Covid-19 News

ILO

Changes brought about by the expanding digital economy could help persons with disabilities gain more equal access to the world of work, or they could create greater barriers. A new ILO report proposes actions to ensure that the post-COVID world of work is disability-inclusive.

 

Advances in the digital economy, significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are creating unprecedented opportunities to build a more inclusive world of work for the more than 1 billion people with disabilities globally, a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO) says.

However, digital barriers also threaten to aggravate existing inequalities and exclusion, unless they are countered with effective and targeted initiatives, as highlighted by the study.

The report, An inclusive digital economy for people with disabilities , was prepared by the ILO Global Business and Disability Network  (GBDN) and the Spanish disability NGO Fundación ONCE. It looks at the effects of the digital revolution on the creation of new jobs, changes to existing roles and work models, as well as online recruitment processes. It also highlights key areas for action by different groups of stakeholders, including the digital industry, academia, governments, workers and employers, and people with disabilities themselves.

The report highlights three main levers for creating a more inclusive digital labour market for persons with disabilities: ensuring accessibility, fostering digital skills and promoting digital employment.

The increase in digital work creates acute problems for those without the necessary skills or equipment, the study says, pointing out that, due to persistent exclusion, people with disabilities generally have lower levels of education and training than their peers without disabilities.

Hence, reskilling and upskilling will be key to building an inclusive future of work, alongside initiatives to foster digital employment and support collaboration between relevant stakeholders. Assistive technologies (AT) could also open up new occupations and opportunities. However, the report warns that a lack of accessible AT could create new barriers because without it many essential digital tools will not be usable by people with disabilities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends already present in the world of work, including the expansion of the digital economy,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality department. “We must ensure that we direct this trend so that it supports an inclusive future of work in which the talents and skills of persons with disabilities can contribute to the success of workplaces and societies worldwide.”

“In order to leave no one behind, the technological revolution which we are living, and which has been accelerated by the pandemic, needs to ensure an inclusive design for people with disabilities, so prevent it being a barrier for them,” emphasized Fernando Riaño, Director of Institutional Relations and Social Responsibility in the ONCE Social Group, of which Fundación ONCE is a part.

The report was published at the Zero Project conference, the largest annual disability-specific meeting, which this year was held virtually on 10 February, with the theme “Employment and ICT”. Its aim is to increase awareness of the way an increasingly digital world of work is affecting those with disabilities and identify how the future of work can be shaped to be more inclusive. It was developed within the framework of Disability Hub Europe, a project led by Fundación ONCE and co-funded by the European Social Fund.

Changes brought about by the expanding digital economy could help persons with disabilities gain more equal access to the world of work, or they could create greater barriers. A new ILO report proposes actions to ensure that the post-COVID world of work is disability-inclusive.

 

Advances in the digital economy, significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are creating unprecedented opportunities to build...

UNCTAD

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into the worst recession since World War II. In 2020, the global economy shrank by 4.3% – over two and half times more than during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Lockdowns and other preventive measures that governments have put in place to curb the spread of the virus have disrupted economic activity in ways for which societies were largely unprepared.

As social distancing and restrictions on movement became the new normal, businesses and consumers increasingly “went digital”, providing and purchasing more goods and services online.

Soon-to-be released findings from a study conducted by UNCTAD and eTrade for all partners shows the strong uptake in e-commerce wasn’t a rich world phenomenon. In fact, consumers in emerging economies have made the greatest shift to online shopping.

Latin America’s online marketplace Mercado Libre, for example, sold twice as many articles per day in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period the previous year. And African e-commerce platform Jumia reported a 50% jump in transactions during the first six months of 2020.

Not everyone can ‘go digital’

Businesses and consumers that were able to “go digital” have helped mitigate the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. But they have also sped up a digital transition that will have lasting impacts on our societies and daily lives – for which not everyone is prepared.

The pandemic has benefited the world’s leading digital platforms more than others. Most solutions being used for e-commerce, teleworking and cloud computing are provided by a relatively small number of large companies, based mainly in China and the United States.

Meanwhile, in many of the world’s poorest economies, consumers and businesses aren’t able to capitalize on the new e-commerce opportunties due to persistent bottlenecks and barriers, such as costly broadband services, overreliance on cash, a lack of digital skills among the population and government inattention.

The risk is that the huge digital divides that already existed between and within countries will only worsen in the wake of the pandemic. The result will be even deeper inequalities that would threaten to derail progress on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Building an enabling e-commerce ecosystem

To prevent this from happening, UNCTAD has identified three critical areas where greater efforts are needed.

First, governments need to prioritize national digital readiness so that more local businesses can become producers in the digital economy, not just consumers.

Building an enabling e-commerce ecosystem requires changes in public policy and business practices to improve the digital and trading infrastructure, facilitate digital payments and establish appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for online transactions and security. So the approach must be holistic. Policies should not be made in silos.

Second, businesses in developing countries need to become better prepared to participate in the digital economy. This requires faster digitalization for smaller businesses, more attention to digital entrepreneurship (including reskilling), better capabilities to capture and harness data, and stronger regulatory frameworks for creating and capturing value in the digital economy.

Third, the international community – including development partners, United Nations agencies and commissions, regional economic communities, and organizations concerned with digital development – need to strengthen their collaboration with governments and the private sector to leverage the opportunities and minimize the risks of countries falling by the wayside.

Only through active collaboration can we ensure e-commerce plays a powerful and positive role in national and international efforts to “build back better”.

Need for dialogue and collaboration

Better dialogue and collaboration are needed to identify new pathways for the digital economy that take into account and leverage varying kinds of experience and expertise and avoid duplication.

One example of such a platform is the eTrade for all initiative, currently funded by the Netherlands, Germany and Estonia.Over the past four years the initiative has acted as a global helpdesk for developing countries to bridge the knowledge gap on e-commerce information and resources.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, more than 30 eTrade for all partners have worked together to raise awareness on the e-commerce opportunities and risks emerging during the crisis and identify ways businesses in developing and least developed countries could overcome the challenges.

The initiative’s work focuses on seven policy areas identified as critical to e-commerce’s development:

  • E-commerce strategy
  • ICT infrastructure
  • Payment solutions
  • Trade logistics and facilitation
  • Legal frameworks
  • Skills development
  • Financing SMEs

Countries should redouble their efforts in these areas to turn the digital opportunities brought by the pandemic into development gains.

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the world into the worst recession since World War II. In 2020, the global economy shrank by 4.3% – over two and half times more than during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

Lockdowns and other preventive measures that governments have put in place to curb the spread of the virus have disrupted economic activity in ways...

UNCDF

The European Commission, together with the Organization of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), has signed a new initiative of €14.5 million with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) to unlock the potential of digital finance to benefit more than 600,000 women, youth and entrepreneurs across African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Today more than ever, digital technologies have a central role to increase access and usage of affordable financial products and services that meet people and business needs -as well as accelerate economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. This is why, as reflected in our EU Strategy with Africa, we want to join forces with Africa to foster a digital transformation that also helps us close the digital gender divide,” said Jutta UrpilainenCommissioner for International Partnerships. “If we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, digital solutions are key to create more jobs and improve basic services such as health and education.

Our work responding to COVID-19 in 2020 showed that access to digital finance and infrastructure was a major determinant of how resilient societies and businesses were in the face of the shocks caused by the pandemic”, said Henri Dommel, UNCDF Director of Financial Inclusion. “This partnership with the EU will boost the response to the pandemic and economic recovery of ACP countries using digital finance as a tool to reach the last mile.”

Mobile money is the provision of financial services through mobile technologies. It allows for the paying of bills and receiving money by the use of mobile apps. Mobile money also creates new opportunities for businesses and individuals as it grows in all regions of the world, both in urban and rural communities. Nevertheless, there is a long way to go as 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, especially women and youth. This represents 46% of adults in the developing countries.

Thanks to this EU funded initiative, UNCDF will support key policy reforms for digital transformation as well as create inclusive financial services tailored to the needs of women and youth, including innovative savings products and credit.

The joint action will be implemented in different countries in Africa (Gabon, Niger, Malawi and Ethiopia) as well as in the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago and Eastern Caribbean States) and in the Pacific region (Vanuatu, Samoa, Timor Leste, Tonga and Fiji).

This initiative is fully in line with the recent launch of the new Digital 4 Development Hub, aimed at building strong ties across the globe to make the digital revolution an opportunity for everyone.

Contacts:

European Commission
Ana PISONERO HERNANDEZ (+32 2 295 43 20)
Gesine KNOLLE (+32 2 295 43 23)
For the public: Europe Direct by phone 00 800 6 7 8 9 10 11 or by e­mail

United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF)
Karima WARDAK
Karima.Wardak@uncdf.org

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Background

The coronavirus global health crisis is severely harming livelihoods and sending hundreds of millions into poverty. Although economic recovery appears far off, the crisis has also encouraged incentives for economic transformation, demonstrating the immediate benefits of financial inclusion. In spite of the progress made in the past ten years, supporting digital finance remains critical for governments and individuals to create a conducive ecosystem for economic recovery and to provide a tangible response to coronavirus.

Although much is still unknown of the socioeconomic consequences of the coronavirus on women and youth, the disease is especially harmful to those who generally earn less, save less, hold more insecure jobs and, therefore, have less capacity to absorb economic shocks. The situation for women and youth in Least Developed Countries (LDC) is likely to deteriorate faster than in more developed countries.

The European Commission, together with the Organization of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), has signed a new initiative of €14.5 million with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) to unlock the potential of digital finance to benefit more than 600,000 women, youth and entrepreneurs across African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

Today more than ever, digital technologies have a central...

EIF

Trade isn’t all about tariffs or taxes, as COVID-19 has shown.

