Private Capital Required to Close the Digital Divide in Emerging Markets

28 March 2023 – Inequitable access to digital technologies has become a pressing concern as the digital divide continues to widen, according to a recent report by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA). However, Julie Wallace, the Head of Impact at LeapFrog Investments, affirms that the proliferation of affordable smartphones in emerging markets presents an enormous opportunity for growth.

  • Emerging consumers have leapfrogged desktop computers into a mobile-first internet age, where 54% of users rely on their smartphones as their primary access point for the internet, a figure that dwarfs the 15% reported in the US
  • Mobile internet users in the Asia Pacific now exceed 1.2 billion, around 45% of the region’s population
  • LeapFrog’s Wealth & Health Index (“The Index”) reveals that smartphone penetration is increasing among emerging consumers, which has positive implications for healthcare and financial inclusion, and expands access to microloans and digital payments.  

Julie Wallace, the Head of Impact at LeapFrog Investments, comments: “Two of our portfolio companies, JUMO and Interswitch, are leveraging smartphone penetration to reach low-income consumers and drive business innovation. The focus must now be on ensuring that low-income and marginalized communities are not left behind, and companies must strive to make digital solutions accessible and affordable for all. Product development and business models need refinement to reduce barriers and support improved outcomes for more low-income consumers.”

To reach the digitally excluded, companies could use on-the-ground agent networks, craft easy-to-use digital platforms for those with low literacy or digital familiarity, and market low-cost digital solutions to rural and elderly populations. The Index found that optimism amongst respondents bodes well for emerging market growth, and that innovation across global growth markets is delivering on the promise of the digital revolution of technology to create models that service and address the needs of low-income consumers in emerging markets.

ABOUT LEAPFROG INVESTMENTS: LeapFrog invests in healthcare, financial services and climate solutions businesses in high-growth global markets. Its companies deliver distinctive impact and robust returns, growing on average 27 per cent a year. LeapFrog companies now reach 422 million people in 30 countries. The firm has raised billions of dollars from global institutional investors, including a USD $500m recent commitment by Temasek to LeapFrog and its growth equity funds. LeapFrog was ranked by Fortune as one of the top five Companies to Change the World, the first private investment firm ever listed.

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