Thu | Dec 7, 2023

UNDP helping Jamaica close the digital divide

Published:Friday | April 21, 2023 | 12:21 AMChristopher Serju/Senior Gleaner Writer
Deputy regional director for the United Nations Development Programme Latin America and the Caribbean, Linda Maguire, speaks during Wednesday’s closing event of the project ‘Advancing Jamaica’s Digital  Response to COVID-1’.
Deputy regional director for the United Nations Development Programme Latin America and the Caribbean, Linda Maguire, speaks during Wednesday’s closing event of the project ‘Advancing Jamaica’s Digital Response to COVID-1’.

Jamaica is poised to benefit further as the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP) moves to expand its digital footprint in the region, deputy regional chair for the UNDP Latin American and the Caribbean, Linda Maguire, disclosed on Wednesday.

“UNDP just signed late last year a memorandum of understanding with CARICOM (Caribbean Community) where digitalisation is a key component ... We do understand that digital transformation is essential to Vision 2030. So please count on us, we are your partners in this journey and we are fully committed to helping you make that transformation,” she assured during Wednesday’s closing event for the project ‘Advancing Jamaica’s Digital Response to COVID-19.

The support provided by UNDP through a grant of US$350,000 resulted in 17 Internet sites including community centres and schools now connected or reconnected to the World Wide Web. To achieve this, it partnered with the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology and its universal fund to close the digital divide from two important angles.

These are, evidence-based policy insights that can strengthen Jamaica’s digital divide and through the support for broadband access to select communities largely cut off from the digital world.

According to UNDP resident representative for Jamaica, Denise Antonio, this also means that the government is now equipped with high-level insights into Jamaica’s digital strengths and opportunities to undertake targetted investments and intervention to accelerate the country’s digital transformation.

“Happily, the WiFi installations are positively impacting thousands, including thousands who need to access studies, learning groups and resources, as well as persons who need to transact business. Digital access has opened a world of opportunities by improving ease of business, accelerating transactions and improving delivery of essential public services which are triggers for growth,” she told the function.

“Importantly, broadband access is a vital tool for preparing future leaders to bring a tech savvy and innovative mindset to solving future challenges,” Antonio added.

Despite all these positives, however, with more than 40 per cent of Jamaica’s population still having no access to the Internet and of that number, only nine per cent having access to broadband, there is still a lot of work to be done, she pointed out.

“Persistent inequalities have created a greater digital divide among rural and low-income communities, leaving many excluded from vital digital public services and opportunities,” Antonio disclosed.

However, she said the Digital Readiness Assessment report contains vital insights for addressing these lags, while accelerating Jamaica’s digital transformation agenda. Some of these recommendations include:

• Adopting proactive policies to increase the availability of IT professionals in the country

• Increasing support for innovative companies, digital transformation and start-up

• Mainstreaming inclusivity in all digital policies and projects for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, indigenous groups, people with special needs, women and rural communities.

Antonio also announced that a key recommendation of the Digital Readiness Report is to conduct a National Digital Skills Gap analysis which is scheduled for completion by June 2023. This analysis will identify the skill-sets required to advance Jamaica’s digital transformation.

“I commend the Government of Jamaica for the strategic push towards digitalisation, driven by evidence and anchored in policy. To this end, UND remains committed to supporting Jamaica’s medium-term socio-economic policy framework (2021-2024) and 2030 National Development Plan which anchor provisions for digitalisation as a key priority and development driver in Jamaica.

“I can assure you that the UNPD is ready to serve on other legs of Jamaica’s journey to ensure that no one – whether rural, poor, child, person with disability or elderly, is left behind in a digitally accessible Jamaica.”