From fresh produce to toilet paper to bicycles, the pandemic has disrupted the complex supply networks that crisscross the globe. And with that disruption, the virus has revealed the delicacy of many of these links, and how tenuous the world’s worst-off are within these global arrangements.

Garment factories in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Cambodia have all experienced cancellations of orders. In total, U.S. and European fashion companies have refused to pay overseas suppliers over $16 billion in global goods, affecting millions of workers.

For lower-income countries that rely heavily on tourism, a similar story unfolded. Pandemic lockdowns started, cancellations ensued, and the many that work in parks, safaris, and heritage sites — often in more remote areas with few employment prospects — lost jobs and essential income.

Of course, COVID-19 is a disaster of massive proportions, with most if not all people and institutions diminished in one way or another. Should we expect that global value chains, or GVCs, which have driven international trade and spurred economic development in some low-income countries, be more resilient?

1  Overcoming challenges

For the world’s lowest-income nations, becoming a link in a global “chain” of production can help to boost economies. But for businesses in these countries, there are hurdles to overcome from customs and transportation to infrastructure and certification requirements. But, following that, there is promise.

In Germany, voluntary monitoring of supply chain abuses ‘has failed’

The country is under pressure to introduce compulsory regulations.

According to the World Bank’s “World Development Report 2020,” a 1% increase in GVC participation boosts per capita income by over 1%. But, the report notes that GVCs are at a “crossroads,” with growth leveled off since 2008 with GVCs at 52% of trade.

Take Bangladesh, the country doubled its world market share of exports between 1995 and 2012, with much of the growth attributed to its garments industry being integrated into GVCs. Key to the country’s success were government incentives, flexible labor arrangements, and very little taxation. Yet during the pandemic, according to the Center for Global Workers Rights, over 1 million workers have been fired as a result of canceled orders and buyers’ refusal to pay.

Can GVCs be re-centered so the world’s worst-off in countries like Bangladesh aren’t the first to bear the brunt of shocks?

2  Taking the lead

The services sector of GVCs is linked with the highest gross domestic product growth. Job gains in this sector are offsetting losses in manufacturing. Countries have responded, by, for instance working to develop tourism industries or IT sectors. For years, Cabo Verde had been positioning itself as an island idyll, now it is at a crossroads amid the pandemic-induced global travel restrictions. What did the country do? It’s paying idle workers in the tourism sector 70% of their income until the end of this year.

With the exponential development of the global need for now-digital connectivity, there is space for low- and middle-income countries to spearhead new models for themselves, while maintaining efforts that have had success.

In Myanmar, the government swiftly responded to the increased need for digital commerce. In Tanzania, the tourist board and wildlife conservation authorities live-streamed the great wildebeest migration. In Samoa, Women In Business Development used the Maua app, the country’s first e-commerce platform, to create an online market where farmers and small businesses have been selling their products during lockdowns.

3  Recommendations

Setting aside the integral roles of importers, industry, donors, and multilaterals, what can low-income countries do themselves to work toward some control?

1. Understand strengths and weaknesses

Countries need to take advantage of strengths and build resilience against shocks. Ethiopia’s coffee sector is using its close ties with diverse coffee markets in the EU, the U.K., and Saudi Arabia to weather the global coffee crisis. Schemes that guarantee a minimum price for farmers and coffee producers, or salaries for garment workers and tourist guides, are more important now than ever.

2. Improve the business climate

With strong and transparent institutions, countries can better navigate the complex dynamics of GVCs, and hopefully dictate their own terms. Governments could review their foreign direct investment strategies by looking at the exporting sectors that have been attracting investment. Rwanda is now providing a preferential tax rate for investors that undertake to work with a host of different energy sources to position the country’s investments beyond the pandemic.

3. Reduce trade and investment barriers

Complex customs rules, regulations against foreign companies, export restraints — countries can address these so they’re not at a disadvantage from the start. Initiatives such as the Enhanced Integrated Framework at the World Trade Organization have been working with countries to assess the barriers and work to put improvements into action.

4. Build digital capabilities

The internet was already facilitating GVCs, but many countries will still need to overcome their many challenges of infrastructure, of skills, of systems, of policy.

With trade, no country can work in a silo. EIF has been leading a #PowerUpTrade campaign together with the lowest-income countries, highlighting how people who work along value chains are being impacted by COVID-19.

The pandemic is showing us that the poorest countries continue to be the most vulnerable, and while they can do a lot on their own, they also can’t do it alone.

Trade isn’t all about tariffs or taxes, as COVID-19 has shown.

From fresh produce to toilet paper to bicycles, the pandemic has disrupted the complex supply networks that crisscross the globe. And with that disruption, the virus has revealed the delicacy of many of these links, and how tenuous the world’s worst-off are within these global arrangements.

Garment...

UNCDF

Every year since 2017, the Kampala Innovation Week brings together stakeholders in the startup ecosystem to celebrate, re-focus and energize the innovation efforts in Uganda and across the region.

KIW2020, last year’s edition of the annual KIW, was like no other. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, KIW2020 was organized as a hybrid event that involved in person participation of over 150 attendees with more than 5,000 others joining online from Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and the UAE, among other countries.

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges across many facets of life and business, and particularly disrupted many startups especially in economies like Uganda. Consequently, the KIW2020 edition was aptly themed around recovery and resilience for Startups and SMEs, where innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and development partners from all around the region gathered for discussions amid the ongoing global health crisis.

Discussions were focused on fostering the resilience and recovery of the Ugandan entrepreneur, financing Uganda’s green economy through entrepreneurial solutions, and rethinking the approach to startup financing.

Each day, a major partner event was hosted, with Day 1 dedicated to ITCs pitch competition which reached over 1000 people online. Activities were hosted by the Uganda Green Enterprise Finance Accelerator (UGEFA) on Day 2 around green entrepreneurship in Uganda and the various opportunities for finance. Enabel hosted a boot camp on Day 3 around digital innovation for entrepreneurs in the context of COVID-19.

Some of the speakers included Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder of Andela, Flutterwave and Future Africa, Norhizam Abdul Kadir, Vice-President of Fintech and Islamic Digital Economy at Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, and renowned investor and entrepreneur Tomi Davies, President of the African Business Angel Network.

One notable showcase of this edition was the resilience of the startups that weathered the storm as the world quaked under a global pandemic. Indeed, the ingenious innovations that soared above the pandemic demonstrated the power of startups to swiftly devise solutions for contemporary issues and global challenges.

Below are three main highlights of the discussions at the KIW2020

Entrepreneurs embrace innovation during the pandemic

Julian Omalla had a dream of starting a fresh juice business. With UNCDF support, she started Delight Uganda Limited, a successful fresh juice business that sources its raw materials from farmers in Nwoya district.

When the pandemic hit, Omalla had to lay off her workers and close the business whose main customers were students in boarding schools. She used the lockdown period to re-strategize, reorganize and grow more fruits through the Nwoya Fruit Farmers’ Association that consists of over 5,000 farmers. This is one of the stories of resilience amid a global pandemic that was showcased during KIW2020.

Despite the apparent market uncertainty, many startups, companies and individuals have risen to the occasion, shifting their working models and using innovative digital solutions to meet customers’ needs. A number of startups are providing solutions in financial services, health, education, e-commerce, and entertainment, among other sectors.

Companies like Tubayo Travel and Pro Interns, both of which depended heavily on in person communication and freedom of movement for their business modules, discussed the ways in which COVID-19 forced them to adapt and adopt new ways of working in order to survive.

Here is a recap of the discussion.

Panelists discuss the need for a Startup Act

Startups are universally recognized as a vital engine that powers rapid economic growth. In Uganda, despite the numerous laws and policies that guide companies, panelists at the KIW2020 observed that there is need for a specific Startup Act that not only defines what a startup is but also stipulates specific benefits to startups such as access to tax relief and how the government can support them to access international markets.

“Many businesses are collapsing because of the lack of law protection,” said John Walugembe, CEO at Federation of SMEs. “Startups need to be recognized for their contribution to the economy, not as a favour to them.”

Though the panelists agreed that there is need for more groundwork and research before a Startup Act can be enacted, a clarion call was made for an urgent legal framework within which startups can be engaged. They added that the framework should provide for more lenient requirements for registration, mechanisms for access to finance, and an enabling environment for entry and exit into the sector.

Watch the discussion here.

Digital innovation to improve efficiency in the humanitarian sector

There is no doubt that the pandemic has hit hardest the people who are traditionally marginalized, affecting their ability to access social services like health and education. Consequently, the humanitarian sector needs to embrace digital innovation to build solutions that improve the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable.

The discussion emphasized the concern that digital solutions should make the lives of people supported by humanitarian organizations better, not worse. Governments and regulating authorities play a leading role in accommodating the innovation process and ensuring consumer protection.

“We need to ensure that our solutions do not for instance propagate domestic violence or create more division amongst communities,” observed Jaki Mebur Market Engagement Manager, GSMA.

Keeping in mind the limited access to technology and digital literacy that marginalized communities face, digital innovations should address the needs of the most vulnerable.

Watch the discussion here.

Please visit the Kampala Innovation week Facebook page to watch all the live stream sessions.

Every year since 2017, the Kampala Innovation Week brings together stakeholders in the startup ecosystem to celebrate, re-focus and energize the innovation efforts in Uganda and across the region.

KIW2020, last year’s edition of the annual KIW, was like no other. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, KIW2020 was organized as a hybrid event that involved in person participation of over 150...

WEF

The World Travel and Tourism Council predicted in November 2020 that 174 million people could lose their travel-related jobs that year alone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To re-boot the global economy and re-connect society physically and virtually in a new reality, people will need to engage physically and digitally with public authorities and businesses.

