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A digital future is a given. A positive, sustainable, and inclusive digital future is in our hands.

Digital transformation has changed the lives of billions of people around the world – often for the better. 

In India, for example, digital transformation has rapidly accelerated financial inclusion. Today, over 80% of the population – roughly 1.1 billion people – have access to a bank account. This has enabled people to save and borrow for life’s crucial moments, such as hospital visits, starting a business, or attending school. 

However, with tremendous opportunities can come significant risks.  

Recent events have shown how digital technology can exacerbate power dynamics, deepen existing inequalities, and reinforce biases – causing harm to the very people who could benefit the most. And with threats of misinformation, data abuse, and privacy invasion growing by the day, it is critical that we get digital transformation right.

This is why, at the Digital Impact Alliance, we believe the key to positive digital transformation is a people-centered approach, in which data and digital technology improve the lives of all people while promoting their rights, aspirations, and wellbeing. With this in mind, our team has spent countless hours exploring – and grappling with – what is truly needed to ensure that all people and communities are able to reap the benefits of an increasingly digital world.

What does a positive, sustainable, and inclusive digital future look like?

At its core, this is a world where digital transformation advances social and economic wellbeing, equity, and inclusion – at the same time. The result is a future where: 

  • People can participate. All people are included, can represent their needs and preferences, and be creators and collaborators online to the extent they choose.  
  • People have agency. All people feel their digital rights are clear, they can access appropriate redress mechanisms, and have confidence in the institutions that oversee and exercise those rights.   
  • People have choices. All people have a range of reasonably priced digital services driven by healthy competitive markets, and can select what they need based on quality, trustworthiness, and other key factors. Choice includes the option not to use digital services. 
  • People can trust. All people understand and have trust in digital products or services; how their data is being stored, shared, analyzed, and used to create value; and people trust these products and services do not cause harm to society and the planet.   

Simply put, people feel empowered to exercise their digital rights and preferences – by choosing to use digital tools and services in ways that meaningfully improve their lives.  

What can be done to ensure we are on the right path forward?

There are a number of intentional choices – and actions – that are central to positive digital transformation. The decisions governments and other actors make will largely determine whether digital transformation efforts positively impact people and communities, while remedying many of the negative side effects present in today’s digital society – or simply serve to consolidate power and control.  

To that end, we have identified four critical areas – when carefully considered, agreed upon and actioned – create the trusted and inclusive digital ecosystems needed to ensure digitalization efforts are centered on people’s rights, aspirations, and wellbeing.  

  1. Policies and regulation. Crucial to positive digital transformation, policies, laws, and regulations are the different mechanisms used to uphold people’s rights, provide incentives for inclusion, and ensure coherence among safeguarding efforts. Yet, in our current digital model, when new technology emerges, it is often largely unregulated. The result is that potential — and actual — negative side effects are only considered after the fact, as legislative bodies attempt to reverse damage that has already been done. With stakes this high, it’s crucial that we change our approach. By promoting a model where technology and policies are implemented together, we can ensure that effective laws accompany digital systems, services, and tools from the start.
  2. Oversight and accountability mechanisms. One of the most important components of safe and trusted digital ecosystems is the presence of capable, well-functioning institutions, which provide the essential safeguards to ensure that technology is designed, governed, and managed well. Good institutions include responsive digital protection authorities, grievance redressal mechanisms, digital policy units that can drive coherence across government, and much more. Yet, in many countries, these institutions lack the funding and capacity to be effective. To reverse this trend, we must invest, not only in digital technology, but also in the systems and mechanisms that govern it.
  3. Technology architecture. When it comes to good technology, user-centric design is critical. Yet, too often, a lack of funding forces implementers to put in place fragmented digital solutions with only a short-term, single use in mind. At the same time, incentives to fund and design digital systems that work across silos and use cases are woefully insufficient. But technology can be integrated so that digital systems are adaptable, work together (we use the term interoperable), and foster trust, competition, and innovation. This approach, known as digital public infrastructure (DPI), allows public and private sectors to easily and efficiently build tools and services that can improve people’s lives, including digital ID and payment systems. To realize this promise, it is crucial that we promote and prioritize DPI that is thoughtful, trustworthy, and inclusive. 
  4. Civil society engagement. In a truly positive digital environment, individuals and communities are included, engaged, and knowledgeable when it comes to technology. Yet, in many countries, this is far from the reality, where decisions are made largely by tech companies or national governments, with little input from the people themselves. To foster effective civil society engagement, we must take steps to ensure that people are digitally literate, understand their rights, and have agency over the use of technology in their lives.   

We can ensure that we are on the path towards a positive digital future. But only if we put people at the center of digital transformation – at every step of the way. To do so, we must mobilize energy, resources, and talent to foster a world where individuals and communities reap measurable benefits from digital tools and services.  

How does the Digital Impact Alliance help?

As experts in technology, policy, and development, we sit at a critical crossroad. We know we have an incredible opportunity to promote digital tools, services, and solutions that not only provide significant social and economic benefits, but also prioritize the people using them.   

At the Digital Impact Alliance, we aim to make this vision a reality by providing key insights, guidance, and knowledge to those at the forefront of digital transformation. Through these efforts, we aim to foster a world where people everywhere enjoy the benefits of a positive digital society. 


Learn more about our work