Melinda Gates and Strive Masiwiya

Pathways for Prosperity Commission Co-Chairs Strive Masiyiwa and Melinda Gates in conversation at the launch of the Commission's Digital Manifesto in Nairobi

The Pathways for Prosperity Commission has launched its new Digital Manifesto to help poorer countries achieve technological transformation.

The Digital Manifesto outlines 10 steps that can put countries ‘firmly in the driving seat’ in determining their future digital pathways. It is drawn from the Commission’s new and final report, The Digital Roadmap: How developing countries can get ahead which urges poorer countries to ‘switch on economies’ for the digital age to avoid losing out.

From the tech start-ups of Bangalore, to government ministries in Ethiopia, to nomadic farmers in Mongolia, the Commission has spent two years gathering a rich body of evidence to show how lower-income countries can harness new technologies to deliver development for all citizens, not just the privileged few. This year, half the world is online for the first time ever. The challenge is to ensure that the growing digital trajectories are a force for inclusive development.

“Digital technologies offer powerful tools to grow businesses and nations alike, enabling entrepreneurs access to markets and giving governments innovative ways to deliver better services,” said Strive Masiyiwa, Pathways Commission Co-Chair and founder of pan-African telecommunications, technology and renewable energy group, Econet. “However, without visionary policy planning and 21st century skills training for virtually everyone, these same technologies over time could lead to job losses and further financial exclusion of the poorest in our societies.”

Failure to switch on economies for the digital age will risk widening the gap between rich and poor countries, as well as fuelling inequalities within them, the report says, leaving millions of marginalised people, including women, even further behind. Ensuring there will be opportunities for these people will be key.

Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Pathways Commission said: "Today, huge gender gaps in digital access are the norm in developing countries. If we invest in closing those gaps, women and girls can start to meet their untapped potential, building economies that are not only more equal but also more dynamic and ultimately more prosperous."

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s Finance Minister and co-chair of the Pathways Commission, said: “This is a critical moment in history and the stakes for developing countries could not be higher. Governments and societies cannot sit back passively and watch the digital revolution happening around them – they must pick up the tools that are available and become authors of their own digital destinies. Getting digitally ready will take vision, collaboration and deliberate planning to ensure everyone benefits.”

To support countries developing their digital strategies, the Commission has developed a Digital Economy Toolkit, which was has piloted with the governments of Ethiopia, South Africa and Mongolia using it as a foundation for their national digital strategies. All three countries are concerned about inequality and future employment, making discussions of new digital pathways all the more urgent.

“Just as there is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for digital development, so there is no substitute for getting government to lead conversations with business and civil society around a table and collectively agreeing the digital vision for their country,” said Benno Ndulu, academic Director at the Pathways Commission and former Governor of Tanzania’s Central Bank. “We can’t just import global tech policies wholesale – we need to ensure laws and regulations work for our national contexts and keep up with the rapid speed of change.”

With 80 per cent of people in developing countries living under a cellular internet signal but only 30 per cent ever having used the internet due to cost and other barriers, the digital divide is not just about poor infrastructure.

The Commission calls on governments to design digital strategies with the poorest and most marginalised front of mind, and more broadly, to put people at the heart of their digital futures, empowering them with digital skills, giving them access to digital platforms to make government more accountable, ensuring their data is secure and providing a social safety net for those whose livelihoods are disrupted by technological change.