Narrowing Inequality By Overcoming 3 Tech Barriers
Digital technologies may be publicly available and increasingly pervasive, but what does that mean for economic inequity? We can look at this issue in two ways: First, implementing applications solutions that can improve lives and narrow equality gaps in a broad sense and, second, putting digital technologies in the hands of people to power their own future.
The first barrier to overcome is the provision of high-speed connectivity. People cannot use technology if they’re not online, and half the world’s population are still offline. And when it comes to advanced technology like AI, the main problem is delivery – not all places enjoy online access with sufficiently low latency to power AI-enabled living.
The second barrier to overcome is a lack of digital skills. Compounding this is the fact that the economically disadvantaged might not be equipped with the skills to benefit from technology.
One shouldn’t need a PhD to use technology. Nowadays, these systems are normally designed for ease of use, as access is the key to maximizing benefits. For example, traditional low-income groups in developing economies, such as farmers need, need to understand online support that can help improve yields and have transparent data on demand and commodities prices so they can sell it at decent profit.
It’s also crucial that people understand the value of connectivity. In some cases, people who are connected don’t necessarily understand the value the online world can give them.
The third barrier to overcome is affordable devices. Even if they have a smart device at home, some people may not be able to use the full range of features it offers. Equally, the cost of end devices itself can be significant, and less affluent people are likely not to pay subscriptions for online services that would make end devices available for them for free.
Empowerment through ICT in 3 Key Areas
When we speak about the economically disadvantaged, we must also assess what problems we wish to solve. In my opinion, there are three major starting points:
First is the application of ICT in healthcare to expand access to everyone – around half of the world doesn’t have access to basic health services. Remote diagnosis and telemedicine can bridge the gap, but applications like this need connectivity and cloud. People cannot participate as well in the digital economy or shape their own futures if they’re not healthy.
Schools with computers and specialists can become knowledge centers, providing information on the areas of interest. In turn, aside from education continuity during the pandemic, connectivity can enable education resources to be shared to rural, remote, and less well-funded schools, including teaching resources.
Education helps a child’s ability to cultivate opportunities for the future and participate more ably in society.
Read more about our TECH4ALL education projects.
Another challenge is when people lack the resources to start their own business or use mobile financial apps, especially in unbanked areas. Digital skills are essential this regard; for example, the 40-hour digital literacy course given through DigiTruck includes starting an online business, and the skills taught on the Bangladesh Training Bus to women in rural communities includes money management and cashless payments.
Society’s push for more sustainable living cannot be achieved until digital technology is available to everyone. ICT can be a pervasive benefit, meaning that all potential services are available anywhere where is a touch point. School, clinics, and banks all can offer entry point for a whole series of services. All stakeholders, including government, IT companies, and charities should work together to the common goal – make the world a better place to live.
In The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, C.K. Prahalad and Stuart Hart suggest that orienting business towards people with fewer resources is not only ethical, but can also be profitable for companies.
I believe the same is true for digital technologies.
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.