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Using Digital Technology to Narrow the Opportunity Gap

Digital technology was not invented to tackle inequality, and there is even a risk that it could widen existing economic and social disparities. But, as the case of China illustrates, new platforms also offer many possible ways to narrow the opportunity gap.

NEW YORK – Although many societies aspire to provide equal opportunities for everyone, that is easier said than done. People born into different economic and social statuses have unequal educational or financial starting points. This often leads to very different career and life opportunities.

Digital technology was not invented to tackle inequality, and there is even a risk that it could widen existing economic and social disparities. But, as the case of China illustrates, new platforms also offer many possible ways to narrow the opportunity gap.

Consider four examples. The first is the promotion of micro and small enterprises via e-commerce. The Chinese platform Taobao.com, part of the Alibaba Group, is the largest online marketplace by volume among emerging economies. It allows tea growers, furniture makers, suitcase manufacturers, and other small producers and merchants, including those from remote villages, to reach their customers in Shanghai and Beijing (and even overseas) easily and cheaply. Previously, these entrepreneurs were unable to sell directly in sufficiently large volumes because of high intermediary charges. But in the e-commerce era, they can.

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