Securing digital access for youth can be a driver of more resilient economies.

As the pandemic moved essential activities and services online, including education, jobs and training, the challenges for global youth to get or stay connected have only grown, and PwC took a deep dive on connecting today’s youth to the digital cultureAccording to UNICEF, one-third of the students around the world—some 463 million—were unable to access remote learning when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

This crisis represents a powerful and rare opportunity. As it rebuilds and restarts, the global community can bridge the digital divide in a way that supports sustainable prosperity, reduces disparities, delivers social value and promotes social progress, guided by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Crossing the digital divide

Four stepping stones enable youth to cross the digital divide and gain the necessary skills to thrive in a digital world. 

Connectivity: Addressing the challenge of access to reliable power and internet services, physical devices and platforms.

Access: Non-technological tools are just as important as technological ones. Youth need to have their fundamental health, dietary and safety needs met to be able to use digital tools. In the most marginalised groups, including young women and girls these elements are critical.

Digital literacy: Having access to education about how to safely and productively use digital tools is imperative. This information should include native language educational resources, awareness of online dangers and basic literacy skills.

Work-ready skills: When young people have acquired basic skills, access to advanced education, training, platforms and opportunities will allow them to progress and take full benefit from their digital skills.

Reimagining stakeholder roles

Bridging the youth digital divide is too large and complex an undertaking for individual stakeholder groups to tackle on their own. They must come together in new ways to share knowledge, build expertise, and co-create solutions in innovative, data-driven, scalable, inclusive, and locally relevant ways.

Global institutions provide subject matter and technical expertise, structure, and frameworks for understanding the global nature of the problem and best practices.

Government data and policies are fundamental to ensuring that youth are able to receive support across all four stepping stones, and to helping improve youth outcomes in an inclusive, sustainable manner aligned with broader social goals and economic growth.

Corporations and private capital have an approach to problem solving, resource allocation, and values-driven results that can bring a fresh, innovative, scalable and time-sensitive approach perspective. The wide variety of actors in this space can help advocate for, create and implement breakthrough innovations at scale that support broader policy goals.

Communities, including schools, local NGOs, religious institutions, research organisations, and other community service organisations, bring local expertise and an understanding of local needs to develop policies and solutions that are locally relevant, repeatable and culturally appropriate.

Youth and youth-serving organisations within communities play a unique role in championing, informing, designing, implementing, testing and evaluating solutions or prototypes for digitally disadvantaged youth in local communities.

With the right support, tech-savy and digitally enabled youth are in a prime position to advance innovation

In March 2020, PwC launched a three-year strategic, global collaboration with UNICEF in support of Generation Unlimited (GenU), which aims to help upskill millions of young people around the world. The collaboration focuses on convening public, private and civil society stakeholders to develop programmes and innovations that support young people in their path to productive features and engaged citizenship, and to conduct research on the global skills challenge. In addition, PwC and UNICEF, in support of GenU, are collaborating in India and South Africa to develop, expand and fund education and skills programmes for young people.

Download the full report here.