High-Level Internet Governance Exchange - Digital Inclusion

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High-level Internet Governance Exchange

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[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]

The session focused on marginalised groups, in particular the inclusion of women. As with similar discussions at previous IGFs, the discussion was placed in the context of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and there was an emphasis on the importance of education (SDG 4) and gender equality (SDG 5). Throughout the panel, there was a strong emphasis on women’s entrepreneurship and supporting women in business. The session was chaired by Ms Lynn St. Amour (IGF MAG, Chair) and participants included Ms Inger Paus (CEO German Vodafone Foundation and managing director of the Vodafone institute), Ms Fatoumata Bâ (Janngo, CEO), Ms Su Kahumbu Stephanou (iCow, CEO & Founder), Ms Joana Breidenbach (Betterplace.org, Founder), Mr Vincent Bagiire (Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, Uganda), and Mr Rossen Jeliazkov (Minister of Transport, Information Technology and Communications, Bulgaria).

Education was described as the foundation for the digital inclusion of women. This means that, in line with SDG 4, access to education and quality education are the starting point. Both are still challenges in developing countries, the African continent in particular. Capacity development for women is the first step, but it was also argued that this needs to lead to concrete projects. Furthermore, it is important to be able to scale up projects.

Regarding infrastructure, investments to connect the unconnected were emphasised. It was also argued that new inequalities arise continuously and that it is a challenge to keep up with policies and government investments.

In terms of financial inclusion for women, mobile money transfer service M-Pesa was mentioned as a laudable example, as it is often the case in discussions on inclusion. While services like this are important, Bâ in particular argued that it is crucial to support women to benefit from bigger investment opportunities beyond micro-financing projects.

The panel also identified a gap between fighting discrimination in the analogue world and the digital sphere. Many organisations that focus on addressing discrimination against women and refugees do not have enough knowledge about the impact of the digital sphere and the challenges arising in the digital context, argued Breidenbach. There is also a lack of awareness of digital tools to combat discrimination.

Looking at broader issues, some members of the panel urged that structural inequalities need addressing in order to combat discrimination successfully. Panellists also identified a gap between the moral and ethical commitment to fight inequality on the one hand and financial commitments by various actors on the other hand. Further, in combatting discrimination, more emphasis needs to be placed on co-creation. In other words, organisations need to work with people instead of against them.

The panel also focused on education and skills in the context of digital inclusion, and in particular, on equipping the 21st century workforce with digital skills to ensure that no one is left behind.

The panel moderator Ms Rinalia Abdul Rahim (Senior Vice-president, ISOC) outlined three questions for the panellists to address: (a) How do we equip the workforce of the 21st century with the necessary skills to benefit from new employment opportunities resulting from digital transformation? (b) What kinds of initiatives can stimulate broadband use, digital literacy, and skills development? and, (c) What will work to address gender issues, as well as the needs of the disadvantaged, disabled, and vulnerable people?

The speakers who addressed these questions were Ms Lynette Magasa (Boniswa Corporate Solutions, CEO & Founder), Mr Cédric Wachholz (Chief of Section of ICT for education, science and culture, UNESCO), Mr Nikolai Astrup (Minister of Digitalisation, Norway), Mr Lucas Kohlmann (Director of human resources, Henkel AG), Ms Anna Maria Braun (B. Braun Melsungen AG, Managing Director), Mr Hans-Jürgen Bill (Nokia, Chief Human Resources Officer), Ms Miriela Ludsi (Italian Secretariat of Economic Development), and Mr Günther Bräunig (KfW, Chairman).

The panel was clear that education for the workforce of the 21st century starts early and it needs to be part of a broader culture of lifelong learning that starts at home. Both formal and informal education need be utilised to address growing needs. Interdisciplinarity needs to be ingrained in education and training; fostered among technical and non-technical experts. While skills related to digital tools are crucial, other skills needed for the 21st century are: critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and innovation, communication, and collaboration.

From the business sector perspective, the panel mentioned a number of examples of company training initiatives and incentive systems that enable training on the job. Respective panellists emphasised that the need of digital skills cuts across departments and levels of seniority in each company. Lifelong learning is essential and should take place in various ways, including short courses and on-the-job training. To meet the needs of the business sector, public-private partnerships offer a way forward.

Continuing and intensifying a trend from the previous year, considerable emphasis was placed on skills training in big data and artificial intelligence (AI). Both technologies require new and additional skills. Data awareness is needed, which includes skills in building, manipulation, and visualisation of large amounts of data. In addition, coding skills and computational thinking, which should already be addressed in schools, need to be added in order to understand the principles behind algorithms and big data. However, the capacity to think and act across silos also needs to be fostered when it comes to AI and big data education and training. UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) report on AI in education was explicitly mentioned in the discussion.

New to discussions on digital inclusion this year were the explicit references to the findings from the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. In particular, recommendations on increased connectivity, help desks on digital issues for governments, and the importance of digital public goods were mentioned. One example of the latter that plays an important role in education is the Global Digital Library.

In conclusion, the panel recognised the gap between developed and developing countries; how more needs to be done to overcome this gap; and to transfer and up-scale existing projects to reach those that are in danger of being left behind.

By Katharina Hone

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