Digital Economy Innovation

Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs


The category of least developed countries (LDCs) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1971, to attract special international support for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of the UN family. The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) 2023 is focused on Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs.

Today, 46 countries are classified as LDCs, with 33 of them in Africa. Despite the progress made in ICTs in recent years, LDCs interestingly still face significant challenges in harnessing the potential of technology for development.

WTISD 2023: Empowering the Least Developed Countries through ICTs

The WTISD has been celebrated annually every 17 May since 1969. WTISD 2023 focuses on empowering the least developed countries through information and communication technologies. The day therefore highlights the need for everyone to come together to make 2023 a year of progress for digital transformation in LDCs.

WTISD provides an opportunity to raise awareness and share best practices about the benefits of digital transformation for LDCs. WTISD 2023 also calls on stakeholders in the public, private, social and educational sectors to rise up to the challenge.

The Vulnerability of LDCs

LDCs, or least developed countries, are often vulnerable to a wide range of economic, social, environmental and technological developments.
Most LDCs are often heavily dependent on a few key export commodities, and changes in global demand or prices for these commodities can have a significant impact on their economies.
LDCs are often located in regions that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Some are also located in regions that are highly vulnerable to natural disasters.

Political instability in many LDCs, such as conflict, corruption, and weak governance, often undermine development efforts. LDCs are also often more vulnerable to health crises such as pandemics. Indeed, their environments weaken productivity, increase poverty, and reduce access to education and other essential services. Indeed, sustainable development is more difficult for these countries.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the LDCs

The 46 current LDCs comprise around 880 million people, 12 percent of the world population.
Accelerated economic development in the LDCs is at the centre of efforts to achieve the SDGs. The incidence of poverty and malnutrition is undoubtedly the greatest in this group of countries. The needs of the LDCs must therefore be addressed to achieve the SDGs. It is essential to reverse the continuing deterioration of the socio-economic condition of these most vulnerable countries.

Addressing these challenges will require comprehensive approaches that consider the complexity of economic, social, and environmental factors at play. In the age of innovation, modern technologies and new thinking is definitely required for progress. Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) application and development is critical to the sustainability of LDCs. The WTISD 2023 theme on “Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs” is therefore fitting and apt.

Technology for LDCs Challenges

However, LDCs face serious technological barriers because of the challenges mentioned earlier. Their limited basic infrastructure such as electricity, roads, and communication networks hinders the development of digital technology.

About one third of the 2.7 billion people who remain unconnected to the Internet are in the 46 LDCs. The high costs of technology products, internet and digital services, unsurprisingly foster digital exclusion.

However, it’s not just about lack access to the latest technology. Many people in LDCs do not have the skills to use and adopt new technologies effectively. So how can they take advantage of technological innovations or compete? This leads to a digital divide within the countries. It puts them at a disadvantage in the global economy and makes it more difficult to compete.

Understandably, LDCs often face cybersecurity and data protection challenges as they lack the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks to protect against cyber threats and data breaches.

New Technologies, Knowledge and Processes

LDCs can however leverage fast paced technology development to their advantage. They can use new powerful digital technologies to bypass the traditional stages of development that more developed countries have gone through. Indeed, LDCs can adopt new technologies and processes to add value, expand opportunities, reach new markets and boost economic growth. Creating new business models enables LDCs to diversify their economies and move away from dependence on traditional industries.

New models can improve their competitiveness and productivity, and develop new industries that can generate jobs and income. They can enhance public services, including healthcare, education, and government services and also help with new approaches to environmental challenges.

The Environment for Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs

LDCs need to develop policies and regulatory frameworks that support innovation, entrepreneurship and promote the growth and use of new digital technologies. There is an urgent need to develop the necessary human capital to drive digital transformation.
LDCs also need to invest in the infrastructure necessary for digital transformation, including communication networks, electricity, and computing resources.

Additionally, they will need to consider ethical considerations in the adoption, use and development of new technologies.
Financing the digital growth can be a challenge due to limited resources and competing priorities. It is about enabling an environment encourages competition, attracts investment, fosters inclusion and boosts growth.

STI is essential. Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs is essential for achieving sustainable development in LDCs, but a comprehensive, open and collaborative approach is required.

The African WTISD Approach

There are 33 countries that are classified as least developed countries in Africa, nine in Asia, three in Oceania, and one in the Americas. The fact that the majority of LDCs are in Africa is a challenge to Africa, a challenge to the African Union (AU). The AU has a pivotal role to play in coordinating and implementing initiatives to bridge the digital divide in Africa.

Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs: The Message of WTISD 2023

The potential of ICTs for development in LDCs, particularly those in Africa, is huge. However, the challenges faced by these countries in harnessing the potential of technology for development are immense. The WTISD 2023 is both recognition and a call to action.

Addressing these challenges is vital to Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs. Bridging the digital divide, ensuring universal connectivity, and enabling digital transformation require concerted efforts.

Good practices, solutions, and policies must be designed to meet present and future challenges of LDCs. WTISD challenges the world to come together to make 2023 a year of progress for digital transformation in the least developed countries. Interestingly, we all have different roles to play. ITU has called on the public and private sectors to make pledges for universal connectivity and digital transformation in these countries through its Partner2Connect Digital Coalition.

Let’s create awareness and raise the issues as we celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day on 17 May 2023. Empowering Least Developed Countries Through ICTs is certainly beyond talk and events. Follow through is critical to bridge the digital divide together!

Check out the programme and register now! #WTISD:

Author: Jide Awe

Science, Technology and Innovation policy advisor.

Find him on Twitter @jidaw

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