Latest fraudulent alert - last updated on Apr 2023. To find out more information and how to protect yourself, please click here.

Investment Institute

Bridging society’s digital divide: How investors can help

  • 08 November 2022 (7 min read)

Key points:

  • There is a growing ‘connectivity canyon’ between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not
  • This can have a significant impact on education, employment, healthcare and more, holding back economic growth and deepening social inequalities
  • Investors can play a role in helping address this digital divide

It may seem hard to believe for those of us who take digital connectivity for granted but around a third of the world’s population still has no access to the internet.1

A recent report from the United Nations found a “growing connectivity canyon emerging between the hyperconnected and the digitally destitute” – with the digital divide creating a significant gap between those who have access to digital technology and all the benefits that it brings, and those who do not.

The Global Connectivity Report 2022 also says while 2.9 billion people have no access to the internet, hundreds of millions more are only able to access expensive, poor quality services.

Unsurprisingly, internet use levels in low-income countries remains far below that of high-income nations, at 22% versus 91%, and the share of internet users is twice as high in urban areas as in rural areas. There is also a gender divide – globally, 62% of men use the internet, compared to 57% of women.

Not having access to the world wide web can have serious implications for education, employment, healthcare, entrepreneurship and more – holding back economic growth and deepening social and global inequalities.

Over $1trn is estimated to have been lost in economic potential due to the digital gender gap alone.2 And countries with higher rates of digitalisation had more resilient economies during the COVID-19 pandemic than those with lower rates of internet use.3

A need for infrastructure and services

Investors can play an important part in helping address this challenge and potentially narrow the digital divide, by directing their capital towards companies operating in a variety of sectors.

At the heart of the issue is access to technology and the infrastructure needed to create connectivity. Digital inclusion means making technology accessible to everyone – and while the cost of smartphones and digital devices is becoming lower in real terms, getting online is still expensive, particularly in some developing economies.

This is where companies like Helios Towers come in – the UK-based telecoms company builds and operates telecommunication towers in African countries, that provide much-needed voice and data services to people and businesses in areas with little or no fixed line infrastructure. In Europe, Infrastrutture Wireless Italiane (INWIT) provides connectivity for rural areas and during COVID-19 helped hospitals to develop remote care.4

Once people are online, there is still a need for services that directly address underserved populations. For example, nearly a quarter of people do not have bank accounts5 , but companies like Bank Rakyat in Indonesia provide digital banking services that can be accessed by smartphones, helping people to set up and grow businesses, giving them better financial prospects for themselves and their families, and contributing to their countries’ economic growth. Micro-businesses are increasingly able to accept online and card payments as companies like Square have entered the market, helping sellers to scale up their businesses and become more economically empowered.

Digital literacy goes hand-in-hand

But it’s not just in emerging markets where the digital divide exists. In the US, some 24 million people lack access to high-speed internet, and many more are not online, for example as they lack digital literacy.6

Having sufficient skills to use technology is crucial. The World Economic Forum predicts that nine out of 10 jobs will require digital skills by 2030 – but even in Europe, almost half the population – 42% - lacks even basic digital skills.7 This is an important element of the digital divide, which governments are taking steps to address. In July, US President Joe Biden announced more than $400m in loans and grants to support high-speed internet projects for rural US communities, while in Europe, the European Skills Agenda and the Digital Education Action Plan are among the European Commission’s policies aiming to address this problem.8

In the private sector, education providers such as IDP Education use online learning to help students not only improve digital skills but also study to achieve their ambitions, for example giving students in emerging markets the access and flexibility to learn English and placing them in universities around the world.

A need for global investment

Ensuring that the internet is accessible to the majority of people within the next five years needs $2.1trn of investment, according to the World Economic Forum.9 This includes developing digital solutions in areas such as healthcare, education and financial services, as well as teaching digital skills.

Yet as the cost-of-living crisis persists, there is a risk that more people will be forced offline as they prioritise spending on other areas including housing, food and energy.

Governments and corporates need to work together to help drive digital transformation, for example by investing in upgrading and expanding digital infrastructure, putting in place regulation to build competitive markets and to keep internet users safe, but also investing in education and digital skills.

Backing companies operating in these areas is a way for investors to participate in narrowing the digital divide, while aiming to achieve financial returns. And it is only through creating a more connected world that we will have digital equality, coupled with greater entrepreneurship, financial inclusion, and ultimately a stronger more sustainable global economy.

