Digital Emerging Countries: Big nations, inward-looking strategy, and leapfrog in the Global South

Visiting Scholar Talks

Oct 28, 2022 | 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Common Room (#136), 2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA,


Asei Ito | Associate Professor, Institute of Social Science, the University of Tokyo


Meg Rithmire | F. Warren MacFarlan Associate Professor, Harvard Business School

Co-sponsored with the Center for African Studies and The Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute

In-person talk – Seating is limited. Masks are required for all audience members.

In India, three-wheeled motorcycle drivers take orders from UBER, and in an inland Chinese village, telemedicine is becoming more prevalent. Meanwhile, in Cape Town, South Africa, female engineers are developing a business plan for a mobile application. Today, digitalization has increasingly surpassed emerging economies. Governments in various countries have established digital development initiatives, and the number of local platform companies is growing. Despite the rapid and extensive digitalization occurring in the Global South, the literature is concentrated in a global layer and an authoritarian layer (or a Chinese layer). To contextualize a pattern of a wider range of developing countries, this talk proposes a concept of digital emerging countries (DECs). Research on the newly industrializing countries (NICs) provides a solid foundation for this conceptualization. NICs have largely rooted in step-by-step outward-looking strategies by East Asian small nations (economies). In contrast, digitalization possesses distinct features. First, population size is relevant because platforms capitalize on domestic market size. Second, inward-looking strategy is evident, as authority can both promote and regulate platforms and engage in digital protectionism. Third, leapfrog developments are observed by leveraging domestic potentials. Fourth, whereas manufacturing supply chains were formed densely in East Asia, the digital economy is leaping beyond the spatial constraints of East Asia. By identifying the fundamental characteristics of DECs, namely big nations-led, inward-looking strategy, and leapfrog development beyond East Asia, we can gain a clear understanding of digitalization in the Global South.