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The Digital Development Global Practice works hand in hand with governments to help create strong foundations for the digital economy to thrive. Our work focuses on addressing supply and demand side constraints to digital transformation, around key pillars including inclusive access to fast, reliable, safe and affordable internet. Across the World Bank Group, we are working  to stimulate demand for digital applications, digital skills and digital platforms to support governments, business and individuals to participate more fully in the digital economy.  

Digital technologies are at the forefront of development and provide a unique opportunity for countries to accelerate economic growth and connect citizens to services and jobs. In times of crisis, from natural disasters to pandemics such as the one the world experienced with COVID-19, digital technologies are what’s keeping people, governments and businesses connected. They can unlock innovative solutions to complex development challenges and help countries skip traditional stages of development from digital banking to blockchain and telemedicine

Yet at the end of 2021, nearly 3 billion people remained offline, the vast majority concentrated in developing countries. And the usage gap remains a challenge. Close to half (43%) of the world's population are not using mobile internet, despite living in areas with mobile broadband coverage.

Fostering digital inclusion is of paramount importance. One billion people in the world cannot prove their identity which limits their access to digital services and opportunities. The gender gap persists, and globally, 62% of men go online, compared with only 57% of women. The share of internet users in urban areas is twice as high as in rural areas. 71% of the world’s younger population aged 15-24 is using the internet, compared with 57% of all other age groups.

With the potential of digital technologies to expand access to markets and opportunities, helping countries invest in digital development is an important aspect of the World Bank’s work to reduce poverty and inequality.  The numbers speak for themselves: the digital economy is equivalent to 15.5% of global GDP, growing two and a half times faster than global GDP over the past 15 years. Research shows that a 10% increase in mobile broadband penetration in Africa would result in an increase of 2.5% of GDP per capita. In a post COVID-19 environment, digitalization efforts will accelerate across the globe, but most developing countries do not currently possess the right tools and environments for that.

What will it take for countries to reap the benefits of technological progress, and participate fully in the global digital economy?

Closing the global digital divide: Even though new technologies are spreading rapidly around the world, an estimated 37% of the population — or 2.9 billion people — have still never used the internet.  

Preparing for the jobs of tomorrow: Innovation is radically changing the nature of work: new jobs are emerging, others are evolving. To compete in the digital economy, countries will need to prioritize education and build the digital skills of their workforce. In other words, they need to invest in people.

Developing secure, reliable digital systems: As the world is going digital, strengthening capacity in areas like cybersecurity and data protection has become more important than ever.

Last Updated: Apr 20, 2022

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