  • R2xvYmFsIENvbm5lY3Rpdml0eSBSZXBvcnQgMjAyMiAoaXR1LmludCk=
  • VGhlIENvc3RzIG9mIEV4Y2x1c2lvbiDigJMgRWNvbm9taWMgQ29uc2VxdWVuY2VzIG9mIHRoZSBEaWdpdGFsIEdlbmRlciBHYXAsIEFsbGlhbmNlIGZvciBBZmZvcmRhYmxlIEludGVybmV0LCAyMDIy
  • VGhlIGVjb25vbWljIGltcGFjdCBvZiBicm9hZGJhbmQgYW5kIGRpZ2l0aXphdGlvbiB0aHJvdWdoIHRoZSBDT1ZJRC0xOSBwYW5kZW1pYywgVW5pdGVkIE5hdGlvbnMgSW50ZXJuYXRpb25hbCBUZWxlY29tbXVuaWNhdGlvbiBVbmlvbiwgMjAyMQ==
  • SU5XSVQgYWxvbmdzaWRlIGhvc3BpdGFscyBpbiB0aGUgZmlnaHQgYWdhaW5zdCBDb3ZpZC0xOSDigJMgSU5XSVQ=
  • R2xvYmFsIGFjY291bnQgb3duZXJzaGlwIHN0b29kIGF0IDc2JSBpbiAyMDIxOiBUaGUgR2xvYmFsIEZpbmRleCBEYXRhYmFzZSAyMDIxICh3b3JsZGJhbmsub3JnKQ==
  • VGhlIGRpZ2l0YWwgZGl2aWRlOiBBcmUgVVMgc3RhdGVzIGNsb3NpbmcgdGhlIGdhcD8gfCBNY0tpbnNleQ==
  • Sm9icyB3aWxsIGJlIHZlcnkgZGlmZmVyZW50IGluIDEwIHllYXJzLiBIZXJl4oCZcyBob3cgdG8gcHJlcGFyZSwgV29ybGQgRWNvbm9taWMgRm9ydW0gMjAyMCAvIFNoYXBpbmcgRXVyb3Bl4oCZcyBEaWdpdGFsIEZ1dHVyZSwgRXVyb3BlYW4gQ29tbWlzc2lvbiwgMjAyMg==
  • QmlkZW4gYWRtaW5pc3RyYXRpb24gYW5ub3VuY2VzICQ0MDAgbWlsbGlvbiBpbnZlc3RtZW50IGluIGhpZ2gtc3BlZWQgaW50ZXJuZXQgZm9yIHJ1cmFsIGNvbW11bml0aWVzIC0gQ05OUG9saXRpY3MgLyBFdXJvcGVhbiBTa2lsbHMgQWdlbmRhLCBFdXJvcGVhbiBDb21taXNzaW9uIC8gRGlnaXRhbCBFZHVjYXRpb24gQWN0aW9uIFBsYW4sIEV1cm9wZWFuIENvbW1pc3Npb24=
  • VGhpcyBpcyBob3cgdG8gZmluYW5jZSBkaWdpdGFsIGluY2x1c2lvbiB8IFdvcmxkIEVjb25vbWljIEZvcnVtICh3ZWZvcnVtLm9yZyk=

Related Articles


Understanding and responding to the human cost of the green energy transition

  • by Virginie Derue
  • 12 July 2023 (15 min read)

Green, Social and Sustainability Bonds Q&A Part One: Digging into details on green bonds

  • by Johann Plé , Edgar Mehrabyan
  • 07 June 2023 (5 min read)

Should companies do more to ease the cost-of-living crisis?

  • by Hans Stoter
  • 20 December 2022 (7 min read)


    This website is published by AXA Investment Managers Asia Limited (“AXA IM HK”), an entity licensed by the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong (“SFC”), for general circulation and informational purposes only. It does not constitute investment research or financial analysis relating to transactions in financial instruments, nor does it constitute on the part of AXA Investment Managers or its affiliated companies an offer to buy, sell or enter into any transactions in respect of any investments, products or services, and should not be considered as solicitation or investment, legal, tax or any other advice, a recommendation for an investment strategy or a personalised recommendation to buy or sell securities under any applicable law or regulation. It has been prepared without taking into account the specific personal circumstances, investment objectives, financial situation, investment knowledge or particular needs of any particular person and may be subject to change at any time without notice. Offering may be made only on the basis of the information disclosed in the relevant offering documents. Please consult independent financial or other professional advisers if you are unsure about any information contained herein.

    Due to its simplification, this publication is partial and opinions, estimates and forecasts herein are subjective and subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee such opinions, estimates and forecasts made will come to pass. Actual results of operations and achievements may differ materially. Data, figures, declarations, analysis, predictions and other information in this publication is provided based on our state of knowledge at the time of creation of this publication. Information herein may be obtained from sources believed to be reliable. AXA IM HK has reasonable belief that such information is accurate, complete and up-to-date. To the maximum extent permitted by law, AXA IM HK, its affiliates, directors, officers or employees take no responsibility for the data provided by third party, including the accuracy of such data. This material does not contain sufficient information to support an investment decision. References to companies (if any) are for illustrative purposes only and should not be viewed as investment recommendations or solicitations.

    All investment involves risk, including the loss of capital. The value of investments and the income from them can fluctuate and that past performance is no guarantee of future returns, investors may not get back the amount originally invested. Investors should not make any investment decision based on this material alone. 

    Some of the services listed on this Website may not be available for offer to retail investors.

    This Website has not been reviewed by the SFC. © 2023 AXA Investment Managers. All rights reserved.