September 19, 2021

Now connectivity is everyone’s business

Case Study By

Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton

Executive Director, ITC

State of Broadband 2021

The ideas and opinions expressed in this insight are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of ITU and UNESCO or the Broadband Commission. The mention of specific companies, products or services does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by ITU or UNESCO or Broadband Commission in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.

In the years previous to 2020 we were working under implicit assumptions about connectivity.  That it was a prerequisite for participation in the new era of digital trade, a necessary capability for individuals and enterprises to get online, market their products and services and get paid.  That this would eventually ignite the economic growth of developing countries by increasing accessibility to new sources of demand. 

That this economic potential would be a motor for investment, drawing in funds to build more connectivity and so drive a virtuous cycle, eventually connecting the unconnected. 

As an agency with a mandate in trade we saw our role as a facilitator of this demand, a committed advocate alongside those tasked with building the connectivity.  We shared in the frustration that broadband connectivity had only reached fifty percent of the world’s population, but at least there was a commitment to keep doing more. 

Then COVID happened. Now, connectivity is everyone’s business.

For us as an organisation digital capabilities turned out to be essential: the switch to remote working allowed us to maintain most of our development activities – we had a 50% jump in enrolments on our e-learning portal and were able to launch new platforms for youth and ecommerce entrepreneurs, expand participation in our SheTrades platform, connecting many tens of thousands of businesses.

Connectivity has become essential to small enterprises and entrepreneurs in poor countries and in turn a determinant of economic recovery.  It has spurred us to take more direct interventions. Installing a network of routers in Guinea.  Subsidising network access costs for IT sector entrepreneurs in Uganda.  Delivering learning modules preloaded into off-grid access points in Iraq. 

Like many others we have been forced by circumstance into these innovations, but we have also learned a significant amount from it.  Through online networks we are able to link buyers and experts to communities and individuals who would normally not have met.  As we come back to a new normal, with boots on the ground, we are excited to imagine how we can mix physical and virtual support in new and powerful ways. 

We recognise that not only does demand drive connectivity, but connectivity also drives demand – especially for those who don’t have it or can’t afford it.  To change the status-quo we need partnerships with network and technology providers that go beyond promises of action and start to deliver on the potential: connecting even the poorest and most remote to a means of making a living online.