MENA 4.0: Exploring Digital Transformation
MENA 4.0: Exploring Digital Transformation
Project Info

MENA 4.0: Exploring Digital Transformation

Editor-in-Chief

Laura Del Vecchio

image

Rodion Kutsaev @ unsplash.com

The Future of Digital Transformation for Economic Inclusion in the MENA Region.
The Future of Digital Transformation for Economic Inclusion in the MENA Region.

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In our societies, the abilities to read and write are seen as the foundation to successfully participate in economic and social life.

Taking it a step further, the abilities to access and handle digital technologies are now as crucial as general literacy for participation in economic and social life.

Yet, in several places worldwide, general literacy and digital literacy are far from the reality of many, consequently excluding these individuals from reaping the various benefits of information, education, and employment. This is especially critical for women, marginalized youth, and people with disabilities, who face more noted impediments in accessing resources to literacy. If we stress this reality to digital literacy, those without access to technology and proper training fall further behind.

According to UNESCO, digital literacy is "[…] the ability to define, access, manage, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital technologies and networked devices for participation in economic and social life."

3D structures

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

3D structures

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

We live in a technology-driven age, responsible for bringing up ever unseen opportunities to transform the global economy, social relations and classes, politics, health, and the world's natural ecosystems. Accordingly, digital literacy is an unavoidable skill to follow these fast-paced changes brought about by emerging technologies, introduced in all industries.

However, if technology is not equally distributed, the advantages provided by these technological tools may include more inequalities of access to economically, socially, and politically disadvantaged groups.

Bridging the Gap

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How can digital literacy bridge the gap between marginalized social groups and technological developments?

The answer to this apparently simple question demands complex decisions. Digital upskilling requires, on the one hand, cooperation between governments, institutions, businesses, individuals, and other stakeholders, such as development organizations. This could lead to strategies to remove societal barriers to digital skills among people lacking access to educational resources. On the other hand, emerging technologies could help these more prominent actors to improve the quality of their inclusion programmes.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, digital transformation is expanding fast, enabling exciting developments on job creation and increased opportunities to include previously marginalized communities to actively engage in new markets. According to recent research, the improvement of broadband access in the region produced short-term beneficial effects on labor inclusion and estimated an increase in GDP by 0.15 percent after incrementing mobile broadband.

The exponential growth in the adoption of emerging technologies opens up myriad opportunities for marginalized communities, but since the pandemic, some prevalent inequalities in the region have grown substantially, such as the digital divide between men and women. The region also witnessed a significant increment in poverty rates due to COVID-19, from an increase of 13 million people in 2020 to enter middle-income poverty, living on $5.50 per day, to an economic contraction leaving five million full-time professionals unemployed in the Arab States. To add anxiety to these already staggering numbers, employed individuals in the region also faced difficulties shifting their activities to remote work, as the Internet bandwidth was not fully prepared for such a sudden peak usage.

3D gathering

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

3D gathering

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

The current digital infrastructure in the MENA region is facing a critical moment, and it is failing to respond to the demands and needs of its inhabitants. It has not been long ago since UNICEF estimated that in seven MENA countries, only 55 percent of children had access to distance learning programs. On the same note, since school closures, more than 110 million children had their curriculums affected in the MENA region.

These figures show that a coordinated response is needed. Although MENA governments invested in diversifying their economics with the goal of garnering the benefits of the digital transformation, the latest health crisis affected their efforts, leaving the region with little room to not act now.

As an effort to draw innovative approaches to decreasing inequalities for women, marginalized youth, and people with disabilities,the GIZ Sector Network MENA together with Envisioning, developed the ultimate workshop that helps participants evaluate the impact of emerging technologies on these societal groups. As part of the event series “MENA 4.0: Exploring Digital Transformation. The Future of Digital Transformation for Economic Inclusion in the MENA Region” of the Sector Network MENA, GIZ employees, experts, and partners made use of the techDetector to lay the base for strengthening global commitments and to narrow the digital divide and increase access to technological tools.

The present article reflects the discussions and ideas that took place during the workshop, and also disclose the assessment of some of the technologies included in the Horizon Scanning, a collection of emerging technologies focused on bridging the gap of access to digital tools.

All in all, MENA 4.0: Exploring Digital Transformation addresses the impact of emerging technologies on the lives of individuals often excluded from garnering the opportunities offered by technological developments in the MENA region.

Leaving No One Behind

3D beehive

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

3D beehive

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

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Do you have an Internet connection? If you had to work remotely, would you have the resources to do so? Have you ever received any sort of digital learning program?

