UNSGSA Queen Máxima Video Remarks on Digital Public Goods and the Digital Divide

The Hague, the Netherlands

In pre-recorded video remarks, UNSGSA Queen Máxima highlights the timely opportunity to invest in key digital public goods to empower the poor, close the digital divide and support equality during the PGA High-Level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity: Whole-of-Society Approaches to End the Digital Divide held at UN Headquarters in New York on 27 April 2021.

President Bozkir, Deputy-Secretary General Ms Mohammed, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to join with you for this important debate on digital cooperation and connectivity.

COVID-19 has caused the deepest global recession in eight decades. Over 150 million people around the world could be pushed into extreme poverty by the end of this year. This is especially challenging for marginalized groups who had limited or no access to the digital economy prior to this pandemic.

Those in the informal sector have suffered significantly. These workers and businesses are typically not covered by social insurance nor registered for relevant government assistance programs. And women everywhere have also been disproportionately affected by the crisis. 

This underscores the importance that underserved segments have access to the tools they need to build resilience. Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed the power of digital financial services. They have been critical to support crisis response and to help people explore new opportunities. More than 200 nations expanded social protection measures since the start of COVID-19 — many using digital payments providers to make transfers directly into bank accounts or mobile wallets. We have also seen a shift to online payments for goods and services, and increased access to the digital economy. 

These changes have demonstrated the importance of putting in place the needed digital public goods that create a resilient, equitable, and trusted financial system. It is important to consider these key prerequisites as a set and not in silos. Some of these are critical for enabling access, such as connectivity and agent networks. Others make markets work better for customers, including fair competition and interoperable payment systems. And some protect the financial system and its users, such as data privacy, cybersecurity, consumer protection, and digital and financial literacy.

Now is a great and necessary time to invest in this digital infrastructure. To pass reforms that allow countries and people to capitalize on digital technology to address the digital divide, as well as ensure the underserved are not left behind.

As governments and the private sector look to make progress, there are a number of actions we can take.

First, focus on sequencing and coordination. This is vital as the urgency of the pandemic might result in decisions not always being aligned across players or with global best practices.

Second, build upon international standards and best practices. These can help ensure that digital public goods are implemented responsibly—with inclusion, privacy, and people’s needs front-and-center. One cross-cutting element to be considered is ensuring digital public goods are designed and implemented in a gender-intentional manner. For example, notable gender gaps in access to mobile phones and internet connection need to be taken into consideration in rolling out solutions and investments in infrastructure.

Third, seek technical assistance for design and implementation from development partners. And look for opportunities to learn from the knowledge and experiences of other countries.

Looking ahead, it is critical that we seize this opportunity to innovate not solely for innovation’s sake, but as a way to enable transformative opportunities for the underserved. Opportunities that can empower people to improve the quality of their lives and lead to positive development outcomes.

Collaboration is critical among the public and private sector. This includes essential regional and multilateral partnerships. I therefore welcome the topics of this debate. A whole-of-society approach is needed to address the complexities of the digital divide—including how connectivity can be optimized to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and global environmental targets.

I look forward to supporting all of you on this journey toward a more inclusive world. Thank you very much and I wish you all success.

Watch on YouTube.