Upcoming Online Event: Driving Digital Equity for the Most Vulnerable

By Annabel Beales, Writer, Business Fights Poverty

As part of Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, Business Fights Poverty and Visa are convening a webinar and online peer discussion to explore how multilateral partnerships can drive digital equity for the most vulnerable.  This article gives a brief insight into the importance of digital equity, and explains how a wide range of organisations can play a part in driving change at a systemic level. 

As part of Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, Business Fights Poverty and Visa are convening a webinar and online peer discussion to explore how multilateral partnerships can drive digital equity for the most vulnerable

This article gives a brief insight into the importance of digital equity, and explains how a wide range of organisations can play a part in driving change at a systemic level.

To discover more, please register for our webinar on Driving Digital Equity for the Most Vulnerable, co-hosted with Visa on Tuesday, 22 September 2020 at 10AM EDT / 3PM BST.

What is Digital Equity and Why Does it Matter?

The online world is playing an ever-increasing role in our lives and work. We can now shop online; bank online; access vital health services and information; pursue educational opportunities; engage in cultural activities; find a new job; keep up to date with news and political developments; participate in professional and social networks; and engage in community and philanthropic activities all from the comfort of our homes. For many of us, the internet has played an important role in maintaining our livelihoods and health – both physical and mental – throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the pandemic has also shone a light on the deep digital inequalities that exist in our society. Millions of vulnerable individuals, small businesses and communities are excluded from the benefits of the digital age. For example, around half the world’s population has no access to the internet, despite the fact that 90% live within range of mobile-cellular networks.  In the least developed countries, only 15% have access to the internet, and over 300 million fewer women than men have a smartphone and can access the internet. Just over 29% of 15-24 year olds do not use the internet, equating to 346 million people worldwide. Worse still, digital exclusion exacerbates other inequalities; UNICEF has warned that millions of children who lack access to the internet and other digital tools have fallen further behind during the pandemic-related school closures.

Addressing digital inequality will have far-reaching impacts. For example, digital equity has the potential to accelerate food sustainabilityimprove financial security for women employees and entrepreneursexpand the reach of social impact programmes, and empower high-risk communities to respond effectively to health threats. As the Fourth Industrial Revolution intensifies, digital skills and access to ongoing learning tools will be invaluable for individuals to retain a competitive edge in the jobs market. Likewise, small and micro-businesses must be able to take advantage of digital opportunities if they are to thrive in this new environment.

Digital equity is ensuring that all individuals have the opportunity and skills to fully benefit from the full range of digital opportunities that are now on offer. It is not only about individuals having the ability to access information and services, but also about possessing the necessary knowledge and confidence to use technology to solve problems and achieve goals.

Isn’t Digital Equity a Matter for Governments and Tech Companies? 

Of course, digital equity relies on universal access to the digital ecosystem that delivers the internet. This will require partnership between the public sector and private sector technology companies, including internet and telecoms providers, mobile technology manufacturers, software providers and eCommerce platforms.

Beyond this, there is a role for a wide range of businesses, investors, public sector organisations and the not-for-profit sector to drive systemic change by collaborating on policies and investments that make digital products and services accessible for all. Central to this is how organisations approach the design and development of the products and services they offer, ensuring that they are inclusive and increase the participation of disadvantaged groups such as women, those with low literacy levels, or people with disabilities. Much of the time, this requires an in-depth understanding of the barriers that specific customers or service users face, as well as proper consideration of their preferences and needs. Additionally, companies whose value chains include small businesses can support these partners to access digital tools to improve the efficiency and resilience of their operations. This is particularly true where these supply chains include women-owned enterprises and businesses located in developing economies. In parallel, there is a strong role for partnerships that provide digital skills training, to enable individuals to grasp the digital opportunities that exist.

For example, Visa recently announced its commitment to support 50 million small and micro businesses (SMBs) worldwide, to aid the recovery of communities from COVID-19. Key to this work is expanding access to digital tools and skills, as well as using online incentives to help local neighbourhoods thrive. Visa has built online resource centres in over 20 countries to provide tools, partner offers and information on how to start, run and grow small businesses online. Visa is also supporting neighbourhood businesses, by incentivising people to shop local through partnerships with companies such as Shopify and Deliveroo, and expanding access to contactless digital payments in order to help boost consumer confidence to shop in-store. As part of their commitment, Visa has also established the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute (VEEI) focused on economic and societal issues, including the challenges that SMBs face in the wake of COVID-19, and closing racial and gender opportunity gaps. Recognising the need for digital equity, Visa has expanded its partnership with IFundWomen to provide grants and digital training to US-based SMBs owned by Black women.

Small businesses on the frontlines of the global economy deserve extraordinary support in this extraordinary time. We are putting our network to work to help 50 million businesses globally not only survive, but also to thrive, along with the communities they serve.

Al Kelly, CEO and chairman of Visa.

How Can I Find Out More? 

Business Fights Poverty is convening a webinar and peer discussion on Driving Digital Equity for the Most Vulnerable, co-hosted by Visa. The session will begin with a webinar at 10AM EDT / 3PM BST, featuring the following panellists:

  • Sheena Allen, Founder and CEO, CapWay
  • Carrie Hughes, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, Verizon
  • Henriette Kolb, Head, Gender and Economic Inclusion Group, International Finance Corporation
  • Elizabeth (Beth) Hurvitz, Senior Vice President, Social Impact, Visa Inc (moderator)

The panel will discuss:

  1. The case for digital equity, and why is it important for recovery and rebuilding post-COVID-19
  2. The essential actions needed to move the needle for meaningful impact
  3. How can the multilateral process include the private sector to work in tandem to drive greater equity.

Following this, we will host a 30-minute peer discussion, bringing together members of the Business Fights Poverty community to deep-dive into the issues raised and to connect with like-minded professionals with an interest in this important area.

You can register here to join us at the online event.

Editor’s Note:

This online event on Digital Equity is part of Business Fights Poverty NYC Online 2020, a one-week, online conference (21 to 25 September) that builds on our recent online conference Business Fights Poverty Online 2020 (13 to 17 July) to drive forward connection, conversations and collaboration around how we rebuild better – how together we create an equitable and resilient world. The week consists of inspiring and engaging content, live events, peer networking and community-led learning. The week also builds on our Business and COVID-19 Response with Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, and supported by DFID and a number of our corporate partners.

Each day, we will focus on a specific theme: Imagining the Future We Want (Monday); Creating an Equitable World (Tuesday); Helping People Survive and Thrive (Wednesday); Building Resilient Livelihoods (Thursday); Shaping System-Level Partnerships (Friday).

The conference Headline Supporter is Visa. Our Supporting Partners are Mars, Nestlé, and Standard Chartered. Content partners include Harvard Kennedy School Corporate Responsibility Initiative, the UN Office for Partnerships, WBCSD, Business in the Community, The Partnering Initiative and the League of Intrapreneurs.

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