Bridging digital divides key to Asia-Pacific’s economic recovery, Economist Impact study finds

Key takeaways

  • Socio-economic opportunities resulting from greater digital inclusion can provide the basis for rapid economic recovery during and after the covid-19 pandemic
  • A glaring digital divide in Asia-Pacific is holding the region back from making the most of economic growth opportunities
  • The digital divide is likely to continue as emerging technologies are introduced
  • Deeper collaboration between the private and public sector, stronger government support and investment are key in closing these gaps

Digital inclusion: The policy journey towards greater opportunities, a new report from Economist Impact commissioned by the Asia Internet Coalition, offers detailed insights into the opportunities and challenges of digital inclusion across select Asia-Pacific economies. 

The findings of the report are based on desk research, in-depth qualitative interviews and a survey of 200 executives across India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam familiar with the digital and data strategy of their organisations.

Over half the world’s population is now online, but in the Asia-Pacific region, a glaring digital divide remains, which is limiting the socio-economic benefits to be accrued from digital inclusion. With better internet connectivity and easier access to information and communication technologies, the direct benefit in regional economies will be greater socio-economic opportunity for all (39%). It will also result in improved economic growth at a national level (38%), according to the survey.

However, the survey finds that accessibility and network connectivity related barriers are common in the region. Two in three (67%) of survey respondents are of the view there is inadequate focus on digital inclusion, and 65% say their governments do not invest money and resources to bridge digital divides. Countries in the region must do more to bridge these gaps and address availability, affordability, readiness and relevance. 

Public-private collaboration is critical in this respect. More than four in five (81%) survey respondents say collaboration between the private sector and their government to address digital divides at a national level. 

The Economist Impact survey also finds the biggest issues of contention between government and industry in bridging gaps are around leadership—who is responsible for enhancing digital inclusion (35%), who is responsible for regulation (30%) and the measurement of digital inclusion (27%).

Charles Ross, Principal, Policy and Insights, Asia-Pacific at Economist Impact and editor of the report,  says: “Persistent digital divides can scupper the economic recovery in the Asia-Pacific. Closing these gaps is important, but it is clear no one entity has all the answers and can do this alone. Closer cooperation between all stakeholders is essential to reducing barriers to digital inclusion, which in turn is essential for the region to realise the promise of the digital economy.” 

Visit here for the full report and related content.