IGF 2021 WS #13 Digital transformation challenges in developing countries

Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (14:05 UTC) - Wednesday, 8th December, 2021 (15:35 UTC)
Conference Room 3

Organizer 1: Olga Cavalli, South School on Internet Governance
Organizer 3: Oscar Messano, CCAT LAT
Organizer 4: Mónica María Trochez Arboleda, Nucleo TIC S.A.S.
Organizer 5: Patricia Vargas, Fletcher School-Tufts University / ISP Yale Law School

Speaker 1: Vint Cerf, Private Sector, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Antonio Garcia Zaballos, Intergovernmental Organization, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Ndeye Maimouna DIOP, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Gitanjali Sah, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 5: Matthias Hudobnik, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Olga Cavalli, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Online Moderator

Patricia Vargas, Technical Community, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Mónica María Trochez Arboleda, Private Sector, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Debate - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

Leveraging infrastructure and technology innovation and development: How can the significant expansion of mobile infrastructure around the world, as well as other existing and emerging technologies such as satellite, fibre, and wireless networks, be used to expand affordable access?
Practical locally-driven policy solutions: What lessons can be drawn (and how) from successful policy solutions to universal access and meaningful connectivity around the world, while taking into account local specificities and needs? In particular, what are the relevant practices implemented by local actors (local government, civil society, local providers and entrepreneurs) to advance universal and meaningful access?

Information and communication infrastructure There is an urgent need to enhance ICT infrastructure to connect the unconnected and help development

Access to information and knowledge There is lack of access to online classes to many students. The workshop included ideas on how to overcome this problem.

Capacity building It is expected that after the COVID Pandemic new ways of learning will appear, based on a hybrid mixing on site and online training. The workshop will analyze aspects of capacity building related with closing the gender balance and the need for STEM education in developing economies.

Enabling environment The workshop will analyze which kind of regulations should be made to achieve the changes to enhance ICT infrastructure, connect the unconnected and take care of the environment Ideas will be shared by experts in how to make e-business and e-learning and at the same time having in consideration the environment. It is important to address the relationship of connectivity for all in developing economies and the global warming due to the use of extended ICT infrastructure.

Ethical Dimensions of the Information Society The gender gap and the new challenges for women working at home will be reviewed during the workshop. COVID pandemic showed other challenges: a higher workload specially for women at home, higher domestic violence, and difficulties for inclusion of those not connected.


1. No Poverty
4. Quality Education
5. Gender Equality
8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
10. Reduced Inequalities

Targets: Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Goal 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries


The COVID pandemic exposed all countries to several challenges: telework, working from home, home classes for students at all levels, different industries and businesses that made quick changes to adapt their activities and infrastructures to this new normal reality. Some good outcomes have emerged, like the rapid reaction by several business, governments and organizations that could overcome the challenge, and some could even benefit from them.

At the same time there are many industries that suffered from this new reality, like tourism and air transportation, restaurants, among others. Other industries have adapted but at the same time its workers were exposed to other difficulties, like the lack of cybersecurity infrastructure at home offices, poor bandwidth or not updated computers for online teaching or learning. Additionally, new social challenges appeared: higher workload for women at home, higher domestic violence related to lockdown and overcrowded homes.

In developing countries and economies, the gap between the connected and unconnected experienced a new exposure. In many locations the existing infrastructure is not ready yet to connect all the unconnected. Also, the experience showed that those poorly connected had many difficulties in getting all the necessary information and communication tools for a reasonable working or learning activities, making the existing gap more evident and bigger.

Expected Outcomes

The expected outcomes of the workshop are practical ideas and suggestions on how to move forward, focused on the following issues:

Digital agendas should be transversal trying to build dialogue where Ministries such as education, health, agriculture, or finance contribute to digitization and have a open interaction with other stakeholders.

One of the main challenges, from the perspective of public policies, is to achieve coherence between the different agendas of the government areas, in order to establish digital policies consistent with connectivity objectives.

Encourage the use of emerging technologies through the changes of processes, ensuring the generation of value in the public sphere.

Training of human talent in science and technology, as a determining factor to reduce the digital talent gap is a key element in the economic and productive development.

Digital innovation and the promotion of ICT will only be effective if it has a purpose. It must address gender disparities, understand environmental and regional challenges, as well as think about the appropriation of inclusive technologies. No country is immune to the challenges of the pandemic and the digital transformation that is sweeping the world. However, developing countries and especially people living in remote rural areas face specific challenges and are disadvantaged due to lack of connection. In many locations, for instance, the existing infrastructure is not ready yet to connect all the unconnected.

There is a need in many developing countries to update the existing regulations related to the digital economy. Reinforcement of the multistakeholder model to create an open dialogue among different actors will be relevant to help developing economies to achieve digital transformation.

Sustainability and care of the environment must be contemplated with a holistic vision once developing connectivity infrastructure. Affordability becomes one important barrier for Internet access, in this sense the establishment of Internet Exchange Points and community networks may help to solve this problem.

The session will be organized as a debate.

Some participants will be on site and others remote.

Final list of on site speakers and remote speakers can be defined once the IGF will have confirmed the final date and time and acceptance of this workshop.

