Can We #BuildBackBetter?
The phrase #buildbackbetter (or variations of it) feel ubiquitous at the moment. Interestingly, it is not the first time that the expression has risen to public prominence. It first appeared as part of the official Sendai Framework of disaster recovery that was adopted at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Japan in 2015. Today however, it is being used far more extensively to help frame discussions on recovery plans from the COVID-19 pandemic. Building back better has an infrastructure, skills, and innovation focus in the context of the UK’s government usage of the phrase, for example. President Biden’s administration has linked it (#rebuildbetter) to their ambitious US$1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus and relief programme.
For many others however, the phrase is being used in an even broader context and signals one of opportunity and ambitious societal transformation. As we need to rebuild, should we not take lessons from the pandemic and invest more wisely in future infrastructure for greater resilience against new disasters? Accelerate investment in new mobile and fixed broadband technologies to improve health and education outcomes? Promote fairer social equity? Prioritise sustainable energy roll-out, decarbonise our economies and mitigate climate change? And so on.
Is this all a bit too aspirational though? Actually, many policymakers are already pushing ahead with their ideas and plans to promote this more progressive agenda, with digital technologies at the core to help many countries meet many of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Huawei was fortunate enough earlier this year to bring together many of these thought-leaders and learn more. Some of the key insights from our “Connected for Shared Prosperity” symposium follow.
Catherine Chen, Senior Vice-President and board member of Huawei opened the discussion. She stressed how we needed to come to together to trust in the power of technology as a force for good. Chen explained how small, iterative improvements in technological capabilities could lead to big impactful changes over time. She went on to explain how Huawei had partnered with others to enable intelligent connectivity and solar power solutions with this approach across more than 60 countries. It has already contributed to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 148 million tonnes.
Siddarth Chatterjee, United Nations Resident Coordinator to China, spoke from his experience in Kenya on how partnerships between government and the business community (including tech companies like Huawei) had been instrumental in proving the success of cost-effective telemedicine initiatives. Such were the improvements to locals’ quality of life that this pioneering test project was now being scaled-up nationally.
Dato Saifuddin bin Abdullah, Minister of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, outlined how all 17 of the SDGs had been embedded into the Eleventh Malaysia Plan for 2016-2020. The Minister extolled the use of digital transformation to help Malaysia’s sustainable economic development. For example, the MyDIGITAL plan for Malaysia includes
- Strengthening existing connectivity through the National Network Project
- Increasing the country’s connectivity to the international submarine network
- Extending up to RM15 billion Malaysian Ringits (US$362.75 million) to cloud service providers domestically
- Expediting the rollout of 5G by the end of 2021.
María Reyes Maroto, Minister of Industry, Commerce and Tourism, Spain talked about how the Spanish government was planning to ensure that digitalization placed sustainability at the core of its applications.
Maroto explained that the digital transformation experienced in Spain has had some positive consequences, rating the possibility of savings in energy usage and reducing the need for transportation through tele-working. Spain’s 2030 Industrial Policy Strategy will commit €140 billion over the next six years, including 37% of the investment dedicated to ecological transition and 33% to digital transition.
Vunnaporn Devahastin, Secretary-General of Thailand’s National Digital Economy and Society Commission Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, articulated how committed the government was to closing the digital divide in the country and setting itself up as a pioneer for others to follow. The Pracharat Internet Project for example will provide 24,700 internet service points of broadband access for the public to use for free. The government’s 2,277 Digital Community Centres will promote and teach digital awareness and skills, covering 77 provinces.
László Palkovics, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Hungary emphasised his government’s commitment to a green agenda. Hungary, he stated, is one of the only 21 countries in the world to have achieved economic growth while reducing its carbon dioxide emissions. The country plans for 90% of its electricity production to be CO2 neutral by 2030, utilising smart grid and smart solar technologies among others. Its National Digitalization Strategy focuses on four key pillars: digital infrastructure, digital skills, digital economy and digital government.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, Portugal, stressed that his country was fully aware that they needed to leverage the latest trends in technological advancements to thrive in the future.
The Portuguese government are aiming to take advantage of the agendas of the circular bio-economy and digital transformation and planning to position Portugal as a hub for the development of the digital ecosystems of the future.
Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General, UNESCO, suggested that one of the key lessons of the crisis was that universal and affordable access to the Internet is now crucial for access to essential public services and to build the resilience of learning systems. We should thus prioritise existing gaps in the least developed countries and vulnerable groups. Giannini also outlined how UNESCO is assisting the Ministries of Education and other partners in Egypt, Ethiopia and Ghana in the implementation of a three-year (2020-2023) project to design, pilot test, and scale up technology-enabled Open School Systems.
Complementing these sentiments, Frances Fitzgerald European Member of Parliament asserted that the Internet enables individuals to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders. As such it has become an “enabler” of other human rights.
In his International Mother Earth Day message in 2020, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “The current crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call. We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future.”
Thankfully, many policymakers and political leaders are heeding these words and building back better with digital technologies playing a crucial role.
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.