Inequality in a wide variety of circumstances and arenas is a pervasive problem across the world. These issues have been all the more underscored during the pandemic. One frequently cited issue is that of tech accessibility. As the world has gone largely digital to prevent the spread of contagion, it has become increasingly clear that too many people don’t have the means to access critical technologies necessary for working and learning.
But rather than contributing to the problem, what if tech could be a solution? That’s what businesses, developers, and others around the globe have also been considering even before the pandemic. Innovations can be leveraged to address many of the inequalities that have plagued too many societies since the dawn of time. Here are a few of the many ways technology is helping combat these issues.
Traditionally, smaller vendors — those without the backing, funding, and advertising that huge corporations enjoy — have had trouble competing with larger businesses. But e-commerce platforms are working to change that, giving these organizations more exposure and means to sell their goods and services.
Take Taobao.com, for example. Part of the Alibaba Group, this huge online marketplace is particularly popular in countries with emerging economies and enables small vendors to sell their products. One advantage of using the platform is that there aren’t steep intermediary charges that many larger companies have.
According to the World Economic Forum, Taobao and other e-commerce platforms disproportionately benefit small businesses in rural and remote areas, giving them the opportunity to connect with customers around the world and earn income. Moreover, customers in smaller regions can also have access to goods and services they wouldn’t have been able to receive previously.
When people consider inequality, economic disparities are often one of the first issues that come to mind. But many fintech solutions are aiming to address these problems.
There are many innovations fintech offers aiming to address economic inequalities. Take alternative credit and lending tools, which use methods of assessing creditworthiness aside from credit history, something many lower-income people and those in countries with emerging economies often don’t have. These platforms assess creditworthiness via data like digital presence instead, allowing these individuals and businesses to secure loans quickly and easily.
Fintech tools can also be used to educate people about finance, as well as offer banking solutions to those who may not have physical institutions in their areas. Online banking, of course, is becoming a go-to method of managing money and earning interest, enabling those without access to brick-and-mortar locations to enjoy these tools. Additionally, people are increasingly turning to apps and e-advisors for tips on how to manage their money.
Educational access is an enormous problem. The pandemic has made this very clear — many students lack the devices and/or wifi connection to attend class on Zoom. This issue still requires additional work to resolve, although some companies are stepping up to offer free internet connections to households with students, while many schools are providing laptops to students.
Even before the pandemic, organizations were building edtech solutions to address global inequalities. For example, schools in lower-income and rural areas often aren’t able to offer high-quality resources or training for educators.
But organizations like YouChange Foundation are seeking to address the issue — the nonprofit has encouraged schools in large cities like Beijing to install cameras to allow schools in low-income and rural areas to watch lessons remotely.
Edtech, particularly assistive technology, can also be used to help students with learning disabilities. One example is speech-to-text tools, which translate spoken words into visual text. This is useful for learners who have trouble processing language auditorily. And that’s just one-way assistive technology is benefiting people with learning differences.
Open Access Resources
Going hand-in-hand with educational access are open-access resources. The open-access movement aims to make textbooks, journals, platforms, data, and tools available to a wide audience. These resources are free of charge to download and use. They also have less restrictive copyright policies and licenses, enabling educators and professionals to leverage them in their classrooms and other arenas without legal barriers.
Some educators are using these resources to replace textbooks, which are often exorbitantly expensive for students. Another advantage is that everyone has access to information they would have been able to see or use previously.
One advantage of the pandemic is that it’s increasing the prevalence of remote work opportunities. But even before COVID-19, the work-from-home model was gaining popularity and traction for businesses and organizations across many different sectors.
How does this help address inequality? First, people in areas that don’t have many businesses or facilities where they can work are able to secure jobs they can do entirely from home. Thanks to tools like videoconferencing and messaging platforms, they are still able to stay in contact with their colleagues.
Another example is the fact that the increase in remote job opportunities can help promote gender inclusivity in the workforce. Women are disproportionately responsible for childcare and familial responsibilities, something that has been underscored by the pandemic, and the ability to work remotely better enables them to juggle both work and family responsibilities.
Technological innovations across finance, education, career development, and other industries are changing the landscape for the better, improving access and equality for many individuals and businesses. But there is much more work to be done in terms of addressing economic, gender, racial, geographic, learning, and other barriers that contribute to an unequal world and unequal opportunities.
In the future, we are likely to see more investment in technologies and tools that attempt to combat inequalities that are unfortunately continuing to impact too many people in too many societies.