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Red Hat, Inc., a leading provider of enterprise open-source solutions, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) formalized their partnership through the signing of an agreement that aims to support digitalization, the strengthening of value chains, and the empowerment of women in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

In this sense, Red Hat joins the Private Sector Partners Coalition for the Future of Latin America and the Caribbean, a historic partnership led by the IDB to mobilize the private sector to action to advance toward sustainable development. In particular, the collaboration between Red Hat and the IDB will focus on three fundamental themes: recognition, digitalization, and strengthening of the value chain to work together for a prosperous future of IDB member countries in the region through collaboration on digitalization.

“This partnership fills us with pride, as it continues to reaffirm our commitment to the different ecosystems and communities with which we work collaboratively every day, through open-source solutions. We continue our efforts in social areas that align with the Bank’s interests and policies in the region. For example, the digital transformation of governments, to provide transparency and efficiency in management, and issues such as innovation focused on diversity and inclusion. We believe our experience will have a much greater impact within the region with this agreement,” said Paulo Bonucci, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Red Hat Latin America.

The IDB President, Mauricio Claver-Carone added, “The IDB is very excited to welcome Red Hat to the Coalition and to collaborate in line with three of the five pillars of Vision 2025, our agenda to promote recovery and development in the region, such as digitalization, strengthening value chains, and empowering women. We are convinced that collaboration with private sector partners like Red Hat is critical to the region’s recovery.”

The pandemic has shown how critical digitalization is to productivity. A recent study by the IDB reveals that 244 million people throughout the region, or 32% of the population, completely lack access to the Internet, while 77 million people cannot access it correctly or with the minimum quality requirements.

In this context, Red Hat is committed to working with the IDB to improve these statistics and continue to strengthen existing initiatives such as Open Unlocks the World’s Potential, an action that encourages the company’s partners to share stories about how learning and using open source unlocks the potential to create communities where everyone is supported to use their voices and talents.

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) is supporting the development of a new collaboration programme on science, technology, and innovation (STI) among Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam. This initiative will establish a mutually beneficial partnership to tackle common challenges and opportunities for building scientific know-how, technological capabilities and innovation breakthroughs among the four countries.

To fulfil the promise of STI to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals, countries need concerted efforts to unlock the potential of scientific knowledge, digital technologies and business innovations.

This collaboration programme will identify specific areas, resources and institutional commitments to support strategic cooperation between the collaborating countries on STI.

“To achieve the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals, countries need to leverage science, technology and innovation. By facilitating south-south and triangular collaboration in this area, we hope to boost national innovation capabilities, tackle high-priority societal challenges and nurture shared prosperity,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP.

“STI cooperation and collaboration between neighbouring countries is essential, if we wish to address collective challenges in the context of sustainable development,” said Kieth Rethy Chhem, Minister Delegate attached to Prime Minister and Secretary of State, Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology & Innovation of Cambodia.

“The Government of Thailand has launched Bio-Circular-Green Economic Model or BCG as a new economic model aiming to promote inclusive and sustainable development in both national and regional scales. This collaboration programme will support our people and planet by amplifying the use of technological solutions and scientific knowledge for more sustainable economic models,” said Kitipong Promwong, President, Office of National Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Policy Council (NXPO) of Thailand

This initiative, adding to the Asia-Pacific Research and Training Network on STI Policy (ARTNETonSTI), will draw on a community of practice of government officials and policy experts to design forward-looking and evidence-based science, technology and innovation policies for inclusive and sustainable development.

Cybersecurity poses a great threat to development. Cyberattacks have shut down infrastructure, extorted governments and businesses, drained people’s bank accounts, and more.   Countries around the world are making great strides to strengthen their defenses against these attacks, but one hurdle continues to stymie efforts. In 2021, there was a shortage of 3.5 million cybersecurity professionals. How can we address the scarcity of talent in this industry? One solution is right in front of us—tapping into the talent of female professionals, who thus far have been underrepresented and underutilized in the sector.

Gender disparity 

There is a strong business case for striving towards more diverse representation. Studies show companies that embrace gender diversity on executive teams are 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. In the tech space, women leaders have proven to be more capital-efficient and, on average, achieve 35 percent higher returns on investment. This indicates that the cybersecurity sector has much to gain from increasing the number of women professionals.

However, there is marked gender disparity when it comes to jobs in cybersecurity. According to a report by (ISC)², a cybersecurity professional organization, women in this field currently account for only about one quarter (24 percent) of the overall workforce. The Middle East and Africa have the lowest representation, with women contributing to 5 percent and 9 percent of the cybersecurity workforce respectively. The gap is further widened by the difference rates of digital literacy between men and women. With the global cybersecurity sector expanding, there is ample opportunity to meet the rising demand for talent while reaping the benefits of a more representative business.  

Attracting and retaining more women to the field

Given the flexible routes through which its skill sets might be acquired, cybersecurity as a sector is uniquely positioned to bring dedicated and qualified talent on board with lower barriers for entry.  For instance, Apple, IBM, Google, Tesla, and other companies have eliminated the four-year bachelor’s degree as an application requirement for many jobs. Certification programs represent a faster and more accessible entry point into the cybersecurity workforce. According to an article in Computerworld, 76 percent of HR leaders say certifications are a factor in IT hiring, and at least 47 percent expect certifications to become even more important as a candidate evaluation tool.

The different stages of women’s professional lives must be considered to ensure access to job opportunities.  Many accomplished women who leave tech careers or make a career change will likely face obstacles when returning to work. They will likely encounter biases over gaps in their resumes, especially as technology evolves. In response, a growing number of companies are actively pursuing this pool of diverse talent by offering 12–16 week “returnship” programs, where professionals brush up on their skills after spending time away from the workforce.
A strong mentorship network is essential to retain females in an industry that has traditionally been unwelcoming. Only 25 percent of women in tech companies expressed confidence in being promoted to executive management, with many noting a lack of support and mentorship. Of those who stayed in tech careers, 75 percent pointed to the positive impact of role models in their companies despite such difficulties.

There are also encouraging signs that various stakeholders have begun targeted and sustained initiatives to ensure that cybersecurity and tech become more diverse. Both public and private entities are organizing coding camps, hackathons, skill training sessions, female mentorship programs, and campaigns to get young students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math. Public-private partnerships have the potential to break crucial ground.

Amidst these changes, one proposition is becoming increasingly evident: for the tech sector to become more robust and continue to deliver relevant solutions to pressing cybersecurity issues, it must become as diverse as the society in which it operates.  

 

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, watch the replay of an event organized by the World Bank’s Digital Development team: Women and Cybersecurity: Creating A More Inclusive Cyberspace.

The ITU Americas Regional Office visited a digital community centre in rural Argentina to learn more about the role of digital skills, technology, and connectivity in indigenous communities, and the ITU project on the promotion of digital skills training to benefit youth capacity development and economic integration.

After 50 kilometres of dirt road, a sign reads Los Caminos de las Artesanías: “The Paths of the Crafts.”

The turnoff lies in Argentina’s north-eastern Formosa Province, an hour’s drive from the closest town. An adjacent national park is called “The Impenetrable.”

The noon sun bakes the white sandy pathway to Vaca Perdida (“Lost Cow”), a remote village in the heart of the Gran Chaco region.

The Onanagaelpi women’s community centre has operated here since 2005, managed by the women artisans from the indigenous Qomle’ec community.

Initially organized to produce handicrafts using sheep’s wool, the group turned to digital technologies in 2015 as a way to improve and commercialize these distinctive local products.

Women at the entrance of the Onanagaelpi women’s community centre, operated by the indigenous Qomle’ec community in Argentina. Image credit: ITU Regional Office of the Americas
Women at the entrance of the Onanagaelpi women’s community centre, operated by the indigenous Qomle’ec community in Argentina. Image credit: ITU Regional Office of the Americas
Tech in indigenous communities

At the entrance to a house of red brick and concrete, two women stand at the door to welcome visitors. Inside, the tables are draped in handwoven textiles with eye-catching patterns and designs. Atop the vibrant fabrics lie a laptop computer, a tablet, chargers, and an extension cord.

Several of the women in the room hold mobile phones, each connected to the community centre’s Wi-Fi network.

These indigenous women leaders explain how digital connectivity has helped them sell their handicrafts, especially during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing more resources to their homes and community.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have helped the community stay informed and ensured ongoing access to education. Women with digital skills helped young people from their communities create e-mail addresses.

Opportunities for the future

The future of these youth remains a pressing concern for the community. Few families have the means to send their young people to study at big city universities.

Vaca Perdida’s indigenous leaders quickly recognised how digital technologies could enable young people to study from their villages, minimizing displacement challenges. They expressed hopes that with the capacity to meaningfully engage with digital technologies, the youth from these remote communities could eventually become doctors, lawyers, and other kinds of professionals who serve the community.

Enabling development through ICTs

The experience of Vaca Perdida highlights how ICTs can reach and benefit people even in the most impenetrable territories. It also underlines the crucial need for the digital knowledge – including the skills to use technology in a meaningful way – as indigenous peoples strive to achieve key development goals.

As the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is committed to empowering indigenous peoples through ICT skills, access, and knowledge.

ITU has focused on supporting indigenous peoples’ personal development, as well as self-sustainability and socio-economic growth in their communities.

For example, the Youth Digital Inclusion project led by ITU, in partnership with the local Gran Chaco Foundation, aims to promote capacity development and economic integration by training youth from communities like Vaca Perdida. The goal is to promote ICT capacity development activities to benefit youth from local communities in line with the needs of the ICT labour market and ecosystem.

Additionally, the project aims to support countries in the development of national strategies to develop young people’s digital skills and build an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship.

The project will also develop recommendations for the creation of innovation centers and educational projects that contribute to the ICT labour market and ecosystem as well as young entrepreneurship.

The Youth Digital Inclusion project will be piloted in Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay starting in September 2022.

Learn more about the digital inclusion of indigenous peoples.

Along with 200 enterprises from Central Asia, Baziko Style learned new tools and reached new digital platforms, helping increase their revenue and their business development

Baziko Style, a Bishkek-based sewing company, has worked in markets of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for more than 22 years. They produce women’s clothing, with a turnover of more than 70,000 units per month. They already had five-step quality control, a certificate of conformity and all necessary documentation, and compliance with international standards to sell internationally.

Since joining the International Trade Centre’s e-commerce enterprise training under the EU-funded Ready4Trade project in 2021, Baziko Style has significantly enhanced their digital presence and has widened their focus from local to international markets.

Before joining the project, the company thought only about wholesale offline sales. They worked mainly by word of mouth and through Dordoi market in Bishek, the largest bazaar in Central Asia. Most of the clients came from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.

Following the ITC training and coaching, Baziko Style decided to target additional countries online. During the project, the company saw opportunities to target other markets through online sales channels. They created a company website, with content in English directed at international customers.

“We did a great job with the Baziko Style website — found an attractive template, bought domains baziko.kg and bazikostyle.com, and developed new content and created the English version. It took half a year to develop the website and now it is finally launched,” says Nurjigit Eraliev, Baziko Style’s coach.

Under the EU-funded Ready4Trade project, the company digitized products and created quality online content. They improved their social selling skills and increased audience engagement through their Facebook and Instagram accounts. They also joined regional online B2B platforms, and started to test Wildberries marketplace, the largest Russian-language online retail platform.

“When joining the ITC e-commerce programme, we had a clear business goal — to find 10 big wholesale clients through e-commerce. Our ITC coach Nurjigit Eraliev supported us in the creation of a new and modern website bazikostyle.com. Thanks to this digital transformation of our business, we received five big international orders, and this is only the beginning,” said Bazargul Samieva, the owner of Baziko Style.

