Digital inclusion

Digital Inclusion Charter: Tackling the digital divide in Belgium

Linde Verheyden, Director Public Affairs, BNP Paribas Fortis
  • Society is becoming increasingly digital but not everyone can participate.
  • A coalition of 35 public, private and social organizations called DigitAll, the Digital Inclusion Alliance (previously known as the Digital Inclusion Ecosystem) is working to bridge the digital divide.
  • 29 organizations and three governments signed the Digital Inclusion Charter on September 14, 2021.

The digital divide: still a major challenge in Belgium

Digital inequality leads to social exclusion. This is the conclusion of the King Baudouin Foundation’s Digital Inclusion Barometer (June 2020). As many as one in 10 Belgian households have no internet access. For low-income families, this figure rises to almost three in 10. Many people’s digital skills are either non-existent or inadequate, and as many as 40% are at risk of digital exclusion. Finally, the report also points out inequalities in the use of essential services. Some 57% of Belgians with a low level of education, for example, have never used the internet to submit essential documents to the government. At a time when digital tools are becoming increasingly important, the digital divide is a major barrier to social integration among the most vulnerable.

Tackling the problem with DigitAll, the Digital Inclusion Alliance

The Digital Inclusion Ecosystem was launched in 2020 with a variety of representatives from businesses, social organizations and public authorities. It started as a coalition of 24 organizations that want to tackle digital exclusion in our society by identifying and working on various digital challenges in a coordinated manner. In the meantime, the ecosystem has expanded to 35 organizations and has a new name: DigitAll. It is currently working on three specific projects:

  1. A national awareness campaign to highlight the importance of digital inclusion;
  2. A digital inclusion-by-design index; and
  3. A mobile solution enabling social organizations to address hard-to-reach target groups.

DigitAll’s first key initiative: the Digital Inclusion Charter

The first major step taken by DigitAll, which has BNP Paribas Fortis and Proximus as its main partners, has been to launch a Digital Inclusion Charter. The charter aims to put the digital divide in Belgium higher up on everyone’s agenda, to increase dialogue between stakeholders and to improve digital products and services.

On September 14, 29 DigitAll representatives and government officials came together to sign the charter. Deputy Prime Minister Petra De Sutter, Minister Bernard Clerfayt and Minister Isabelle Weykmans represented Belgium’s Federal Government, the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region and the Government of the German-speaking Community, respectively.

By signing the charter, the signatories confirmed their commitment to promoting digital inclusion in Belgium. The charter will facilitate the development of a digital inclusion network, help to raise awareness about the digital divide and represents a commitment by organizations to promote digital inclusion in their internal processes.

The Digital Inclusion Charter is much more than the sum of its parts: it involves policymakers, companies and social organizations working in synergy. The charter includes nine concrete commitments made by the signatories.

  1. Identify best practices to improve digital inclusion and share them with other signatories;
  2. Identify, together with the other signatories, potential barriers to digital inclusion and define common actions to overcome them;
  3. Ensure that the top management of their own organization makes the commitment and moves forward;
  4. Improve digital inclusion within their own organization by promoting internal training and sharing actions and progress;
  5. Promote digital inclusion outside their own organization in order to increase the number of signatories to the charter and its impact;
  6. Support campaigns that seek to make digital inclusion a priority, since the real scale of the problem is still rather unknown by the general public;
  7. Gradually introduce within their own organization a procedure that will enable them to assess the extent to which they are promoting digital inclusion to employees, customers and beneficiaries;
  8. Take actions to strengthen trust in digital tools, to increase people’s online safety and to arm them against potential abuses;
  9. Monitor the progress in the implementation of this charter and, after three years, assess it with the other signatories to evaluate the state of play and possible next steps.

About the author

Linde Verheyden, Director Public Affairs, BNP Paribas Fortis

Linde is based in Brussels and is working on the crossroads of public affairs, stakeholder management, CSR and business development. Linde is also a member of AmCham Belgium’s Government Relations Forum.

If you want to know more about the Digital Inclusion Charter, or are interested in signing it, please contact Linde.