Winners & losers in the world digital economy

Relative developmental pace of digital infrastructures

We’re now in the midst of a tectonic shift in the global digital economy

Our CEO/Creative Director, Kyle Mani, recently posted the Digital Evolution Index graphic, below, from the Fletcher School at Tufts University on OWDT social media.

It integrates four primary drivers to highlight the relative developmental pace of digital infrastructures in 50 countries—

  • Supply-side factors (e.g., Internet access and transactions infrastructure);
  • Demand-side factors (e.g., consumer trends + financial/ Internet/social media talent);
  • Innovations (e.g., entrepreneurial and technological vitality + friendly/unfriendly startup environments);
  • Institutions (e.g., governmental promotion or lack thereof in building the digital ecosystem).

STAND OUT nations, at the forefront digital capacity/speed, are holding their own (e.g. Shanghai). –Others are beginning to STALL OUT (e.g., the Netherlands and several other First World economies). Because Stall Out countries are often beset with aging, shrinking populations–they will need to import more talented, young immigrants to improve both innovation and increase demand for products and services. BREAK OUT countries, by comparison, are advancing rapidly (e.g., Malaysia). –Finally, WATCH OUT countries have potential but can’t seem to advance because of inflexible institutions and other impediments (this includes, e.g., Egypt, Kenya and even some European countries like Portugal and Hungary).


A group of 50 countries reveals four main areas of digital readiness.




Consistent with their healthy economic growth, many countries in Asia and Latin America are moving forward rapidly in building their digital economies. So why is Singapore still advancing rapidly while The Netherlands falls behind? Since 2008, Singapore has continued to nurture public-private partnerships. By comparison, The Netherlands instituted austerity measures in 2010 that reduced such investment. Clearly, even when government revenue is down, cutting that kind of investment is unwise. The same could be said for the U.S. lack of investment in its physical infrastructure.

What’s at stake?

Those nations breaking out of Second World status will benefit greatly by investing in digital tech infrastructure. Cash-only economies like Egypt and Nigeria need to facilitate online payment systems. Emerging middle classes in those countries will grow more rapidly as their digital business options expand–and help those living in poverty advance beyond subsistence living. This creates great potential for unprecedented investment in Third World economies

Next, I’ll discuss the major tech corporations now laying the groundwork for providing Internet access to the 5 billion people on the planet who are still offline.

Unprecedented investment in third world digital infrastructure

In 2014, FB’s Mark Zuckerberg bought WhatsApp (a minimal fee messaging service) with the objective of getting in at the ground level one of the greatest entrepreneurial opportunities of all time. He exemplifies the broad movement among American and European tech giant leaders now working to introduce the Internet to the 5 billion people on the planet who are not yet online.

The digital economy is no longer growing fastest in the richest nations

We’re now in the midst of a tectonic shift in the global digital economy. At the end of 2014, the seven biggest emerging markets were already larger than that of G7 economies of Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, and the United States combined. In addition, Asia-Pacific region consumers are now spending more online than North American consumers.

A standout player in this revolution is the German company, Rocket Internet—with the stated mission of becoming the world’s largest e-commerce Internet platform outside of China and the U.S. They are facing competition from other emerging competitors aspiring to become new global Alibabas and Amazons. They include Jumia, which operates in Africa; Namshi in the Middle East; Lazada and Zalora in Southeast Asia; Jabong in India; and, finally, Kaymu in 33 markets across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Even in cash transaction-based economies like India, Indonesia and Columbia, billions of dollars are being invested in e-commerce. But how can e-commerce work in societies where credit cards and PayPal are rarely used? Corporations like Amazon are deftly working with and around cash-based transactions in those countries, ready to quickly move forward when their consumers are able to pay for products online.

The future

Where is all this taking us? Potential investors need to understand that the next several billion consumers coming online will be making their purchase decisions via mobile devices. This presents a significantly different dynamic from how the first billion consumers began making e-commerce purchases. —The key to success in this new business paradigm is cross-cultural savvy combined with the IT skills to make it all come together. As the rest of the world catches up with the Europe and the U.S, Western tech giants like FB, Amazon and Google will be able to expand into new markets and product areas while helping to adapt to and create a new International business culture.

At a micro level, we at OWDT have experienced the benefits of a multi-cultural team. Similarly, Internet giants in the years ahead will need that kind of diversity of experience and creativity to customize their strategies for the complex global market—one that will continue to operate at different speeds, with different institutional and other constraints from country to country.