But the potential is bigger: the possibility to safely claim who we are will impact how we live and how fast the world economy can recover – alleviating key risks highlighted in World Economic Forum’s COVID-19 Risk Outlooks Report.

Human-centric digital identities are an enabler to alleviate the global risks of health, movement, travel and trade highlighted in the COVID-19 Risks Outlook, May 2020.

The need for trust

The advantages of trusted claims are multiple from binding health tests to an individual being able to enter venues or travel, to relying upon education and work certificates issued remotely, to remotely signing property contracts. But with contact tracing, self-declaration or health credential approaches facing scrutiny – how to enable the new normal?

People are worried about the impact of technology on their personal data management (66% of people lack trust in data based on the Edelman Trust Barometer), but there is one fundamental digital infrastructure layer that can bring transparency to interactions: digital identity.

Human-centric digital identities: an enabler to rebuild economy and trust

Human-centric, digital identity lets people know who they are dealing with without revealing more than the strictly necessary information. Digital identities give the user control of their data – they provide clear audit trails and streamline how businesses and governments allow people to register and access their services and trade. It has great potential for online education, issuing employment credentials, fighting fraud or proving one’s health status. Digital identity was often confined to the technology community or banking’s Know Your Customer checks and to combat money laundering.

With our digital footprint extending into all walks of life, digital identification is becoming a global topic. A healthy digital identity network widens civic participation and supports societal advancement, a case in point would be the Estonian digital identity approach, which allows the nation’s public and private sector e-service information systems to link up and function in harmony.

Digital identities are widely accepted

While government’s role is key, regulators have understood that they don’t hold all the cards and that solutions are needed across the public and private sectors. Digital identity trust frameworks led by governments working with the private sector are emerging – defining claims for people and organizations that should be broadly recognized.

Such frameworks have emerged in Canada, the EU, the Smart Africa AllianceAustralia and New Zealand, and in vertical market sectors from health and employment to travel, encompassing data responsibility, cyber security, interoperability, inclusion, governance, redress and liability.

‘As proven in Canada, a digital ID ecosystem is not only a motor to connect people, governments and the private sector in a trusted and transparent way – but it also accelerates participation in the economy, work and mobility’

—Vidya ShankarNarayan, Assistant Deputy Minister and CIO, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and previously Director General, Digital Government

Human-led identity approaches avoid surveillance and mistrust

While trust models vary among regions following the eminently practical Good Digital Identity guidelines will help to open an era of transparency:

  • Strong governance and transparency of the data and business models behind digital identity provision are key to build trust with people. To avoid surveillance, the safe capture, storage, transfer and agreed usage of identity data requires strict oversight.
  • Digital identity provision needs to be interoperable. Some digital identity models have developed from banking communities sharing data, others from payment networks or mobile operators. The next chapter must break new ground and function across sectors and borders – as a key piece in establishing trade areas or travel corridors.
  • The accessibility of digital identity systems will be judged. In many countries, citizens do not have access to identity documents, while people with disabilities, or without technical skills or the latest devices may be disadvantaged. An opportunity for new trust solutions now emerges: e.g. tech for good to open hitherto closed data sources from companies and authorities; new community vouching models – e.g. paying bills regularly, giving blood or volunteering as verifiable claims of existence.

The risks of doing nothing

The cost of not pursuing digital identities is high. Being able to digitally prove claims is vital to enable paperless, contactless, streamlined processes across public and private sectors. Sadly, COVID-19 has shown many cases of fraud applications for grants from bogus organisations, selling non-genuine tests to citizens, setting up fake companies or enlisting fake directors to harvest data. In the UK alone, Policy Exchange estimates that fraud and error could cost the government between £1.3bn-£7.9bn ($1.8bn-$10.8bn) in 2020.

Next steps for governments and companies

Governments around the world are spending huge amounts to bail out economies due to the impacts of COVID-19, looking for GDP gains, streamlining economies and decreasing fraud. Digital identity enables all this, as well as robust testing regimes, opening travel and work places. The value creation of digital ID is equivalent to 3-13% of GDP by 2030, according to McKinsey.

So what needs to be done?

  • Frameworks may have to be rewritten to enable digital forms of identification to be accepted at parity with physical ID documents.
  • Policymakers need to be able to move as quickly as the technology and times in which they live. Data protection authorities must offer sufficient data protection legal bases to enable biometric digital identity to function.
  • For citizens to trust and be willing participants, organizations must take the time to contribute to the global dialogue between trust frameworks and explain their models clearly. Innovative thinking is needed to enable citizens of all backgrounds to participate in this digital public infrastructure.

The World Travel and Tourism Council predicted in November 2020 that 174 million people could lose their travel-related jobs that year alone due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To re-boot the global economy and re-connect society physically and virtually in a new reality, people will need to engage physically...

UNCDF

Only 6% of Private Finance Mobilised Through Development Finance Reached LDCs between 2012 and 2018

Under increasing pressure to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and achieve the SDGs, the world’s least developed countries receive the lowest share of private finance mobilised by blended finance transactions. This is one of the core findings of “Blended Finance in the LDCs, 2020: Supporting a Resilient Covid-19 Recovery,” released today by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

 

The third edition of the Blended Finance in the LDCs report series acknowledges that LDCs are not able to harness the full potential of blended finance, defined in the report as the strategic use of development finance to mobilise commercial finance towards the SDGs, with a focus on unlocking investment that the private sector would not have done on its own. Between 2012 and 2018, LDCs received 6% of the total global share of private finance mobilised by blended finance transactions, a total of USD 13.4 billion. This represented the lowest proportion of mobilised private finance among country categories. By comparison, lower middle-income countries received USD 68 billion, while upper-middle income countries received USD 84 billion.

Against the ever-increasing gap to finance achievement of the SDGs, much of the 13.4 billion received by the world’s 47 LDCs reached just five countries (Bangladesh, Myanmar, Angola, Senegal and Uganda). At the industry sector level, over 60% of the private finance reaching LDCs through blended finance transactions went to only three sectors—energy, banking and financial services, and mining and construction. The least-targeted areas were health, water and sanitation, education, and other social sectors.

Such finance challenges coincided with mounting pressure to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as it brings distressing health outcomes to LDCs on top of dramatic shocks from the ensuing global economic crisis. In the medium to long term, the report states that blended finance can play a key role in supporting LDCs to mobilise resources for economic recovery. This will require immediate action to start building a pipeline of bankable projects that can attract private capital, as well as coordination among development finance actors around such efforts as capitalizing small businesses, investing in sustainable infrastructure, promoting gender equality, the transition to digital economies, and supporting health systems. In the immediate term, blended finance can play a catalytic role in the growth and strengthening of health systems in LDCs, including —potentially— the dissemination of vaccines.

“UNCDF is proud to continue its work and thought leadership on the effective use of blended finance in LDCs,” said Judith Karl, Executive Secretary of UNCDF. “As Covid-19 threatens achievement of the SDGs in the LDCs, and in the context of the Decade of Action, innovative solutions for mobilizing much-needed finance for LDCs must be brought to scale through systemic and transformational approaches. Now is the time to redouble our commitment to leave no one behind. We hope this report promotes discussion and creates more options for how blended finance can be used to increase mobilisation of financing to LDCs.”

“The evidence in this report sounds an alarm: far too little development finance is reaching those furthest behind, which risks cleaving the world down unequal lines when solidarity is needed more than ever” said Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate. “With COVID-19 already reversing development gains in LDCs, and many challenges still ahead, it is urgent that we redesign global finance to incentivise sustainable investment. Official development finance can be leveraged better to mobilise and align additional finance for the SDGs in LDCs, and tools to increase transparency and measure impact will go a long way to help scale blended finance in LDCs.”

“Malawi is very pleased to support the third edition of this report, which comes at a crucial moment when the Covid-19 pandemic has increased financing needs in LDCs, and the preparatory process for the Fifth UN Conference on LDCs has commenced,” said H.E. Perks Ligoya, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Malawi to the United Nations and Chair of the Global Coordination Bureau of the Least Developed Countries. “Increasing development financing available for LDCs will be critical for recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and the achievement of the SDGs.”

In addition to presenting updated data and incisive guest contributions, the “Blended Finance in the LDCs, 2020: Supporting a Resilient Covid-19 Recovery” report includes an Action Agenda to harness the potential of blended finance for the LDCs. The Action Agenda focuses on four critical points:

  1. Support domestic financial ecosystems and market development: Blended finance should be used strategically to develop sustainable market systems and build the capacity of local capital market actors.
  2. Design blended finance solutions to reach the “last mile”: Blended finance actors should design innovative structures that reach the most vulnerable and underserved communities.
  3. Improve impact management and measurement and promote transparency: Lack of transparency and impact measurement of blended finance operations severely hinders further development and improvement of this market.
  4. Bring blended finance to scale through systemic and transformational approaches: By adopting a portfolio approach and by focusing investments in key sectors prioritised in national crisis recovery and sustainable development plans, blended finance can play a strategic and significant role in supporting COVID-19 recovery.

Blended Finance in the Least Developed Countries 2020

The Blended Finance in the Least Developed Countries, 2020 report is the second joint UNCDF-OECD report. It builds on UNCDF research and experience, OECD data and analysis, and a series of guest contributions written by a varied range of blended finance experts.

To access the full report, go to www.uncdf.org/bfldcs

Only 6% of Private Finance Mobilised Through Development Finance Reached LDCs between 2012 and 2018

Under increasing pressure to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and achieve the SDGs, the world’s least developed countries receive the lowest share of private finance mobilised by blended finance transactions. This is one of the core findings of “Blended Finance in the LDCs,...

