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Public Policy

Sprinting towards a more equitable and sustainable future

Editor's Note: Today, Google is launching the Portulans Institute’s first global Future Readiness Economic Index at the 2022 United Nations General Assembly. This report covers 124 economies, is designed to help countries accelerate digital transformation, and a new online tool will allow anyone to assess how stronger, sustainable and inclusive growth can be achieved.

The world continues to face a great deal of uncertainty. The pandemic touched every corner of the globe; conflicts have wreaked havoc on food security and energy prices; and climate-related disasters are becoming all too frequent. Being prepared for uncertainty and ready to adapt to current and future challenges is more essential than ever.

Central to this idea of readiness is digital transformation — no longer seen as a luxury, but a necessity. We have witnessed unprecedented technological advancements in the last few decades that have brought us closer together and made our societies and economies more interconnected. New possibilities have emerged from the digital revolution, including new ways to address long-standing challenges and the promise of a more equitable and sustainable future. Despite the acceleration of digital transformation that we’ve seen, there are still numerous issues to address before technology’s potential can be fully realized.

“The Digital Sprinters”

With this context in mind, we launched our Digital Sprinters initiative in November 2020, aiming to provide a blueprint for emerging countries to accelerate their digital transformation.

As we shared in our Digital Sprinters 2020 report and framework, digital transformation will require investment by governments and the private sector in infrastructure, people, technological innovation and public policies:

  • Infrastructure: Investing in digital connectivity and secure and environmentally sustainable infrastructure. It’s not just about investment but also how the infrastructure is managed.
  • People: Preparing people across all communities for the jobs of the future.
  • Technological innovation: Deploying technological innovation that can unlock new opportunities. Increasing the use of data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing, which empower the growth of next-generation technologies. This means new opportunities alongside new questions about how best to harness these technologies.
  • Public policies: Supporting a regulatory ecosystem that promotes competitiveness. Advancing policies that encourage competitive and open markets, interoperable regulatory standards, and tax regimes that are predictable and based on international standards.

The Future Readiness Economic Index

Building on the Digital Sprinters framework, in 2021 Google commissioned the Portulans Institute’s first edition of the Future Readiness Economic Index (FREI). The index gives governments, businesses and analysts comprehensive metrics and milestones to assess their digital transformation.

That original index focused on 27 countries — but future readiness matters globally. That’s why today we’re launching Portulans Institute’s first global Future Readiness Economic Index at the 2022 United Nations General Assembly. The report covers 124 economies and helps countries in assessing how ready they are for the future, and how they can accelerate their digital transformation for stronger, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Assessing trends is an inexact science. But by breaking down the data in critical areas like infrastructure, talent development, skills matching, and technology adoption, the Future Readiness Economic Index can help countries focus their efforts to get the biggest returns on investment. For example, the Index suggests that the United Arab Emirates, which ranks 27th globally on the Index, could sprint ahead by encouraging greater research and innovation in emerging digital technologies like cloud, AI and machine learning; while Mexico, which ranks 62nd on the index, would benefit from expanding Internet access and bandwidth, as well as improve energy consumption efficiency.

This year’s report is accompanied by an online tool that will allow anyone interested in digital transformation to simulate, compare and assess how it can be achieved.

Seizing the opportunity to sprint ahead

Generally speaking, the most future ready economies are mostly high-income countries, with Singapore leading the world in this regard. Those that score highly all have in common solid institutions and infrastructure, and good all-around performances across all FREI pillars.

Many emerging countries are lagging in future readiness — held back by weaknesses across all four pillars. Accelerating digital transformation would be a game changer for such countries. In fact, according to a Digital Sprinters study by the strategic economics consultancy AlphaBeta, accelerating digital transformation could add half a trillion dollars to the annual GDP of three African countries (Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa), and over a trillion dollars to the annual GDP of the six largest economies in Latin America, by 2030. In this journey emerging countries have a key advantage. Unlike more developed economies, they can leapfrog ahead, building advanced tools from scratch rather than upgrading or replacing outdated legacy infrastructure.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to becoming future-ready. Countries should pick and choose the tools best suited to their needs and objectives. The Index provides some objective comparisons to help determine which policies, technologies, and balance of human capital, infrastructure and other critical elements might work best.

By highlighting the gaps in policy, technology, human capital and physical capital, the Future Readiness Economic Index is aimed at providing governments around the world with insights on both challenges and opportunities. We hope it can equip them with some helpful tools to spur future progress.

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