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As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday activities in Latin America, it accelerated a shift toward digitization across diverse sectors. The impressive adoption of digital technologies in commerce, education, and health care may well have permanently changed public behavior, from online purchasing to telemedicine, in a region that had long lagged behind in its adoption of digital technologies. Amid the pandemic’s economic ruin, this transformation offers promising opportunities for post-pandemic recovery.

The question now is how Latin American governments build upon the changes that have taken place and create incentives for further digitization, encourage private investment, protect online privacy and improve cybersecurity in ways that speed the region’s economic recovery and diversification.

Taking advantage of digitization will not be straightforward, frictionless, or cheap. Though regional internet access has doubled since 2010, Latin America has not overcome its digital divide; a third of Latin Americans still lack regular internet access. The situation is worse in rural areas, where millions of low-income students have struggled to study remotely during the long months of lockdown. High levels of informality in Latin America’s labor force represent another obstacle; on average, only 20 percent of jobs can be done remotely, compared to 41 percent in the United States. To promote further digitization and seize on economic opportunities, Latin American governments will need to partner with the private sector to improve online privacy and cybersecurity; dramatically expand online commerce; and build a workforce suited for the digital economy.

To explore strategies that Latin American governments could adopt to deepen the process of digital transformation, the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program hosted a seminar series. Speakers included senior public officials from across the region and executives from leading global and Latin American technology companies. These seminars addressed digital trade; technology workforce challenges and opportunities; the future of financial technology; remote education; and privacy and cybersecurity.

Image - Going Digital: The Promise of Blockchain and Decentralized Finance in Latin America

Going Digital: The Promise of Fintech in Latin America

As Latin America looks beyond the pandemic, the region’s fintech sector, from start-ups to behemoths, is turning its attention to the challenges and opportunities of financial inclusion. Goals include reducing the cost of remittances — perhaps through the use of cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other blockchain adoptions — and offering technologies that appeal to individuals who have no ties to formal financial institutions, or to those who seek more efficient and transparent methods to conduct financial transactions.

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Image - Latin American Digital Leaders on the Future of Digital Media

Going Digital: Latin American Digital Leaders on the Future of Digital Media

Latin America’s digital transformation faces obstacles, including the region’s stubborn “digital divide” and an inadequate digital workforce. In many parts of the region, however, well-designed regulations and growing government and private sector investment in worker training, connectivity and innovation are accelerating this encouraging process. In this webinar, senior South American officials on the front lines of the region’s digital transformation discussed how governments can use telecommunications policy to accelerate digitalization in Latin America.

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Fintech Latam poor

Uruguay’s Technology Sector and the Future of Fintech in Latin America

What is the future of fintech in Latin America? How will expanding access to financial services help the region recover from the pandemic? How can governments replicate Uruguay’s success in attracting talent and investment to its technology sector? This program discussed lessons from Uruguay’s technology sector and the implications for fintech in Latin America.

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Workers with face masks at computers.

Latin America’s Digital Workforce

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everyday activities in Latin America, it accelerated a shift toward digitization across diverse sectors. The question now is how Latin American governments build upon these changes and create incentives for further digitization, encourage private investment, maintain and expand a skilled digital workforce, protect online privacy, and improve cybersecurity in ways that speed the region’s economic recovery and diversification.

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Person making a credit card purchase with computer

The Future of Digital Trade in Latin America

Latin American governments must overcome major obstacles to reap the full benefits of digitalization. Countries must modernize regulatory systems to promote innovation while protecting privacy and safeguarding cybersecurity.

Man pushing thumb on fingerprint machine

Privacy & Cybersecurity in Latin America

This program addressed how Latin American governments and private sector actors could better collaborate to protect digital privacy, improve cybersecurity and sustain the region’s digital transformation.

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Two girls sitting in front of a computer in the rural outdoors.

Getting Closer to Distance Learning: Online Education in Latin America

This event addressed how education technology can provide long-term solutions for the region’s educational challenges, the advantages and limitations of online education in Latin America, and its post-pandemic prospects. This event was also sponsored by Zoom.

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Images - Latin America’s Digital Divide

Latin America's Digital Divide: Overcoming Persistent Gaps

Only 45.5 percent of Latin American households have broadband access, and the average gap in internet usage between the top and bottom quintile of earners is about 40 percent. The rural-urban divide is also stark. In urban areas, 67 percent of households are connected, while in rural areas, the figure is only 23 percent. This event discussed these gaps along with strategies for overcoming them.

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Digital Services Latam

Turning to Technology in Latin America’s Pandemic Response

As the COVID-19 pandemic exposed deep deficiencies in public health and social welfare systems across Latin America, it nudged governments to experiment with new technologies to boost administrative and service-delivery capacity. To address urgent public health and economic needs, the officials responsible for digital innovation took center stage, spurring the rapid adoption of telemedicine, distance education technologies, e-payments, virtual legislating, remote justice, and contact tracing.

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This series was co-sponsored by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI).

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