About the project

The Ready4Trade Central Asia project is a joint initiative of the European Union and the International Trade Centre. It aims to contribute to the overall sustainable and inclusive economic development of Central Asia by boosting intra-regional and international trade in the region. Beneficiaries of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project include governments, small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular women-led enterprises, and business support organizations.

ERIA presents at the Third Meeting of the ASEAN Senior Economic Officials for the Fifty-Third Meeting of the ASEAN Economic Ministers (SEOM 3/53) and Related Meetings, held from 31 July – 7 August 2022 and chaired by H.E. Director General Rath Saravuth of the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce. Mr Koji Hachiyama, ERIA’s Chief Operating Officer, presented, ‘East Asia Post Pandemic – An Integrative, Innovative, Inclusive and Sustainable Region through Digitalisation’, at the 11th SEOM-EAS East Asia Summit Senior Economic Officials’ Meeting (SEOM-EAS) Consultation held on 6 August 2022. The paper constitutes part of ERIA’s on-going research to support efforts to strengthen regional economic integration post-pandemic.

Mr Hachiyama’s presentation highlighted the importance of leveraging digitalisation to recover quickly from the COVID-19 pandemic and to move forward in a way that supports an inclusive, innovative, inclusive and sustainable Asia. The presentation emphasized: (1) the importance of institutionalising governance structure for consistent implementation; (2) developing digital infrastructure, supporting start-ups and human capital for promoting supply chain resilience; (3) reforming the regulatory framework for digital transformation and facilitation of digital trade; (4) need for more public-private coordination including standardization of data sharing; and (5) enhancing collaboration in ICTs security.

On 5 August, prior to the SEOM-EAS, ERIA participated in the ASEAN Plus Three Senior Economic Officials Meeting. At the meeting, Dr Keita Oikawa presented the progress of the ‘ASEAN Plus Three Research Project for Closing Digital Divide in MSMEs’. The presentation reported several findings from interviews with ASEAN government officials, digital solutions service providers and MSME digital service users. The findings noted: (1) MSMEs’ digital adoption is more focused on sales and marketing function; (2) Covid-19 expedited the adoption of digital sales and marketing functions; (3) a lack of internet infrastructure and supporting services in rural area in relatively lower income countries; (4) IT skills and business knowledge remain issues for MSMEs digitalization; (5) MSMEs tend not to care about cybersecurity risk; (6) foreign digital solutions service providers need to collaborate with local governments and/or experts to support MSMEs’ digitalization; and (7) manufacturing sector needs IT experts familiar with manufacturing businesses and technologies.

From 25 to 28 July 2022 the Global Trade Facilitation Programme (GTFP) of the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) delivered a national workshop on e-commerce for the Jordan Customs Department (JCD). The 4-day workshop benefited from the active participation of 20 participants from JCD and was held at the WCO Regional Training Centre for the North of Africa, Near and Middle East (MENA) region in Amman, Jordan.

This was the first national workshop on e-commerce delivered by the WCO after the Permanent Technical Committee endorsed the capacity building plan for e-commerce in June 2020. The first phases of implementation of this capacity building plan comprised an accreditation workshop and a series of regional workshops covering the six WCO regions. After successfully completing these phases of the plan, the Secretariat commenced, with the workshop in Jordan, the delivery of national capacity building support for the implementation of the WCO Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce (E-Commerce FoS). The event was part of the GTFP’s light-touch intervention in Jordan that, on its part, was launched in May 2022.

In his opening remarks, the Director of the MENA Regional Training Center welcomed the opportunity to host the e-commerce workshop under the GTFP and expressed the will of the JCD to leverage the knowledge obtained during the workshop to implement the E-Commerce FoS in view of addressing the challenges emanating from the growing volumes of e-commerce.

During the workshop, two WCO accredited experts delivered presentations on the eight principles and sixteen standards of the E-Commerce FoS, as well as on the WCO tools related to the implementation of the Framework. The workshop sessions were held in an interactive manner where the implementation of the FoS was discussed in detail with particular attention to the operational environment of Jordan Customs. The participants appreciated the recommendations provided by the WCO experts and defined the way forward for implementation of the E-Commerce FoS.

In his closing remarks, the Deputy Director General of JCD thanked SECO and the WCO for providing capacity building support for implementation of the E-Commerce FoS and for modernisation of Customs procedures to meet the growing challenges of cross-border e-commerce.

The Global Trade Facilitation Programme (GTFP) is a WCO flagship programme funded by SECO and aimed at fostering and facilitating international trade, through the implementation and application of international standards and best practices.

The WCO E-Commerce FoS, first adopted in June 2018 and updated in June 2022, provides 16 baseline global standards with a focus on the exchange of advance electronic data for effective risk management and enhanced facilitation of the growing volumes of cross-border small and low-value Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C) shipments, through simplified procedures with respect to areas such as clearance, revenue collection and return, in close partnership with E-Commerce stakeholders. It also encourages the use of the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) concept, non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment, data analytics, and other cutting-edge technologies to support safe, secure and sustainable cross-border E-Commerce.

The E-Commerce FoS is supplemented by a package of tools containing detailed guidance and good practices to support the implementation of the Framework.

When the pandemic struck, putting an end to travel to member countries, a digital solution was paramount for both the UPU’s Development Cooperation Directorate (DCDEV) and members to remain on track with their capacity building objectives. The unit turned a challenge into an opportunity, boosting participation through innovative working methods.

As the end of the cycle approached, DCDEV required a solution that would accommodate follow-up missions, closeout workshops and seminars with the possibility for simultaneous interpretation, said Pooran Parampath, Training Expert for the UPU, who led the implementation of an online training solution.

Within four months, the UPU had researched online solutions used in other UN agencies, selected the platform that could be implemented in the most regions with the fewest technological requirements, piloted the product, and implemented it, gaining two unexpected benefits: cost savings and greater reach.

“This tool allowed us to adjust our training processes and to effectively manage all sub-processes online,” he said, which included event creation, participant management, interpreter management and session recordings.

This solution therefore enabled us to continue to provide training to our members in a seamless manner irrespective of their physical location and the language that they speak.”

Quick adaptations

There were several challenges to overcome with the transition to the new process.

“In a face-to-face classroom environment, it is easier to have open discussion through higher levels of active participation, less distractions and the general comfort level compared to online modalities,” he said.

The UPU had to find ways to simulate these experiences and create an environment online that promoted meaningful interaction and contribution.

“We had icebreakers and introductions, made full use of the chat feature, breakout group discussions, as well as short coffee breaks,” Parampath said. “Of course, we also enabled sharing of presentations, had dedicated Q&A segments, and utilized short videos to break up the sessions and keep them interesting.”

Still, the transition to the online platform wasn’t always easy. Some users resisted, he said. But as with much of life affected by the pandemic, participants adapted and, with feedback they provided, they helped to shape the trainings into a more user-friendly experience.

For instance, when participants requested a multi-window view for speakers, it was quickly prioritized, tested, and implemented, Parampath said.

“We were astonished at how quickly we were able to modify our internal processes to ensure continuity of our training initiatives and in a manner that did not adversely affect our project milestones,” he said.

Improved results

With programs moved online, the UPU completed more than 40 training activities in Europe and CIS, Arab, Latin America and Africa regions, he said.

Not only were the missions and trainings completed, but more people were also able to participate.
Since the only requirement for participation was access to a steady internet connection, in many cases, training reached 20 to 60% more participants than in-person interventions.

“Where previously we were able to provide fellowships to one or two participants per country because of our budgetary constraints,” Parampath said. “With this solution, entire work teams were able to attend and benefit with minimal impact on the existing budget.”

For example, in 2018, the UPU was able to offer fellowships to 31 participants for the closeout workshop of the UPU Operational Readiness for E-commerce Arab program held onsite in Tunisia. In 2020, using the online platform, the workshop accommodated 52 trainees, which was an increase of approximately 40%. Similar results were seen in other regions, as well.

Additionally, the training solution allowed DCDEV to benefit from cost savings and do more with its allocated budget.

“We were able to shorten the planning time for activities, as some sub-processes were no longer needed,” Parampath said. “Overall, we saved money and time while implementing our planned activities.”

This was evidenced in DCDEV’s Interregional Capacity Building Project for Postal Security.

One KPI was to train 45 security personnel from designated operators (DOs), via workshops and distance learning, to carry out security reviews within DOs in their regions. In 2019 and early 2020, this was accomplished with both onsite and distance modalities. Then, during the pandemic, it was able to continue utilizing the online solution.

The achievement of this KPI then boosted the outcome achievements in other KPIs, he said, namely by creating a pool of well-trained regional security experts in Latin America and the Caribbean. This brought much-needed self-sustainability to the security review process in these regions, he said. It also boosted the achievement of pilot security audits from two to four in the Latin America and Caribbean regions.

Lessons learned

Parampath said the process taught the team several valuable lessons should the pandemic’s path allow for more in-person training.

“The first thing we have learnt is that no online solution will 100 per cent replace face-to-face training,” Parampath emphasized. “Having said that, there are lessons that we have learnt, and these can be taken forward in a hybrid model for the benefit of our members: the importance of creating an enabling online environment so that participants almost forget about the tools and feel comfortable enough to interact and discuss as if they were face-to-face.”

Yet the online solution was invaluable. It allowed the UPU to continue to train its members and to effectively sustain the momentum that it worked hard to build before the pandemic.

“Without it,” he said, “all activities would have been halted, which would have had negative implications for the beneficiary countries involved in different capacity building projects.”

This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 edition of Union Postale magazine.

  • Women in the least developed countries are half as likely to be online as men, curtailing their chance to learn online and improve their lives.
  • The digital divide hurts women and costs the world billions of dollars in GDP every year.
  • A concerted effort by the public and private sectors can see this trend reversed, allowing women worldwide to live up to their potential.

The digital divide hurts women the most. Women disproportionately find themselves unable to access modern

But when women are provided equal access to digital services, amazing things can happen.

Take Confidence, a young data analyst from Nigeria. Struggling to find work as the country grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, she turned to online learning platform Coursera. Confidence soon completed a Genomic Data Science Specialization with Johns Hopkins University and a professional certification in Google Data Analytics.

Her investment paid off. Confidence’s new skills helped her land a job, ending a two-year stretch of unemployment.

Stories like Confidence’s demonstrate the transformative power of online education, which grew exponentially during the pandemic.

Online education in developing countries

Nowhere is the potential higher than in developing countries. Young populations, fewer existing educational opportunities and increasing connectivity have set the stage for explosive growth in these parts of the world. In fact, IFC estimates that the market for adult online learning in emerging markets alone will more than double within the next five years.

This potential growth comes with significant benefits for both individuals and developing economies. A recent study by IFC, developed in partnership with Coursera and the European Commission, found nearly half of online learners in Egypt, India, Mexico and Nigeria who took to digital education to start or grow their business succeeded in their efforts. Nearly 40 percent reported improved career opportunities or income increases.

But fully realizing these benefits isn’t a given — stories like Confidence’s are, unfortunately, not the norm.

The online learning paradox

There’s a paradox at the heart of online learning: the people who are most likely to benefit from it are also the least likely to have access to it. This is especially true for women, who are being disproportionately affected by the digital divide.

Globally, women are 21 percent less likely to be online compared to men; in the least developed countries, they’re half as likely. This digital exclusion does more than prevent women from accessing online education. It prevents them from fully participating in the digital economy — and it is costing the world billions of dollars in GDP each year.