World Bank

This time last year, concepts such as “lockdowns,” “mask mandates” and “social distancing” were unknown to most of us. Today they are part of our everyday language as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all aspects of our lives. Through the following 12 charts and graphics, we try to quantify and provide an overview of our colleagues’ research in the face of a truly unprecedented crisis.

 

  • The New Poor
  • Accelerated Economic Downturn
  • Relieving the Debt Burden
  • Migrants Sending Less Money Home
  • Impact on Businesses and Jobs
  • The High Cost of Health Care
  • Closing Classrooms
  • Internet Inequalities
  • Gender Distinctions
  • Millions More Without Meals
  • Fragility, Conflict, Violence: Home to More and More Poor
  • Seizing the Sustainability Opportunity

This time last year, concepts such as “lockdowns,” “mask mandates” and “social distancing” were unknown to most of us. Today they are part of our everyday language as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all aspects of our lives. Through the following 12 charts and graphics, we try to quantify and provide an overview of our colleagues’ research in the...

World Bank

COVID-19 and the related lockdown measures to prevent the virus’ spread have highlighted how important it is for everyone to have access to reliable and resilient digital infrastructure. Restrictions on movement have generated higher Internet usage and increased traffic on networks, reflecting an increase in remote working and learning, as well as other activities that have shifted online.

This article provides insight into the effect of COVID-19-related lockdown measures on internet speed in a sample of developing countries in Africa. The findings of this study demonstrate the resiliency of digital infrastructure in Africa and also highlight and reflect the benefits of partnership between public and private stakeholders to manage traffic surges. The development community should encourage and leverage these partnerships to not only ensure continued network resilience during times of crisis, but also to minimize the digital divide between countries and within countries as the new global digital transformation takes shape.

 

Key Findings

  • Increase in internet usage – The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures have increased the amount of internet traffic around the world. Countries in Africa reflect this global trend, reporting higher data traffic during the months in which “stay at home” orders were established. However, this increase in traffic was not temporary; countries continue to reflect a surge in traffic compared to the pre-lockdown weeks.
  • Public and private sector reaction – As a consequence of higher internet usage, public and private stakeholders have promoted a wide range of measures to facilitate access to the internet. For instance, some regulators have enabled temporary spectrum bands to meet the increase in demand while private operators have offered more affordable data plans.
  • Internet speed is slow  The data recorded by Ookla® Speedtest® reported on average low mobile and fixed internet speeds across the 18 African countries surveyed. Even before the onset of the pandemic, speed was below the acceptable threshold of 10mbps, considered the lower bound for a good quality broadband service. In contrast to what might be expected in OECD countries, mobile internet generally provides faster service than fixed.
  • Effect of the lockdown on internet speed was modest and temporary – Findings from the sample of 18 African countries indicates a negative effect of the lockdown on mobile (-17%) and fixed internet speed (-5%), particularly in the first week of lockdown. Some countries also experienced a decline before the “stay at home” orders, suggesting that some activities shifted to remote connectivity before the official lockdown mandates. However, networks across the continent reacted well.
  • Public and private sector partnerships and cooperation was and remains critical for ensuring network resilience – The findings of this study demonstrate the resiliency of digital infrastructure in Africa and also highlight and reflect the benefits of partnership between public and private stakeholders to manage traffic surges. The development community should encourage and leverage these partnerships to achieve the ambitious objective of universal access to the internet.

Read the analysis:
The effect of COVID-19 lockdown measures on internet speed

COVID-19 and the related lockdown measures to prevent the virus’ spread have highlighted how important it is for everyone to have access to reliable and resilient digital infrastructure. Restrictions on movement have generated higher Internet usage and increased traffic on networks, reflecting an increase in remote working and learning, as well as other activities that have shifted online.

This article provides...

WTO

An online information session was held by the WTO on 2 December to prepare for an Aid for Trade “stocktaking event” to be held online on 23 — 25 March 2021. Organized by the Committee on Trade and Development, the online event is set to examine the trade and development challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken in response to the crisis.

The information session highlighted how the crisis has had a significant impact in areas such as economic diversification and resilience, e-commerce, the empowerment of women and young people, the integration of micro small and medium-sized enterprises into the global economy, trade facilitation and trade in services.

The stocktaking event will feature sessions organized by WTO members as well as those organized by the WTO Secretariat and international organizations.

Members are invited to communicate to the WTO Secretariat details of the session(s) they wish to organize by filling in the form available hereThe deadline for submission is 31 December 2020.

Aid for Trade is a multi-stakeholder initiative seeking to mobilize resources to address the trade-related needs and supply-side constraints identified by developing countries and least-developed countries. More information can be found here.

Earlier this year, WTO members agreed to extend the current biennial Aid for Trade work programme entitled “Empowering Connected, Sustainable Trade” into 2022 when the next Global Review will be held. They also agreed to an addendum to reflect the impact of the pandemic in the work programme.

An online information session was held by the WTO on 2 December to prepare for an Aid for Trade “stocktaking event” to be held online on 23 — 25 March 2021. Organized by the Committee on Trade and Development, the online event is set to examine the trade and development challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken...

WTO

World merchandise trade appears to have rebounded strongly after plummeting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether growth can be sustained going forward is unclear, according to the WTO’s latest Goods Trade Barometer released on 20 November. A sharp rise in the barometer index was driven by a surge in export orders, but mixed readings in other components and the resurgence of COVID-19 could weigh on trade in the coming months.

The Goods Trade Barometer’s current reading of 100.7 marks a dramatic improvement from the 84.5 recorded last August, which reflected collapsing trade and output in the second quarter as lockdowns and travel restrictions were employed to fight the virus. The latest reading indicates a strong rebound in trade in the third quarter as lockdowns were eased, but growth is likely to slow in the fourth quarter as pent-up demand is exhausted and inventory restocking is completed.

Trade-related uncertainty remains high. A second wave of COVID-19 infection is already under way in Europe and North America, leading to renewed lockdowns that could trigger another round of business closures and financial distress. On a more positive note, progress has been reported in the development of a vaccine, but when and how it might be deployed is not yet known.

The Goods Trade Barometer is designed to gauge momentum and identify turning points in world trade growth in real time. Readings of 100 indicate expansion in line with medium-term trends; readings greater than 100 suggest above-trend growth, while those below 100 indicate below-trend growth.

All of the barometer’s component indices were rising in the latest months, with some climbing above their medium-run trends while others remained depressed. The recovery in the overall barometer index was driven by export orders (113.5) and agricultural raw materials (103.6), both of which finished firmly above trend. The indices for container shipping (102.0) and automotive products (94.6) also recovered substantially to near trend, while those for air freight (88.5) and electronic components (94.6) remained below trend.

The latest reading of the Goods Trade Barometer is consistent with the WTO’s revised trade forecast of 6 October 2020, which predicted a 9.2% decline in the volume of world merchandise trade in 2020. This outcome would require a sharp rebound in the third quarter following the 17.2% year-on-year decline registered in the second quarter.

Normally the Goods Trade Barometer anticipates turning points in world trade by a few months, but new sources of uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced the predictive value of its component indices. Under these circumstances, higher-frequency (i.e. daily or weekly) statistics may provide additional signals of economic activity and trade to complement the standard set of indicators. These indicators point to a stalled recovery of international flights and container shipping in October, but improved economic sentiment as reflected by copper futures and press reports (see below).

The full Goods Trade Barometer is available here.

Further details on the methodology are contained in the technical note here.

The trade barometers provide a preview of trends in WTO trade statistics, which can be downloaded at data.wto.org. Forthcoming releases include merchandise and commercial services trade values on 27 November and merchandise trade volumes in mid-December.

World merchandise trade appears to have rebounded strongly after plummeting in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but whether growth can be sustained going forward is unclear, according to the WTO’s latest Goods Trade Barometer released on 20 November. A sharp rise in the barometer index was driven by a surge in export orders, but mixed readings in other components...

AfDB

The AfCFTA will not in one dramatic swoop alter existing commercial and economic realities on a vast scale, but its implementation could lead the recovery efforts from the COVID-19 crisis – Solomon Quaynor, VP African Development Bank

Industry experts meeting this week for a virtual discussion focused on resetting, retooling and restarting regional integration in Africa in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, underscored the importance of putting small scale traders at the heart of any initiatives.

The joint webinar, organized on Tuesday by the African Development Bank and Korea Customs Service(KCS), looked at service sectors, e-commerce, digital platforms and value chain development as critical factors for accelerating trade and investment in Africa against the backdrop of the global pandemic. The webinar was delivered in three sessions, moderated by Stephen Karangizi, Director, African Legal Support Facility; Dr. Stephen Karingi, Director at Regional Integration and Trade Division of UNECA and Acha Leke, Senior Partner at McKinsey

History has demonstrated the success of countries and businesses that seize new opportunities during times of crisis, said Sukhwan Roh, Commissioner of the Korea Customs Service. “The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed health and livelihoods of individuals across the world in less than a year,” he said. “Korea wishes to share all the achievements in system enhancement utilizing new technologies with African countries.”

The workshop’s audience heard how regional integration is increasingly central to the continent’s future economic prospects and to attracting foreign direct investment. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement, (AfCFTA), already ratified by 30 countries, is expected to come into effect on 1 January, 2021. Uniting all 55 member states of the African Union, the pact will create a market of more than 1.2 billion people, including a growing middle class, and a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of over $3.4 trillion

COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing trade frictions within the continent yet offers important growth opportunities and great stories of innovation and highlights the importance of protecting Africa’s place in local value chains, said Anabel Gonzalez, Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics, with the need to “put small scale traders at the heart of the effort.” She urged governments to strengthen national agencies to provide support to small traders.

