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State of Digital Inequity: Civil Society Perspectives on Barriers to Progress in our Digitizing World (2023)

Posted on:
February 27, 2023

Based on survey responses from 7500+ participants across 136 countries, this report provides the largest ever mapping of the digital barriers facing civil society organizations — and those faced by the communities they serve. It provides data across a range of issues, including access, affordability, digital skills, policy, and funding for digital equity efforts.

Report launch webinar:

Recommendations for civil society, governments & policy makers, philanthropy, and corporations:

Civil society

Governments, policymakers and regulators

  • Form a multi-stakeholder task force to advise government and regulatory authorities on digital infrastructure development, deployment, and the role civil society and other organizations can play to advance digital equity. Here are some policy resources from Mozilla.
  • Establish transparency mechanisms through Open Telecom Data policy and regulation to map the availability of internet infrastructure to identify areas that need more investment, where backhaul can be found, and provide a foundation for public engagement on access issues.
  • Invest more and differently to advance digital equity. Market-based approaches have failed too many people. Explore models that are successfully connecting the unconnected; invest in unbiased policy advice; support specialized intermediaries that can get communities investment-ready; fully deploy Universal Service & Access Funds (USAFs), and adopt models like those used for Green Banks, providing unsecured loans to internet service providers who are willing and able to end the digital divide in your country.
  • Ensure that laws encourage community connectivity providers such as community or municipal networks to operate. Ensure that they are eligible for USAFs, have access to spectrum, and can benefit from accelerated licensing and authorization processes.


  • Understand how digital inequity impacts your grantees. Our digital privilege can blind us to how painful persistent digital divides are for many others who are less connected. Talk to your grantees about their needs and ask how you can help. Consider conducting workshops or surveys (or re-run this one) so you have your own data to work with. Educate your team and board so they fully understand the reality of digital inequity and how it impedes your grantees and ultimately your mission. If you’d like help facilitating this, reach out.
  • Learn how your peers are helping their grantees to overcome digital barriers. Consider joining or starting a donor learning community, check out CIRA’s guide to funding digital equity, and explore TAG’s information on supporting civil society’s technology needs.
  • Get started and learn as you go. This issue can’t wait. Grantmakers need to stop assuming others will solve this problem and start investing in digital equity. There are many ways to begin. For instance, you could offer one-time capacity-building grants for your grantees to develop a digital strategy; add a line item for tech in every grant so your partners have the digital tools they need; develop program related investments (PRIs) for critical digital infrastructure. Of course, you can also invest in the many brilliant organizations working directly to close digital divides. Figure out what works for you and your mission, and get started.

Private Sector

  • Build digital equity into your ESG. The digital divide has negative environmental, social, and governance implications — in addition to being bad for business and the economy. Working digital equity investments and partnerships into your ESG portfolio can mitigate numerous risks while expanding markets. Read articles from the World Economic Forum and Global Business Coalition for Education to learn more.
  • Make digital equity investments as part of your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Many corporate offices and distribution centers are significantly better connected than the surrounding communities where employees live. Consider partnerships like Santander Consumer USA and Compudopt that leverages existing infrastructure to increase connectivity.
  • Speak up for Digital Equity. Connectivity gaps, like all infrastructure failures, limit access to markets and increase the costs of business. These gaps persist in large part because traditional providers often don’t invest in low-income and rural communities. But there are other community-based models that are. Provide political and financial backing for models like these to grow economic opportunities, future customers, and human progress.

This report is based on a survey conducted in partnership between Connect Humanity and TechSoup, and with additional distribution from CIVICUS, FORUS, NTEN, and WINGS.

The survey questions are available to download. If you are a researcher interested in access to the raw, anonymized survey data, please email to discuss.


Based on survey responses from 7500+ participants across 136 countries, this report provides the largest ever mapping of the digital barriers facing civil society organizations — and those faced by the communities they serve.