How should we go about solving this online learning paradox? Closing the digital inclusion gap will require a multi-pronged approach and close alignment between the public and private sectors.


There are stark differences in internet access across regions, with Africa lagging far behind Europe. That has consequences for education. Image: UN

Bridging the digital divide

First, we need to broadly invest in digital infrastructure that increases connectivity and ensures everyone — including women — can fully access the digital economy. Last year, IFC exceeded $1 billion in commitments to the telecom sector for the first time, with three-quarters of those investments going to Africa. Targeted funding pools like this and blended finance can catalyze the deployment of private capital at every level of the digital ecosystem, from broadband and datacenters to independent tower and mobile network operators.

But infrastructure alone isn’t enough to bridge the digital divide. We must also ensure digital products are relevant and affordable for women. Service and device costs remain one of the primary barriers standing between women and access to digital technologies.

Affordability can also influence if and how women use digital services. IFC research found that free or audited courses are the single biggest entry point to online learning, with more than 50 percent of female students in Egypt, India, Mexico and Nigeria relying on free trials. We need to support digital literacy, adoption and usage by embracing innovative financing solutions that connect women with technology and educational services at low to no cost.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgency of this task cannot be understated. A World Bank Group study found that women were 11 percentage points more likely to have lost a job during the pandemic, while female-owned businesses were 7 percentage points more likely to have closed than those owned by men. Online education has the potential to help these women gain new skills, open new businesses and re-enter the labor market — but only if they can access it.

Success stories like Confidence’s are not the norm right now, but they could be. By working together to remove the barriers keeping women from accessing online education and all the opportunities that come with the digital economy, we can all win.

Posts of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have the potential to support and facilitate vital digital transformations to benefit Posts, economies, and governments, according to global and regional experts who spoke on 26 July at the Universal Postal Union’s webinar “ICT for SIDS: Small posts at the forefront of digital transformation.”

Digitalization brings opportunities and challenges for SIDS, whose markets are limited and distant from the main global ones. Lack of funding and equipment, unstable Internet connection, and gaps in staff skillsets top the list of challenges that impede digital transformation. Still, the panelists see digitalization as vital for SIDS.

“There are many opportunities, many challenges, and hopefully, collectively, as we work together, we can help those countries around the world,” said Rodney Taylor, Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). “Everyone thought that the Internet was the death of postal services. It was quite the opposite.”

The COVID-19 pandemic proved Posts’ ability to adapt their networks to their customers’ needs. “Posts have embraced technology to be able to continue to provide relevant services, government services, e-commerce services, e-payment services, that help the economies of SIDS continue to be relevant,” said Paul Donohoe, Digital Policies and Trade Coordinator at the UPU.

The pandemic accelerated the transition to online services, which could help SIDS overcome some of their challenges related to size and distance, said Andrea Giacomelli, who is Aid-for-Trade and Trade Policy Advisor at the Permanent Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum to the United Nations. “For some services, the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ can be completely eliminated by the application of ICT-enabled technology to commerce,” he added.

Posts, however, are sometimes left out of governments’ development strategies that address digital policies, Donohoe said. Yet when Posts are included, both governments and postal operators perform better.

“At the UPU, we’re really reinforcing our efforts to strengthen the work that we put into Small Island Developing States and encouraging greater awareness among governments and regulators to integrate Posts in their national strategies,” Donohoe said.

Posts can also be incubators of start-ups, providing innovators with access to networks that help them reach everyone in the country. “We’ve seen that in a number of countries around the world where some of the most exciting innovations now are coming out of Nairobi and out of cafes in Nigeria, not from the Silicon Valley,” he added.

Getting to this point, though, requires clear communication about the benefits and data security of ICT, according to Sarai Tevita, ICT Director at the National University of Samoa. “If we don’t change the mindset of our people (…) using the technologies available, then we can’t compete with the world,” Tevita said.

And if Posts can’t compete, private providers will take over, agrees Franklin Sluis, CEO of the Bureau Telecommunicatie en Post, Regulatory Authority Curaçao. “It is not a matter of choice – if we do not take the needed steps towards digitalization today, (…) we will need to hang the ‘Out of Business’ sign forever,” Sluis concluded.

 

Watch the full event recording here.
Access the speakers’ biographies.
UPU’s Voice Mail podcast episode with Rodney Taylor.

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More on UPU’s work on digital services and digital transformation:

uslan Kenzhebekovich Abdikalikov, Chair of the Information Security Committee formed under the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry, spoke recently with the ITU Regional Office for the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) Region.

Kazakhstan has approved and started implementing its national “Cyber Shield of Kazakhstan” cybersecurity concept. What were the preconditions and the development process for this plan?

New technologies and electronic services have become an integral part of daily life.

As we become more dependent on information and communication technologies (ICTs), the protection and availability of these technologies has become a major concern for the state.

In January 2017, President Nursultan Nazarbayev instructed the government to create the Cyber Shield of Kazakhstan. Five months later, the government approved the concept.

 What are the main provisions, and which organizations took part in creating the plan?

Initially, the ministry produced a draft concept based on the country’s existing cybersecurity situation. However, this considered only the interests of the state. Public discussions then took place, and the draft concept was criticized among professionals as too “one-sided”.

At the same time, we were pleasantly surprised to find a pool of cybersecurity professionals in Kazakhstan ready to do something, and we work together with them to this day.

A working group was created including parliamentarians, representatives of state bodies, professional and industry associations, higher educational institutions, and the industry, to analyse the status of informatization at government agencies, automation of public services, prospects for the digital economy, and modernization of production processes, aiming to expand the scope for ICT services. It also studied a wealth of international experience in protecting national ICT infrastructure.

The resulting document is now being implemented. Along with defining state policy on ICT protection, the plan outlines measures to boost a legal and industrial culture of cybersecurity. It improves the country’s readiness to prevent and respond to incidents, as well as providing basic definitions and explanations to raise general awareness about threats.

What problems did you identify, and how are those being solved?

Key problems we encountered include:

  • Insufficient awareness among citizens about cybersecurity threats.
  • A shortage of information security professionals.
  • Inadequate information protection infrastructure.
  • Neglect by organizations of information security requirements.
  • Limited trust in the public sector, beyond a few common software products.
  • Risks associated with the provision of electronic public services.

We recommend that countries analyse their current cybersecurity situation, identify key challenges and threats, learn from the experience of other countries, outline objectives, and formulate an action plan.

Kazakhstan is ready to share its own experience in a bilateral or multilateral format.

The continuous development of digital technologies also leads to the emergence of new vulnerabilities and cyber threats. Do you plan to revise the Cyber Shield concept?

The concept was approved for five years – the medium-term. Some activities not reflected there are included in the Digital Kazakhstan programme, the National Security Strategy, or intradepartmental plans of state bodies.

But we understand that with the development of technology, security threats are also progressing.

We will soon start developing a new cybersecurity development document.

Kazakhstan uses the Global Cybersecurity Index – produced by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) since 2014 – as a metric for progress. What advantages do you see in using it?

Initially, we did not know about the index. But after public discussion of our concept, we received a proposal to follow ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI). After studying the indicators and methodology, as well as Kazakhstan’s rating (103rd among 194 countries at the time), we adopted the GCI as our main benchmark.

This has undoubtedly strengthened cybersecurity development in Kazakhstan. GCI criteria cover legal, technical, and organizational measures, capacity building and cooperation. Importantly, Kazakhstan’s position in the rankings moved up from 103rd place to the 31st in just three years.

 In the latest edition, Kazakhstan scores high on four of the five GCI criteria: legal, technical, organizational and cooperation. How did you achieve this?

Ensuring cybersecurity is a priority for the country’s leadership.

A separate body – the Committee on Information Security – was tasked with implementing state policy on cybersecurity, including market, development international cooperation, and organizational and technical measures.

Today, Kazakhstan has about 40 companies, along with 19 private security operational centres (SOCs), 3 computer incident response teams (CERTs), 7 private, accredited testing laboratories, 8 higher educational institutions, and 25 secondary educational institutions, dealing with cybersecurity issues.

We have 85 vendors of trusted software and electronics products, as well as a national coordination centre and a dedicated information security centre for the financial sector.
Our achievements are due to joint work by government agencies, private ICT and cybersecurity companies, specialized public associations, and experts.

The GCI report identifies capacity building as an area where Kazakhstan needs further development. Do you plan to do more in this direction?

Undoubtedly. We will intensify efforts to educate the public.

Work has begun on the legal framework for information security inspectors and Bug Bounty sites.

In addition, our ministry is nurturing domestic ICT solutions, equipment, and software production.

 What would you suggest to strengthen cybersecurity and personal data protection across all CIS countries?

Some essential criteria need to be in place in each country:

  • Legislative and regulatory frameworks for people’s data and personal data protection.
  • State structures dealing with personal data protection and individual rights.
  • Public awareness about rights and freedoms to be protected as personal data is collected and processed.
  • Technical and organizational measures to prevent leakage of personal data, ensure transparency and promote legitimate data collection procedures.
  • Administrative and criminal liability for illegal actions with personal data and for non-compliance with protection measures.
  • State safeguards for legitimate collection, processing of personal data with proper protection measures.

The application of digital technologies in international trade can contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

UNCTAD has launched a new project to strengthen the capacities of 38 small island developing states (SIDS) in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific to adopt trade policies that develop the digital economy and enhance crisis responses.

Digital technologies and e-commerce have immense potential to support the participation of SIDS in international and regional markets. They can also help build resilience and promote stronger recovery from disasters.

But the digital economy is in its early stages of development in SIDS, whose common challenges to digital transformation include limited access to affordable infrastructure.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced pre-existing bottlenecks in SIDS’ e-commerce ecosystem.

The project, run by UNCTAD’s TrainForTrade programme, aims to develop the skills and knowledge of targeted SIDS’ representatives with innovative approaches based on a recognized blended learning method and state-of-the-art technological solutions.

“This new project will draw on the experience of our previous blended learning activities,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.

“We are proud to work in collaboration with our other UN partners to ensure that SIDS will be better placed to harness the digital economy,” she added.

A holistic and multifaceted project

The project has three training components geared towards providing holistic support.

Its “legal aspects of e-commerce” component seeks to enhance the capacities of lawmakers, government officials and other stakeholders involved in drafting electronic commerce laws.

Adequate legal frameworks can facilitate the transition to a digital economy, reduce uncertainties, enhance trust and address potential harms.

“An adequate legal framework and digital identity system are needed to facilitate the uptake of e-commerce and the transition to a digital economy,” said Shani Griffith-Jack, first secretary at the Permanent Mission of Barbados to the UN in Geneva and previous chair of the SIDS group.

The “digital identity for trade and development” component is aimed at increasing knowledge on solutions to implement e-commerce at the policy level and for small and medium-sized enterprises.

A secure and reliable digital identity system is critical to enabling citizens’ full participation in their society and economy. The component will also cover risks and challenges related to digital authentication.

The “digital economy statistics” component will increase knowledge in this area and enhance statisticians’ work on data related to the digital economy.


UNCTAD staff and representatives of small island developing states discuss the project during its launch.

“The lack of official national statistics on information technology use and e-commerce constitutes a handicap for the formulation and evaluation of digital development policies,” Ms. Griffith-Jack said.

Official national statistics support the formulation and evaluation of digital development policies.

The project’s courses will involve online brainstorming, co-working sessions, interactive online courses, webinars and a high-level hybrid conference.

