2020 has been a year like no other. While those of us in the development sector have long anticipated the increased frequency of once-in-a-lifetime events—as our social, environmental, political, and economic systems grow increasingly strained and interconnected—none of us expected these “problems of tomorrow” to arise as quickly, globally, and devastatingly as they did.

COVID-19 brought our world to a halt, confining many of us to our homes without knowing when we might transition back to normalcy. From our homes, and without the usual distractions of daily life, we watched other historic and troubling events unfold. In the United States and other countries, the horrific killings of unarmed Black people launched a summer of protest and urgent dialogue on the need to root out racism and bigotry in our communities, in our institutions, and within ourselves.

This year also sparked long overdue conversations about the role of digital technology in society. With the rapid push for remote work and learning, the consequences of the digital divide became more apparent. Concerns about mis- and dis-information and cybersecurity came to the fore as falsehoods about COVID-19 circulated the web.

Despite some dark days, 2020 also brought many bright spots. We witnessed the creativity and resilience of entrepreneurs and innovators who used digital technology to serve their communities in the midst of unprecedented disruption and instability.

It may be tempting to focus on the challenges that lie ahead or rush to put 2020 behind us. Instead, we at DAI’s Center for Digital Acceleration (CDA) have been reflecting on how to take the lessons we learned this year and begin 2021 stronger and more committed to a safe, inclusive, and human-driven digital world. For our last blog of 2020, we would like to look back on some of our previous posts to reflect on this challenging year, but also to inspire us as we look forward the next.

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Understanding and Responding to COVID-19

In 2020, we wrote 76 blog posts. The most prevalent theme, by far, was COVID-19. Like many of you, those of us at CDA had our personal and work lives upended by the pandemic. Digital tools and platforms became essential pathways to delivering technical activities that were previously conducted in person. We found ourselves on call nearly 24-7, advising DAI projects around the world on their transitions to e-Learning platforms, meeting applications, and virtual co-creation. Thankfully, most of these technologies are accessible and user-friendly. Our excellent project staff caught on quickly.

Unfortunately, the experiences of many who do not have the supportive structure of a global company like DAI have been quite different. Those who lack reliable access to digital devices, affordable data, and internet connectivity have been left behind during the pandemic. Even here in the United States, the digital divide that separates communities based on indicators like wealth, geography, age, and race shows that there is work to be done to close these gaps both at home and abroad. To wrap our heads around some of these challenges, here are some of the top posts we wrote about the intersection between COVID-19 and digital development:

Trust, Privacy and Cybersecurity

With COVID-19 requiring nearly all of our work and daily interactions to take place over the internet and through digital devices, it was unsurprising that digital risks and cyber threats rose at an unprecedented rate this year. From phishing and malware attacks on personal emails accounts to highly coordinated attacks on our nation’s most protected agencies, 2020 made clear that digital hygiene at both the micro and macro levels is more important than ever before.

The CDA team has been studying this issue for some time, as demonstrated by the launch of our Cybersecurity Frontier Insights® report on User Perceptions of Trust and Privacy on the Internet. In addition to this report release, we wrote about trust, privacy, and cybersecurity from a number of different perspectives, including:

Digital for Diversity and Inclusion

In 2020, DAI embarked on a journey to truly embody its mission to shape a more livable world. This effort was marked by the launch of the Racial and Social Justice Initiative (led by CDA team member, Rachel Clad, of whom we are extremely proud!), which aims to institutionalize DAI’s approach to becoming an anti-racist company. Teams across DAI, including CDA, began to reflect on how racism, bias, and discrimination impact our work and how to become better advocates for equity and justice. Understanding that digital tools reflect and intensify our social and cultural norms, the following blogs explored how to use digital in the fight against racism and inequality and increase digital inclusion in the United States and around the world:

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Last, but certainly not least, the innovation and entrepreneurship happening across geographies and in countries where DAI works continued to capture our imaginations and inspire us to think differently. Some of this innovation was directly sparked by the pandemic, such as the contributions of the hardware community manufacturing personal protective equipment from their homes. But many small entrepreneurs and innovators continued to do what they have always done—leverage technology to fill resource gaps, navigate market shocks, and meet the unique needs of their communities. The stories of such entrepreneurs are captured in our Digital Innovator Series, which launched this year. Here are additional posts and profiles related to digital innovation and entrepreneurship:

As we look forward to 2021, we hope that the lessons and realities that this year revealed will propel us forward and give us the courage to write about digital technology with renewed energy and commitment. In our projects, we will continue to put forward an inclusive, expansive, and relevant digital agenda. We believe that with the appropriate technology and ethics—and the lessons 2020 has taught us—we can all become better development practitioners and global citizens in the coming year. We welcome you to join us. This mission is not something we can pursue on our own.

Thank you for being part of our journey through 2020. We congratulate you on your strength and resilience throughout this challenging time and wish you a restful holiday season. Meet us back here in 2021 as we gear up for another exciting and eye-opening year in digital development.

*Asterisk indicates one of the top blogs of 2020.