GIGA: A look at the new partnership to develop digital inclusion

At the recent Broadband Commission NYC event, a new partnership was revealed which will target the connectivity of students and schools worldwide. Over the coming year, the GIGA initiative – driven by UNICEF and ITU – will aim to secure wider public and private support. In this blog post, we take a look at the GIGA initiative and explore why partnerships like this are crucial for wider sustainable development.

Kids looking at digital devices

At the recent meeting of the Broadband Commission in New York, there was a collective focus on the subject of school connectivity. One of the key takeaways of the event was the presentation of GIGA, a new partnership for sustainable development with a focus on school connectivity.

The creation of partnerships across public and private arenas can have a significant and far-reaching impact on the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of course, that’s one of the reasons why creating partnerships for the goals (SDG 17) is an area of strategic importance for Ericsson, together with advocating for sustainable industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9).

But how does this work in practice? Furthermore, how can the impact of high-level partnerships translate on a grass roots level?

The impact of partnerships for sustainable development

To find a previous example of how effective partnerships can have a positive impact on sustainable development, we can look to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

At the turn of the last century, despite great progress made in the previous two decades, global immunization efforts were beginning to plateau. By 1999, there were still 30 million children living in poor countries who were not fully immunized. Coverage was stagnating and, in some places, even declining. New life-saving vaccines were not reaching children in developing countries, those who needed them most, because they were too expensive.

A new approach was needed. So, in 2000, a unique public-private partnership called Gavi was created to bring together the best of what the world has to offer across key UN agencies, governments, vaccine industries, private sectors and civil society. The goal was to improve childhood immunization coverage in poor countries and accelerate access to new vaccines.

By 2018, the direct actions of this partnership have led to the immunization of over 700 million children preventing more than 10 million future deaths in the process. The success has been due to Gavi’s business model of pooling country demand, guaranteeing long-term, predictable funding and creating economies of scale.

Almost 20 years later, serious thought is being given to the formation of a similar partnership, but this time focused on bringing digital connectivity to every school across the globe. It may not appear to be as critical as a vital immunization program, however there are clear similarities between both cases.

Similar to the success of the first immunization programs in the nineties, for example, there has been great progress in bringing digital connectivity to many schools around the world. However, the fact remains that, today, over 40 percent of the world's population still do not have access to the Internet. These were the findings of the recent World Economic Forum edition of our “enabling Internet for all” report, all of which is based on Ericsson Mobility Report data.

Number of prople without mobile broadband connection in 2024

Above: The number of people who, in 2024, are estimated to live without a mobile broadband connection and the corresponding coverage availability within those populations. As the data illustrates, the majority of “unconnected” populations are expected to be located in 3G/4G/5G coverage areas.

The GIGA partnership to connect schools

In 2017, it was estimated that less than 30 percent of the world’s population was proficient in basic ICT skills. These are the findings of the Broadband Commission who have set a target to ensure that 60 percent of youth and young adults around the world possess a minimum level of proficiency in sustainable digital skills by 2025. You can read more in the 2019 State of Broadband report.

With the ambition to connect every school to the Internet by 2030, two leading agencies, UNICEF and ITU are today uniting their efforts to create momentum behind a new initiative known as GIGA. The Broadband Commission is also putting its weight behind the initiative and a new Working Group has been proposed to focus exclusively on this issue over the next year.

The dialog at the recent Broadband Commission meeting has already identified a number of areas where this new Working Group can potentially support GIGA, for example by:

  • building compelling business cases that can attract the very high levels of required funding,
  • providing access to relevant policy makers and regulators to simplify complex issues like spectrum and licensing,
  • creating the right playing field so the initiative is also attractive for industry players

Over the coming year, the two leading agencies (UNICEF and ITU) plan to accelerate the launch of GIGA with a focus on a small number of countries in the first phase. Ericsson will continue to be an active voice in this discussion on school connectivity, not least from the vast experience and cases which have helped to bring connectivity and technology to schools through the Connect to Learn program.

The ambition is for GIGA to follow the trajectory of Gavi in which case we can go a long way to achieving SDG 4 and ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education by 2030, as well as promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The importance of digital inclusion

The power of connectivity cannot be understated, both in terms of being an enabler for economic growth and a critical factor in fulfilling the SDGs, particularly SDG 10: Reducing inequalities, SDG 4: Quality education and SDG: 5 Gender Equality. Telecom operators play a key role in this mission, together with stakeholders across the public and private arenas.

As supported in the report, a correlation exists between mobile broadband deployment and macroeconomic development in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). On average, a 10 percent increase in mobile broadband penetration causes a 0.8 percent increase in GDP.

That’s why we’re placing strategic importance on creating partnerships with customers, industries, academia and international organizations. By leveraging our combined strengths, we can succeed in bringing life-changing technologies to the world at scale.

Learn more

Read the statement which Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, delivered to the Broadband Commission regarding the ambitions of GIGA.

Read the Broadband Commission’s State of Broadband 2019 report.

Today, the Ericsson Connect to Learn program is active in 25 countries worldwide. By integrating technology tools and digital learning resources, we have helped to increase the access to quality education for over 120,000 students. Find out more on our access to education page.

This core of this program is based on our strategic partnership model which brings together a strategic coalition of public, private and nonprofit partnerships.

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