When you make technology that changes the world, there are always two questions that linger in the back of your mind.
The first is whether or not those changes are good. For me at least, I think the technology we make is good, and that’s why we do it. I couldn’t imagine putting so much effort into something I didn’t strongly believe in.
But then there’s the second question: If it’s good, what about the people that don’t have it?
This one’s the kicker. At Mobile World Congress last week, as the entire industry oohs and ahs over new advancements in 5G, AI, and all kinds of smart devices, I was invited to join the Ministerial Programme to discuss digital inclusion – a topic that makes us think about all the people who never get to use these technologies.
Digital technology is changing the world. There’s no doubt about that. But what can we do to make sure that all people and organizations can benefit from the positive changes that digital technology brings?
I asked these questions to more than 300 government official and corporate executives at the Ministerial Program meeting in Barcelona.
The answer is simple, if not easy: we have to re-think what we mean by inclusion. think this is one of the most important challenges we face today.
Last March, for example, the Nigerian village of Tobolo (550 kilometers away from the capital Abuja) got its first mobile base station. It was a huge deal for the villagers – much more than just mobile phone service. Farmers increased sales and reduced waste. New shops opened. Trade increased. People started getting medical help when they needed it.
For the first time, mobile technology is giving Tobolo a lifeline to the rest of the world.
Village residents in Tobolo celebrating the deployment of RuralStar
Unfortunately, 36 million Nigerians – nearly one in five – still lack Internet access.
Worldwide, the gap is even bigger. According to the GSMA, more than 1 billion people remain uncovered by mobile broadband networks. And half the world’s people – 3.8 billion of them – still have no Internet.
Inclusion Is Not Just Connectivity
Connectivity still forms the bedrock of digital inclusion, and Huawei has worked hard to narrow the much-discussed digital divide.
Through the use of innovative technology, we’ve reduced the size, complexity, and power consumption of our base stations. That has made wireless connections cheaper – and helped more than 100 million people get reliable mobile service for the first time.
Unfortunately, even if the whole world is covered, that doesn’t mean it’s connected.
If true digital inclusion is our goal, we need to make sure that everyone can access digital technology. That’s the first step. But we also have to make sure they can afford it, they can benefit from it, and that they know how to use it.
We need, in other words, to empower people with technology.
The notion of empowerment can be abstract. So let me share a story that brings home what we’re trying to do.
There are about 34 million deaf children in the world. When they learn to read, they have a hard time connecting sounds with letters.
Last year, Huawei teamed up with the British Deaf Association and the European Union of the Deaf to create a mobile app called StorySign.
You hold your phone up to a book. Using artificial intelligence, a cartoon translates the story into sign language, highlighting each word on the screen. This helps deaf children overcome reading barriers, and makes story time more interactive for the entire family.
Right now, StorySign is available in 10 different sign languages, and we’re working on more.
Making Small Businesses Stronger
So, inclusive technology empowers people.
But empowerment doesn’t stop at individuals. We also need to think about businesses, specifically small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
SMEs play a huge role in the global economy:
- 90% of all the companies in the world are SMEs
- 70% of the world’s jobs are created by SMEs
They are truly the commercial backbone of local communities.
But some SMEs have a hard time adopting digital technology. They may lack the capital, or the talent. Sometimes, the technology just isn’t suited to their needs.
For example, cloud computing can help SMEs solve problems of scalability, efficiency, and cost. But in the European Union, 70% of SMEs don’t use cloud.
We need to understand and internalize the reasons behind this, then work together to get those numbers up.
Building Skills At All Levels of Society
Another problem: a lack of digital skills. This afflicts all levels of society. According to the EU’s latest Digital Progress Report, by 2020, 90% of EU jobs will require digital skills.
But 43% of EU residents lack basic digital skills, like searching for and evaluating information online… and 17% have no digital skills at all.
(This is the EU, mind you. Not usually the first place that comes to mind when you think about the digital divide.)
This lack of digital skills could eventually become a major bottleneck to the EU’s economy – and to basic economic inclusion.
We have to bring digital skills to young people, working professionals, senior citizens – everyone, really.
And we must make a special effort to bring more women and girls into STEM.
To tackle this problem, governments need to ensure that digital skills are part of K-12 education, while businesses should work with schools and training organizations to ensure that tomorrow’s workforce is digitally literate.
Tech4ALL: Benefiting 500 Million More People In Five Years
Huawei believes that technology is good, and that it should be used to do good too. To promote full digital inclusion, we have put together a plan.
We call it Tech4ALL.
Tech4ALL focuses on the three priorities:
- Connectivity for All: We will get more people connected, focusing on underserved regions and small businesses.
- Applications for All: We will provide developers with the tools and the training they need to create applications that meet the needs of specific communities and industries.
- Skills for All: We will work with governments, local schools, and the business community to raise awareness of digital technology, and make sure that people in all walks of life have the digital skills they need to thrive.
Over the next five years, we plan to help 500 million additional people around the world benefit directly from digital technology. We will release more detailed information about this program soon.
It’s a big mission, and we don’t have all the answers. And that’s where the broader community comes into play. We hope you will join us to amplify these efforts – we need all the help we can get.
If you have any ideas on how we can pass the benefits of digital technology to more people and more communities, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If we work together, I think we can make a real difference.
Click the link to find out more about digital inclusion and the Huawei Tech4ALL initiative.