Tech experts discuss better ways to bridge the digital divide

While the rapid technological progress the world has seen in the past 20 years has generated tremendous economic wealth and social benefits, speakers at a tech-for-good event on 24 September, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, agreed that much more needs to be done to prevent these advances from increasing inequalities within and across countries.

The event, “New Technologies and Mobile Solutions for Development: Business Driving Innovation for Social Good,” hosted by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Trade Centre and GSMA, the world’s association of mobile carriers, brought together the heads of technology companies, Member State officials and UN agency leads to discuss how technologies and mobile services can be better used to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Innovation and governance must find new ways of collaboration,” said Liu Zhenmin, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. He cited the Secretary-General’s new High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation as an example of the international cooperation needed to ensure that no one is left behind in our increasingly digital society.

Access to the internet isn’t the only issue widening the digital divide. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UN Conference on Trade and Development pointed out that the internet is less useful if few of its websites and apps are intellectual in nature, or translated into in local languages.

“Sometimes we confuse access with capabilities,” Mr. Kituyi said. “How do we build competencies beyond access to optimize business and intellectual output? Skill development, investment in STEM education.”

Arancha Gonzalex, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, echoed this sentiment, saying that skill-building is a critical part of the modern digital ecosystem. Two other key elements, according to her, are making big data work for small companies and developing solid regulatory frameworks with a commitment to interoperability, security and privacy.

Overall, speakers called on both the public and private sectors to better communicate and work towards the common goal of connecting every person on earth to the opportunities of the internet.

“Are we making progress?” asked Mats Granryd, Director-General of GSMA. “Well, I would say, yes, we are. We see that there are 600 million more people connected to the internet through their mobile device since 2015.”

John Denton, Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Commerce, concluded the event by offering the ICC’s continued engagement and thanked panelists for bringing an “authentic narrative” that “acknowledges that things must be done differently.”

Watch the webcast of the event here.

Top photo: Li Wenyong/World Bank
Inserted photo: Lotta Tahtinen/UN DESA

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