World Economic Forum launches cross-sector alliance to close digital divide

The alliance will be steered by a multi-sector board, to be chaired by Verizon’s Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg.

The World Economic Forum on Thursday announced the launch of an Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network (EDISON) Alliance that will work towards ensuring global and equitable access to the digital economy.

The alliance will be steered by a multi-sector board, to be chaired by Verizon’s Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg.

The members of the board would include Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation Paula Ingabire, Mastercard’s Executive Chair Ajay Banga, Apollo Hospitals Group’s Executive Vice Chairperson Shobana Kamineni and Vista Equity Partners’ Chairman and CEO Robert F Smith.

Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF), which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private partnership, will serve as the secretariat and platform for the Alliance.

A wider group of ‘Champions Leaders’ will advise and support the Alliance, the WEF said while announcing the launch during its ongoing week-long Davos Agenda Summit, being held online.

Access to digital technologies has enabled many to work, learn and live during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing gaps and inequalities — almost half of the global population, some 3.6 billion people, remain offline and broadband services are too expensive for 50 per cent of the population in developed countries, the WEF said.

These ‘connectivity deserts’ hamper access to health, education and economic inclusion.

The new Alliance will work with governments and industries to accelerate digital inclusion and its goal is to ensure an unprecedented level of cross-sectoral collaboration between the technology industry and other critical sectors of the economy, according to the WEF.

Banga said, “There is no Internet of Everything without the inclusion of everyone. But by putting our collective capabilities to work connecting people and businesses in the right way — with secure access and informed usage — we can start to tackle other barriers, like access to capital, and provide other opportunities for growth.” “Digital Inclusion sets people up for so many other kinds of inclusion,” he added.

Kamineni said the age of health IOT was propelled to warp speed during the COVID-19 pandemic across the globe.

Geography, distances and convenience converged to make tele-consults available not only to those in distant locations, but also to cities in lockdown, she added.

In the US, tele-health usage jumped from 11 per cent in 2019 to 46 per cent, whilst in India, there was a massive jump of 300 per cent in online consultations, Kamineni said.

“Digital health is on trajectory to make health & well-being ubiquitous, affordable and life enhancing and as we transition to the post-Covid world, we will need to accelerate this effort through value-based digital services,” she added.

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