UNCTAD eWeek 2023 | eTrade for all leadership roundtable

From considerations about the impact of AI and the challenges posed by the digital economy to the role of international organizations in promoting digital inclusivity, these discussions offered various insights.

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At the eWeek 2023 session titled ‘eTrade for all leadership roundtable: The role of partnership for a more inclusive and sustainable digital future‘, speakers brought forth insightful observations and recommendations aimed at fostering inclusive growth, equitable policies, and collaborative initiatives in the digital sphere. Speakers highlighted how the fast growth of digital tech offers big opportunities for jobs and development, especially for women and youth. But they also pointed out that many people still don’t use the internet, especially in poorer countries.

Here are key takeaways from the discussion:

Digital economy: challenges and opportunities

Carlos María Correa, representing the South Centre, emphasized the imperative of integrating digital transformation into developmental agendas. Correa underscored the South Centre’s concerted efforts in addressing development challenges stemming from the digital economy. The digital economy has the potential to contribute to various sectors like health, education and productivity. However, it also presents challenges such as job creation, inequality, and marginalisation. The South Centre recognises these concerns and is taking action. They have published recent works on digital education and digital health, highlighting the importance of these areas in the digital era. As part of their efforts, the South Centre is organising sessions during ‘e-week’ to address these critical issues.

AI development and sustainable development goals

Jovan Kurbalija highlighted the symbiotic relationship between artificial intelligence (AI) and sustainable development goals. Kurbalija suggested that AI should be developed with a bottom-up approach to ensure that the knowledge generated belongs to individuals and is not concentrated in large systems, thus avoiding the risk of ‘knowledge slavery.’

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Additionally, Kurbalija emphasized the necessity of integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the framework guiding AI development. This approach would align AI technology with the overarching global objectives for sustainable development, an aspect he highlighted as previously overlooked. Furthermore, he stressed the pivotal role played by small organizations and think tanks, particularly in developing nations, in shaping global AI systems. Kurbalija emphasized the importance of overcoming bureaucratic impediments to facilitate the active participation of individuals from these countries in contributing to the evolution of AI systems worldwide.

Partnerships and Inclusivity

Partnerships and collaboration play a crucial role in implementing digital transformation and achieving SDGs, noted Mourad Wahba. Wahba highlighted successful examples of partnerships, such as The Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard and the Pacific Digital Economy Programme, that promote inclusivity and equitable development. By fostering collaboration and harnessing the potential of digital technologies, the path towards truly inclusive digital economies becomes more attainable.


Digital divide and governance

Rebeca Grynspan’s insights delved into the potential and challenges of digital access, stressing the urgency of bridging divides for a fairer society. Grynspan continued by stating that, the endeavours towards attaining digital inclusivity and closing the digital gap stand as pivotal measures to ensure universal access to the advantages offered by the digital economy. Acknowledging data as a worldwide asset and nurturing collaborative relationships holds the key to leveraging the potential of digital technologies to propel economic development sustainably.

Call for collaboration

Moderator Isabelle Kumar underlined the importance of digital skills, multistakeholder partnerships, and strategic initiatives in achieving an equitable digital future. Her remarks also acknowledged digital divides and proposed solutions for inclusivity while advocating for the role of think tanks and NGOs in shaping policies.

WIPO’s role in intellectual property and digital cooperation

Edward Kwakwa presented WIPO’s proactive stance in fostering a balanced intellectual property (IP) system, aligning with innovation and creativity in the digital landscape. Kwakwa emphasized WIPO’s efforts in capacity building and partnerships while advocating for women’s empowerment in the digital business sector. The organization’s commitment to emphasizing IP’s contribution to SDGs signifies their broader vision of sustainable development.

Regional perspectives

José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs emphasized the role of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in driving digital transformation across the region. ECLAC actively promotes collaboration, supports governments in maximizing digital technology potential, and advocates for better governance in handling digital challenges. Crucial issues like digital infrastructure, connectivity, and social disparities must be addressed for inclusive growth. ECLAC’s strategic policies target specific sectors, aiming to foster sustainable and inclusive regional development.

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