Inequality is one of the key challenges of our time. In developed and developing countries alike the poorest half of the population often controls less than 10% of the wealth. It is a universal challenge that the whole world must address. In September last year the United Nations adopted 17 sustainable goals to tackle some of the toughest global problems by 2030 including poverty, hunger, health and education. Many of these goals will be realised by working to reduce the digital divide, the gap that divides the rich and poor in terms of information.
Although global data traffic is currently quadrupling every six years and now surpasses one zettabyte (a million million gigabytes), the digital divide is yet to narrow. This affects the capability of a country to create wealth. The World Bank states that for every ten percent of broadband penetration in a developing country there is typically a 1.38 percent increase in GDP. Almost all developing countries have made increased broadband access the centre of their growth policies. With initiatives like Google's Project Loon using balloons to bring people in rural and remote areas online it is only a matter of time until the entire world is connected.
The greenfield nature of information and communications technology in many emerging markets creates the opportunity to radically reduce the digital divide by "leapfrogging" to cloud computing, the scalable on-demand provision of remote computing and data storage. The cloud has the potential to transform the world economy by catalysing greater competition to produce value-added products and services of much higher quality. It offers an important mechanism for expanding global trade as well as increasing South-to-South commerce. It can also help governments expand their ability to deliver core services in healthcare, telecommunications, education, financial access, and other services aimed at meeting social equity goals more economically and effectively.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets empowered by the cloud can stimulate job creation and reduce barriers to new products and business models. Cloud-based services make it easier for entrepreneurs to set up companies to compete on a global scale as it lowers the investment needed in IT infrastructure as well as allowing them to scale easily in response to changing customer demands and market conditions. For emerging markets this is particularly important as SMEs play an important role in driving economic development and increasing innovation. In Africa the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that small businesses account for more than 90 percent of economic output across the continent. These smaller companies are the incubators for the unicorns of the future. By using the cloud they have the opportunity to compete with companies like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb who have struggled to adapt their offerings to emerging market economies.
In developing countries, mobile telephony is central to making the cloud available to large sectors of the population and a powerful channel for reaching various development goals. Developing countries need to ensure that all citizens are equipped with basic skills to enable them to participate in the information society available at their fingertips. This is increasingly important as the cloud overcomes infrastructure barriers.
It is said the cloud is to computing what the grid was to electricity generation in the 1920s and 1930s - soon, people won't recall the time when they didn't flick the switch to get access to computing as they do for power. Overall, access to the cloud today is as critical to social and economic prosperity as networks like transport, water and power. Its transformative power as an enabler for social and economic growth makes it an essential tool for accelerating sustainable development. By embracing the cloud emerging markets not only nurture technological and service innovation, they are also triggering positive change in business processes as well as in society as a whole by giving everyone access to a level playing field.