Digital inclusion is critical for a strong digital economy
By Som Satsangi
Five years ago, every transaction on the road was a cash transaction. Buying vegetables, groceries or products at your local kiranawala was always done in cash. Cut back to today. Your local cobbler, vegetable seller or a roadside vendor has a placard with their mobile number and a QR code on it. It is common to see citizens pull out their smartphones and pay for their transactions by just pointing their phone in the direction of the placard.
As one looks back at the impact of digital initiatives, it is clear that India has transformed significantly, and the scale of impact of digital initiatives is hard to miss. According to a report by ACI Worldwide, India was at the top spot globally in the year 2020 with 25.5 billion real-time payment transactions. Over the years, India has built a robust digital infrastructure that has helped the country push forward a process of rapid digitisation in many processes.
These digital strengths were also on full display in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. India quickly developed the contact tracing app, Aarogya Setu, which helped significantly in preventing the number of infections. The CoWIN portal is another stellar example of technology being deployed to help the citizens.
As we move forward, it is imperative to ensure that digital initiatives benefit all citizens, especially at a time when the pandemic has exposed and in certain cases, widened the digital inequality. This includes access to fundamental basics such as education and healthcare. There are some basic building blocks, which when strengthened can lead to dramatic results. Let us look at some of the most important ones.
The first one is connectivity. We have seen how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted education in a big way. Overnight, millions of students needed to find ways to get connected to ensure that they do not miss out on their classes, which were conducted online. If basic Internet connectivity is guaranteed, then the quality of education or learning can improve significantly. Access to the Internet not only opens up a sea of opportunities, but also improves learning opportunities for students. This can be solved by developing more Wi-Fi zones or hotspots in public places that underprivileged people can have access to.
Leverage the power of data
Today, we are living in the ‘age of insight’. For organisations to compete and grow in the digital economy, they need to move from just capturing data, to being able to analyse and derive insights from the vast amounts of data being captured by billions of devices. Moreover, they will require access to and skills to work with advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning especially when seeking solutions and breakthroughs in areas such as healthcare, climate change, agriculture and food security. Hence, there is the need to ensure that these technologies are made more accessible to organisations, which are too small, underfunded or underequipped to access and benefit from these advancements.
According to the India Skills Report (ISR) released this year, only 45.9% of graduates were found to be employable, a decline from 46.21% in 2020 and 47.38% in 2019. In an economy which is increasingly becoming digital, education systems too need to evolve quickly to ensure that students have the right skills and knowledge, which they can use in the practical world. We need to ensure that the rural youth have as much access to these digital tools as the urban youth to ensure that there is equitable digital literacy.
In summary, digital inclusion is crucial for ensuring a strong digital economy.
The writer is managing director, Hewlett Packard Enterprise India