“AfCFTA creates a new trade and integration reality…integrating unequal partners across the continent,” said Trudi Hartzenberg Executive Director of the Trade Law Center (TRALAC). Trade facilitation enjoys specific focus within the AfCFTA, with digital, e-payments, and e-commerce particularly important, she added, citing a 2020 WTO report that emphasized education and healthcare as fundamental to industrialization.

From the outset, the African Development Bank has lent strong support to the AfCFTA, financing the set-up of its secretariat as well as supporting member countries with technical assistance to comply with a range of AfCFTA regulations, said Bank Vice President, Infrastructure, Private Sector & Industrialization, Solomon Quaynor in his introductory remarks read by Abdu Mukhtar, Bank Director, Industrial and Trade Development Department.

Still, Quaynor warned, post-crisis recovery efforts are likely to be slow. “The AfCFTA will not in one dramatic swoop alter existing commercial and economic realities on a vast scale. However, through strategic measures and the right investments, policy frameworks and political backing, intra-African trade will be enhanced.“

African countries innovate to enhance local value chains

Presentations provided examples from Ghana and Zambia of strategies the private sector can adopt to leverage the AfCFTA within the context of the pandemic.

Ghana previously imported most of its Personal Protective Equipment or PPE, but, since the pandemic, the government galvanized 14 local garment firms to manufacture PPE. These firms now produce 1,000 items daily, according to Ghana’s deputy trade minister, Robert Ahomka Lindsay. The development has created 10,000 jobs.

“ Traditional value chains have been challenged… it made us realise that we cannot rely on those value chains,” Lindsay said.

Some of the worst-affected sectors in Africa such as tourism, aviation and education, had shown resilience, for example, in the food industry, which harnessed e-commerce for marketing during the pandemic, noted Kenneth Baghamunda, Dir. General, Customs and Trade, East African Community Secretariat. Zambia’s success with cashless payment solutions at its border and other innovations since COVID-19 was another example of favourable results.

“We need to see which value chains need to be developed and we need to interconnect our policies with the right institutional framework,” he said.

The AfCFTA will not in one dramatic swoop alter existing commercial and economic realities on a vast scale, but its implementation could lead the recovery efforts from the COVID-19 crisis – Solomon Quaynor, VP African Development Bank

Industry experts meeting this week for a virtual discussion focused on resetting, retooling and restarting regional integration in Africa in the wake of the...

UNCTAD

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting actors in the digital economy differently. While some digital businesses are showing resilience, costs are rising for others, a new UNCTAD survey shows.

Even though COVID-19 has pushed more consumers in developing countries to buy online, many e-commerce businesses in these nations have seen a slump in sales, according to an UNCTAD study published on 17 November.

Presenting hard-to-collect data from 23 countries, mainly in Africa and Asia, the research shows a stark divide between the pandemic’s impact on different actors in the digital economy.

While 58% of businesses selling their own products or services online have recorded a drop in monthly revenue, about 64% of third-party marketplaces have seen a spike in sales, according to data collected between March and July 2020 from over 250 companies, most of which have less than 10 employees.

“We found that wholly digital businesses, especially third-party online marketplaces, have been more resilient during the current crisis,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.

“Even with growing demand for e-commerce, most businesses have struggled to adapt and scale-up their operations online.”

Despite new, coronavirus-induced opportunities for digital business models, the outlook looks challenging for many of the e-commerce businesses surveyed. Two-thirds reported rising operational costs since the outbreak, and 44% expect to cut their workforce.

E-payments up, but cash on delivery stays on top

The study reports a notable increase in digital financial services in the nations surveyed – predominantly least developed countries (LDCs) – as consumers tried to limit exposure to the virus while paying for food, medicine, health and hygiene products and other goods.

Some 64% of the e-commerce businesses that took part in the study reported an uptake in payments primarily through mobile money, followed by online and mobile banking, credit cards and other digital payment platforms.

Yet cash-on-delivery remains by far the preferred form of payment for e-commerce transactions in LDCs, the survey confirms.

Tackling digital divides still as urgent

The study highlights the range of challenges e-commerce businesses have faced during the pandemic, notably disrupted supply chains, logistical problems arising from restrictions on the movement of people, and high broadband costs.

In LDCs, only 19% of the population use the Internet – compared to 87% in developed countries – and only 40% have access to a high-speed mobile broadband network.

“The existing divides in terms of digital readiness underline the need to accelerate policy reforms and mobilize support to build the capacity of developing countries to leverage e-commerce in their COVID-19 recovery plans” Ms. Sirimanne said.

“Digitalization must be placed at the heart of the development debate,” she added. “The current changes in consumer and business behaviour will have lasting effects when the world economy starts to pick up again.”

Response efforts and recovery plans

Close to half of the survey participants said governments had not prioritized the e-commerce sector sufficiently in their COVID-19 response efforts and recovery plans.

The pandemic has further exposed gaps in policy areas central to improving digital readiness in developing countries, such as weak e-commerce regulatory frameworks and bottlenecks in financing digital entrepreneurs and start-ups.

But the surveyed businesses did acknowledge that some measures taken by the public and private sectors have helped lower hurdles for businesses and consumers to use e-commerce services.

Increased public awareness campaigns on the benefits of e-commerce, more digital skills training opportunities, and reduced e-payment transaction costs were cited as the most impactful.

The report highlights several successful initiatives:

  • In Cambodia, the government has passed an e-commerce law to ease the registration of e-commerce businesses.
  • In Kiribati, digital solutions implemented to combat the spread of COVID-19 have given fresh impetus to efforts to harness the development gains of ICT and e-commerce.
  • In Myanmar, e-commerce and the digital economy are featured in the government’s COVID-19 economic relief plan
  • In Rwanda, the Central Bank suspended mobile money fees for three months and waived charges on push and pull services between bank accounts and mobile wallets
  • In Senegal, collaboration aimed at onboarding new businesses and supporting local produce providers has proven successful (examples include the e-KomKom and the e-commerce Sénégal platforms)
  • In Uganda, e-commerce platforms have been fast to promote contactless payments and logistics and nurture new partnerships with development partners
  • In Tunisia, the “label de confiance” initiative has helped build trust across the e-commerce ecosystem

Readiness assessments and national strategies

Most of the surveyed businesses said a “a well-defined national e-commerce strategy” should be the top priority for COVID-19 recovery plans. Reduced costs for internet and broadband access, as well as for mobile and other electronic payments were the other measures recommended most.

UNCTAD and partners are working with many developing countries to help them put in place relevant measures and strategies.

The countries that took part in the survey have benefited from UNCTAD’s support in devising a national e-commerce strategy or conducting an eTrade readiness assessment, which gives a comprehensive diagnostic of a nation’s ability to benefit from opportunities in the global digital economy.

So far, 27 developing countries, mostly LDCs, have benefited from such an assessment, and the organization is now working with eTrade for all partners to fast-track the implementation of the recommendations, with financial support from the German and Dutch governments.

UNCTAD is also working with partners, including United Nations resident coordinators, to ensure e-commerce is mainstreamed into national development plans and development partners’ cooperation frameworks.

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting actors in the digital economy differently. While some digital businesses are showing resilience, costs are rising for others, a new UNCTAD survey shows.

Even though COVID-19 has pushed more consumers in developing countries to buy online, many e-commerce businesses in these nations have seen a slump in sales, according to an UNCTAD study published on 17...

IDB

The VI E-Goverment Ministerial Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean ended today with a pledge by ministers and other high-ranking officials from 33 nations to promote digital transformation to help with the region’s social and economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era, with a special emphasis on transborder digital services. In addition, authorities from participating countries designated Colombia as President of the Gealc Network. Colombia will hold this position in 2021 through its Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications (MinTIC).

In a joint statement issued at the end of the meeting, the ministers and other authorities said: “Digital transformation is of the essence to promote the region’s inclusive economic and social reactivation in the face of the COVID 19 crisis. The colossal challenge posed by the COVID-19 virus pandemic has demanded extraordinary innovative efforts from the digital government agencies in the region in order to develop e-government tools to tackle the healthcare and social crises, while at the same time supporting the continuity of government operations, adapting to the different physical distancing methodologies adopted by each country.”

The statement also stressed “the increasingly important role of digital technologies and e-government tools to provide sustainable, inclusive and equitable services,” as well as “the transformative power of digital government to enable more efficient, transparent, and participative administrations in the region.”

The meeting’s inaugural session featured the participation of Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado, whose country hosted the virtual event; Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) President Mauricio Claver-Carone; and Organization of American States Secretary-General Luis Almagro. All in all, more than 800 high-ranking authorities, government officials, digital government experts, and speakers participated in the two-day event.

In addition, more than 350 e-government officials took part in a series of thematic meetings on a number of relevant e-government issues such as cybersecurity , innovation, open data, and emerging technologies. Experts from Spain, Estonia, France, Israel, Portugal, and the United Kingdom also participated. Digital government directors approved an ambitious collaborative work agenda for 2021 focusing on key areas for digital transformation such as interoperability, digital signature, cybersecurity, and digital ID.

The event also included a successful test of digital certificates’ validation operation between Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay. This was made possible by the collaborative work of officials from these countries, with technical and financial support from the IDB. The exercise was complemented with the signing of a document promoting the transborder digital signature – a feature that will boost the validation of the digital signature among countries in the region.

Also, the ExcelGOB 2020 edition prizes were awarded to the best e-government solutions in the region. The ExcelGOB awards are presented by the Inter-American Digital Government Network (Red Gealc), with support from the OAS and the IDB. The delegations of the countries that took part in the VI Digital Government Ministerial Meeting used an online tool to pick the winners of this year’s edition. They were:

WINNERS

  • Brazil – digital transformation category, with a solution to digitalize procedures and transactions
  • Panama – digital government in the face of COVID-19 category, with the Plan Panamá Solidario solution.

