending services to ministries in all six Federally Ministered States. After 1800 households participated in the first national demand-side survey on mobile money usage, a pilot mobile money payment platform is enabling the Central Bank of Somalia to offer bulk salary payments to civil servants. The pilot is now expanding to offer cash transfers to drought-affected communities as part of the World Bank’s emergency drought response plan in the Horn of Africa.

    In Afghanistan, a $22 million credit supported reforms that made the telecommunications market more competitive and attracted more than $1.2 billion in private investments. This helped increase the number of telephone subscribers from 57,000 to 13.4 million between 2002 and 2010, and reduce costs from $2 a minute to $0.10 a minute.

    An additional $50 million project aims to expand Internet access to more Afghans, building on widespread use of mobile phones to improve the delivery of public services, and supporting nascent entrepreneurship in the ICT sector. To date, about 186 kilometers of fiber cable have been deployed, and some 600 Afghans have been trained to become skilled information technology (IT) professionals.

    In Nicaragua, a recent project expanded broadband Internet access and mobile phone coverage to some of the most isolated areas in the country, while reducing the price of telecommunications services. In particular, the projected enabled the installation of 104 new broadband Internet access points in 101 municipalities.

    In Myanmar, we helped the government create the right regulatory environment and attract foreign investment, while developing the local IT industry and creating jobs. In 2012, it cost $2,500 to buy a SIM card in Myanmar. Now, it costs just $1.10—and users can choose from three operators. The government has announced that a fourth operator will soon enter the market.

    In West Africa, we have helped connect seven countries to the Africa Coast to Europe submarine fiber optic cable. As a result, the price of Internet access has dropped dramatically—by more than half in most cases—allowing more schools, households, and SMEs to connect to better quality Internet. In the Gambia, for instance, the wholesale price for Internet access is less than a fifth of what it used to be.

    In Moldova, the World Bank and its partners have helped usher an ambitious agenda that aims to transform the delivery of public services using ICTs, including the first public sector-shared cloud infrastructure for a client country, and the launch of online e-services that have improved citizen-government interactions. Moldova has won several international awards, including one by Transparency International, for its work in this area.

    Journalists who want to learn more about our work in digital development can contact Mauro Azeredo, Senior Communications Officer at mazeredo@worldbank.org .


    Last Updated: Sep 19, 2018



In Depth

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The Korean Trust Fund on ICT4D

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Partnership for Open Data

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ITU Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development

The Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development is an international, multi-stakeholder initiative to improve the availability and quality of ICT data and indicators, particularly in developing countries.

HELP: Leaders for Transformation Network

Through showcasing success stories and exploring the benefits of ICT, the HELP network has provided knowledge, experience-sharing opportunities and resources to decision-makers around the world.

Additional Resources

Media Contacts

Washington, DC
Mauro Azeredo, Sr. Communications Officer