Foundations of Digital Equity and Inclusion
What is digital equity and inclusion? For Visa and VEEI, digital equity and inclusion is the assurance that all individuals and businesses are provided opportunities to participate in and receive full benefits from digital platforms. This includes data and communications connections, availability of appropriate services, and the knowledge of how to participate in the digital economy. To underscore a few points, digital inclusion is more than access to technology – it is the availability of the right product or service that meets a person or business’ needs and situation. It keeps people and impact at the center. It is also highly dynamic, affected by the fast pace of technology and product innovation.
Digital equity and inclusion rests on two overarching foundations: enablement and the ecosystem. Each has multiple dimensions that interact powerfully. Enablement – the act of providing the authority or means to do something - results from the provision of knowledge and skills; access; and equity in benefit. How much impact this has is relative to the need and the user. For example, a vendor selling food from a push cart on a street corner may need a simple way to accept card and mobile payments. The owner of a growing hand-knit sweater company needs a constant on-line presence and the know-how to advertise and sell her products in the global marketplace. We also need to ask ‘who benefits’ from the technology and how individuals perceive that in order to advance equity and inclusion.
Ecosystems refer to the physical infrastructure, human networks, and governing frameworks that interact powerfully in today’s hyper-connected digital world. Ecosystems include access to digital services and the minimum conditions for those, which are in turn shaped by factors including access to digital hardware and mobile phones, data and telecommunications services, electricity, and digital identity. Ecosystems include products and services, and their design. Security, data privacy and consumer protection are important considerations in the design of the ecosystem, as are the governing policies, laws and regulations.
Advancing digital equity and inclusion starts with a clear-eyed discussion of the levers and drivers to these foundations, and how those impact and ripple around the world. This is what the VEEI is setting out to do. In coming months, we will be examining foundational questions, such as: where do digital payments and connectivity create value at the economy level, at the small and micro business level, at the individual level? What are the necessary minimum conditions to achieve this? What are the important underlying principles and are digital ecosystems adhering to those? Is there a lifecycle? We will dive deep to map the key elements of “enablement” and “ecosystems” and ask how progress can be measured. Importantly, we will also examine the public policies that can drive digital equity and inclusion.
While Visa has long been committed to bringing the benefits of payments to everyone, everywhere, we are not embarking on this journey alone. Visa connects 3.3 billion individuals and small business owners to institutions and digital platforms including 61 million places of use through one of the most trusted and secure networks globally. At its core, a network is a community. There are people on both ends. We want to use the power of our network with key partners to help enable inclusive and equitable economic recovery and growth. As Visa’s founder, Dee Hock, has stated, "All organizations are merely conceptual embodiments of a very old, very basic idea – the idea of community. They can be no more or less than the sum of the beliefs of the people drawn to them; of their character, judgements, acts and efforts.”
Around the world, innovators in technology and policy are paying more attention than ever to the opportunities to advance digital equity and inclusion. The dialogue has been greatly broadened in the past several years, including through the introduction of new guidance on digital identity issued by global standard setting bodies, to recommendations from the United Nations Secretary General based on findings of a High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and initiatives such as those led by the Institute of International Finance and World Economic Forum on digital trust, privacy standards. The VEEI looks forward to being part of local and global dialogues, and to exchanging views with the many public sector and private sector innovators and our partners who are making inclusion and equity the bedrock of digital ecosystems.