Assessing beneficiaries’ needs

UNCTAD will conduct a needs assessment to determine the capacity needs of targeted SIDS representatives, which will inform the development of the courses.

The assessment will involve the main actors at national, regional, and international levels. It will include open-ended questions, informal discussions, and questionnaires.

UNCTAD will compare the realities of the 38 countries and identify both their common challenges and specific needs.

The project scheduled to run until 2025 will culminate in an international meeting during which participants of the courses will present their national and regional policy recommendations.

This blog entry is part of a series that highlights insights from research for development policies and practices, supported by the Knowledge for Change Program (KCP).

A critical principle that the KCP program tries to promote is that the independent scrutiny of research can strengthen the empirical foundations for policymaking and reduce the emulation of “best” practices that deal with short-term vulnerabilities and challenges. While it is difficult to strike a balance between resilience and agility in policy responses during a crisis, one needs to take an evidence-based approach to constantly assess the impacts of certain policies.  

In this blog, we highlight two projects that leveraged data-driven policymaking processes and simulations, and asked the following questions:

  1. Face masks are a widely promoted, non-pharmaceutical intervention broadly asserted to curb the spread of COVID-19. Is there systematic evidence in any country that demonstrates that increases in the supply of masks have actually slowed the spread of COVID-19? 
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a devastating blow at the private sector. What would be the simulated effects on firms’ profits, payrolls, exit rates and governments’ tax revenues?  

Informing Evidence-Based Policy Making for Improved Public Health Outcomes through Digitization
As part of a joint effort with government authorities, this research project supported by the KCP, used novel administrative receipt data in Rwanda to produce rigorous impact evaluation evidence for policy decisions. It is the first analysis of its kind in Sub-Sahara Africa, which is comparable to existing work in the United States.

When the pandemic started in Rwanda, the Government licensed and incentivized textile manufacturers to produce certifiably high-quality masks to slow the spread of COVID-19. The study of product level exemptions using transaction data is enabled by the proliferous use of Electronic Billing Machines (EBMs), introduced in Rwanda in 2013. EBMs aim to reduce VAT evasion and accounting costs, strengthen accountability and transparency, elevate government capacity, and accelerate the formalization of the economy. The research team worked with the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) to analyze this novel set of data to study the effectiveness of increasing the supply of high-quality masks in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Rwanda.

Overall, the research demonstrated that increased access to formally manufactured masks slowed the spread of COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic
More specifically, the researchers used administrative data from the RRA, including EBM receipts, customs, and firm registration, complemented with census data, to study the impact of incentivizing high-quality mask production in Rwanda. Digitally signed and time-stamped EBM receipts collected by the tax authority allowed the researchers to track product-level sales between firms and final consumers.

Licensing domestic mask manufacturers conservatively reduced mask prices by 8.8 percent and reduced monthly growth in COVID-19 infections (proxied by demand for anti-fever medicine) by 12 percent. The dynamics of the results suggest that increased mask quality explained reduced infections, in a context where there was strict enforcement of mask mandates and informal markets for masks. The analysis suggests that licensing and associated incentives generated social benefits at least 5 times as large as their cost.

Strengthening data-driven policy making by generating simulated effects of lockdowns on firms and public finances
In the early days of the pandemic, governments struggled with two challenges: 1) what would be the effects of government-imposed restrictions on firms, and 2) how would various support measures help firms cope during the pandemic and alleviate the negative impacts? Using a novel set of administrative corporate tax records from 10 low-and middle-income countries, this KCP project analyzed the direct effects of the lockdowns on firms’ profits, payrolls, and exit rates, along with their implications for tax revenues and government support policies. Three key findings revealed by the project:

  1. Less than half of all firms would remain profitable by the end of 2020, about 5-10% of the aggregate annual payroll would be lost, and the rate of firm exits would on average double.
  2. While wage subsidies were a widely discussed policy tool to mitigate formal employment losses, wage subsidies would largely be inefficient for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and would be useful to protect employment only in moderately impacted sectors in middle-income countries.
  3. On average across countries, even an optimistic scenario (lower-bound predictions) would suggest that only half of all firms would remain profitable, tax revenues remitted by corporations would fall by 1.5% of GDP, and aggregate corporate losses would increase by 2.9% of GDP.

Each country’s situation is different, so country-specific requests were included to generate customized policy notes for AlbaniaCosta RicaEcuadorEswatiniEthiopiaGuatemalaMontenegroRwandaSenegal and Uganda. In Albania for example, the team estimated the effect of changing the size threshold that determines the corporate income tax bracket. In Ecuador, the government requested a training on using administrative data to perform further simulations. To provide more insightful analysis, the team is currently updating the data to compare their predictions with realized data.

The two projects provided rigorous evidence on the actual or simulated effects of familiar policy tools during a crisis, such as mask requirements and wage subsidies. Findings and recommendations from this research are being utilized by governments and form the foundation of evidence-based policy making. To establish to what extent these simulations were accurate, the project is updating the data to compare their predictions with the realized data.

The authors would like to acknowledge contributions from the following projects under the guidance of task team leads (TTLs) and researchers: Recording Small Receipts: Digital Technology Adoption at the Margin of Formalization (TTL: Astrid Maria Theresia Zwager/Florence Kondylis); Cross-Country Firm Dataset Built from Administrative Tax Return Data (TTL: Pierre Bachas)

The youth will drive Africa’s digital economy; hence the need to invest in their skills development to accelerate innovations and growth on the continent, African Development Bank Director General for East Africa Nnenna Nwabufo said.

Speaking at the 9th World Financial Innovation Series in Nairobi, Kenya, on 19 July, she noted that the youth are ambitious, enterprising, and eager for change. “Africa’s young people are the most avid adopters of ICTs and digital solutions.”

Recent statistics show that 60% of Africa’s population is below 25 years old. “We anticipate a future that will be very different from today in terms of innovation, enterprise, and job and wealth creation,” Nwabufo added.

The two-day event brought together around 1,500 technology and business heads from banks, insurance, and micro-finance institutions to discuss ways of accelerating financial innovation for a digital and futuristic Africa.

Nwabufo called for the scaling up of startup investments across the continent to grow tech entrepreneurs and enhance financial inclusion. She noted that the number of tech hubs had increased dramatically, with the largest concentration in South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, and Ghana.

“These centers provide space for entrepreneurs from all sectors to innovate and integrate digital solutions into traditional sectors,” she said.

She cited Kenya’s M-Pesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer and financial service provider serving nearly 30 million vulnerable people across 10 countries, saying its services foster financial inclusion in Africa. Others are Airtel money in East Africa; Orange money in West Africa, AgroCenta in Ghana, which is helping smallholder farmers to access markets and finance through mobile apps, and Hello Tractor in Nigeria, which enables farmers to hire tractor services at affordable rates.

Moses Okundi, Chief Information Officer of ABSA Bank in Kenya, noted that technology adoption had accelerated rapidly, particularly in the first two years of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there is a need to shape tech strategies to adopt “the new wave” in anticipation of future pandemics, Okundi said.

Attendees underscored the relevance of forging partnerships in driving inclusion.

“Partnerships result in smart solutions that can solve many of the continent’s challenges; creating technologies that can change the life of the masses,” said Kiiru Muhoya, Chief Executive Officer of Fingo Africa, a Kenyan fintech that provides digital banking services for the youth. He added that strategic partnerships make way for numerous digital opportunities, connecting the underserved to essential services.

The African Development Bank supports its member countries in developing national strategies to scale up digital financial service markets. The Bank is also engaging policymakers to spearhead data collection on market opportunities in digital financial services and investing funds, which focus on mobile solutions.

“With cash, I know who is getting the money,” said 44-year-old housewife in Lusaka province who chose to remain anonymous, “but if I use the phone, I worry that the money will be stolen.”

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) partnered with the Zambia Ministry of Finance to digitalize utility payments and drive digital and financial inclusion for Zambia’s underserved customers. One aim of this partnership was to increase the availability and usage of utilities for women and youth.

And to ensure customers can use these digital services, they must be knowledgeable of the services offered and how to use them for their energy, water and sanitation payments.

To assist customers to know about these services and use them confidently, UNCDF is collaborating with Viamo, a tech startup and platform company specializing in developing markets. The project centres on awareness and training in digital financial literacy for utility providers and customers.

This project will be implemented in Lusaka, Kabwe and Kitwe districts with the aim to reach 30,000 customers, of which 21,000 are women and 9,000 youth.

In 2018 and 2019, digital finance providers reported efforts to continue their customer education efforts because low customer education, low customer literacy and low levels of trust in digital financial services negatively impact usage of digital financial services (DFS) (State of the Digital Financial Services Market Reports 2018 and 2019). Providers use methods such as direct marketing for customer onboarding to drive the growth of active DFS customers. However, with a 39 percent customer activity rate reported in 2019, there is still some improvement to be made to increase the usage of digital finance products and services.

By supporting this project, UNCDF is placing emphasis on customer education as a critical component in building a digital economy and as Zambia undergoes digital transformation.

Viamo will design and launch digital financial literacy campaigns and training for the following innovative digital payment solutions:

  • making digital payments via a translated USSD mobile money application in four major Zambian languages of Bemba, Lozi, and Tonga for two energy, two water, and sanitation service providers and their customers
  • ​making digital payments for water via water kiosks with automated water dispensing machines for three water service providers and their customers
  • making digital payments for electricity for two energy service providers and their customers

The campaigns and training will be conducted using the 667 service, a free, on-demand information service available on mobile phones via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and a Whatsapp chatbot for those who have smartphones. To make the services more accessible to all Zambians, the 667 service is available in the four indigenous languages and each user can progress through the lessons at their own pace.

In addition to direct customer education, Viamo and UNCDF aim to reach customers in their communities and will train booster teams and the utility providers’ in-house community outreach teams in customer education to boost their activities and ensure the sustainability of this knowledge. Booster teams will be mobilised in peri-urban and rural areas to inform customers of the new and existing digital payment options and sign up new customers onto mobile money, with their preferred provider.

This will ensure customers in even remote areas have an opportunity to be reached with DFS and are then able to pay for their utilities, and consequently, no-one in Zambia is left behind as the country rapidly begins its digital transformation.

Remarks from Mubanga Chilufya, Viamo Country Manager, Zambia: “Viamo is a firm supporter of the vision of the Government of the Republic of Zambia’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy. The vision of the strategy is to “achieve universal access and usage of a broad range of quality and affordable financial services that meet the needs of both individuals and enterprises.”

Achieving this vision has remained a challenge for Zambia due to key issues like low levels of financial literacy, lack of awareness about formal financial products available on the market. Women and youth have also been largely excluded from the formal financial system. In this regard, Viamo is keen to use its mobile technology solutions for information dissemination and behaviour change communication on this project. Viamo uses mobile because of the high penetration of this channel which is comparable to none. The information will be multilingual, in line with Zambia’s language diversity and will be a combination of text and voice, to cater for varying literacy levels. Viamo already reaches over 500,000 Zambians annually using mobile technology.”

Remarks from Isaac Holly Ogwal, UNCDF Country Lead: “Digital payments for utilities will be a critical enabler for many rural people for digital services, and this is essential for them to participate in Zambia’s growing digital economy. Digitizing utility payments is essential in minimizing their operational cost for utility companies and provides customers with a convenient, reliable, and secure payment channel. Utility payment is a good use case of digital wallets (mobile money) hence UNCDF and various stakeholders under the digitization of utilities payment project will leverage this to increase the access and use of digital finance services in Zambia.

