New initiative monitors Latin American and Caribbean digital development

New initiative monitors Latin American and Caribbean digital development

The Santiago-headquartered Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC – or CEPAL in Spanish), one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations, and founded with the purpose of contributing to the economic development of Latin America, has unveiled what it calls its Digital Development Observatory (DDO).

The DDO aims to produce, gather and analyse relevant data and information to identify trends, evaluate progress and support policy formulation and implementation on digital transformation in the region.

The DDO’s website contains more than 100 indicators and qualitative information under 12 headings seen as key for countries’ digital transformation, including connectivity and digital inclusion, businesses and productive digital transformation, e-commerce and digital services, digital skills, digital government and artificial intelligence.

Described as “a significant milestone in ECLAC’s efforts to understand and promote digital transformation in our region”, the DDO’s goal is “to produce indicators and information that would improve the formulation of evidence-based policies in areas of digital transformation in order to drive more productive, inclusive and sustainable development in our countries”, in the words of José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, the United Nations regional organisation’s Executive Secretary.

The DDO also compiles information on national digital agendas, as well as the Digital Agenda for Latin America and the Caribbean (eLAC), which, in 2022, established a set of policy priorities and actions at the regional level for the next two years.

Will this new initiative be successful? It certainly faces challenges. According to the Observatory’s own data, more than 60% of companies in Latin America and the Caribbean that use the internet have a passive presence: they do not, for example, use it to make transactions. In addition, some 70% of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – which in many countries account for more than 98% of businesses – do not have any online presence.

Also AI, fixed broadband penetration and mobile broadband are below the global average, and internet penetration, which extends to about 77% of urban households in Latin America and the Caribbean, drops to just 38% in rural areas.