The Network Readiness Index published by the World Economic Forum assesses the readiness of 148 countries to harness the potential of information and communications technology. But it does not address how governments, NGOs and corporations should plug the gaps in digital inclusion among specific disadvantaged groups.
We need to ask: who is actually helping out specific communities? What are the conditions necessary for these initiatives to succeed? And what should the world's leaders assembling at Davos do to foster more inclusive, digitally driven growth?
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Who's making it happen?
Charities, governments and corporations all have a role. In the case of extreme poverty in developing countries, charities are taking the lead, often with the backing of corporations.
There are many great examples, like the Katha IT and E-commerce School which provides digital skills classes in Delhi's slums; or SOS Children's Villages, which has brought broadband access via satellite to 20 remote locations in Africa.
But solving social problems through digital inclusion is not confined to developing countries. Developed nations like the UK also have pockets of deprivation being eased through focused digital inclusion projects.
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Here it tends to be government taking the lead on policy, with the corporate and "third sectors" – charities and voluntary organizations -- collaborating on implementation. Cross-sector initiatives can have real impact at a local and national level. In the UK, the three-year Get IT Together programme helped 30,000 people build digital skills and confidence, and benefit from life online.
Despite the phenomenon of the silver surfer, age is still a serious barrier to digital inclusion. Even in the UK, some 60 per cent of people over the age of 65 have never been online compared to 18 per cent of all adults.
Tom Wright, Chief Executive of Age UK stresses the importance of partnership in combatting this: "Our activity at ground level has repeatedly shown that imaginative partnerships between government, industry and the voluntary sector are key to bringing about digital equality."
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