Information and communication technologies

The digital transformation and development cooperation

Two girls working with a tablet

The digital revolution permeates all areas of life, in both industrialised and developing countries. These changes are opening up unimagined potential for development cooperation, but they also mean new risks. The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is supporting the efforts of its partner countries to rise to these challenges and harness the potential of the digital transformation for sustainable development.

Distances that a few short years ago were still perceived as a major hindrance have long been overcome, with mobile phones and other technologies being used to connect urban and rural communities, farmers and markets, or teachers and students. Whether in Kenya, Bangladesh or Bolivia, IT experts everywhere are developing new solutions for local problems: 3D-printed prosthetics, virtual lectures, digital currencies for mobile phone users, sensors that can steer tractors and many other innovations.

A great digital divide

Jude Mukundane, participant in digital projects of the DW Akademie in Uganda, started an experiment: How long can I work at the middle of this road before being driven off by the traffic? He gave up after 30 minutes.

New technologies are making processes faster, more transparent and more efficient, enabling more people to share more knowledge. Yet overall, as the World Bank’s eponymous 2016 World Development Report points out, "digital dividends” such as more jobs, better public services and more opportunities for everyone are continuing to fall short of expectations.

Despite all the positive developments, more than half of the world’s population still has no internet access. Although the market for information and communication technologies (ICTs) is growing at a tremendous pace around the world, the disparities between countries, between urban versus rural communities, between generations and between genders are sometimes huge. Between 2000 and 2015, the number of internet users increased eightfold, to 3.2 billion, but more than 4 billion people are still offline, the vast majority of them in the world’s poorest countries. Lack of internet access is widening the economic and social inequality between industrialised and developing countries, as well as within countries.

Another of the risks associated with the digital transformation is the challenge of more and more personal data being amassed and misused. Furthermore, in many countries, the internet is being censored and freedom of expression online restricted.

The BMZ is rising to these challenges with the intention of making it possible for everyone to be able to harness the opportunities presented by the digital transformation: this means developing digital infrastructure and, above all, investing in people’s abilities, in education, and in creating good general conditions for the fair and open development of a digitalised world.

The BMZ’s Digital Agenda is the basis for digital projects carried out as part of German development cooperation and serves as a guideline for these activities.

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