Connect2Recover & Bridging the Digital Divide with ITU
On Day 2 of Huawei Connect 2022 Bangkok, Sameer Sharma, Senior Advisor at ITU, sat down with Huawei Connect Live to talk about ITU’s systematic approach to bridging the digital divide, the organization’s Connect2Recover initiative, and ITU’s collaboration with Huawei. The following post by Mr. Sharma is based on the interview.
Digital transformation is about users, technologies and data. This is why ITU’s conceptual approach puts these at the centre of our Wheel of Digital Transformation. Due to the interaction between people, technologies, and data that generate three streams that power the economy and society:
- Access is about creating the enabling governmental, economic and technological environment for everyone and everything to connect.
- Adoption is about making sure everyone is able to get online, and
- Value creation is about enabling everyone to contribute and reap the benefits brought by a digitalized society and economy.
Accordingly, we have come up with a 6-step approach to digital transformation:
- Step 1: Diagnostic assessment: 360 Country Digital Landscape assessment based on Access, Adoption and Value Creation streams
- Step 2: Validation and prioritization – setting of priority areas and country validation
- Step 3: Deep dive – in depth analysis and recommendations based on designated priority building blocks
- Step 4: Identifying interventions – based on ITU’s products, tools and P2C pledges
- Step 5: Implementation – in close coordination with the country and partners
- Step 6: Monitoring and evaluation – impact stock-taking
In practice, ITU has implemented a series of digital inclusion initiatives, including:
- ITU-UNICEF Giga Initiative: connect every school to Internet
- Digital inclusion of elderly and indigenous people
- Smart Village: accelerating the real impact of the Sustainable Development Goals for people in rural areas.
Huawei and ITU have been working on several programmes. In the past five years alone, the scope of these collaborations has ranged from smart cities and e-government in the Asia Pacific, smart villages in Pakistan, to broadband backbone networks in Africa and ICT capacity building in general.
And of course, we have worked very closely together on Connect2Recover Research Competition for the past year.
This, I believe, is a fine example of ITU’s cooperation with the industry. The C2R is a global initiative led by the Telecommunications Development Bureau that aims to reinforce the digital infrastructure and ecosystems of beneficiary countries. Connect2Recover seeks to galvanize action for affordable and reliable connectivity as part of COVID-19 recovery strategies. To assist in this effort, ITU organized, with support from Huawei, an international competition to identify research proposals that have potential in fostering digital inclusion and digital resilience during the global recovery.
In Phase 1, the joint initiative has supported the research competition with 15 research teams with more than 20 country-specific case studies as a result of the collaborative work of some 60 scholars from over 40 leading academic institutions worldwide. The reports focus on digital inclusion (in the areas of education, healthcare, jobs and employment, and affecting vulnerable groups) and the importance of digital resiliency, building from lessons learnt from COVID-19. The rich diversity of research and case studies offer empirical data and insights to enrich understanding of stakeholders and provide recommendations in following areas:
- Technological and innovative solutions such as telemedicine, e-education, e-business play an important role to enable digital inclusion.
- These technological solutions require resilient digital infrastructure, and universal and meaningful connectivity.
- Institutional and human capacity needs to be enhanced. Digital skills and digital literacy are important to empower the people to fully participate in the digital society.
- Outdated policies and regulations that are not inclusive or do not meet post-pandemic recovery requirements would need to be revamped.
I am delighted to share that with Huawei’s continued support and close collaboration, the second phase of this massive undertaking is well on course already, with Telecommunications Development Bureau organizing a day zero event at this year’s Internet Governance Forum of the United Nations to publish the findings of the 15 research teams, and the focus will also be on encouraging implementation of the recommendations.
Bridging the digital divide
As per recent press release from ITU, an estimated 2.7 billion people – or one-third of the world’s population – remain unconnected to the Internet in 2022, with an estimated 5.3 billion people worldwide now using the Internet. While continued growth is encouraging, the trend suggests that without increased infrastructure investment and a new impetus to foster digital skills, the chance of connecting everyone by 2030 looks increasingly slim.
I therefore understand that ITU has a huge task to bridge the digital divide and we cannot do it alone and I understand that Huawei is also committed to connecting the unconnected as one of the leading ICT infrastructure providers, and I am glad to see that it is making progress toward this in different markets. For ITU’s Telecommunications Development Bureau, we think the following three approaches can effectively address the digital gap:
1. Introducing new, effective and agile financing mechanisms to digital infrastructure, access and use
- Policies and strategies can trigger the multiplier effect of digital by providing predictability and direction
- Investment is the cornerstone of the digital transformation
- Regulatory tools are at hand to bridge the funding and financing gap in digital markets
- A sharp focus on policy implementation is needed to ensure impact
2. Prototyping regulatory patterns for the post-COVID digital world
- Novel regulatory tools can unlock the power of new and emerging technologies
- Spectrum innovation is key for the digital future
- Data is the silver bullet of digital regulation
3. Transformational leadership to unleash the power of emerging technologies and business models
- Regulators and policy makers are the master builders of the digital transformation
- A regulatory paradigm shift is needed to deliver on the digital dividend for all
- National regulators and policy makers have a role to play at the international arena
And as far as our collaboration going forward is concerned, I am happy to learn that Huawei is actively considering to join the Partner2Connect (P2C) pledge of the ITU.
The Partner2Connect (P2C) Digital Coalition is a multistakeholder alliance launched by ITU in close cooperation with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, and in line with the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally, with a focus on but not limited to hardest- to-connect communities in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
P2C is built on the principles of inclusion, partnership, and SDG-focused digital development. Participation of leading business entities is crucial in this global endeavour, and I am sure Huawei will have much to bring to and share with the community.
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.