Youth and Digital Transformation in Least Developed Countries (LDC)

November 16, 2022

This blog is an excerpt from the Network Readiness Index 2022 thematic chapter: “How and why digital natives will shape the world”. Prepared by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).

The first significant condition is infrastructure. One cannot thrive digitally with poor Internet or network coverage. As of 2021, only 53% of LDC territory (land) had access to 4G (ITU 2021). The second cause is affordability. As a percentage of their GNI, people in LDCs pay ten times more for their mobile broadband data than people in developed countries, and the youth usually have lower means. Yet, LDCs have experienced enormous progress, as almost half of their population has an active mobile broadband subscription (ITU, 2021). Youth do better in terms of the digital divide and are almost 1.4 times more likely to use the Internet than adults.

The digital transformation for youth in LDCs resembles that of their peers in some aspects and looks quite different in others. The mobile phone is king, as access to computers is very scarce. Since many young people only have a feature phone, they use many services via Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), for instance, to send money to a family member, or to buy credit. Sending money is not a random example, as the use of mobile money (digital financial services delivered through the phone) has grown exponentially in LDCs. From these essential services, young people are transitioning to low-cost or second-hand smartphones. This opens the door to the ubiquitous Facebook, which in some countries is synonymous with the Internet. As youth everywhere, they want to connect, stay tuned and share. But accessing the Internet from their phones also connects them to digital training opportunities, markets and job opportunities, and more sophisticated financial services.

Despite a challenging environment, the digital journey can contribute to expanding the opportunities for youth in LDCs. Governments, civil society, and international donors are aware of it, and they are working on the digital transformation of their economies. This is where UNCDF brings its expertise and unique tools to ensure youth can thrive in LCDs.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is the United Nations flagship catalytic financing entity for the LDCs. With its unique capital mandate and focus on the LDCs, UNCDF works to invest and catalyze capital to support these countries in achieving ​the sustainable growth and inclusiveness envisioned by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Doha Program of Action for the least developed countries, 2022–2031. UNCDF aims to strengthen financing mechanisms and systems to contribute to transformation pathways such as green economy, digitalization, urbanization, inclusive economies and gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. Learn more at

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