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Introducing FCDO’s New Digital Development Strategy

By Guest Writer on April 10, 2024

fcdo digital development strategy

On 18 March the FCDO launched its new Digital Development Strategy for 2024-2030. The strategy is a deliverable of the recently published White Paper on International Development which highlights how digital is becoming ever more important as an enabler and accelerator of the Sustainable Development Goals.

FCDO Digital Development Strategy

The new Digital Development Strategy sets out a positive vision for an inclusive, responsible and sustainable digital transformation in developing countries. It focuses on four interconnected objectives:

  • Digital Transformation: catalysing economies, governments and societies through digital technologies.
  • Digital Inclusion: ensuring that no-one is left behind in a digital world.
  • Digital Responsibility: enabling safe, secure and resilient digital environments.
  • Digital Sustainability: harnessing digital technologies in support of climate change and environmental aims.

The Digital Development Strategy showcases pioneering work by the FCDO and identifies concrete targets for its four priority areas:

  1. Last-mile Connectivity – Basic connectivity in remote, low-income areas is fundamental to ensuring that the most marginalised can benefit from digital technologies. The UK will support at least 20 partner countries to reduce their digital divides by an average of 50% (halving their connectivity gap) by 2030.
  2. Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) – DPI is the technical term for society-wide digital services, such as e-government and national payment systems, and is a key enabler for digital transformation of both government and the private sector. The UK will support at least 20 partner countries to transform the delivery of digital services at a national level through improved DPI by 2030.
  3. Artificial Intelligence – The rapid evolution of AI presents both opportunities and risks, especially for developing countries that risk being left behind due to their weaker digital foundations. The UK will create or scale up at least 8 responsible AI research labs at African universities and will help create regulatory frameworks for responsible AI by 2030.
  4. Women & Girls – The gender digital divide limits women and girls’ ability to benefit from digital development. The UK will support at least 50 million women and girls to participate safely and meaningfully in the digital world.

Digital Development Strategy Highlights

The new DDS highlights the importance of continuing to partner with developing countries and key stakeholders on critical drivers of digital development such as last-mile connectivity in underserved, low-income or remote communities as the gap in accessible and affordable Internet, combined with limited digital skills and poor access to digital content and services, are leaving people behind in a digital world.

The Strategy builds on the premise that rapid changes in the pervasiveness and power of digital technologies will see international development happen within an increasingly important digital context. Whether digital innovation will lead to changes for the better or worse is something the UK, together with its partners and stakeholders, can influence.

Digital change will happen anyway, and while it is not possible to fully predict what the online and offline worlds will look like in 2030, digital will increasingly be the default mode in the future – so the DDS lays out the role of the UK in supporting partner countries in the developing world prepare to maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks of digital transformation.

UK Leadership in Digital Development

The UK is well placed to do this, having a significant history of leading on digital innovation and having been the first bilateral donor to develop a comprehensive approach to ‘Doing development in a digital world’ in 2018. Since then, FCDO has further increased its experience and evidence from flexible and agile policy and programming work, which helped adapt and stay relevant in a rapidly changing technological context.

The UK has much to offer through its own tech sector and innovation ecosystem, its regulatory and standard-setting capacity in telecoms and online content, its experience in government digital transformation, as well as its research and thought-leadership on broader digitalisation processes. There are great opportunities for knowledge sharing and international partnerships with developing countries, in support of their own digital development journeys.

FCDO Leadership in Artificial Intelligence

When it comes to the rapidly changing and evolving technology of AI, the DDS includes the objective to ensure that this ground-breaking technology will be accessible to all. The FCDO has recently launched a new flagship AI for Development Programme, aimed at building partner countries’ capacity to develop and apply AI responsibly, initially focused on Africa, alongside an uplift of investment in AI across the FCDO’s wider research portfolio.

This is the right time for the UK to step forward with a new approach to digital development in support of its partner countries and the international community.

A lightly edited version of the FCDO announcement.

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