SPECIAL MENTIONS

  • Argentina – gender focus, with App 144 against gender violence
  • Peru – open data focus, with single work certificate for young workers-CERTIJOVEN
  • Colombia – emerging technologies focus, with a special mention shared by blockchain for land adjudication, and artificial intelligence for the Sustainable Development Goals.

The ExcelGOB 2020 edition received 53 proposals from 14 countries. This year the contest made it possible to know and systematize the most innovative solutions in the region in terms of digital government in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

Lastly, the meeting announced that Panama will host the XV Gealc Network Conference and Annual Meeting in 2021, whereas Peru will host the VII Digital Government Ministerial Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2022.

The VI E-Goverment Ministerial Meeting of Latin America and the Caribbean ended today with a pledge by ministers and other high-ranking officials from 33 nations to promote digital transformation to help with the region’s social and economic recovery in the post-COVID-19 era, with a special emphasis on transborder digital services. In addition, authorities from participating countries...

UNCTAD

Inequalities and vulnerabilities risk worsening long after a vaccine becomes available. UNCTAD charts a roadmap for a more inclusive and better recovery, emphasizing the need to reshape global production networks.

Global markets and spirits are up with the news that two COVID-19 vaccines have shown to be more than 90% effective in late-stage clinical trials.

But while there is growing confidence that an end to the health pandemic is in sight, an UNCTAD report published on 19 November warns that a viable vaccine will not halt the spread of economic damage, which will be felt long into the future, especially by the poorest and most vulnerable.

The report, Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Trade and Development: Transitioning to a New Normal, provides a comprehensive assessment of the economic knock-ons, projecting that the global economy will contract by a staggering 4.3% in 2020 and warning that the crisis could send an additional 130 million people into extreme poverty.

The way the world economy is set up is partly to blame for the disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest, who lack the resources necessary to respond to shocks such as COVID-19, the report says.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has gravely wounded the world economy with serious consequences for everyone,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said.

“Moving rapidly across borders, along the principal arteries of the global economy, the spread of the virus has benefited from the underlying interconnectedness – and frailties – of globalization, catapulting a global health crisis into a global economic shock that has hit the most vulnerable the hardest.”

The report finds the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 will be derailed unless immediate policy actions are taken, especially in favour of the poorest. A better recovery must centre on renewed trade policy that tackles the twin challenges of market concentration and environmental impact, the report says.

It also notes there is a pressing need to reshape global production networks to be more green, inclusive, and sustainable while simultaneously resetting the multilateral system to support the most vulnerable and deliver on climate action.

A crisis of uneven impacts…

In the report, UNCTAD tracks the deepening impact of the virus on all areas of the world economy and maps how the crisis has affected global trade, investment, production, employment and, ultimately, individual livelihoods.

It finds that the pandemic’s impact has been asymmetric and tilted towards the most vulnerable, both within and across countries, affecting disproportionately low-income households, migrants, informal workers and women, the report says.

Global poverty is on the rise for the first time since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. In 1990, the global poverty rate was 35.9%. By 2018 it had been curtailed to 8.6% but has already inched up to 8.8% this year and will likely rise throughout 2021.

Additionally, COVID-19 has had an excessive effect on two sectors – tourism and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises – which employ many vulnerable groups.

For example, while older men may have suffered more from the health emergency, females and young people are most affected by the economic crisis. Across the 32 countries for which gender-disaggregated data are available, the countries with higher COVID-19 incidence have seen greater increases in female unemployment than male.

These and other setbacks, such as school closures that threaten 20 years of progress in expanding access to education, especially for girls, will have strong negative impacts on the productive capacity of countries well into the future, the report finds.

…and uneven responses

The disparities caused by the COVID-19 crisis are glaring, and vaccine production and delivery will likely underscore the limited capacity of most developing and least developed countries (LDCs) to respond to the crisis.

For example, the report highlights that the median additional spending per capita on fiscal stimulus or foregone revenues in developed countries and economies in transition has been $1,365 since the outbreak, compared to just $18 in least developed countries and $76 in other developing nations.

Figure 1: Fiscal measures in response to COVID-19 by country group.
Fiscal spending on COVID19

Source: UNCTAD calculations, based on data from International Monetary Fund, 2020, and the UNCTADstat database.

 

In addition, most poor nations simply do not have the needed safety nets in place to support their populations.

The report estimates that about 79.4% of workers in sub-Saharan Africa and 84.5% of workers in LDCs do not have access to any social protection or labour programmes.

The report calls for stepped-up international assistance, which would include offering debt relief to many poorer nations so they have the fiscal space needed to address the pandemic’s economic impacts on their populations.

A roadmap for better recovery
In the report, the UN’s trade and development body provides a roadmap for recovery that requires an overdue and opportune shift in the structure of global trade and cooperation.

“COVID-19 has been painful and course-altering, but it is also a catalyst for needed change,” Dr. Kituyi said. “We need to reshape global production networks and reset multilateral cooperation for the better.”

Global production networks will play a critical role in producing and distributing the new vaccine, as they have in moving critical medical supplies during the crisis.

But vaccine deployment will likely expose long-entrenched inequalities in the global trading system that the report says must change to “recover better”.

“Now is the right time to address the weaknesses of globalization that led to the rapid spread of the virus around the world and its uneven economic impacts,” Dr. Kituyi said.

“Such efforts must go hand in hand with the arrival of potential vaccines to market, otherwise we risk reinforcing those inequalities that turned this health emergency into an economic crisis in the first place.”

The report says the crisis can be a catalyst for new, more resilient production networks based on value chains that are shorter, and more regional, sustainable and digital.

It is also a chance to make production greener. Global CO2 emissions are on track to decline by 8% this year, or 2.6 gigatons. This is roughly the same reduction that is needed annually for the next 10 years to maintain progress to just a 1.5-degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. As economies open back up, more needs to be done to ensure international production is in sync with the climate emergency.

“Much will depend on the policies adopted and ability to coordinate, both at the international and national levels,” Dr. Kituyi said. “Thus, despite the grim outlook, it is still possible to turn COVID-19 into the finest hour of the United Nations and build a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable future.”

Figure 2: Greenhouse gas emissions and target reductions.
Greenhouse gas emissions and reductions targets

 Source: UNCTAD calculations, based on Netherlands PBL (2019) and United Nations Environment Programme (2019).

Inequalities and vulnerabilities risk worsening long after a vaccine becomes available. UNCTAD charts a roadmap for a more inclusive and better recovery, emphasizing the need to reshape global production networks.

Global markets and spirits are up with the news that two COVID-19 vaccines have shown to be more than 90% effective in late-stage clinical trials.

But while there is growing confidence that...

WEF

Recovery from the economic setbacks induced by the pandemic will demand close cooperation between the public and private sectors, says Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank.

In conversation with Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, during the Forum’s Pioneers of Change summit, Lagarde outlined the challenges facing the global economy. She also described what kinds of response she would like to see and explained why there might be grounds for cautious optimism.

Many rivers to cross

“We were stuck,” Lagarde says of the fallout from COVID-19. “We were standing on one side of a massive river of uncertainty and hardship, both from the health and economic point of view. And we couldn’t even see the other side of the river.

“Thanks to the fantastic hard work put in by some companies in Germany, and in the US and in various corners of the world, we are now seeing the other side of the river because we know that vaccines are on the horizon.”

Getting to that other side is where the cooperation between public and private comes in. That means a determination to make sure structural economic changes are positive and that everyone continues to invest in the future.

Digital transformation has been accelerated in many aspects of life – both professional and personal – as people have adapted to remote working and education, ecommerce is booming, and people are getting more of their recreational activities via the internet. A survey carried out early in the pandemic found that 32% of people in the US were arranging virtual parties with friends or family.

Services: From local to global

“Digitalization will have an impact in terms of how services are provided,” Lagarde says. “They will probably be less local and more from anywhere in the world. And in the same vein, businesses providing those services will be more challenged from a competition point of view, which may bring about improved productivity.”

The private sector has an important role to play in creating jobs and income for people through ongoing innovation that brings new products and services to market. But at a time of economic uncertainty, this is a challenge for many businesses. It could cause some to adopt a more cautious outlook, paring back on any investments that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Lagarde calls for the private sector to rise to the challenge and says there is an important supporting role for the public sector in enabling that to happen.

“We need to provide the appropriate business environment where innovation will thrive. I think policy-makers are doing their best to remove the uncertainties. But it is the case that at the moment the private sector has put on hold a lot of their research and development efforts.

“Hopefully the private sector will get back into the swing of things and invest in research and development, because in Europe, in particular, they provide about two thirds of research and development.”

Past economic setbacks have helped fuel innovative growth, Lagarde says. “The 2003 SARS outbreak precipitated an acceptance by Asia Pacific economies to develop stronger digital infrastructure, which increased ecommerce massively. In the same way, after the financial crisis we had in 2008, we saw an increase in something the World Economic Forum has championed – social entrepreneurship.”

Crushed dreams and job creation

The economic fall-out from the pandemic has been felt around the world. Young people have been particularly hard hit, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The pandemic’s impact on young people has been “systematic, deep and disproportionate,” the ILO says. This has led to what Lagarde describes as the “crushed dreams” of young people who are joining the job market and “finding nothing”.

Countering this will call for a joined-up response from both public and private sectors leaders, she says. For while private sector businesses will create much-needed jobs, they will need help during the economic uncertainty – the kind that comes from policy-makers and legislators.

“Clearly, the environment that will be conducive to young companies to actually employ will be vital because it is those young companies, those companies that are under five years of age, that are providing the essential bulk of job growth,” Lagarde says. “From that perspective, I appeal to the private sector to continue to invest in research and development.”

