The Pathways for Prosperity Commission has launched a new Digital Manifesto to help poor countries achieve technological transformation. The manifesto was launched in Nairobi by Melinda Gates and Strive Mayisiwa.

The Digital Manifesto outlines 10 steps that can put countries ‘firmly in the driving seat’ in determining their future digital pathways. It is drawn from the Commission’s new and final report, The Digital Roadmap: How developing countries can get ahead.

From the tech start-ups of Bangalore, to government ministries in Ethiopia, to nomadic farmers in Mongolia, the Commission has spent two years gathering a rich body of evidence to show how lower-income countries can harness new technologies to deliver development for all citizens, not just the privileged few. This year, half the world is online for the first time ever. The challenge is to ensure that the growing digital trajectories are a force for inclusive development.

“Digital technologies offer powerful tools to grow businesses and nations alike, enabling entrepreneurs access to markets and giving governments innovative ways to deliver better services,” said Strive Masiyiwa, Pathways Commission Co-Chair and founder of pan-African telecommunications, technology and renewable energy group, Econet. “However, without visionary policy planning and 21st century skills training for virtually everyone, these same technologies over time could lead to job losses and further financial exclusion of the poorest in our societies”.

Failure to switch on economies for the digital age will risk widening the gap between rich and poor countries, as well as fueling inequalities within them, the Commission’s report says, leaving millions of marginalised people, including the poorest, rural communities and women, even further behind. Some of these trends are daunting. Africa’s labour force will grow by 285 million people from 2010 to 2030 – more than all the manufacturing jobs in China and India. Ensuring there will be opportunities for these people will be key.

Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Pathways Commission said: ‘Today, huge gender gaps in digital access are the norm in developing countries. If we invest in closing those gaps, women and girls can start to meet their untapped potential, building economies that are not only more equal but also more dynamic and ultimately more prosperous.’

Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Indonesia’s Finance Minister and co-chair of the Pathways Commission, said: “This is a critical moment in history and the stakes for developing countries could not be higher. Governments and societies cannot sit back passively and watch the digital revolution happening around them – they must pick up the tools that are available and become authors of their own digital destinies. Getting digitally ready will take vision, collaboration and deliberate planning to ensure everyone benefits.”

One of the Commission’s key recommendations is that countries craft a ‘national digital compact’. It involves bringing together representatives of all parts of government, civil society and the private sector to create and agree the vision and manage the trade-offs inherent in national digital transformation. This agreement will help countries to navigate the profound impacts technologies are having on their societies and economies. From here, countries can develop inclusive digital strategies – futures where everyone gains

To support countries developing their digital strategies, the Commission has developed a Digital Economy Toolkit. It has piloted the kit with the governments of Ethiopia, South Africa and Mongolia using it as a foundation for their national digital strategies. All three countries are concerned about inequality and future employment, making discussions of new digital pathways all the more urgent.

The Pathways for Prosperity Commission on Technology and Inclusive Development works with a diverse group of commissioners who are global leaders from government, the private sector and academia. Based at Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, the Commission collaborates with international development partners, developing country governments, private sector leaders, emerging entrepreneurs and civil society. It aims to catalyse new conversations and to encourage the co-design of country-level solutions aimed at making frontier technologies work for the benefit of the world’s poorest and most marginalised men and women.