The onsite moderator will open the session with a 10-minute-introduction of the subject.

After the introduction, each speaker will conduct a 3 to 5 minute-presentation from his/her own experience and area of work.

Then the moderator will address specific questions to each panelists, allocating 30 minutes for this section.

Finally the debate will be open among panelists, present audice and answers to questions from audience and remote participants.

Online tools like Menti and twitter hashtag for the session will be used to dynamize the exchange of ideas among experts and the audience.

Online Participation

Usage of IGF Official Tool. Additional Tools proposed: The workshop will be previously publicised through the broad networks of the South School on Internet Governance,ISOC; Isoc chapters, the CCAT LAT network and universities.

Key Takeaways (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Important for digital transformation in developing economies is the digital cooperation specially in issues like cibersecurity, free flow of information, national safety. It is important to recognize what worked and what did not work in developing economies and learn from the experience. The infrastructure gap is still a big problem in developing economies. It is not enough to have a national digital agenda but create concrete actions. The gender

Call to Action (* deadline 2 hours after session)

Improve regional connecivity. Improve infrastructure specially in land locked countries and small countries and island countries. Work the update of regulations. Improve access to financial services using technologies like mobile phones. Share what worked well specially during the covid pandemic in order to learn from experience

Session Report (* deadline 26 October) - click on the ? symbol for instructions


This session addresses the impact of digital transformation on economic growth and looks into lessons from successful cases related to universal access and meaningful connectivity worldwide. 

More digital cooperation is required among the different Internet stakeholders. To address the problem in the global ecosystem, we need international/global methods. The Internet was designed to be a global shared infrastructure. Therefore, to maximize the potential of the internet, we need standard norms and infrastructure to achieve multiple SDGs. 

For example, the Global Commission on the Stability of Cyberspace has proposed various best practices related to the use of the internet. 

Current international legal proposals risk fragmenting the internet in the name of data sovereignty. Although data sovereignty is a concept close to privacy, there are other means to protect and encrypt data without affecting the stability of the Internet ecosystem.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the primary cells of national economies, and they can grow as much as conditions and circumstances permit. For SMEs to flourish, they need reliable Internet infrastructure, transportation, energy, education, finance, housing, food security, computing devices, and more. The achievement of this goal requires trans-sectoral and trans-national cooperation and collaboration. The challenge is to achieve models that effectively guide SMEs to take advantage of and rely upon digital technology. 

Another significant challenge in achieving digital transformation is the digital divide, especially in rural areas from Africa, where the gender divide is also a complicated constraint. Internet access, unfortunately, is not for everyone. As of December 2020, the internet penetration rate in Africa amounts to 42%. More importantly, the pandemic demonstrated that universal access has become critical. 

As mentioned, the gender divide has complicated the already existing access divide, moreover if we think about rural and urban areas. Senegal has promoted many ICT initiatives and programs to connect women from rural areas to the internet and help them have access to financial services. Yet, the gap is still vast.

On the other hand, since the WSIS process, the ITU has put a lot of effort into mainstreaming gender, especially in STEM cases. However, in terms of connectivity, the gender divide persists. The situation is more complicated for marginalized groups such as people with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and communities that cannot access the internet in their local language. As long as half of humankind lacks Internet access, human progress cannot be achieved. Today, around 37% of the world population has never used the internet. In line with the WSIS declaration principles, ITU has recently launched the “WSIS Stocktaking Repository of Women in Technology,” a global portal that highlights national initiatives that would be of interest and relevance to gender mainstreaming.

Besides the ITU, the Inter-American Development Bank policy considers the digital divide an issue even in developing countries with basic infrastructure. Access also means having a reliable and good-quality connection. We cannot have proper digitalization if we do not have good integration and regional interconnectivity. Latin America lacks appropriate infrastructure because significant investment by the private sector is required, alongside the proper government public investment. The private sector can provide additional regional submarine cables, and governments need to address the lack of border connectivity. Moreover, connectivity gaps still exist at the national level. Although multiple national digital agendas have been created, there are no resources to build infrastructure. It is crucial to understand that connectivity is vital for the continuity of the economy and the continuity of public services.

Another problem related to digital connectivity is the increase in data flows and the difficulty to measure it. In 2022, it is expected that the overall traffic will increase, but data flows are immensely imbalanced. Only 20% of people in the least developed countries use the internet, and when used, it has very low bandwidth and very high cost.

The multistakeholder model still represents a meaningful step towards developing a global data governance model. Technical coordination at the global level is critical to avoid further internet fragmentation. When it comes to IoT and 5G, international coordination can help to maximize the potential of these technologies while preserving common security standards.

Among the main conclusions of this panel, we can mention the following ones: 

  1. Without improving Internet infrastructure, there cannot be a digital transformation. 
  2. Still, too many enterprises have not embraced digital transformation because they do no5 include the Internet within their value chain.
  3. It is necessary to bridge the gender gap to allow more women to get connected.
  4. The multistakeholder model represents a significant step toward developing a global data governance framework. International coordination could also ensure that we take full advantage of the IoT and 5G.
  5. Low earth satellites may be a project to close the digital divide, it is necessary to make it affordable in order to lower the entry barrier.