Adapting to the digital ageAmidst the disparity and inequality, technology enables the transformation of LDCs.
Those who adapt to new technologies have both absolute and competitive advantages. The best examples are the invention and adoption of steam engines and electricity in the 17th century and the internet in the post-1990 era. The countries having access to these technologies were always at the forefront of development and thus dominated the economic growth globally. Digital business transformation, information technology, industry 4.0, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, innovation, big data, machine learning, deep learning and blockchain are transforming how we think and process information. Ironically, it transcends us into a new breed of human beings as it shapes every facet of our lives. Adopting and adapting to change allows us to leapfrog and achieve an unprecedented rate of progress.
Despite the immense potential with inherent qualities like water resources, tourism, and other strategic resources, Nepal faces bottlenecks due to its landlockedness and geographical complexities when pursuing its developmental aspirations. These constraints, coupled with management issues in public institutions, resulted in awful deficits in trade, which stood at a staggering Rs1.337 trillion in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2022-23. Nepal exported goods worth Rs98.97 billion to India in contrast to Rs937.83 billion worth of merchandise imports, resulting in a deficit of Rs838.85 billion. Similarly, exports to China amounted to Rs1.52 billion only in comparison to Rs202.37 billion worth of imports.
Nepal’s disheartening trade deficit is not an exception. According to the global data for 2022, the contribution of least developing countries (LDC) to the global trade landscape remains similar, accounting for only 0.9 percent and 0.25 percent of global goods and services exports, respectively.
Additionally, LDCs and landlocked developing countries (LLDC) face severe bottlenecks in a complex tapestry of geographical constraints, infrastructural limitations and intricate political and governance hurdles. Amidst the disparity and inequality in countries like ours, technology has emerged as a ray of hope, becoming a key enabler in transforming LDCs, especially by introducing innovative technologies brought about by the fourth industrial revolution. Hence, radical technological transformations provide an equal playing field for LDCs, creating opportunities to catch up with the economic growth race.
Nepal in a digital world
In 2022, Nepal ranked 112th out of 131 economies in the Network Readiness Index, a global index on the application and impact of information and communication technology (ICT) in global economies. Currently, the country is ranked 101st out of 160 countries on the National Cyber Security Index. The Nepali e-government development index 2022 stood at 0.5117, ranking 125th out of 193 countries. And the e-participation index score is extremely low, with a global ranking of 143. These global indices signal subpar levels of Nepali digital status, demanding a paradigm shift of technology with its application in all avenues—education, health, tourism, transport, finance and other services.
The Singaporean and Korean development models are critical lessons for aspiring nations like ours. Their investment in research and development, specialised institutions and human resource capacity enhancement within the technological and innovation framework are key takeaways. Recently, Estonia’s case of converting itself from collective farms to a digital powerhouse with the nickname e-Estonia is the epitome of using e-government services that can foster interconnectedness, streamlining and scaling up businesses and public services. Ninety-nine percent of the public services are online, allowing the country to be above advanced economies like the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan and Singapore regarding technology usage.
Nepal’s 15th five-year periodic plan aims to bring qualitative changes in people’s living standards by enhancing universal access to mass communication, telecommunication and ICT and maximising their use. The country has made significant strides in expanding internet access, particularly in urban areas, and implementing various digital initiatives. The internet penetration is on the rise, with increasing numbers of people gaining access, primarily through mobile devices. Online services, such as government portals for citizen services and digital payment platforms, are gaining traction. However, internet connectivity’s quality, reliability and consistency vary significantly across regions. The e-government services should not be limited to digitising official records, creating websites and developing applications. We must introspect our policy implementation status, especially in the service delivery, and integrate digital devices and applications fostering one-stop solutions for the citizens.
Youths and the digital divide
The techno-savvy youth has been actively engaging in digital technologies and social media, contributing to the growth of the digital ecosystem. However, challenges like the urban-rural digital divide and the need for continued investment in digital infrastructure and education persist. Nepal ranks 140th on the ICT Development Index, implying that it belongs to the lower end of Asian countries regarding internet access, affordability and usage, with prominent digital divides between urban and rural, and male and female groups. Moreover, despite its small population, cybercrime is still an issue in Nepal. In the fiscal year 2020-21, 3,906 cybercrime cases were reported. There have been 1,547 reported cybercrime cases within the first three months of the current fiscal year. These figures suggest a growing need for cyber security awareness and education to protect individuals and organisations from cyber threats.
Technology’s implications in e-commerce, tourism, health, agriculture, education and e-governance are tremendous. It eliminates gaps and minimises delays, leading to more transparent societies. It can be a vital source of foreign currency revenue and the creation of digital jobs. Ultimately, it might serve as a potent alternative for youths, which can reverse the brain drain.
Striving towards open governance through participation and collaboration, executing a “bottom-up” theory of change, is the crux of the matter. The Digital Nepal framework should be placed in every sector of the nation with utmost priority and pace. Otherwise, the opportunity to metamorphose Nepal will be missed. It is high time we invest in digital infrastructure, fostering digital literacy, elevating internet penetration and establishing intelligent cities. A radical transformation in the education system coupled with supportive legislative frameworks and capacity enhancement are prerequisites to reap the benefits of it. Leveraging modern communications technologies is crucial because fresh ideas are more likely to spark a tangible movement and deliver meaningful results in the digital ecosystem. Today is the time; delays won’t do any good.