Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, opened up the Grand Conversation event which is part of the preparatory meeting for the XXI Infopoverty World Conference.
What are the barriers for digital transformation in our society? And how the pandemic has been changing the path of technological development?
The first and most simple barrier to point out is the geographical one. Let me give you an example: 80% of the offline population is located in Africa and Asia Pacific. In 2019, 80% of individuals in developing countries were offline compared to the 47% of people in developed countries, and 19% in the least developed countries. In Africa, for instance, only 6,3% of households in rural areas have access to the internet at home and only 28% in urban areas, and these are data that we got from ITU last year. The average price for fixed broadband is 64% of the average income, so you can imagine the multidimensional impacts of COVID-19 pandemic have indeed disrupted the global economy and exacerbated pre-existing socio-economic inequalities, slowing down progress on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG 1 “to end poverty in all its forms everywhere”.
Can you give us a perspective of the role of digital technologies in our life today? Where is the digital revolution leading us to?
Digital technologies play a central role in nearly all aspects of life and yet, half of the world's population, an estimated 3.6 billion people does not have access to the Internet, and many who do have access to ICTs and the internet, lacked relevant skills to make effective use of them. So, with the accelerated pace of digital transformation, the digital divide is expected to be widened within and between countries if no actions are taken. Many of these who are left behind in the digital revolution are already disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Let’s take, for example, the virtual approaches (virtual events) that have increased in a scalar magnitude with the pandemic. These events may bring advantages to some of us, but there is an urgent need to develop new approaches to support participation in virtual meetings for those stakeholders who are among the 3.6 billion people I just mentioned who are offline. The COVID-19 has also exacerbated food insecurity, having pushed an estimated 83 million to 132 million more people into chronic hunger in 2020, adding to the 690 million in 2019. So digital innovation is an important enabler of sustainable development, and inclusive social and economic development, it has a great potential to accelerate human progress and contribute to social cohesion, reduce inequalities and lift people out of poverty, and new technologies can build fairer and more inclusive societies, and can be used as a powerful tool in tackling challenges such as climate change, food insecurity, medical emergencies, promoting sustainable agriculture, and enhancing people's productivity, and income, and governments.
What is the expected role of the international community towards the technological revolution?
The international community has a central role to play in providing innovation activities to ensure that science, technology and innovation are driven by considerations of inclusiveness and sustainability. Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, as I said, many governments have taken fast acting temporary measures to limit the socio-economic impact of Covid. However, we must devise long-term policies and strategies to achieve sustainable development, and this will require governments and all other stakeholders - from employers, workers, farmers, civil society, organizations of various kinds - to act together, to meet the rapidly changing needs of today's society, specifically, we must invest in people's capacity and enhance their resilience to build a fairer and more inclusive society, a more inclusive digital society, and in order for all people of all ages and abilities to benefit from digital accessible technologies, universal access to ICT is critical, but not sufficient.