Digital transformation represents tremendous opportunities and progress at the global level. However, it also presents partner countries of German development cooperation with specific challenges and groundbreaking decisions. Global innovations, often developed in German development cooperation partner countries, need to be adapted to specific local and sectoral contexts.
Access to information and communication technologies (ICT) is very unequally distributed, and digital divides also exist within a society – between women and men, urban and rural areas, social classes, people with and without disabilities. These are reflected in unequal access to education, employment, and social security systems. Many partner countries have to represent their commercial and geopolitical interests in the digital space with little bargaining power and insufficient knowledge on complex special issues. In many places, the legal framework for digital transformation is still incomplete – for example, nearly 30 African countries have no data protection legislation.
In order to counteract this, we have set ourselves the goal of creating a strong network of locally anchored structures that work with partners in the digital ecosystem to promote innovators and entrepreneurs, shape people-centric frameworks for digital transformation, and implement global standard digital solutions adapted to the local context. Therefore, our structures are the local implementation part of the digital.global network.
Our approach – The Digital Transformation Centers
Digital Transformation Centers act as a central consulting point and hub for all actors in the “digital ecosystem” at the local level – governments, companies, and civil society – who want to accelerate their self-determined digital transformation through a global partner network.
Through the Digital Transformation Centers local digital transformation challenges are addressed and democratic and participatory processes to strengthen the economy and society are brought to the forefront.
The Digital Transformation Centers combine innovative capacity, technical expertise, IT knowledge, research, and start-up spirit. In addition, the locally and regionally operating Digital Transformation Centers share their experience in a global network. This enables them to respond quickly and needs-based to the continuously changing challenges in the field of digital transformation.
There are already 22 Digital Transformation Centers established in all world regions from Mexico, Kosovo to Indonesia and others are planned. The first Digital Transformation Center opened in Rwanda in 2017.
Digital Transformation Centers are implemented in different formats, depending on the context of the digital ecosystem. Selected Digital Transformation Centers operate physical innovation, co-creation, and training hubs on the ground, e.g., in Rwanda, Tunisia, and Kosovo. Other Digital Transformation Centers (e.g., in Mexico, Benin, Niger, Morocco, and Indonesia) are based in local GIZ project and partner structures with largely virtual formats.
The Digital Transformation Centers tailor their services to the specific needs on the ground and the maturity of the local digital ecosystem. To this end, we draw on 9 modules that combine standardized solution approaches with individualized and context-sensitive implementation. This modular structure works according to the building block principle. In a designed product catalog in collaboration with regulators and the non-governmental sector, Digital Transformation Centers can implement digital tools locally. Finally, the 9 modules integrate with the EU’s values-based approach and the feminist, social-ecological orientation of German development policy.
This structure enables the implementation of our cooperation in the field of digital transformation tailored to the needs and “digital readiness” in the partner country.
Unlike private-sector offerings, which mostly promote elites, the Digital Transformation Centers specifically address the advancement of women and girls as well as population groups affected by the digital divide. The Digital Transformation Centers also work with their political partners, such as ICT and digital ministries, tech companies, and the digital ecosystem across countries to set a sustainable and broad-based course for digital transformation in the partner countries.
Our goal is the sustainable strengthening of local, digital ecosystems. In doing so, a delicate line must be struck between social and political responsibilities, ecological balance, and economic performance. Sustainability can only be achieved if the continuous process of change is constantly developed and shaped through genuine co-creation of all subsystems (business, politics, civil society, science). This requires good political, legal, social frameworks, active networks, efficient organizations and institutions, and competent individuals. Knowledge exchange, skills transfer, and consulting are essential to enable our partner countries to shape their own digital transformation toward a sustainable society.
The Digital Transformation Centers 2025
Within the next three years, we will expand the network to more than 40 Digital Transformation Centers. They will strengthen the digital ecosystem in partner countries and help to leverage the opportunities of digital transformation for their citizens while avoiding associated risks. Based on various indicators, we regularly review impacts to achieve this vision in the long term. For example, new digital approaches should be provided per year on a joint exchange platform for Digital Transformation Centers and their partners. Of these, 10 should be targeted at women and groups particularly affected by the digital divide.
We understand digital transformation in the context of development cooperation as a collaborative learning process that brings added value for both German development cooperation and its partners. In this regards, capacity development is the key to reach sustainable success.