Digital Access and the Digital Divide
Digital access for all is becoming more and more necessary with the growing digital economy. Ecuadorian businesswoman Pierangela Sierra recently became the United Nation’s eTrade for All initiative representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. The program seeks to “expand and promote” the digital economy across middle to low-income countries. Sierra is the founder of Tipti, which is an e-commerce online grocery shopping platform in Ecuador. The platform makes strides for women entrepreneurs around the world as Sierra advocates for their place in the digital workforce. Unfortunately, the growing global digital divide creates barriers to access. People in lower-income countries, especially women, have less access to the online world. Sierra’s advocacy for internet access equality provides much hope for the global digital accessibility movement.
The Digital Divide: A Global Crisis
On February 15, 2021, the United Nations Commission for Social Development discussed the presence of the global digital divide as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and global poverty. Members of the Commission noted that while technology has made it possible for numerous countries to overcome educational and economic crises throughout the pandemic, the digital divide has expanded globally.
The U.N. Secretary-General Amina Mohammed states that half the world’s population currently lacks internet access, “the majority of whom are women and mostly in developing countries.” The World Bank reports that only 35% of people in developing countries have access to the internet, indicating that the greatest digital access disparities are seen within rural areas as “these disparities impede shared prosperity and constrain access to pathways out of poverty.”
These disparities can sometimes even impact the speed, and therefore, the accessibility of the internet in different areas. As of 2019, it would take an average of 30 hours, one minute and 40 seconds to download a 5GB movie in Yemen in comparison to the average eight minutes it would take in Taiwan.
Pierangela Sierra and Founding Tipti
The global digital divide has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as those in rural or impoverished areas lack access to the resources the digital world provides. As impoverished communities and women continue to bear the brunt of internet inaccessibility, communities need advocates now more than ever. Sierra and her company Tipti work to debunk myths surrounding digital access and generate change by advocating for greater e-commerce and digital access among low-income populations and women.
After working for a variety of international corporations across Latin America, Sierra founded Tipti in 2016. Tipti is an abbreviation of “Tiempo para ti” or “time for you.” Tipti is an e-commerce grocery shopping and delivery platform designed to save clients time otherwise spent buying groceries in person.
Tipti’s Impact on Women
While 346 million people in Latin America have internet access, only 20% of the population “made online purchases in 2019.” The U.N. reports that there is an overall “lack of trust in postal services” and barriers to online bank account access. Sierra attributes the low level of e-commerce in Latin America to inadequate technology access and a lack of internet education. Sierra emphasizes that “there is a great need for access to education” in low-income areas, especially for women.
As part of the United Nation’s eTrade for All initiative, Sierra will teach a Masterclass “geared toward women who are ready to craft their own business plan for the tech sector.” Furthermore, Sierra aims to mobilize communities in order to create lasting change and significantly reduce the digital divide. As Sierra states in talks with the United Nations, “the moment you lend a woman a helping hand, you are helping up to 20 other people, too.”
The Future for Women in the Digital Workplace
As the digital divide increases worldwide, advocates like Sierra are extremely important. Fortunately, Sierra is not alone in her fight to increase e-commerce access and internet equality. Among various other organizations, the World Bank recently called for global broadband internet access for everyone. Currently, the World Bank is embarking on initiatives surrounding sector policy, loans and grants for broadband access. Individuals like Sierra along with organizations such as the U.N. and the World Bank further the movement to close the global digital divide through their advocacy and educational efforts.
– Lillian Ellis