• Roberto Viola profile picture
    Director General of DG CONNECT at the European Commission

    Roberto Viola

"We're here to put a dent in the universe, otherwise why else even be here?" - Steve Jobs

Pictures of Authors: Roberto Viola (Director General DG Connect)/Stefano Manservisi (Director General DG DEVCO)

Authors: Roberto Viola (Director General DG Connect) / Stefano Manservisi (Director General DG DEVCO)

In many ways, this is what connects the two departments that we oversee - digital matters (DG CONNECT) and development policy (DG DEVCO). Together, we want to make the world a better place, by creating growth, jobs and more sustainable societies.

EU development policy and the Digital Single Market (DSM) have more in common than you might first imagine. While the EU and its Member States provide more than half of global development assistance, through the DSM we also want to be a global leader when it comes to setting standards.

Over the last year, the European Commission has embarked on a joint project to mainstream digital technologies and services into EU development policy, targeting millions of people across the globe and encouraging digitalisation in our partner countries.

This successful cooperation is guided by our overarching policy framework on Digital4Development. It sets out four priorities: affordable and secure broadband connectivity; digital skills; digital entrepreneurship; and enabling services such as e-government, e-health, e-agriculture, e-education or FinTechs.

Why Digital4Development?

Over the last few years, our partner countries, especially in Africa, have shown an extraordinary capacity to leapfrog traditional technologies and to innovate in the digital arena.

In Africa, mobile telephony reaches 80% of the population and provides more than 7% of the continent's GDP. The continent is expected to have 750 million smartphones by 2020 from 450 million today. Africa is also a global leader in mobile payments, hosting over 180 incubators and accelerators that have taken innovation to another level.

Digital technologies and services can improve people's lives by offering new tools to address challenges and opportunities in our partner countries. And the possibilities are both varied and endless.

With basic digital skills and access to new technologies, people can earn a living without being forced to leave their homes and communities. Farmers can increase their earnings by 10 to 20%, just by having access to market information. Malaria can now be detected with a mobile phone, and data analytics can help to stop the spread of the Ebola virus. Public administrations can save billions by using e-government, e-ID and interoperable systems, while also improving good governance.

Furthermore, it is hard to image how we can achieve the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals without using the transformative capacity of digital tools and technologies.

What do we plan to do?

The upcoming Africa-EU Summit in Abidjan on 29 and 30 November will be the opportunity to deepen our cooperation on digital matters with our African partners, so that Digital4Development can become a core part of our cooperation for the coming years. But we are also eager to pursue these efforts with all partners across the globe.

The European Commission will boost its support for the development of national regulatory frameworks that enable competition, consumer protection and investment in cross-border backbone infrastructure. We will also mainstream digital skills into EU support for education, notably through our highly successful Erasmus programme and through public-private partnerships focused on digital skills. The EU will support start-up ecosystems in African countries and encourage cooperation with EU start-ups on joint projects. The new External Investment Plan will also help to promote digital projects.

Last but not least, the EU will use digital tools and technologies in priority areas such as governance, agriculture, health, education and financial inclusion, by helping developing countries to deploy functional e-services.

Digital4Development is vital to implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and ensuring that digital technologies become a powerful driver for transformation across the board for the benefit of everyone.