Seventy-seven million rural citizens in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are unable to access internet services that meet rudimentary standards of worth. Thirty-two per cent (32%) of the LAC population, that is 244 million people, have no internet access while seventy-one per cent (71%) of the urban population have wide-ranging connectivity options. The connectivity fissure is more visible when one compares metropolitan and rustic communities, sometimes amounting to a 40 percentage-point gap that serves only to undermine the immense potential of the overlooked.
Even in urban settings, residentially segregated communities have differentiated access. The Coronavirus pandemic has intensified the fragmentation of digital space and amplified spatial stigma. Connecting the unconnected makes universal broadband a human right. Digital transformation requires strong leadership in agile labs focusing on specific sandbox projects. One focal point is broadband for educational attainment.
The digital divide is the new face of inequality. The transformative potential of broadband connectivity is undeniable. It can augment human cap-ability development, open new frontiers, and provide new opportunities. The gaps in the penetration of broadband slices large segments of populations off from digital dividends. The task of closing the access and usage gap is complex. It involves major supply-side challenges, including investment and competition, extending broadband infrastructure into rural and remote areas and upgrading networks. The debacle on the demand-side includes an amalgam of low levels of income, a low density of low-code no-code talent among citizen developers, and challenges of improving affordability and relevance of services to users.
Zero-rating practices are not net-neutral and can become predatory. Camouflaged as philanthropy, digital colonialism applies zero-rating practices that are often vectors of misinformation. Brazilians have unlimited social media access using zero-rating plans, but very little access to the rest of the Internet because broadband connection is beyond their economic reach. The task across LAC is to provide citizens with access to a wide range of bite-sized online courses to help them master new in-demand skills using a Future Skills Model that nurtures talent in rural communities. This will prepare the NiNi youth for new roles, new types of organizations and even new sectors of the economy.
Singapore’s SkillsFuture Credit (SFC) model is worthy of emulation to aggressively up-skill and re-train the workforce and to futureproof the future of work with talent in time. This means creating future software developers, data analysts, or cybersecurity testers – but also developing skills such as empathy which will underpin jobs in the education and medical sectors. Netflix is investing in the audio visual industry in LAC, but nurturing transversal skills and the talent behind the camera needs investment.
École 42 in Paris, is a teacher-less coding school. No badges or unique skills are required to matriculate. No fees for three to five years. Every student is employed by the end of their stay. Xavier Niel spent €48 million on the school with iMacs as far as the eye can see. In 2013, Xavier declared that France’s education system was broken and set out to fix one part of it. The result is something unlike any school on earth. École 42 teaches nothing. The students create what they need. Each day, students receive project briefs. They have forty-eight hours to complete them. That is the curriculum. Life. There are no teachers. Everything is graded by peers. École 42 is both project-based learning and peer-to-peer learning. Low-code no-code academies are now flourishing in cities everywhere.
SoftBank has doubled its commitment to Latin America with the launch of SoftBank Latin America Fund II, its second dedicated private investment fund focused on Latin American technology companies. The preliminary $3 billion commitment builds upon SoftBank’s $5 billion Latin America Fund, first announced in March 2019, and was formerly called the Innovation Fund with an initial $2 billion in committed capital. Softbank invested $3.5 billion in 48 companies in Latin America and 15 unicorns including proptech startup QuintoAndar, Rappi, Mercado Bitcoin, Gympass and MadeiraMadeira, and co-led a $350 million Series D round in Ualá, an Argentine personal finance management app. The mobile ecosystem of LAC provides a scalable platform for entrepreneurs. Start-ups are optimising their opportunities and are entering the region’s rapidly growing disruptive technology spaces, such as augmented and virtual reality, AI, robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT). E-commerce in Latin America went from almost zero in 1999 to over USD 70 billion in 2015.
The future is arriving fast. Ours is an age of an array of riveting digital transformations that scaffold ride haling technologies like Uber, shops like Amazon Fresh enmeshed in AI, and Fintech companies like Chime that are not banks but merely an App offering a Spending Account, a Chime Credit Builder Card and a Savings Account. The COVID-19 crisis is the Great Digital Accelerator. However, digital transformation can also accelerate inequalities. As the world becomes digitally dependent, it threatens to exclude the disconnected. Almost half the world’s population, 3.7 billion people, the majority of them women, and most in developing countries, are still offline. What we need now is a University of the Unfortunate that develops talent at a fraction of the cost, with friction free matriculation in rural communities using broadband.