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A Digital Bridge to Social Support

Summary:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide have taken advantage of technological solutions to streamline social-protection schemes. But, for all its benefits, a digital approach to welfare programs implies an obvious risk: exclusion of those on the wrong side of the digital divide. JOHANNESBURG – For all its devastation, the COVID-19 crisis does have a silver lining: it has shone a spotlight on important policy lapses – beginning with the lack of social protection for the world’s two billion informal workers. But addressing this failure will require more than social programs; it will also require governments to bridge the digital divide. The Paradoxes of the Bangladesh Miracle

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, governments worldwide have taken advantage of technological solutions to streamline social-protection schemes. But, for all its benefits, a digital approach to welfare programs implies an obvious risk: exclusion of those on the wrong side of the digital divide.

JOHANNESBURG – For all its devastation, the COVID-19 crisis does have a silver lining: it has shone a spotlight on important policy lapses – beginning with the lack of social protection for the world’s two billion informal workers. But addressing this failure will require more than social programs; it will also require governments to bridge the digital divide.

During the pandemic, social programs supporting the “missing middle” – informal workers who are excluded from standard employment-linked social security and often do not qualify for social programs that target the very poor – relied heavily on digital technologies. Registration happened on smartphones. Governments verified beneficiaries using digital identification systems. Payments landed in e-wallets.

This welcome use of digital technology streamlined procedures and enabled workers to avoid face-to-face interactions when they applied for or collected benefits. But this approach also implies an obvious risk: exclusion of those on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The experience of informal waste reclaimers here in Johannesburg is instructive. When the South African government introduced the

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