It is important, she continues, that businesses make every effort to be open to digitally literate jobseekers that are keen to join the job market “so that these dreams do not get crushed”.

Recovery from the economic setbacks induced by the pandemic will demand close cooperation between the public and private sectors, says Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank.

In conversation with Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, during the Forum’s Pioneers of Change summit, Lagarde outlined the challenges facing the global economy. She also described what...

ITC

A multi-agency platform providing vital trade and market information is helping micro, small and medium-sized enterprises – and the institutions that support them – to weather the COVID storm.

Smaller firms have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Demand for their goods and services plummeted when the pandemic disrupted supply chains.

In response, chambers of commerce and other business support organizations (BSOs) worldwide have been diligently working to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to adapt their business strategies and put them on the path to recovery.

One BSO professional in Ghana, Julius Bradford Lamptey, was astonished at how quickly the landscape for firms changed as trade flows came to a standstill.

‘In the early days of the lockdown, our goal was just to assess the damage to businesses and to help make the government aware of their needs,’ said Mr. Bradford Lamptey, who is Head of Research & Advocacy of the Ghana National Chamber of Commerce & Industry (GNCCI).

‘It was an extremely challenging and unsettling time when business activity stopped, and firms began to burn through their reserves,’ he said.

A study by GNCCI, which serves more than 6,500 business members, revealed that the total estimated financial cost associated with the pandemic differs and increases with firm size.

On average, the extent of the effect on projected 2020 annual revenue was more significant for small (80%) and medium (80%) enterprises than micro (75%) and large (50%) enterprises.

Yet as the economy has gradually reopened after the peak of the pandemic, requests for help came flooding in. Businesses were starved of reassurance and information about market opportunities. They were keen to understand how to diversify their market risks and where they could turn to help spur new opportunities for growth and make up for lost time.

And because BSO staff were suddenly forced to work from home without access to all their usual resources, digital solutions became pivotal.

In early June, Mr. Bradford Lamptey and his colleagues took part in a COVID-response webinar organized by ITC’s West Africa Competitiveness Programme (WACOMP). The webinar explained the functionality of the Global Trade Helpdesk – a multi-agency platform that brings together trade and market intelligence from 11 partner agencies – and how MSMEs and BSOs can use it to help weather the storm.

‘The webinar really changed my perspective,’ he said.

Mr. Bradford Lamptey discovered he could access relevant information from across all of his favourite trade tools in a single platform. He could track changes in demand, export potential, tariffs and regulatory requirements.

He was also able to share information with his colleagues working in regional chambers to help make their work more efficient and advise firms on opportunities in key value chains. In Ghana, these include value chains for cashews, cassava, mangos, cocoa and others.

‘My prayers were answered for our business support institution, allowing us to provide evidence-based guidance to firms much faster and to share the tool with firms to help them conduct their own research in the future,’ Mr. Bradford Lamptey added.

The same need for timely and relevant information was a worry for firms on the other side of the Atlantic in Brazil. According to a recent COVID Survey with Brazilian entrepreneurs, 89% of firms had seen a fall in sales revenues, with an average fall of 69%.

Juarez Leal, Senior Advisor in the Business Directorate of APEX, Brazil’s trade promotion agency, said he was anxious for the 12 million SMEs struggling for survival in Brazil.

The recession in the local market has depressed sales. Still, many firms were reluctant to explore opportunities beyond the domestic market. They did not know where to begin their search.

‘The Global Trade Helpdesk is the first tool I have come across that makes so much critical information available in a single product-level search, and that really caters to the business sector by presenting information in an accessible way,’ Mr. Leal said.

Firms need this information to build their resilience in uncertain market conditions and take advantage of emerging opportunities.

In Brazil’s case, export flows have dropped 7% in the first half of 2020 compared to 2019, and there have been dramatic changes for the country’s trading partners. Mercosur and US markets were significantly affected by export declines of 32% and 29% compared to 2019.

To help Brazilian firms become more resilient in the future, APEX has committed to working with Global Trade Helpdesk partners to translate it into Portuguese.

Interest in the Global Trade Helpdesk has surged in response to the COVID-19-related economic disruptions.

The number of users of the platform has nearly tripled since it was rolled out in June 2020. More than 2,100 participants from diverse chambers, public institutions, and firms have taken part in dedicated webinars across Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Customized webinars for apparel and textile sectors and cashew, cassava and shea value chains have also helped BSOs provide additional support to key industries in specific markets.

Access to reliable, timely and relevant information is more critical than ever, with different markets being impacted at different times and to different degrees, and the onslaught of temporary trade policy measures put in place by dozens of governments around the world.

‘Our new normal will be a digital one,’ Mr. Bradford Lamptey in Ghana said. ‘This year has pushed us to change the way we work and become more efficient for the firms we serve.’

With the help of tools like the Global Trade Helpdesk, BSOs are better equipped to confront the challenges of tomorrow and evolving global market conditions.

The Global Trade Helpdesk is an initiative of the International Trade Centre, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Trade Organization with the participation of the African Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Chamber of Commerce, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the World Customs Organization, the World Bank Group and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

A multi-agency platform providing vital trade and market information is helping micro, small and medium-sized enterprises – and the institutions that support them – to weather the COVID storm.

Smaller firms have been among the hardest hit by COVID-19. Demand for their goods and services plummeted when the pandemic disrupted supply chains.

In response, chambers of commerce and other business support organizations...

UNCTAD

A strong and better economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic requires governments to make the services sector a key element in their policy mix.

Services play a key role in increasing productivity, efficiency and effectiveness in the whole economy.

Globally, services represent two-thirds of economic output, more than half of the world’s jobs and about a quarter of direct exports.

But direct exports of services are just the tip of the iceberg. Services provide significant inputs to all economic sectors.

With their indirect contributions, including those produced in-house by non-services firms, services can account for almost two-thirds of the value-added of total exports.

Further, services make up two-thirds of total productivity growth in developing countries, making them a key element of these countries’ strategies for industrialization.

At the eighth session of UNCTAD’s multi-year expert meeting on trade, services and development, held in September, experts and policymakers underlined that services can help countries recover better from the COVID-19 crisis, and keep them on track towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Turning the tide on COVID-19

As countries reel under the pandemic’s economic impact, the services sector can help turn the tide by creating opportunities for greater income, food security, productivity, employment, investment and trade.

Servicification – putting a premium on the role of trade in services to power national economies – needs to be a key element of countries’ strategies for recovery from COVID-19.

But for services to serve societies and economies, countries need inclusive, coherent and fitting policies. In particular, developing countries and least developed countries need support to strengthen and upgrade their services.

With developing countries relying more on traditional services and developed countries depending on knowledge-intensive ones, the landscape is not even.

Dealing with the pandemic has underscored the need to mind the structural gap between developed and developing countries. It’s critical to promote key services inputs that transform the economy and trade in developing countries.

This calls for international cooperation, including South-South, on trade in services as a key element of the policy agenda.

Digital services transform economies

Services can be used strategically to facilitate economic transformation. These include ICT services that enable telework, digital financial services and e-commerce platforms, which have kept economies running amid COVID-19-induced lockdowns.

ICT services, which can increase efficiency and reduce costs, promote the digital transformation of farming, manufacturing and other sectors.

This services-enabled digitization improves supply and export capacity, enhancing countries’ economic resilience and recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

Digitization of services has helped creative industries cope with the pandemic, as many creatives have turned to digital platforms and technologies to connect with audiences and consumers.

The potential of digitization is equally important in other services that have been severely affected by the pandemic, such as tourism, the world’s third largest export sector (after fuels and chemicals).

A UN policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, released in August, projected that export revenues from tourism, which supports one in 10 jobs globally, could fall by $910 billion to $1.2 trillion in 2020.

In July, UNCTAD estimated that the losses could be as high as $3.3 trillion or 4.2% of the world’s GDP, if the pandemic puts international tourism at a standstill for a total of 12 months, a projection becoming more likely in the face of a still unchecked pandemic.

For small island developing states, where tourism accounts for as much as 80% of exports, the impacts of the pandemic are devastating.

Supporting countries to recover through services

As countries leverage services for post-pandemic recovery, UNCTAD continues to provide much-needed support, based on its longstanding experience of working on services, trade and development.

Its range of support includes policy analyses, consensus-building, capacity-building, advisory services and technical assistance on services.

In addition, UNCTAD’s services policy reviews assess and provide recommendations on services policy, regulatory and institutional frameworks.

As the pandemic wears on, the need to strengthen the services sector has never been greater, considering its vital role in enhancing productive and export capacity, diversifying and upgrading production and trade.

A strong and better economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic requires governments to make the services sector a key element in their policy mix.

Services play a key role in increasing productivity, efficiency and effectiveness in the whole economy.

Globally, services represent two-thirds of economic output, more than half of the world’s jobs and about a quarter of direct exports.

But direct exports...

ITU

Ministerial and Forum debates explore connectivity, measures taken, challenges and opportunities for the ICT sector in the COVID-19 era

The essential nature of connectivity, the measures taken in the face of the pandemic, and the unprecedented opportunities for the ICT sector in recovery from global crisis were the key areas highlighted by global ministers, regulators and industry leaders during Ministerial Roundtables at the recent ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 event. Discussions during three days pinpointed the priority areas for governments and the ICT industry as we move forward.

Critical connectivity

The pandemic has underlined the vital importance of connectivity. The ability to connect has moved way beyond a business requirement. Digital technologies have become essential tools in accessing urgent information, healthcare, advice, work, education and news. Connectivity is critical in keeping people physically apart but virtually together.
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At the same time, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a new digital divide, not only between developed and developing markets, but also between those who have and can benefit from digital technologies as our lives increasingly shift online, and those who cannot.

