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[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

This session explored successful partnerships and approaches among multistakeholders and debated the opportunities and challenges for accelerating digital transformation through ICT-centric innovation to contribute to the sustainable development goals (SDGs). In this regard, the moderator of the session Dr Eun-Ju Kim, chief of innovation and partnership at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), pointed out the importance of two SDGs: SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure ) and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

The keynote speaker, Mr Mahmoud Mohieldin, senior vice president at the World Bank Group, stated that an increasing body of research is showing that digitalisation is accelerating growth and development impact. Technological changes benefit the poor, reducing costs and creating new markets places. However, there are also costs associated with digitalisation, ranging from the description of existing jobs to cybercrime, Mohieldin noted. Another challenge is fairness to access to ICT, as the quality of infrastructure decides access. Mohieldin underlined that investment needs to be made in the analogue world – in people and in human capital – while embracing new technology, because skills like literacy and critical thinking will be increasingly important. He expressed concerns about the nature of digital currencies, pointing out that what is unique about them (not backed by any entities, based on peer-to-peer transactions, not supported by centralised government bodies), is also what makes them dangerous, emphasising that to understand the advantages of blockchain, an understanding of good applications of blockchain is needed.

Analysing whether ICTs are good is not enough developing countries, Dr Ahmad Reza Sharafat of Tarbiat Modares University in Iran claimed. These countries need to consider the steps that need to be taken to adopt ICTs and what constraints need to be overcome. One of the main lessons learnt from the ITU book ICT-centric Economic Growth, Innovation and Job Creation is that the young need to have sustainable jobs. Current practices cannot continue because humans are minimising the planet’s resources. One way to discontinue them are ICT, ICT products, ICT services, and ICT jobs. Introducing ICT-based elements means improving efficiencies, for example digital economy or artificial intelligence. Sharafat identified privacy and data protection as areas of concern. He was, however, optimistic about the uses of blockchain technology, stating that the ICT sector can benefit from this technology and ideas, for example in tracing the theft of mobile devices.

Dr George Barker of the London School of Economics (LSE) in the UK, spoke about the role of government in sustainable development. The key objective of SDGs is a certain economic outcome, and if the economy is understood as the wellbeing of all people, then future generations must be included here. In this regard, Barker emphasised four SDGs: no poverty, gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and reducing inequalities. The key to everything, Barker claimed, are SDGs 16 and 17 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions and Partnership for Goals, respectively). ICT is also an important part of SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). Barker emphasised that it is very important how governments regulate both ICT markets (e.g. regulation of spectrum) and non-ICT markets that cater to basic human needs (food, water, energy, and shelter) and human services market (e.g. e-learning).

Dr Edgar Napoleon Asiimwe, programme manager research at SPIDER – The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions at Stockholm University, gave an overview of SPIDER’s research model, where researchers are selected through a competitive process: They are recruited from the local communities in which a project is being implemented; they must be attached to a private or public research institution within that country; and they need to be experienced and knowledgeable. He advised that networks, and academic or research institutions should be engaged in ICT projects because research helps capacity building. He recommended that research is involved from the get-go.

Ms Sonja Betschart, co-founder and chief entrepreneurship officer at WeRobotics, pointed out that three factors need to be taken into consideration when building sustainable innovations: needs, viability, and feasibility. And, she said, they need to be combined. She presented how WeRobotics tries to benefit all: It focuses on clients in their sector-oriented programmes; it creates local capacity by creating flying lab networks; and it focuses on shared learning in the global robotics community for social good.

Ms Sylvia Cadena, head of programmes at APNIC Foundation, briefly explained the work of ISIF Asia (Information Society Innovation Fund) as a grants and awards programme empowering communities in the Asia Pacific region to create Internet-based solutions, but only when those solutions will not break the Internet. Thus, it is important to understand the social, economic, and cultural context in which technical solutions operate and what those technical solutions can actually do. Cadena emphasised the need for understanding the ecosystem and for having partners in public and private sector to ensure that the Internet-based solution will live on.

By Andrijana Gavrilovic