In the Zambia Inclusive Digital Economy Status 2022 Report Zambia’s digital divide is reported as 47 percent and the gender digital divide – the number of women not digitally connected – is reported as 37 percent. These data indicate that there is much more to be done to better reach underserved people and bring them into the digital ecosystem, thus improving their lives and economic opportunities. Initiatives such as this project can contribute to closing the digital divide by raising customers’ digital literacy.

TU News recently connected with Ulisses Correia e Silva, Prime Minister of Cabo Verde, to learn how he is advancing digital transformation, connectivity and innovation not only at the national level, but also internationally.

A December 2020 ITU News article quoted you as saying: “Through the concept of digital democratization, we hope to make Internet access an essential right.” Tell us about some of Cabo Verde’s major and most recent digital transformations and ICT milestones.

Access to the Internet is very important for us. About 8 per cent of our population has access, which shows how Cabo Verde invests in the Internet and connectivity. We’ve got a lot of islands, with most of our population living abroad compared to the resident population.

We need to connect resident families with families abroad.

Most Cabo Verdeans abroad live in the United States, which is very important for the economy. The Internet is an essential good. To promote more use, we introduced some incentives with good pricing for users.

Have those efforts been successful?

It’s going very well, and not just [in terms of] the number of Internet users. The Internet is important for companies, for public administration, for citizens, for service delivery, for education, health, transportation, and tourism. All these sectors need a good digital system, linked to the Internet and to digital transformation.

EllaLink, a state-of-the-art optical platform offering secure, high-capacity connectivity and low latency to link major terrestrial and subsea hubs in Europe and Latin America runs through Cabo Verde.
You have also approved legislation that creates and regulates a new Special Economic Zone for Technology called ZEET in the Digital Islands Technological Park. What will be the major opportunities and challenges for digital transformation in your country over the rest of the current decade?

We need to be more resilient to diversify our economy beyond tourism. We need a digital economy, a blue economy. We need more intelligent agriculture and smart industry. And all these sectors need digital transformation and digital support.

We created a special economic technological zone to promote [digital transformation] and to attract investors. The zone has financial incentives to create opportunities to develop business. We have two technical parks: one in Praia, and another in São Vincente.

The data center in Praia and another backup in São Vincente position Cabo Verde as a digital economy hub in Africa and in the mid-Atlantic region.

It will transform Cabo Verde because we are small, and we need to be very efficient. We need connectivity not only between islands but with the rest of the world. This is a good opportunity to diversify the economy, to be more efficient, and to provide quality of service for citizens, companies and for all organizations that work in and with Cabo Verde.

It sounds like an open call for investment and for companies to come to Cabo Verde and set up shop in this “digital archipelago.”

Yes. To attract investors from the diaspora – because we have well-positioned Cabo Verdean companies in the United States and in European countries. To attract foreign investors, we look forward to seeing brands like Facebook or Google or others have the opportunity to do business in Cabo Verde. We have stability, good governance, a good location and we invest in telecommunication and Internet infrastructure. To be competitive, we need investors in Cabo Verde.

The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, which is held every four years, is coming up this 26 September to 14 October, in Bucharest, Romania.
What are the key outcomes that you hope to see from this landmark conference? And how do you think that ITU should evolve to meet the needs of the digital age?

First of all, we want to participate by sending a delegation because we need to be present.

Second, for us [PP-22] is a key instrument to do good and foster transformation in digital and information and communication technologies (ICTs).

In Africa, we need to grow. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have specific needs. We need to represent SIDS, and [promote] the need for special instruments for financing so these islands can develop faster.

To develop quickly, we need more investment in digital transformation and to transform some ideas that countries are rich because they have natural and mineral resources.

Natural mineral resources can help, but to transform countries we need to transform these resources into education, health and employment and well-being for the country, through innovation in technology. And for that, we need support for ICT development.

In Cabo Verde, we have a problem with the regularity of the rain. But for ICTs we don’t need rain: we need talent, telecommunication infrastructure, and stability to attract good investment. And of course, good connectivity.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to hit hard the countries of the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA) and highlights the need to diversify from current, resource-dependent models of economic development. This will mean putting ‘innovation and technology that focus on green and digital transformation’ at the centre of their recovery processes.

To achieve sustainable, innovation-led economic development requires the broad and systematic experimentation with innovative ideas across the economy, together with Government policies that play a catalyzing role. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have committed to stepping-up their efforts to enhance national innovation policies as well as regional cooperation and integration on innovation and technology under the “SPECA Innovation Strategy for Sustainable Development” (adopted in 2019) and the “Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway Action Plan 2022-2026”.

During 19 – 20 July 2022, the SPECA government representatives as well as experts and private sector representatives, gathered to take stock of the progress made on these commitments and discussed the way forward, at the Expert Group Meeting on Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Development, organized by ESCAP and UNECE in Almaty, Kazakhstan and online.

In follow-up to the outcome of the Expert Group Meeting, the third session of the SPECA Working Group on Innovation and Technology for Sustainable Development, held in Almaty and online on 20 July 2022, which was attended by the SPECA member countries, adopted a set of important decisions in the area of innovation and digitalization, such as: confirmation of their support to the implementation of the “Asia Pacific Information Superhighway Action Plan 2022-2026”, and the proposed establishment of a Digital Solutions Center for Sustainable Development in Kazakhstan to promote digital cooperation and integration in the sub-region.

In addition, the Working Group welcomed the launch of a pilot SPECA Network of Business Incubators and Accelerators for Sustainable Development, based on UNECE work on business incubators. In this connection, the Working Group expressed its support to the innovative high-growth firms in the sub-region, and the recent “Innovation for Sustainable Development Review” of Uzbekistan. Participants from the SPECA countries expressed their strong interest in engaging with this Network to enhance support to their innovative entrepreneurship.

UNECE and ESCAP have been providing extensive capacity-building and policy advisory support to SPECA and continue to support their progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals through ‘innovation and technology’ as one of the key drivers towards their structural economic and social transformations.

MIGA has issued guarantees covering a $200 million investment into companies providing digital financial services under the Airtel Money brand in 12 African countries. These companies provide access to financial services through mobile phones in a region where most people lack access to formal bank accounts.

The guarantees were issued to The Rise Fund II Aurora S.à r.l. (The Rise Fund), which is making its investments through a parent company, Airtel Mobile Commerce B.V., into Airtel Money operating companies in Chad, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Seychelles, Uganda, and Zambia. MIGA’s guarantees provide coverage against the risks of war and civil disturbance, expropriation, and transfer restriction and inconvertibility, for up to five years. MIGA anticipates providing additional guarantees for The Rise Fund’s investments in Airtel Money Nigeria and Tanzania in the near-to-medium term.

Airtel Money offers mobile money services, including wallet (cash-in/cash-out) services, airtime recharging, bill payments, and merchant payments. International money transfers, savings, and microloan services will be offered in some countries. Airtel Money leverages Airtel Africa’s broad distribution network, which is active in 14 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, and an Airtel Money network that includes 38,000 fixed points of sale (kiosks, non-Airtel telecom and Airtel branches) and 400,000 non-exclusive agents.

Mobile money, which requires only a basic mobile phone, gives consumers access to certain financial services through mobile networks, independent of the traditional banking network. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mobile money provided a channel for governments to deliver direct financial assistance and reduced the amount of physical contact required for economic activity. Mobile money services are critical to financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to more than 50 percent of active mobile money accounts globally, and where most of the population does not have a traditional bank account.

MIGA is pleased to support investments in mobile money services that increase financial inclusion in countries where access to bank-based financial services is typically low,” said Hiroshi Matano, MIGA Executive Vice President. “Outside investors and a more competitive landscape for mobile money and digital financial services can help keep transaction costs low and promote the development of additional financial products such as microloans, savings accounts, international remittances, and even microinsurance, each of which could be particularly important and beneficial to low-income populations that lack access to formal banking services.

While traditional bank networks require a certain level of capital and population density to be viable, mobile money services can leverage existing telecom infrastructure and large networks of mobile money agents to provide low-cost financial services anywhere within the coverage area of mobile network operators. For this reason, mobile technology has changed the landscape of financial access for consumers. Mobile money services reduce the need for consumers to hold significant amounts of physical cash, avoiding a potential security risk and the inconvenience of cash transactions where the nearest brick-and-mortar banks or ATMs are far away.

  • TechSaksham is a tech skills project for women college leavers in India run by software companies Microsoft and SAP.
  • India has one of the world’s youngest workforces.
  • But it also has skills and gender gaps in ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.
  • The partners hope to upskill 62,000 young women students from underserved communities in India to build careers in technology.

A programme run by software companies Microsoft and SAP in India is enabling women graduates to gain practical industry skills in artificial intelligence, cloud computing and web design and digital marketing.

TechSaksham – which broadly means “tech capable” in Hindi – is a programme designed for women leaving college in smaller towns and rural areas of India that may not have the same high-level technology skills as graduates from bigger cities.

India’s tech skills gap

India has one of the world’s youngest workforces. But it also has a big skills gap in “jobs of the future”, where technology skills like artificial intelligence and cloud computing are expected to be high in demand. And when it comes to careers in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths there is significant gender disparity.

Despite having a high proportion of female STEM graduates, women account for just 14% of scientists, engineers and technologists employed in India’s research institutions.

The programme, launched last August, has so far helped almost 2,500 students from 43 colleges across seven states, including Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

SAP India and Microsoft India say they want to upskill 62,000 young women students from underserved communities to build careers in technology.

The TechSaksham tech skills programme in India has helped almost 2,500 women students since its launch last year. Image: TechSaksham

TechSaksham: helping women into industry

Around 1,200 teachers at more than 360 colleges have also been trained so far through TechSaksham to deliver industry-ready tech skills.

Kirti Mandal is a final-year student at a government engineering college in Gujarat. The technical skills she gained through TechSaksham recently helped her get an interview with global professional services firm Ernst & Young.

“Key knowledge on AI, robotics, cloud computing, PythonC language, machine learning, and more helped me do a good job at the interview,” Kirti said. “The training also gave me the courage to be assertive in stating what I look for in the company I want to work at.”

Women college graduates in India are getting help to transition into industry through a practical tech skills programme called TechSaksham. Image: TechSaksham

Women in India are making progress at work

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022 analyzes the gender gap between men and women in 146 countries. It ranks India 135th overall for its progress in closing the gender gap across four key areas covering work, education, health and political empowerment.

India, which has around 662 million women, has made extraordinary progress in the world of jobs and work – categorized as ‘Economic Participation and Opportunity’ in the report.

In this area, the country registered the “most significant and positive change” and also improved on its 2021 performance.

India’s share of professional and technical women workers grew from 29.2% to 32.9% – a “notable” increase – the Forum says. It has also grown its share of women legislators, senior officials and managers from 14.6% to 17.6%.

Women are underrepresented in STEM roles

In STEM roles, the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 finds that women globally are underrepresented, especially in two areas: information and communication technologies and engineering and manufacturing.

In most countries, access to online learning is helping to close the STEM gender gap.

But India bucks this trend. Its gender gap in the STEM field of information and communication technologies is wider in online learning than traditional education – which is typically classroom-based – the report finds.

This may be related to the fact that half of people in India have no access to the internet.

TechSaksham is set to address India’s wider gender gap in online learning than traditional classroom-based education in STEM fields. Image: WEF/Coursera

Lack of internet access is a barrier

One of the World Economic Forum’s initiatives pushing to improve this is the EDISON Alliance, a collaboration between public- and private-sector leaders to improve digital access in health, education and finance.

