Cross-cutting session: Digital transformation beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

10:00 am
 – 1:00 pm

The side event ‘Cross-cutting session: Digital transformation beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic’ will be held on the 1 April from 10:00 to 13:00 CEST virtually, within the framework of the 2022 UN Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (RFSD) for the UNECE region.

The side event is organized by the UN Digital Transformation Group for Europe and Central Asia, coordinated by ITU and UNECE and facilitated by FAO, UN Women, UNIDO, UNICEF and UNFPA. The session will benefit from Russian-English interpretation and live captionning.

Development through digital transformation is a complex issue and touches on many enablers, from broadband availability to policies and sectoral e-strategies, as well as specific programs fostering digital inclusion or the development of innovation communities. The importance of digital transformation has become even more predominant since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic as Member States relied substantially on the digital components to adapt to the “new normal”.

As the situation is developing where “digital” is not only a solution to an emergency but a long-term investment towards inclusion and resilience, and against risk, this event will provide a platform for the Member States to discuss challenges, opportunities, and required policy actions related to the digital dimensions of each Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of focus during the 2022 RFSD. Namely: SDG 4 “Quality of Education”, SDG 5 “Gender Equality”, SDG14 “Life below water”, and SDG 15 “Life on land”. All while highlighting the importance of partnerships as per necessities to take a multistakeholder approach to address digital transformation.

Lockdowns and other restrictive measures adopted by many governments in Europe and Central Asia, and around the world have temporarily moved education from the classroom to the home environment, potentially overshadowing the need for action to improve ICT infrastructure and the quality of connectivity in schools. However, the shift has also forced the adoption of distance learning, often delivered digitally, which shines an important light on the untapped potential of digital technology to improve quality and equity in education. Therefore, national stakeholders will exchange on the status of e-governance of education system, smart and flexible education delivery at school and at home, as well as broadband status and government strategies in both education and connectivity. To prepare the population to meet the needs of the gigabit society, Member States will also exchange on the drivers of digital skills development to increase learning outcomes for children and the youth, as well as to nurture the growth of the digital economy and digital society.

Yet, numerous actions remain to be taken in order for all communities, including vulnerable ones, to be part of the digital society. Roughly 1.7 billion women in the Global South are unconnected. On average, only point-five percent of 15-year-old girls want to become ICT professionals, compared to five percent of 15-year-old boys. Women-owned tech start-ups receive less than a quarter of the funding of male-owned businesses. As outlined in a recent ITU-UN Women study, family members in some countries do not encourage girls to take up university studies in STEM. Challenges – ranging from cultural norms and biases, lack of digital literacy among women in low- and middle-income countries to lack of self-confidence and online and offline harassment – hinder girls’ and women’s full participation. At the same time, increased online presence augments the risk of being exposed to technology-facilitated gender-based abuse, misinformation, and radicalization. The digital acceleration fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic represents a historic opportunity to transform women’s involvement in the digital world and the STEM sector. If digital technology is not equally accessible, the young generation – especially girls and youth and those from other marginalized groups – are at risk of exclusion and disadvantage in the labor market. In this sense, partners will discuss their solutions on how to provide equal access to technology, digital training.

The innovative ICT-based solutions brought about by the digital transformation also demonstrate a unique opportunity to overcome obsolete and polluting practices, mitigate environmental risks and challenges as well as conserve marine and terrestrial ecosystems and sustainably use earth resources. In this regard, Member States will also exchange on innovative solutions, practices, and policies such as submarine telecommunications cables for oceans, climate monitoring and disaster warning, electronic waste management as well as digital agriculture.

The discussion and key policy actions put forward by panellists will be channelled to the ECOSOC High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2022, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2022, and the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition. ​