Sep 20, 2021
The pandemic has had devastating effects on emerging economies, threatening to undo thirty years of progress. In countries like Kenya, India, and Brazil, COVID drove up unemployment, disrupted supply chains, and devastated entire sectors.
If we do nothing, it could take years for these countries to recover, creating even greater divides between people in developed and emerging economies. But we’re seeing a contrary trend that could dramatically turn things around. Looking beyond the short-term headlines to longer-term trends actually tells a different story.
As last year’s Digital Sprinters Framework outlined, if emerging economies adopt the right digital policies, they could actually emerge stronger and better prepared to accelerate economic growth and opportunity.
While COVID has accelerated use of technology to learn and conduct business, almost half of all households in the developing world still lack access to broadband and high-speed internet. Greater digital adoption could help emerging economies generate as much as $3.4 trillion of economic value by 2030. That amount of growth would mean an astonishing 25 percent increase in GDP in Brazil, a 31 percent increase in Saudi Arabia and a 33 percent increase in Nigeria.
Unlocking this growth will require focused initiatives. Governments in emerging markets want to know where to invest limited resources, and how to support and grow their national talent pool. That’s why, building on the Digital Sprinters framework, Google commissioned the Portulans Institute to develop a “Future Readiness Economic Index” — a ranking of digital progress, and a roadmap for the future.
Assessing countrywide trends can be an inexact science. But by breaking down the data in critical areas like infrastructure, talent development, skills matching, and technology adoption, the Portulans Institute’s Index can help countries focus their efforts to get the biggest returns on investment. For example, the Index suggests that Brazil, which ranks 67th globally on the Index, could sprint ahead with more adoption of digital technologies like cloud, AI and machine learning.
Seizing the chance to sprint ahead
Emerging economies have a key advantage. Unlike developed economies — which need to upgrade or replace outdated legacy infrastructure — many emerging markets can leapfrog ahead, building advanced tools from scratch rather than remodeling existing ones. (Think of how many countries without extensive landline telephone infrastructures in the 1990s have become leaders in mobile telephony adoption.)
Starting with the latest technologies can streamline progress. But which technologies, and what’s the right balance of investing in human capital, infrastructure and other critical elements? And which policies will accelerate progress and yield the greatest gains in competitiveness? The Index provides some objective comparisons to help answer those questions.
Good public policy that supports technology innovation can expand the pie for everyone. Widely dispersed technological progress has doubled human lifespans over the last century and lifted more than a billion people from poverty in the last thirty years alone. Evidence-based investments, policies and digital tools will equip emerging economies to make even more progress in the years ahead.