Leadership Summit: Collaborating in the digital economy: pathways to success

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What sort of collaboration do we need to build in today’s fast -changing ICT ecosystem? What opportunities and challenges will we face along the way? And how to beat digital inequality? These were some of the questions explored in an animated panel discussion at today’s Leadership Summit: Pathways to success session sponsored by TRA, UAE and moderated by Jeremy Wilks of Euronews, media partner of the Leadership Summit.

Shifting nature of collaboration 

Launching the discussions, ITU’s Brahima Sanou, Director,Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) reminded us of the types of collaboration we should be seeking to forge, as we move to a new ecosystem, one where ICTs are now about streamlining government processes, bringing education to the neediest people in order to create national cohesion, inclusiveness and economic growth, but most of all are about people.

“ICTs should work for people, we need to put people back at the centre of our activities,” he stressed.

As ICTs underpin the fabric of more and more industry sectors, the nature of collaboration needs to shift to reflect this. Collaboration, according to Sanou, should no longer be vertical but horizontal, a sentiment echoed by the other panellists. “The spread of ICT is so wide” explained H.E. M. Bruno Nabagné Koné, Minister for the Digital Economy and the Post, Cote d’Ivoire, “that it is no longer a vertical sector but one with a horizontal impact”

New challenges and opportunities

Nevertheless, as we move beyond mere connectivity, we face a number of issues and challenges, Traditional concerns of security and privacy have now also evolved into more complex concerns.

With so many devices all communicating together, security will always be an issue. Added to this, said Fadi Chehadé, Senior Adviser to Executive Chairman, Digital Governance, World Economic Forum, the integrity of data is also key. Putting together, for example, data from heart monitors, combined with exercise data, information on recent doctor visits and algorithms could provide a significant picture of a person’s health. What could be decided on the basis of this information? And by whom? In this way, suggested Chehadé, it is no longer just privacy any more, but integrity. Another issue is dignity. With the continued proliferation of technologies into all areas of our lives, what happens when they take over our jobs or livelihoods? “Is anyone thinking of the dignity of man as technology takes over?” he asked.

Nevertheless, this converged future offers many opportunities, said Joy Tan, President, Corporate Communications, Huawei. Mobile broadband, for example offers “tremendous opportunities for all vertical industries,” according to Tan, as connections increase among people and things, the industry becomes increasingly cloud driven, and business models adapt accordingly.

Industry and regulatory convergence has created a raft of opportunities for extending the reach of digital financial services, according to  Ari Sarker, Co-President, Asia Pacific, MasterCard, forging new collaborations where previously “one side didn’t need the other.” Increased consumer education and empowerment, a drop in the cost of service and smart devices, and the realization on the part of governments that financial inclusion is critical to a population, not just a part of CSR objectives, will all help boost digital financial services, although delivering the right profit model will be crucial, noted Sarker.

Reaching the digitally disenfranchised

Despite the huge potential offered by technology, there is a rising digital inequality, between the have and have nots- or the digitally empowered and digitally disenfranchised- and a concern among the panellists that the digital revolution empower more people than it disenfranchises

Those who have not may be “disenfranchised” for a number of reasons, including cost, age or gender. Digital technologies need to be affordable to all, not just those within the global top tier of income earners. According to Anne Jellema, Chief Executive Officer, World Wide Web Foundation, “We need to make sure everyone is in the race. 60% of the population are not even at the starting blocks.”

As well as affordability, access and education are also critical to help people keep their skills up to the pace of technology. Teachers need to be trained and digital skills boosted. Public access needs to also be scaled up, according to Chehadé, to enable all people to explore the Internet’s richness. Users need to be empowered and educated to give them control.

As a tech provider, noted Joy Tan, Huawei needs to continue to innovate to provide solutions which fit the needs of specific markets, be this increasing speed over traditional copper in Europe or providing solar solutions to power base stations in Africa, and come up with best solutions to bridge the digital divide

Panellists were unanimous on the need encourage girls and women online. This can be done in a raft of ways, such as working with schools or through specific initiatives such as the Cote d’Ivoire’s multimedia rooms, specifically for women to utilize ICTs as well as the creation of dedicated content solutions for female users.

The panel agreed that only a truly collaborative ecosystem could help meet the SDG targets, particularly in LDCs.

International involvement

Protecting the consumer, without killing innovation is key, according to Anne Jellema, and knowledge and guidance is needed on how to tackle a number of key issues such as cybersecurity and regulation. International guidance and global standards are needed, particularly in new areas such as “establishing” a biometric ID, a foundational element of digital financial services, according to Sarker, and countries need to recognize their importance.

New mechanisms are also needed, noted Chehadé, in order to regulate effectively in today’s changing ecosystem, moving regulation towards horizontal mechanisms “ for example for sharing information on digital from law enforcement agencies across borders and platforms” and away from more vertical- centred entities.

Summing up, Sanou called for a collaborative approach to innovation “that goes beyond, to the kind of society we want to see in the future. We need to define the society that we want to see in 20 years.” Not only do we need to think innovation, we need to innovate thinking. Citing Albert Einstein, he said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.


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