Through its 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the EDISON Alliance wants 1 billion people to have access to affordable digital solutions by 2025.

To achieve this, the Alliance is securing public commitments to improve digital inclusion from governments, companies and other organizations globally.

Digital technologies can play an instrumental role in helping businesses in Africa engage in international trade, stressed a number of participants at a session of the Aid for Trade Global Review on 28 July focusing on the Aid-for-Trade success story of Nigeria’s Growth Platform. In her opening remarks, Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala highlighted the platform’s “fantastic vision to drive economic growth and sustainability in emerging markets by empowering businesses and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) with large scale financial capital, skills and critical resources.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has played an important role in accelerating digital connectivity, DG Okonjo-Iweala stressed, citing two reports launched on Day 1 of the Global Review. “The pandemic also underscored shortcomings,” she noted, “such as underdeveloped physical and regulatory infrastructure, unaffordable connections, and limited information and communications technology skills, especially among MSMEs”.

With a population of over 1.4 billion — representing one-sixth of the world’s population — Africa accounts for only 3 per cent of global trade. The Growth Platform was created in 2016 in Nigeria — Africa’s most populated nation — to help marginalized groups tap into the benefits that digital trade brings to economic growth and the achievement of development objectives.

The Growth Platform’s Chief Operations Officer, Uzoma Nwagba, explained how this support is particularly needed by MSMEs, which account for 51 per cent of Nigeria’s outputs and employ 76 per cent of the country’s labour force. The Growth Platform places particular focus on women-owned enterprises, which represent 60 per cent of MSMEs in Nigeria, and on young entrepreneurs. Through its various partnerships, including with the World Bank, the Platform seeks to reach 25 million MSMEs by 2025.

Mr Nwagba cited the development of formal finance as a major challenge for Nigeria, with many businesses having limited access to bank accounts and loans. The Growth Platform seeks to help marginalized businesses overcome financial exclusion by providing them with a visual identity and funding and by helping them increase their productivity and competitiveness.

The Growth Platform is financed by Nigeria’s Bank of Industry, which raised a total of USD 472 million to help MSMEs set up projects, diversify production capacity and enhance trade infrastructure. The Bank’s Executive Director — Toyin Adeniji — said the objective is to enhance MSMEs’ access to markets, information and technology so that they can better recover from the COVID-19 crisis and build resilience to future economic shocks.

Nigeria’s WTO Ambassador, Adamu Abdulhamid, noted his country’s engagement in the SheTrades initiative established by the International Trade Centre to connect women entrepreneurs to markets. In addition to having marked 24 October as “Digital Nigeria Day”, the government is also implementing the “National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy 2020-2030”, with a view to furthering Nigeria’s participation in global trade.

The speakers emphasized the key role the WTO plays in helping to bring about inclusive global trade. DG Okonjo-Iweala drew attention to Nigeria’s participation in the WTO e-commerce initiative, which “could help provide a common framework of rules that would enable a scale up of digital skills”, especially for MSMEs, she said.

More information on the session can be found here.

As digital technology continues to unlock new financial opportunities for people across Asia and the Pacific, it is critical that women are central to strategies aimed at harnessing the digital financial future. Women are generally poorer than men – their work is less formal, they receive lower pay, and their money is less likely to be banked. Even when controlling for class, rural residency, age, income, and education level, women are overrepresented among the world’s poorest people in developing countries. Successfully harnessing digital technology can play a key role in creating new opportunities for women to utilise formal financial products and services in ways that empower them.

Accelerating women’s access to the formal economy through digital innovations in finance increases their opportunity to generate an income and builds resilience to economic shocks. The recently issued ESCAP guidebook titled, Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in the Asia Pacific, highlights the fact that mechanisms to bring women into the digital economy are different from those for other groups, and that tailored policy responses are important for women to fully realise their potential in the Asia-Pacific region.

Overwhelmingly, the evidence tells us that how women utilise their finances can have a beneficial impact on the broader community. When women have bank accounts, they are more likely to save money, buy healthier foods for their family, and invest in education. For women who receive Government-to-Person (G2P) payments, there is significant improvement in their lives across a range of social and economic outcomes. Access to safe, secure, and affordable digital financial services thus has the potential to significantly improve the lives of women.

Despite the enormous opportunity, there are numerous constraints which affect women’s access to financial services. This includes the gender gap in mobile phone ownership across Asia and the Pacific, lower levels of education (including lower levels of basic numeracy and literacy), and lower levels of financial literacy. This complex web of constraints means that country and provincial level diagnostics are required and demands agile and flexible policy responses that meet the unique needs of women across the region.

Already, across Asia and the Pacific, governments are implementing innovative policy solutions to capture the opportunities that come with digital finance, while trying to manage the constraints women often face. The policy guidebook provides a framework to examine the role of governments as market facilitators, market participants and market regulators. Through this framework, specific policy innovations drawn from examples across the region are identified which other governments can adapt and implement in their local markets.

A good example of how strategies can be implemented at either the central government or local government levels can be found in Pakistan. While central government leadership is important, embedding tailored interventions into locally appropriate strategies plays a crucial role for implementation and effectiveness. The localisation of broader strategies needs to include women in their development and ongoing evaluation. In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 50,000 beneficiary committees comprising local women at the district level regularly provide feedback into the government’s G2P payment system. The feedback from these committees led to a biometric system linked to the national ID card that has enabled the government to identify women who weren’t receiving their payments, or if payments were fraudulently obtained by others.

In Cambodia and the Philippines, governments have implemented new and innovative solutions to support remittance payments through public-private-partnerships and policies that enable access to non-traditional banks. In Cambodia, Wing Money has specialised programs for women, who are overwhelmingly the beneficiaries of remittance payments. Creating an enabling environment for a business such as Wing Money to develop and thrive with these low-cost solutions is an example of a positive market intervention. In the Philippines, adjusting banking policies to enable access to non-traditional banking enables women, especially those with micro-enterprises in rural areas, to access digital products.

While facilitating participation in the market can yield benefits for women, so can regulating in a way that drives systemic change. For example, in Lao People’s Democratic Republic and India, different mechanisms for targets are used to improve access to digital financial products. In Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the central government through its national strategy, introduced a target of a 9 per cent increase in women’s access to financial services by 2025. In India, their targets are set within the bureaucracy to incentivise policy makers to implement the Digital India strategy and promotions and job security are rewarded based on performance.

These examples of innovative policy solutions are only foundational. The options for governments and policy makers at the nexus of market facilitation, participation and regulation demands creativity and agility. Underpinning this is the need for a baseline of country and regional level diagnostics to capture the diverse needs of women – those who are set to benefit the most of from harnessing the future of digital financial inclusion.

This article is the second of a two-part series based on the findings of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Policy Guidebook: Harnessing Digital Technology for Financial Inclusion in Asia and the Pacific, and is jointly prepared by ESCAP and the Griffith Asia Institute.

This session presented the main findings of the ADB report on Aid for Trade in Asia and the Pacific 2022, which examined how trade and Aid for Trade can support developing Asia in meeting their sustainable development goals through the lens of regional cooperation. The report presents the Aid for Trade landscape in Asia, recent development in trade indicators and discusses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated trade policy measures. It also explores the potential of trade and digital agreements to support a resilient, inclusive and sustainable development, with a special focus on the most vulnerable economies. It discussed Aid for Trade beyond “hard infrastructure” investments to show that more Aid for Trade focus should be placed on “soft infrastructure” at both, improving the capacity of developing countries to participate in, design and implement of trade and digital agreements. It also highlighted the need for a reform of the Aid-for-Trade Initiative to reflect the new trade challenges and evolving environment, promoting regional assistance and economic spillovers.

The session focused on the need for use of trade and digital agreements for sustainable development. The session saw the release of the Asian Development Bank’s 2022 report on Aid for Trade in Asia and the Pacific—Leveraging Trade and Digital Agreements for Sustainable Development. A presentation was also made highlighting the issues covered in the report.

Panellists stated that in an era which is seeing a weakness in the international trading system, focus on aid for trade (AfT) is needed. This can help build and enhance Low-and-Middle-Income Countries’ (LMICs) participation in the global economy by integrating them into the international market. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased inequalities and further increased the requirement to build back better by enhancing trade. Inclusivity of women, young people, MSME etc., who have been disproportionality affected from pandemic should become a priority.

After the pandemic, there has been a rise in regional agreement as opposed to multi-lateral agreements. In this scenario, how new trade agreements relate to the already existing multi-regional needs to be evaluated. Since new agreements do not super succeed existing ones, whether regulatory convergence and coherence is promoted or not with such new agreements needs to be evaluated through an evidence-based approach. Further, whether these agreements get used by the private sector or whether they are just signed and not used also needs to be evaluated. Monitoring the effectiveness of an agreement can be done by assessing utilisation rates. Low utilisation rates suggest that a preference scheme is not working. Further, high utilisation may not always be a positive sign. However, utilisation rates are important as they are key to increasing transparency.

Panellists also highlighted that not all AfT programs in the nature of capacity building have equal success. However, successful programs have a few things in common. All such programs are demand driven and based on custom. They are a response to immediate requirement and ownership is the key ingredient. These programs have forward looking effort and involve private sector and civil society. Further, they also have a strong donor coordination. Adopting such measures can lead to developing synergies so that comparative advantage of each stakeholder can be exploited.

Panellists opined that the digital economy is key to enhancing global trade. Pandemic has increased digitalisation and most of the new generation Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) are focusing on digital economy. Digital Economic Partnership Agreement (DEPA) signed between Chile, New Zealand and Singapore is a good example. It has been based on factors like end-to-end facilitation of trade, Trust, innovation, and inclusion. Further, there are soft norms included such as focus on interoperability and coherence. New issues can be added and new members can join.

However, only 0.4% of total AfT is utilised for digital transformation. Thus, there is a need to refocus and modernise AfT. AfT can help in the following way for digital transformation. Digital agreements are happening between developed countries and developing countries missing from the table. Rules for trade are being developed right now and developing countries have to join in co-designing the rules. For this purpose, developing countries need to have a good policy framework such as a National Digital Strategy and further regulatory building blocks should be in place which include frameworks for data protection, cyber security, competition policy for digital economy, digital transactions, and consumer protection, among others. Policy makers need to know how to regulate the digital economy and its aspects like artificial intelligence, digital identity, etc. Here, civil society and businesses need to be brought on the table. Developed countries can open opportunities for engagement and collaboration for developing countries.

On the panel were Albert Park, Chief Economist and Director General, Economic Research and Regional Cooperation, Asian Development Bank; Amy Stuart, Counsellor (Services and Investment), Australian Permanent Mission to the WTO in Geneva; Jong Woo Kang, Principal Economist, Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department, Asian Development Bank; Francesco Abate, Adjunct Professor, Turin University; Pramila Crivelli, Economist, ERCI, AsDB; Andrea Giacomelli, Aid-for-Trade and Trade Policy Advisor, Permanent Delegation of the Pacific Islands Forum to the United Nations, World Trade Organization, and Other International Organizations in Geneva; Stephanie Honey, Co founder, Global Trade Insights; Roy Lagolago, Head of the PACER Plus Implementation Unit, (PPIU); Shawn Tan, Senior Economist, ERCI, AsDB.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • The second Cabo Verde Economic Update focuses on the importance of returning to fiscal sustainability and, within that framework, the role that Information and Communication Technologies can play in strengthening the foundations for an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery.
  • An efficient vaccination campaign against COVID-19 was critical to economic recovery in 2021, coupled with the fact that the country was able to slightly reduce poverty, both in urban centers and rural areas. The COVID-19 pandemic reversed gains in fiscal consolidation and public debt reduction. It is critical to recreate the conditions for an inclusive and sustainable recovery, through private investment, and to ensure a return to fiscal sustainability, so that the public debt-to-GDP ratio returns to a downward trend.
  • Cabo Verde has been consistently investing in the country’s digital development, with important projects, especially in digital infrastructure. To boost the national digital transformation and thereby support sustainable and inclusive long-term growth, it will be necessary to continue strategic investments in strengthening Cabo Verde’s digital economy, leveraging the country’s dividends in that sector.

