IGF 2019 WS #327 Internet/Digital Technologies can contribute to SDGs

Organizer 1: Jenna Man Hau Fung, DotAsia/ NetMission.Asia
Organizer 2: Samik Kharel, Net Mission Asia

Speaker 1: Lea Gimpel, Government, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Alex Comninos, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Élisson Diones Cazumbá , Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 4: Ali Hussain, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group
Speaker 5: Rilla Gusela Sumisra, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group

Policy Question(s): 

How can digital inclusion help contribute/ steer towards achieving sustainable development goals in developing nations (low-income Countries)?

Defining “digital inclusion” in regards to Sustainable Development Goals. Every country should make an effort to have their own definitions of “digital inclusion”, in order to make interventions. While all countries can share a common agenda on“Digital inclusion”, is it necessary for each region and nations to explore ways suitable to their contexts?

While there has been considerable progress and emblematic attempts for “inclusive internet”, why is it still limited to certain areas ?

Are policymakers not doing enough, or is the capitalistic digital market obstructing the pace of the expected progress? Where do we stand as low-income nations?

The phrase, “No one left behind”, is merely being echoed as a tagline for the SDGs. This continues while the prices of devices are increasing, data getting more expensive in relation to the income, internet speed is not fairly shared, and “fair use policies” are just being treated as a marketing tool. How do we totally ‘leave no one behind”, concerning the access to the Internet/ digital technologies?

Internet usage in last mile communities, elderly people, and persons with disabilities is still not substantial due to issues surrounding affordability and access to technology. These marginalized populations are missing out more than ever to explore what digital realms have to offer as opportunities to them. Is the Internet only a luxury for the “privileged classes of people?” mostly in the context of global south/ developing nations?

Relevance to Theme: Even with the advancement of technologies and digital access, the developing nations in the global south remain the “digital guinea pigs” of the Western countries and innovations. Examples can be seen through innovations such as experimental biometrics, facial recognition, host for clouds used by big tech giants in developing nations like India, Nepal, and Bangladesh in South Asia. These countries together with many others in Asia and Africa also exploit gig laborers (web-based digital laborers) for outsourced technology and software related market. So where do we see equality and inclusion?

Similarly, although relatively liberal, these countries and their governments have also experimented with digital laws, most recently an interesting case from Nepal where they passed an “Information Technology Bill” which was drafted without any consultations from the stakeholders. This bill also posing a challenge for service providers who have been entitled to filter the content in the internet and also jeopardizing the possible digital investments in Nepal- which experts say is likely to kill innovation. Further, while the objective have been always been stated as “digital inclusion”, governments have always tried to pose high prices and taxes in countries like Nepal, considering Internet and digital access as a luxury. In case of South Asian Countries such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh and countries like Mozambique and Uganda in Africa- while people are making their own effort to explore the digital realm, the government is imposing drastic attempts to increase taxes on the Internet, and formulate stringent policies to [regulate-as government calls] to restrict the Internet or social media usage.

On a more serious note, nothing substantial has been done in these countries to bring on board the access-less people who are also a major strength for Internet governance. On the other hand, while digital laws seek to limit those who already have Internet access, in these countries nothing substantial has been done to bring on board the access-less people. Providing access to the underserved remains an important focal point in Internet governance. The major question is why does this disparity exist? Are these issues merely concerned with access and affordability or do the policies themselves fail to address and bring together someone accessing the 4G network on a smartphone and another member of the “last mile community” who is still waiting for a glimpse of electricity after dark?

Can “Community solutions/Engagement “ be an effective goal to involve and support communities to invest and explore digital realms? How should governments, policymakers and corporations work together to allow all communities, especially minorities to access digital realms and the possibilities it undertakes? Further, are we entirely thinking just in terms of Internet governance and digital inclusion from the lens of developed countries mostly known to host these big forums and technology fairs for their own good and their people? Furthermore, when thinking of Internet governance and digital inclusion, are we entirely looking through the lens of developed countries who are known to host these big forums and technology fairs?-While the rest of the world is still the technological lab for experiments.

What laws/strategies/policies can we commonly envision to enable the “last mile community”, indigenous, minorities and persons with disabilities to get access to the internet and digital technologies?

Relevance to Internet Governance: Internet and digital technologies have a huge potential to act as catalysts to achieving the Global Goals 2030 and help contribute to all the 17 SDGs and its targets. Looking at the current developments, greater connectivity better serves the public good. The people who do not have access to the internet and digital technologies are often those less educated, elderly and persons with disabilities. These groups are not just missing out on promising prospects of the Information Communication and Technologies (ICT) but more importantly excluded from the decision making process involved with digital initiatives for the common good.

The people who lack and are deprived of access to the internet/ digital technologies are a very important part of Internet governance. Someone who has access and voluntarily chooses to opt out of the usage is completely different from someone who is not using these technologies due to lack of access. “Digital inclusion”, here within the Internet Governance has to be articulated specifically to address the issues of opportunity, access, knowledge, and skill at the level of policy. These challenges and opportunities on an individual and community level have not been evenly distributed.

Economic and social success require exploring the digital realms- and the only way to uniformly achieve it on a community, country and regional level, is by promoting inclusion.Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances; hence many low-income countries have already been sidelined from the achieved progress. Digital Inclusion requires intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to access and use technology. How would this be possible in a developing nation, which has always been the victim of intentional policies?

