Digitalisation and Development: Reflections from AsiaDigitalisation is gradually being manifested as a transformative force of change in all different spheres of human activity- social, economic and industrial. For instance, total number of people using internet in the world has gone up from 23 per cent of population to 49 per cent of population in 2017. And, the number of smart phone users globally has already crossed three billion in 2021. The rapid pace of adoption of digital mediums for various uses across different sectors of economy during the Covid-19 pandemic clearly demonstrated the potential of this wave. While applications of information technology in the past three decades have become widespread, the latest vintage of disruptive technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Block Chain, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, etc is enabling faster changes in the product and the process space.

Digital infrastructure especially financial technology (fintech) in the form of mobile banking, internet banking, online payment platforms, peer-to-peer lending, loan processing and credit disbursements, etc not only contribute to ‘ease of doing business’ but also to ‘ease of living’. In 2020, India alone experienced 80 per cent rise in online transactions. The value of digital transactions globally is expected to reach $12.4 trillion by 2025. While Industry 4.0 is being envisaged as the new industrial policy for the world in the coming years, 5G assumes topmost priority in the digital infrastructure agenda.

The benefits of digital technologies in the field of education, health, financial inclusion and governance are increasingly recognised. During the pandemic digital education offered through smart mobile Professor Sachin Chaturvedi Director General, RIS 2 phones and online apps was the only medium for provision of education that have benefitted millions of school children worldwide. It has also awakened the gaps in digital infrastructure and skills to ensure quality education. Likewise, digital health solutions are found to be cost-effective and accessible. Telemedicine, for example, provides promising results including in remote and rural areas. Medium and Small Scale Industries (MSMEs) which could benefit from digital technologies lack resources to adopt digitalization in their production and distribution processes.

In view of the ensuing technological transformation enabled by digitalization, RIS in collaboration with OECD Development Centre, Paris and ERIA, Jakarta had organised the International Economic Forum on Asia virtually on the theme ‘Digitalisation and Development: Reflections from Asia’ on March 5, 2021. Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairperson, NITI Aayog, India delivered the Special Address focusing on India’s recent achievements in digitalization and the policy initiatives undertaken by the Government of India. Mr. Seshadri Chari, Member, Governing Council, RIS; Dr. Mario Pezzini, Director, OECD Development Centre, and Prof. Nagesh Kumar, among others made special remarks on various aspects of digitalisation. Eminent experts from India and other South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka have shared their rich insights and experiences especially in using digital mediums while dealing with Covid-19 pandemic.

This publication captures the Key Findings and Observations emerged out of the deliberations in the webinar. I hope it would be highly useful for policy makers and other stakeholders in the Asian region.