Ki-Hong Park, Mohamed-Slim Alouini,
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Thuwal, Saudi Arabia
University of Warwick, Coventry, England, UK
University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
David Botchie, Weifeng Chen,
Brunel University, London, United Kingdom
Orebro University School of Business, Orebro, Sweden
Step Up Consulting, Bohol, Philippines
Francois van Schalkwyk,
Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Wondwossen Mulualem Beyene,
Abraham Tulu Mekonnen, Samson Alemayehu Mamo,
Hawassa University, Hawassa, Ethiopia
SYNCHROINFO JOURNAL. Volume 8, Number 6 (2022). P. 33-42.
The United Nations Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation states that “meaningful participation in today’s digital age requires a high-speed broadband connection to the Internet”, and that every person should have “safe and affordable access to the Internet by 2030, including meaningful use of digitally enabled services”. As part of efforts to achieve these goals, ITU launched the Connect2Recover initiative in September 2020, to help countries transition from responding to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and natural hazards to building back better with broadband. The initiative has the strong support of Australia, Japan, Lithuania and Saudi Arabia. As part of the Connect2Recover initiative, a research competition was launched in July 2021 to identify promising research proposals from across the world to accelerate digital inclusion during recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. This resulted in the selection of 15 winning research proposals in December 2021. The 15 research teams, which represent 43 universities and institutions from 22 countries, focused on the themes of digital inclusion (in the areas of education, health care, enterprises and job creation, and vulnerable groups), and digital connectivity and resilience. The wealth of knowledge and insights compiled within are based on diverse
methodologies, including desktop research, surveys, interviews and focus groups, which covered 17 countries in Africa, the Americas, Arab States and Asia-Pacific. The research showed that, while the use of broadband and digital technologies has been critical for coping with the pandemic, many people faced challenges and barriers in their adoption and use. In schools and universities, teachers and students struggled to get access to online education. During lockdowns, many in rural communities were isolated from healthcare providers in cities. In the business sector, the financial needs of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) were not adequately addressed by financial institutions. The digital needs of vulnerable groups – such as women and girls, ageing populations and persons with disabilities – were also not adequately addressed. Ubiquitous and reliable network infrastructure, as well as affordable and accessible services, are essential to deliver digital solutions such as telemedicine, e-education and e-business services. Policy and regulatory enablers are also critical. Outdated policies or regulations that are not inclusive or do not meet post-pandemic recovery requirements need to be revamped. Digital skills gaps need to be addressed through sustained efforts for institutional and human capacity building. For instance, teachers, health-care providers and enterprises require digital skills and competencies to thrive and be successful; digital literacy is important for everyone, including vulnerable groups, so that they can fully participate in digital societies and economies. An estimated 2.7 billion people – or one-third of the world’s population – remain unconnected to the Internet in 2022. The goal of universal and meaningful connectivity cannot be addressed through improving coverage alone. By leveraging the lessons learned from these 15 published research reports – and working to ensure access, adoption, affordability and resiliency of broadband services – together we can build back better with broadband.
Keywords: Connect2Recover initiative, broadband and digital technologies, digital skills, COVID-19
 ITU, Connect2Recover Research Competition – Win-ning Projects Booklet, available at www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Documents/connect2recover/research-competition/Connect2Recover-winning-projects-booklet-final.pdf.
 ITU, “Information Sessions on Connect2Recover: Re-search Competition Papers focusing on Africa”, available at www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Pages/events/connect2recover/infosessions-research-competition-papers-focusing-on-Africa/default.aspx.
 ITU, “ITU’s ‘Best practices and recommendations for digital inclusion through resilient infrastructure’”, available at www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Regional-Presence/Africa/Pages/EVENTS/ 2022/P2C_Addis.aspx.