The COVID-19 crisis generated the largest economic contraction ever recorded in Cabo Verde – 14.8% in 2020, the second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa – and exposed the country’s economic vulnerabilities. However, Cabo Verde is showing signs that it is recovering, albeit gradually. According to the second Cabo Verde Economic Update, real GDP grew by 7 % in 2021.

This recovery, during the second half of 2021, is due to an efficient vaccination campaign, which secured the country with the fourth best vaccination rate in Sub-Saharan Africa, with 108.85 doses per 100 people. Poverty has reduced slightly, both at urban centers and rural areas. In rural areas, with the resumption of growth in agriculture and fishing, poverty has reduced by 3 percentage points, from 45 % in 2020. Urban poverty also declined by 2 percentage points to 28 % in 2021, an indicator that reflects the recovery in services (particularly trade), transportation, and public services.

However, the report highlights that, due to the COVID-19 crisis, public debt, which had been on a downward trajectory since 2017, increased sharply to 155.3 % of GDP in 2021. The country resorted to new concessional external borrowing and the issuance of Treasury bonds to cover fiscal financing needs, causing hard-won gains in reducing public debt to be nullified. To achieve sustainable debt dynamics, it is essential to implement prudent borrowing policies and strengthen debt management, as well as measures to improve the functioning of the public securities market.

Against this backdrop, the revival of the tourism sector, driven by one of the highest vaccination rates in Africa, predicted that a strong post-COVID-19 economic recovery could take place by 2022. However, growth forecasts in the short term have been reduced and real GDP growth is projected at 4 % in 2022, constrained by the adverse inflationary repercussions of the war in Ukraine. While GDP is expected to rise gradually from 2022 onward, it should be noted that this outlook is dependent on downside risks stemming from further variants of COVID-19, the unfolding war situation in Ukraine and climate change shocks.

Cabo Verde's Potential Digital Dividends - Economic Update 2022

 Tourists on their way to the island of Santo Antão | Photo: Marco Silva | World Bank


According to Rosa Brito, World Bank economist for Cabo Verde, the gradual growth in real GDP expected from 2022 onwards “will be supported by continued recovery in the tourism sector, as the impact of the pandemic diminishes, and vaccination coverage increases. Average growth is estimated at 5.3 % between 2023 and 2025, led by the recovery of tourism and investments in the ICT, energy and fisheries sectors.”

With a development model characterized by an over-reliance on tourism, strong government presence in the economy, and large FDI inflows directed to all-inclusive hotel investments with little spillovers to other sectors of the economy, the pandemic ended up exposing the vulnerabilities of the economy. To counteract this over-reliance and gain resilience, it is necessary to invest in economic diversification to create new sources of income and more jobs.

Cabo Verde's Potential Digital Dividends - Economic Update 2022

Street vendor in Cabo Verde | Photo: Marco Silva | World Bank


“It is necessary to strengthen the regulatory framework for digital development, improve digital foundations, including the data ecosystem and cybersecurity, and invest in human capital.”

Camila Mejia Giraldo
S
enior Digital Specialist at the World Bank


The chapter on the country’s Potential Digital Dividends, states that with timely interventions and strategic investments in digital development, Cabo Verde will be able to build a solid foundation for national digital transformation, supporting long-term sustainable and inclusive growth. Cabo Verde has been consistently investing in different areas of the country’s digital development, expecting to become a Regional Digital Hub. The country’s current digital dividend could represent improvements in governance and public service delivery, create new sources of income, create jobs, diversify the economy, and support the development of a better skilled and more competitive workforce.

For Cabo Verde to achieve this goal, Camila Mejia Giraldo, Senior Digital Specialist at the World Bank says that “it is necessary to strengthen the regulatory framework for digital development, improve digital foundations, including the data ecosystem and cybersecurity, and invest in human capital.”

Cabo Verde's Potential Digital Dividends - Economic Update 2022

Students at WebLab, a Technology lab that develops digital skills (including robotics and programming) based on hands-on experiences | Photo: Kujo Kaglan | World Bank

We caught up with Lucas Binnah Koomson, a training instructor on the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications’ (GIFEC) Digital Transformation Centre Project, to learn more about how digital skills training is impacting the present and future in Ghana.

You recently attended the Generation Connect Global Youth Summit in Rwanda. Tell us more about your experience there – what are the top three takeaways or insights you brought back to Ghana?

The experience was inspirational and incomparable. Meeting and connecting with young people from all over the world was great. I had many takeaways, but my top three were:

  1. Being constantly reminded of the power youth hold to change the world.
  2. Being motivated by Generation Connect Visionary Board Member Othman Almoamar’s four questions during his speech: “Who am I? Who do I want to be? What do I want to do? How will I get there?”
  3. The need to shape a safe, inclusive, and sustainable digital future together.

Why did you first join GIFEC as a trainer?

I joined GIFEC as a trainer because of the institution’s impactful projects like the Capacity Awareness Project, Digital Literacy, CodingForKids, and Girls In ICT.

I admired the idea of getting to reach and impact the lives of many. What I loved more was that their projects include people from different backgrounds and groups.

In your experience, what are participants most interested in learning?

From the two Digital Transformation Centre (DTC) beneficiary trainings I have participated in and other GIFEC initiatives, I have observed that most people who feel left out are mostly interested in the basics of computing to help make their lives easier.

They show interest by getting involved in training activities and asking questions on effective ways they can use their mobile phones and personal devices.

They tend to appreciate technology more when they get to understand the processes that are being implemented.

What is your favorite digital skill to teach, and why?

For years, I have been interested in teaching people basic computing. I believe a solid foundation makes transitioning into the tech space easier. I like teaching this skill because it equips participants with everything they need to flourish. I have personally benefited from this; I know everything I teach because I was given the basics and built on those basics.

In your opinion, why is it important that young Ghanaians – and young people generally – are equipped with digital skills?

This was one question that the Generation Connect Global Youth Summit answered in many ways. To quote one of the guest speakers, the Right Honorable Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente (Rwanda):

“Digital skills are increasingly becoming the footing of all jobs. The good news is that the youth are the most technologically ready and more likely to connect than any age group.”

Young Ghanaians and youth, in general, need to be digitally skilled because:

  1. Almost every job now requires some form of digital literacy, so we need digital skills to be able to compete.
  2. We are in the digital age, for us to thrive and evolve in the future we need to be digitally equipped. This is why governments are putting in so much effort to get all citizens on a particular level. This would be easier if we were all skilled somehow.
  3. Young people in general will be the leaders of the digital transition and advancement.

What impact has the training had on your local community? What might this mean for Ghana’s long-term digital development goals?

I will not say that it has been golden throughout; digital change just like any other change is difficult.

For now, we are taking this slowly so that many people can join the transition. People in the local community understand the need for this change, the avenues and resources that have been put in place to help bridge the digital gap, and the steps that need to be taken for this aim to be achieved. This means Ghana’s long-term digital development goals are highly attainable.

What lessons or advice can you share with others who might like to follow in your footsteps as a digital skills trainer?

My advice to others who want to become digital skills trainers is that they should go for it and take it very seriously.

This is how we shape the country’s future; we need more trainers to help get more people into the digital space so that the country can achieve its digital development goals.

What impact have digital skills had on your life, personally?

Personally, the impact that digital skills have had on my life is significant. From thriving in my education to navigating my way through digital spaces, digital skills gave me a sense of purpose and a career path to follow. I don’t know where I would be without the digital skills I have now.

Public services in Cameroon are going online, entrepreneurs are building startups, and development partners and the private sector are increasingly financing the digitalization of services.  Internet traffic is on the rise. The number of public and private data centers is growing, as are cloud computing services, virtual private servers, domain registrations, and email hosting. This is all a sign of Cameroon’s embrace of digital transformation. However, the digital sector contributes only around three percent to Cameroon’s GDP, which is below similar economies such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.

Expanding the infrastructure for broadband, which is a prerequisite for accelerating digitalization, is a current priority for Cameroon.  Better access to data through affordable and good quality broadband can lead to better lives in multiple ways. Governments can use it to improve programs, policies, and to better serve marginalized people and communities. The private sector can use data to drive platform-based business models that boost economic activity and international trade in services. Individuals, empowered by data, can make better decisions and hold governments accountable.

It is against this backdrop that Cameroon aspires to become a data hub in Central Africa. But the country has work to do – broadband penetration is still lagging and it does not yet have a data protection law or safeguards to regulate governance, interoperability, and cybersecurity. Also, some government agencies are not yet digitalized, and many agencies do not communicate with each other; digital government platforms are not interconnected and interoperable.

Much of this interest in digitalization is playing out in Cameroon’s vital agricultural sector.  Agricultural development is a key priority for the government because it contributes around 17% of the country’s GDP, and the digitalization of agriculture would address a key need by generating real-time statistics on value chains . According to Tobi Ondoa, the Inspector General in the Ministry of Agriculture, “agriculture is a key development sector in Cameroon, and it is important to have viable agricultural statistics to support planning, but there are still some difficulties in realizing the agricultural census. This is due to limited resources, and geographic and security challenges in reaching some rural areas.”

Government leadership is needed to accelerate digital transformation, but Cameroon faces challenges. Most of the data generated in the country is hosted abroad, and cyberattacks are not uncommon, which is a significant impediment to private-sector investment and growth.  “There is an untapped data market in Cameroon, but for this to be unleashed, the government needs to build the appropriate frameworks on cybersecurity, interoperability, and standards ,” said Reuben Opata, Chief Technology Officer for MTN Cameroon, a private telecommunications company.

To discuss practical next steps, several government ministers together with more than 70 other officials from the public sector, the private sector and the civil society met in Yaoundé in May 2022 to discuss the findings and recommendations of the World Development Report 2021 on Data for Better Lives. They focused on how the country can build stronger data governance frameworks and how to best use data for development. Participants debated ways to boost the national statistical capacity, and discussed the importance of data governance, including protecting sensitive state data, citizens’ personal data, and building better defenses against hacking.

There is clearly a common interest in improving data governance in Cameroon, and leadership from the public sector is critical to make this happen. At a strategic level, building the necessary safeguards, resolving interoperability barriers between national information systems, and ensuring that an increasing share of the data generated in the country is no longer hosted abroad, are important first steps. At a more technical level, reinforcing cybersecurity protections, improving stakeholders’ ability to access risk management, agility, and bridging skills gaps are also key. Right now, Cameroon is focused on building a foundational element of a strong digital economy: digital skills, especially in agriculture.  Education and training programs will also help better prepare young people for the digital economy and ensure a pipeline for the next generation of workers. 

A focus on the digital future, which can include an approach to data that is grounded in principles of value, trust, and equity, will help countries like Cameroon take full advantage of the ongoing digital development revolution. 

During last week’s digital skill and literacy event organized by the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MInT), attendees committed to greater collaboration in ensuring that Ethiopian citizens can fully participate and benefit from the life-changing impact of digitization. Some of which include ease of access to essential healthcare, increased productivity for smallholder farmers, increased employability among the youth and equal and significant participation of women in the digital economy.

