Qatar, UAE, Iran and Egypt making big strides in digital inclusion

03 March 2021 3 min. read

Qatar, the UAE, Iran and Egypt are among the global markets that have most improved digital inclusion within their populations between 2017 and 2020 – according to a new Roland Berger study.

“Digital inclusion is the empowerment of individuals and societies to effectively use ICT, enabling them to contribute to and benefit from today's digitalised economies and societies,” as defined by Roland Berger experts.

The strategy consulting firm took a deep dive into more than 80 economies across the globe – to trace the rate of digital inclusion and how it corresponds with social and economic inequalities. An unequal society means unequal access to digital, giving rise to a vicious cycle.

Digital inclusion worldwide, by region

The researchers assessed digital inclusion based on four metrics: ‘accessibility’ to digital equipment; ‘affordability’ of digital access; ‘ability’ to understand digital tools and processes; and ‘attitude’ – willingness to adopt a digital life. Within this framework, countries were ranked based on their overall level of digital inclusion, and the rate of improvement over the last three years.

Qatar, the UAE and Egypt are among the top five most improved countries when it comes to digital inclusion between 2017 and 2020 – each having jumped eight spots on the Roland Berger ranking. The markets trail only Myanmar and Vietnam, which jumped 11 and 10 places respectively. Also in the top ten most improved is Iran, which jumped seven spots in three years.

That said, Qatar is the only Middle Eastern country to break into the top ten countries on the overall rankings – placing in eighth. Singapore, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, US, Australia and South Korea all rank above Qatar, while Canada and the UK bring up the last of the top ten.

The UAE is the best of the rest, taking 14th spot globally. Iran follows in number 37 worldwide, while Egypt trails the pack in 50th. The numbers explain why Middle East & North Africa trails Europe, North America and Asia Pacific in terms of regional performance.

Top countries for digital

The digital inclusion imperative

Yet, strong improvements are welcome, particularly when considering the social and economic importance of digital inclusion – as hashed out by the researchers. For one, a tech-savvy labour force can enable working in tandem with automation and advanced tech, which boosts revenues and consequently the economy.

Efficiency, performance and reach are all business benefits from better digital inclusion. Then there are the social benefits. “Inclusion also acts as a social equaliser by democratising education and ensuring diversity of opinion and consumer choice,” noted John Low, senior partner at Roland Berger.

“Finally, with the use of e-government services and more inclusive digital platforms for essential services like healthcare, digital inclusion increases civic outreach, aiding the administration of good governance.”

With Covid-19 and all its repercussions on healthcare, government support and business performance, this widespread democratic access is an imperative for any society looking to survive the crisis initially, and eventually come out competitive in the new normal. With the current improvement rates, key markets in the Middle East appear on the right track.