Immediate measures undertaken

In countries around the world, key players from government and industry rose to the challenge and worked together to roll out emergency measures and essential services such as text information alerts or hotlines, ensuring the health and safety of citizens. Short-term government actions to support the operators included regulatory relaxations on spectrum, infrastructure sharing and licencing, as well as recognizing telecom engineers as key workers able to move around to support and maintain critical infrastructure.

The seismic shift in working patterns as many people move towards remote working has also meant adapting to a huge increase in network traffic patterns. And networks have been able to cope with this change.

Much of the work of governments has been forced online, and this has accelerated progress in e-government dramatically, which is expected to continue after the pandemic.

Opportunities and challenges

The pandemic has provided a major challenge as well as new opportunities for the ICT sector. Sectors such as e-health and e-education have boomed as a result and will continue to play important roles. In health terms, digital technologies have underpinned areas such as track and trace operations or assisting with remote COVID-19 diagnosis and telemedicine, as well as the prediction of patterns of contagion and outbreak using AI, big data and algorithms. Education has moved online, providing e-learning for students from schools and universities worldwide, helped by innovative connectivity solutions, including free public WiFi, use of universal service funds for rural service provision, government subsidies and free access to learning platforms and websites. The pandemic has also meant that countries have fast tracked legislation and national digital transformation plans.

The issue of digital literacy has become increasingly important in these difficult times. People need the right skillset to be able to survive and thrive in the digital world. Developing human capacity, therefore, needs to be at the centre of connecting the unconnected.

Cybersecurity is ever more critical–as more employees are working remotely and more key information is being disseminated via digital technology, attacks have also increased during the crisis. This has caused greater vulnerability and an increased awareness of the need for appropriate legislation and cross-border cooperation.

The road ahead

The message from ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 was clear: the new digital world must be built on continued collaboration and cooperation, nationally, regionally and internationally, to ensure sustainable connectivity for all.

Connectivity and digital technology should be placed at the forefront of policy concerns. Governments need to build a conducive environment for digital business and society, with measures such as harmonizing regulation, making available spectrum, attracting investment and creating incentives for business. The deployment of 5G networks also offers great potential to boost connectivity and speed recovery.

Efforts to bridge the digital divide must incorporate the public sector, the international community and all players across industries, including different technology providers – satellite, mobile, fixed, 5G and emerging providers – as well as innovative SMEs.

ITU Digital World 2020 and beyond

ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 was a three-day online event, co-organized by ITU and Viet Nam’s Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), comprising Ministerial Roundtables, Forum webinars and an online exhibition, and bringing together some 80 high-level speakers including ministers, regulators and industry leaders from around the world.

Alongside the Ministerial Roundtable and Forum, ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 also included a global virtual exhibition, open online until the end November, organized by Viet Nam and supported by ITU, which showcased the tech innovations of more than 150 virtual exhibitors from Viet Nam and global companies. It also included 10 national pavilions from around the world including Viet Nam, Cambodia, Cuba, Finland, India, Japan, Korea, Laos, Timor Leste and Zambia.

The event forms part of a programme of virtual activities co-organized by ITU and Viet Nam’s Ministry of Information and Communications in the build-up to the physical ITU Digital World 2021, taking place in Ha Noi, Viet Nam in October 2021 and hosted by the Government of Viet Nam. The next virtual activity will be the ITU Virtual Digital World 2020 SME Awards, including a series of SME Masterclasses open to all, live pitching from 30 November to 3 December, and the Awards Ceremony on 7 December 2020.

 

Ministerial and Forum debates explore connectivity, measures taken, challenges and opportunities for the ICT sector in the COVID-19 era

The essential nature of connectivity, the measures taken in the face of the pandemic, and the unprecedented opportunities for the ICT sector in recovery from global crisis were the key areas highlighted by global ministers, regulators and industry leaders during Ministerial Roundtables...

WEF

The Forum’s latest Great Reset meeting brought together Iván Duque, the President of Colombia, Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.

All three highlighted the importance of education in preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Infrastructure, digital access and international collaboration were also key.

“There are so many problems that technology can provide solutions for. And that’s why we’ve prioritized investments in technology and infrastructure.” These were the words of Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a virtual session, The Great Reset: Harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which brought together three heads of state along with leaders from academia, biotech and finance to discuss the role digital technology will play in the COVID recovery.

 

Studies have shown that the world leaped forward five years in digital uptake during the early days of the pandemic. AI is projected to increase global GDP by about 15% in this decade alone, while 5G is also expected to generate $13 trillion in global economic value and 22 million jobs by 2035.

Technology is clearly key to the recovery and our ongoing resilience – but there are also challenges to be faced. Many industries, built for an analogue era, are still playing digital catch-up. Meanwhile there is a real risk that the pandemic will deepen the digital divide, with close to half the world’s population still not connected to the internet.

To unlock a sustainable future, we need the right digital-enabling policies in place. Here’s how the three leaders are facing up to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Colombia has seen a ‘double acceleration’
– Iván Duque

“Colombia will be working very hard to meet the goal of being conceived as a Silicon Valley in Latin America, and a start-up nation,” says the country’s President Iván Duque, citing the OECD Digital Government Index, in which Colombia was ranked third this year.

But central to this digital transformation is equality, adds Duque, and a social pact that aims to bridge the digital divide.

“It starts with connectivity,” he says. “Our goal is to have 70% of all the Colombian population with high-speed internet by the end of my administration in August 2022.”

The Latin American nation also aims to train 100,000 programmers, and to expand digital penetration into education, land registry and tax collection, while 10,000 additional areas of the country are being brought high-speed internet “to expand services for the poorest of the poor”.

There has been an acceleration of digital literacy across Colombia, from fintech to e-commerce and telemedicine. For the country’s young people, this acceleration has proceeded at “double” the pace. Duque explains that this has been brought on by demand for new skills among international companies.

“Kids that are graduating from high school will have on the one hand their high school diploma, and on the other hand a degree as a technician so that they can start in the labour force.”

In Africa, it’s about working together
– Paul Kagame

“Rwanda has continued to prioritize investment in technology, broadband and digital skills, but we’re aware that it’s going to succeed [only] in the wider context of our continent, which in many cases has been left behind,” says Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda. “We have had this vision where not only do we develop these capacities not only within our own country but across the continent.”

For this “pan-African” approach to function, systems must be capable of communicating across borders. “We’re aware that technology innovation is moving fast, and this puts pressure on regulators to find the right balance,” Kagame explains. “We don’t want this to happen in one country and not another. It affects how we work together, especially in context of the new continental free-trade area, created across Africa, which by any measure seems to be the largest in the world.”

Like Colombia, Rwanda has established a Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to foster public-private collaboration. “We continue to build on that for deeper partnerships with the private sector,” Kagame explains. “The private sector is very crucial in creating jobs, in making sure they bring the necessary investments in creating the jobs required for our young people.”

Designing the right education for young people is a key investment for the future. “Most children entering primary school today will work in jobs that don’t yet exist, so the curriculum has to be flexible and future-oriented, with technology skills as a priority,” says Kagame.

He says government must prioritize investments in infrastructure and skills, but also in how Africans communicate across the continent. “We will invest not only in tech innovations but in technical and vocational education. This needs to be more widely available, especially because of these big numbers of young people.”

The world has changed. Can we keep up?
– Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel has been battling extremely high COVID infection rates, and in September had to impose a general lockdown right at the start of the school year.

“What do we do with the schools?” says Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister. “How do we open them up? And the reason that’s an acute question is not merely because of the virus but because of the digital divide. Because if you don’t want to open them up and you use e-learning, what about those who don’t have e-learning?” A lack of digital access is prevalent in Israel’s Orthodox Jewish and Arab communities.

The first focus, then, had to be on infrastructure. The government allocated resources to buy computers for deprived children, and established a fund to stretch fibreoptic technology to all parts of Israel. “Even though we have a tiny country, we have central places where the 5G companies will go and other remote areas where they won’t go because it’s not profitable for them,” says Netanyahu. In this way, they could ensure “every girl and boy, every teenager and every university student can have these capabilities”.

The second priority is on human resources to staff the tech space of the future. Thanks to a deliberate drive, the number of IT students in the country’s universities has grown 70%. Far from deepening the digital divide, says Netanyahu, this is boosting the number of IT educators for the future, as well as the number of tech workers for the nation’s booming start-up scene. Israel’s R&D spending per capita is already the highest in the world.

Its important for the country to maintain its focus on excellence, says Netanyahu. “Don’t try to erase the digital divide by lowering the top. You can raise the bottom but if you lower the top you get nothing.”

As a third focus, the country is updating regulation to bring it into line with the new normal. “Our economies and our educational systems, our social systems are geared to yesterday. We have to gear them towards tomorrow.” To this end, Israel is specifically looking to change regulations on driverless cars and drones.

The fourth key, Netanyahu says, is international co-operation – especially in the context of the COVID-19 vaccine. Israel enjoys partnerships in Latin America and Africa, as well as with Australia, Singapore and Britain. “These co-operations are very valuable.”

A new co-operation that is “giving enormous hope to everyone here” is with the Arab world. “We have just signed peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates; we’re signing peace agreements now with Bahrain.” These agreements include the sharing of technology in the coronavirus fight and beyond.

Finally, Israel is looking to ensuring its cyber-defence systems are watertight. “The more we have a dependence on these [digital] systems, the more we need to protect them.”

“I think the world has already changed,” says Netanyahu. “The only question is how fast do we change.”

The Forum’s latest Great Reset meeting brought together Iván Duque, the President of Colombia, Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.

All three highlighted the importance of education in preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Infrastructure, digital access and international collaboration were also key.

“There are so many...