They also agreed that fair access and equal participation in building citizens’ digital skills are critical to boosting Ethiopia’s digital economy. Limited internet access and electricity coverage in rural communities, affordability of electronic devices, inadequate training opportunities and low educational levels, particularly among women and youth, are among the major barriers to the country’s digital skills drive.

In its Digital Ethiopia 2025 Strategy, the government highlights that digital upskilling is crucial to its digital transformation agenda. As part of the strategy, MInT developed the Digital Ethiopia Learning platform, which UNCDF is supporting to enhance digital learning in the country. MiNT, in collaboration with UNCDF, has also rolled out the IBM DNA Platform, which provides free standardized digital training.

Speaking at the stakeholders’ event on how the country can address the barriers to its digital drive, H. E. Huria Ali, State Minister at MInT, emphasized that “building digital literacy for citizens is the responsibility of all stakeholders and requires better cooperation and coordination. We must all actively participate, explore the gaps and strengths of our sector, think about our role in the process of building digital literacy, raise awareness about digital literacy in general, get to know each other better and strengthen our cooperation.”

Digital skills and literacy are key factors in expanding digital financial solutions, for example, and impact the future of work. The European Union (EU) captures these two factors in its EU Digital Transformation Pillars and works actively with UNCDF to help strengthen the country’s digital capacities.

Urging stakeholders to explore ways to collaborate effectively, Team leader, Economy, Infrastructure Sector of the EU, Sanne Willems, said, “Digital skills should be framed in relation to social inclusion and education. There is a high divide among marginalized groups of the community, and we expect this initiative to support women, youth, and smallholder farmers at large. The EU is committed to supporting Ethiopia and collaborating with UNCDF to spread digital literacy and digital financial literacy across the country.”

Worknesh Mekonnen Gonet, Director, and Representative to the African Union (AU) – United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) Ethiopia, who represented the UN Resident Coordinator at the event, reminded stakeholders of the transformative effects of literacy on societies and countries. “Literacy propels individuals along a journey of financial health, making them increasingly able to manage their situation better, access necessary services, be resilient in unexpected situations, and plan their future. Developing literacy – both financial and digital – not only enables people to access and use services, but it can also help them to make decisions because they understand and trust the systems that they are using.”

As per the 2030 Agenda, inclusion is at the center of achieving sustainable development and ensuring that no one is left behind in the digital era. Therefore, stakeholders from digital training institutes, the private ICT industry, institutions of higher learning, the digital financial services sector, development organizations and government agencies agreed to work together to ensure everyone is included.

UNCDF’s partnership with MInT and other stakeholders in Ethiopia aims to improve lives, particularly that of the marginalized. And as part of UNCDF, EU and OACP’s broader “Digital Financial Services for Resilience (DFS4Res) initiative, digital training will be delivered to build citizens’ capability and capacity to use digital services and digital financial services in particular.

Native Arabic speakers represent 5% of the world population, yet the share of Arabic content on the Internet is less than 3% of total content. To promote the development of good quality digital Arabic content in support of sustainable development, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has launched the second cycle of the ESCWA Digital Arabic Content Award (2022-2023), in collaboration with the World Summit Awards (WSA).

The annual Award recognizes quality digital Arabic content products that have a clear impact on society, and sheds light on the benefits of digital technologies and platforms for accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Digital content is instrumental for digital transformation that affects all aspects of sustainable development. It is also vital for narrowing the digital gaps between developed and developing countries, and within the same country,” said Chief of the Innovation Section at ESCWA Nibal Idlebi.

“Through this Award, ESCWA recognizes innovative and purpose-driven digital content in the region to promote best practices and spread their benefits among relevant stakeholders,” added Idlebi.

Applications are open to two categories, institutions and young entrepreneurs. Institutions may be public or private, academic, civil society or non-governmental. Young entrepreneurs may be from start-ups, teams of young people, or individuals younger than 35; or any company, group or team where at least one of the founding members and the majority of the team is under the age of 35.

“The mission to foster cross-national and regional exchange worldwide has been brought to another level with the second Digital Arabic Content Award, an initiative promoting digital content that contributes to the SDGs. Never has it been more important to support local entrepreneurship for sustainable development, connections and strong positive impact,” Chairman of WSA Peter A. Bruck underscored.

“The Digital Arabic Content Award provides an excellent stage for local content in local language, fostering sustainable knowledge societies. The Arab region has proven over the last years to be a gem in terms of content richness, digital creativity and forward thinking,” Bruck added.

Submissions will be evaluated by a jury of regional experts according to the Award rules and conditions, and winners will be announced during the 2023 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development (AFSD), to which they will be invited. Winners in the young entrepreneurs’ category will also be invited to attend the 2023 WSA global congress, and will benefit from training and mentoring programmes from ESCWA and WSA.

Earlier this year, ESCWA announced the winners of the first cycle of the ESCWA Digital Arabic Content Award in a special ceremony during the AFSD 2022. A jury comprised of digital content experts chose 8 winners out of 100 products submitted by 15 Arab countries.

Submit your products here.

For more information: https://bit.ly/DACAward

We are excited to announce a second round of grant funding through our Resiliency program, which aims to help communities enhance preparedness and build Internet resiliency when faced with adverse events.  These grants will support projects that increase network resiliency in communities prone to natural and climate-related disasters, ensuring these communities are better able to prepare for and withstand the effects of a disaster on Internet connectivity.

“Connectivity to the Internet becomes a vital tool when disaster strikes, both for people in need and those responding to the emergency,” noted Sarah Armstrong, Executive Director of the Internet Society Foundation. “Through these grants, we hope to support communities to reduce vulnerabilities and build the capacity and resilience to navigate future emergencies.”

Organizations currently implementing projects around the world through our Resiliency grant program include Help.NGO, NetHope, Inc., and Télécoms Sans Frontières.

The Resiliency program will open for applications between 25 July and 19 August. Grants of up to US$500,000 will be awarded to eligible organizations for projects lasting up to 12 months.

See grant details and application process

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) has begun work on the postal sector’s contribution to the Global Digital Compact, which is a UN initiative with the aim of developing shared principles for an open, free, and secure digital future for all.

The Digital Compact can trace its roots back to September 2020 when a political declaration was adopted during the UN’s virtual 75th anniversary meeting. The declaration outlines how the world’s challenges can only be addressed through reinvigorated multilateralism and stronger international cooperation. Included in the declaration is a commitment to improve digital cooperation and to develop a shared vision for the digital future.

As part of this, in September 2021, the Secretary-General released his report, Our Common Agenda, which proposes a Global Digital Compact to be agreed at the Summit of the Future in September 2023. The UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, which will advance work on the Global Digital Compact, has now launched a consultation period for the Compact and is calling for all stakeholders, including member states, and the private and public sectors, to share their input by September 30, 2022.

As the UN agency for the postal sector, the UPU has launched an internal consultation on its input to the Digital Compact, with the aim of gathering the views of the postal sector and presenting them to the UN. The work is being coordinated within the UPU’s Digital Transformation and Innovation Group, which is a recently created Postal Operations Council (POC) standing group.

Paul Donohoe, Digital Policy, and Trade Coordinator at the UPU, explains more, “The postal network and the UPU were agreed as key stakeholders in the development of the Information Society, as recognised in the outcomes of the UN World Summit for the Information Society (WSIS) in 2005. Now with this new UN Digital Compact initiative, we aim to refresh and consolidate the postal sector’s input into the development of the digital economy. To do this, over the coming months we will launch a consolidation process with the ministries and their designated operators responsible for postal matters, for finalisation at the UPU’s POC and Council of Administration (CA) meetings during the second half of October.”

According to Donohoe, it is essential for postal sector stakeholders to have their say on how the Digital Compact will take shape as they are “key drivers of the digital economy, and can advance not only digital, but also financial and social inclusion.”

Donohoe’s point is echoed by Yu Ping Chan, Senior Programme Officer at the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology. Chan adds, “There are significant gaps in global digital cooperation, and digital technology issues are too often low on political agendas. The postal sector is an integral part of ensuring a dynamic and forward-leaning economy, and with increasing global digitalization, its contributions and perspectives to the Compact are essential.”

A Global Digital Compact with shared principles on how to advance digitalization globally could be especially beneficial for small island developing states (SIDS), which often face many challenges when it comes to embracing the digital age, including lack of human and financial resources and insufficient knowledge and skills.
Looking at how the Global Digital Compact could support SIDS as they enter the digital economy, Chan continues, “The Compact is an opportunity to shape the principles and contours of the digital future we want, and a flourishing and resilient digital economy where all countries, regardless of size, participate and benefit is an essential part of this. As such, we hope that all stakeholders can engage with the UN and share their views on what is needed, including answering this exact question of how the international community can better support small and emerging economies.”

To take a closer look at how SIDS and their Posts can embrace digital transformation to advance socioeconomic development, Donohoe will be joined by postal, ICT and trade experts from the Caribbean and the Pacific, during the UPU’s “ICT for SIDS” webinar on July 26 2022. The event will be moderated by Ian Kerr, UPU Voice Mail podcast host, and will be open to the public to ask their questions and engage with the panellists. Anyone interested in how Posts can mobilize themselves to drive the digital development of emerging economies is invited to take part.

Register to the event here: https://bit.ly/ictforsids

Native Arabic speakers represent 5% of the world population, yet the share of Arabic content on the Internet is less than 3% of total content. To promote the development of good quality digital Arabic content in support of sustainable development, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) has launched the second cycle of the ESCWA Digital Arabic Content Award (2022-2023), in collaboration with the World Summit Awards (WSA).

The annual Award recognizes quality digital Arabic content products that have a clear impact on society, and sheds light on the benefits of digital technologies and platforms for accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Digital content is instrumental for digital transformation that affects all aspects of sustainable development. It is also vital for narrowing the digital gaps between developed and developing countries, and within the same country,” said Chief of the Innovation Section at ESCWA Nibal Idlebi.

“Through this Award, ESCWA recognizes innovative and purpose-driven digital content in the region to promote best practices and spread their benefits among relevant stakeholders,” added Idlebi.

Applications are open to two categories, institutions and young entrepreneurs. Institutions may be public or private, academic, civil society or non-governmental. Young entrepreneurs may be from start-ups, teams of young people, or individuals younger than 35; or any company, group or team where at least one of the founding members and the majority of the team is under the age of 35.

“The mission to foster cross-national and regional exchange worldwide has been brought to another level with the second Digital Arabic Content Award, an initiative promoting digital content that contributes to the SDGs. Never has it been more important to support local entrepreneurship for sustainable development, connections and strong positive impact,” Chairman of WSA Peter A. Bruck underscored.

“The Digital Arabic Content Award provides an excellent stage for local content in local language, fostering sustainable knowledge societies. The Arab region has proven over the last years to be a gem in terms of content richness, digital creativity and forward thinking,” Bruck added.

Submissions will be evaluated by a jury of regional experts according to the Award rules and conditions, and winners will be announced during the 2023 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development (AFSD), to which they will be invited. Winners in the young entrepreneurs category will also be invited to attend the 2023 WSA global congress, and will benefit from training and mentoring programmes from ESCWA and WSA.

Earlier this year, ESCWA announced the winners of the first cycle of the ESCWA Digital Arabic Content Award in a special ceremony during the AFSD 2022. A jury comprised of digital content experts chose 8 winners out of 100 products submitted by 15 Arab countries.

Submit your products here.