The SDGs give a sense of purpose and connect us already as a global community. For example, perhaps the use of new technologies like 5G for the common good can be a great start to achieving the SDG 4 -Quality Education (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all). This can be largely connected to other SDGs, including SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and also SDG 16 (Build Strong Institution). Also, the access of the Internet and digital technologies can contribute to “SDG-4- Quality Education” which can be a driving force towards achieving SDG 5 (Gender Equality). One of the targets of the SDG 4 is to, “Build and upgrade education facilities that are a child-, disability- and gender-sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”. The best way to live up to this target and ensure inclusion can be obtained with the use of the Internet and Digital technologies, which is also very important for low-income countries in the Global South. This target can be achieved through inclusive use of the Internet and Digital technologies, especially for low-income countries in the Global South.

In regards to gender equality, there are fewer women taking up ICT-related jobs and education. Some developed countries may already support women in ICT. But in some developing countries, the companies are still considering whether women can work on shifts and doubting the performance of women because of the stereotype that the ICT position is "heavy" work. With few women who have computer skills and degrees, it is still difficult for them to join ICT companies. The small number of women studying in the field of ICT is because they are afraid that later it will be difficult to get a job. This vicious cycle is what makes the problem difficult to fix. The solution is to work together to always encourage everyone, especially women so that they are confident in their passion, then also for companies to be able to provide opportunities to women without thinking about those stereotypes.

Digital inclusion could be a game changer if it is properly channeled to achieve the SDGs. Stakeholders/ IGFs can play a huge role in bringing the power of ‘digital’ – while the goals themselves can demand the stakeholder to think out of the box to achieve this inclusion. The technologists/policymakers should place all the SDGs as a process of organizing their priorities so that the goals can set a framework to achieve a win-win situation and make commitments to reduce and eradicate digital disparities. The stakes are high for all the developed and developing nations as they together have pledged one target area for SDG 9 as “significantly increase access to ICTs and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in LDCs [least developed countries] by 2020.” Two keywords here are “affordable” and “universal” which mostly echoes the pleas of low income countries.

“Digital Dividend”- a World Bank Report highlights the need of “taking advantage of the rapid technology to make the world more inclusive.” The report confirms that traditional development challenges are preventing the digital revolution from fulfilling its transformative potential. “While people around the world make more than 4 billion Google searches every day, 4 billion people still lack access to the Internet.” it reads.

In countries where these fundamentals are weak, digital technologies have not boosted productivity or reduced inequality. Countries that complement technology investments with broader economic reforms reap digital dividends in the form of faster growth, more jobs, and better services. While this mostly applies to developed nations, the low- income countries are still struggling to reap benefits. “The greatest rise of information and communications in history will not be truly revolutionary until it benefits everyone in every part of the world.” the report says.


Round Table - Circle - 60 Min

Description: Introduction : 15 Minutes
First, The moderator will introduce about general concept of ‘digital inclusion’ to spark the discussion. The session will then be opened to answer questions about the various indices, and to encourage the audience and participants to understand the importance of Internet and Digital Technologies to achieve SDGs.

Discussion : 30 Minutes
The moderator will invite the guests (including Lea Gimpel, Rilla G. Sumisra, Élisson Diones, Alex Comninos and Ali Hussain). Because this session is in roundtable format, it will be participant-driven. Lead participant will describe a specific problems, share experiences and suggest an approach to find solutions revolving around the theme

Action & Output : 15 Minutes
Finally, based on the discussion. The moderator will move the discussion to next steps and actions to improve Internet/ Digital Technologies (specific to developing countries) as an efforts to achieve SDGs. The action items and the sharing from from discussion will become the output for the session report .

Expected Outcomes: As of the discussion we expect both short and long term outcomes. The short outcomes will inform the participants on how internet and digital technologies can help contribute, steer and achieve the SDGs. The participants will be able to ponder over and identify the underlying problems related to internet and digital technologies especially in developing countries and will approach towards the solution. To inform about the session outcome, we also plan to publish articles, blogs and posts in various national and regional platforms.

The longer vision of the session is to start the dialogue among various layers of stakeholders to make internet and digital technologies accessible to everyone. Similarly, it is also to inform the real significance of the internet for the SDGs and realize the magnitude of digital technologies, helping to achieve the Global Goals and its targets. The reportsproduced during this session can be a reference and act as a knowledge product to encourage stakeholders to maximize resources in positive direction towards achieving these SDGs.

Onsite Moderator: 

Samik Kharel, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Online Moderator: 

Jenna Man Hau Fung, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group


Samik Kharel, Civil Society, Asia-Pacific Group

Discussion Facilitation: 

The organizers will be responsible more making the session as democratic and giving equal opportunities to all the speakers representing various stakeholders and regions. In the session we will discuss how digital technologies and access to the Internet are very important for development, with focus on low-income countries. We will explore what has been done by the government, private sector and policymakers to promote “inclusiveness” and “get everyone connected” with examples from countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. We will mostly revolve around the idea of “Leave no one behind”, as echoed by the SDGs and explore what has been done, and the way forward for inclusive digital technologies. The roundtable session, which will accumulate diverse participants, will encourage opining and suggesting ideas for the themed discussion on digital inclusion and SDGs. We look forward to come up with set of ideas to improve digital inclusion in three contexts- country, region and global solutions, in line with the set SDGs targets.

Online Participation: 

-Online Questions via Social media (Twitter and facebook)
-Social media trending hashtag for discussions

Proposed Additional Tools: -Live via Social Media


GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships for the Goals