Speech by Vice-President Ansip at the High-level event on Digitalisation for Development

Speech by European Commission Vice-President Ansip, in charge of the Digital Single Market 

Deputy Prime Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank both the Slovak EU presidency and the Belgian government for organising this event.

It marks a new beginning in development policy.

I say this because for many years, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) was not seen as a priority in these policies at all.

It was usually considered as more of a luxury to think about only when basic needs were covered – electricity, running water, sanitation, healthcare.

That situation has now changed dramatically.

It comes from the sheer digital demand in developing countries where people can see for themselves how they can make digital access work for them, how it can improve their lives.

In just 10 years, mobile subscriptions across Africa jumped from 12 per 100 inhabitants to 80. For the Americas, they doubled over the same period.

In Honduras, an SMS with prices received by farmers raised their income by 12.5%.

In Mozambique, people could use SMS messages to report electoral fraud, which increased voter turnout by 5 percentage points.

There are many similar examples around the world.

But the picture is not entirely rosy, of course.

One sentence in this year’s World Development Report caught my eye:

While people around the world make more than four billion Google searches every day, four billion people still lack access to the internet.”

More than half the world’s population is still offline.

Most of them are in developing countries. A major reason for this is cost, when put into the context of local income and affordability.

In developed countries, it costs 1.7% of average income for a monthly fixed broadband package. In developing countries, that proportion is 31%.

But in Africa alone, it costs 64% of average income.

It is a similar story for mobile broadband charges.

These are huge differences – and huge choices for people to make in how they spend their cash.

But as we can see, many people are opting for the internet over other choices.

This is where development policy can make a real difference on the ground.

It is where we can do more with fewer resources and empower people by giving them the right digital tools.

I have a strong interest and commitment in this area.

In June, I spoke at the European Development Days event, Europe’s leading forum on development.

Earlier this year, I visited tech startups in Ethiopia and heard about some of the problems they face – often very similar to those in Europe.

It is why I was pleased to see that over the last months – for the first time – the EU has worked to embed digital as an integral part of its development policy.

Digital is no longer the luxury, the nice-to-have, of yesterday’s thinking – but a top priority for tomorrow’s generations.

Digital technologies are a building block for sustainable development and growth, and also to reduce inequalities.

Now, we want to develop the demand side for digital.

It is vital to have connectivity and the infrastructure to make it work for everyone. But this is also about making sure people know how to use digital technology, learn from it and make the most of it.

This goes hand-in-hand with our firm belief in the importance of the digital economy for growth and jobs: a core element of our plan to build a Digital Single Market.

It is also the same message we have for the outside world.

At the European Commission, we are working on a flexible approach called the Digital for Development Initiative.

It is based on four main pillars that align opportunities for digital innovation with the EU’s broader development goals.

The first is to ensure access to affordable and secure broadband and to digital infrastructure.

We will use European know-how and experience to promote regulatory environments geared towards competition and protecting the rights of end-users.

We will promote digital literacy and skills to develop local digital economies, bridge the digital knowledge divide and better prepare the workforce.

Supporting entrepreneurs and digital innovation will be important to help solve local problems, create growth and jobs and build digital economies.

We will use the Digital Single Market to create more opportunities for cooperation between startups, entrepreneurs from developing countries and the EU.

Lastly, we will promote the use digital technologies and services across sectors as a further push towards sustainable development.

This should increase accountability, transparency, governance – and help to empower women.

It will assist management of vital resources like water, food and energy.

It will mean more efficiency in public services such as health and education – and the use of civil registries based on eID to provide identification for everyone. In turn, that will help to address issues related to managing migration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, many millions of people across the world are losing out on digital opportunities.

They simply do not have access to digital technologies, or the skills to use them.

We want to change this state of affairs and lead by example: by putting digital into development. We can start to do this by bringing together everyone involved at the same table – which is the point of today’s event, after all.

I am fully aware of the amount of work that needs to be done.

But if that can promote digitisation in the developing world, using technology to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development, Europe will do everything that it can to help achieve this.

Thank you.

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