If your answer to these questions is "yes," you are part of a very privileged fraction of the population. Since the pandemic began, for example, many educational systems have had to adapt their methodologies and curriculums and overcome overall resistance to online education. This allowed students to obtain ever unseen educational experiences but, conversely, social, economic, and political inequalities became even more apparent, where many students worldwide had their educational plans interrupted or somehow halted.

In other sectors, such as vocational training and employment development, the implementation of digital tools enabled the improvement of service delivery and helped increment inclusion in lagging areas, such as core sectors of the economy (e.g., trade, oil and gas, electricity), and for vulnerable societal groups. However, in the MENA region, a considerable percentage of individuals of all ages do not have access to a computer at home and rely on faulty Internet coverage, with considerable broadband and landline problems.

Also, many women are still prevented from enrolling in academic and professional experiences, because, in most cases, access to a household computer is destined chiefly to men. This means that future opportunities must be seized, and strategic planning should focus on delivering digital resources equally to all individuals, thus demanding from tech-enthusiasts, policymakers, businesses, institutions, and governments decisions to structural and systemic transformations.

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This is anything but easy. However, what if emerging technologies could help us on this draconian task?

Social Program Matching Database

Delivering social services is challenging, mainly because it is complex to target vulnerable groups accurately. Many techniques are used to target eligible individuals and match them with social safety nets, such as geographical and community-based targeting, and proxy-means testing. Yet, evidence shows that a significant proportion of poor households remain excluded from social assistance, employment or business support programs.

Despite the growing number of global efforts to expand social assistance coverage, worldwide income inequality is rising, and access to opportunities remains unbalanced. Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) can be applied to reduce social fragmentation and duplication while optimizing accountability and customizing social assistance. Solutions such as the Social Program Matching Database could work as integrative catalysts towards reducing poverty and inequality and building a welfare ecosystem that delivers the right benefits to the right people at the right time.

Social Program Matching Database is an emerging technology solution that aims to decrease social service targeting errors by ensuring that vulnerable communities receive complimentary benefits from multiple programs. A current operating example is the UDB (Unified Database) from Indonesia, a governmental initiative that brings to vulnerable groups the necessary economic assistance that matches their profile and daily demands.

What if this technology becomes mainstream, which impact would it have?

Workshop participants from myriad sectors frequently mentioned that it would deliver social assistance with greater effectiveness, meaning that less human resources would be required, as well as decreasing possible errors. By reaching the most suitable companies capable of delivering the necessary aid, this technology could help assess and detect individuals and collectives that have been systematically excluded from accessing social service programs.

3D matching balls

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

3D matching balls

Shubham Dhage @ unsplash.com

In education and training, it could lead to better matching between the need for education and the offer, boosting skills and capacity building. As the selection of target groups would better match the available resources, the assistance for employment matching and supporting entrepreneurs would be fairer, thus providing improved career orientation and the assessment of specific competency skills, especially to tackle youth unemployment. This could lead to better evaluation and measurement of future trends and possibilities, thus integrating users with tailored interventions.

When looking at the MENA region, participants did not change their views. They shared the same opinion that Social Matching Program Database could provide the necessary tools tailored to individual and collective needs. It could also provide more specific training and better targeting of beneficiary demands, as well as improved career opportunities.

However, all technologies have inherent dangers, and mapping them is the first step to minimizing negative impacts. The following table displays the potential risks rated by the workshop participants.

Mapping risks of Social Program Matching Database

Thomaz Rezende @ envisioning.io

Mapping risks of Social Program Matching Database

Thomaz Rezende @ envisioning.io

From 0 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), the statements above disclose their impressions on how the Social Program Matching Database could produce adverse effects on those reaping the benefits of this technology.

Target Groups

Assessing the potential of emerging technologies is necessary; however, if we do not target these potentials to specific contexts, the analysis is incomplete. For example, the impact of a Social Program Matching Database may not produce the same outcomes for women and people with disabilities. To bolster the move to a digital transformation, the actors involved in the implementation of these technological tools should align their strategies according to the target groups they work with.

3D target groups

Michael Schiffer @ unsplash.com

3D target groups

Michael Schiffer @ unsplash.com

In the following pages, we disclose the opinions and assessments performed by participants according to their sectors and the target groups impacted by the application of specific emerging technologies. Each one of these sections evaluates one emerging technology and its likely expected impacts on a particular target group, ranging from women, youth, and people with disabilities.

Final Remarks

Open Opportunities in the Digital Transformation

Across the world, the economic crisis brought upon by the COVID-19 ignited a lot of potential to boost the shift towards a digital economy. In the MENA region, governments, institutions, and businesses may face great challenges in addressing the necessary changes to follow, respond, and possibly lead, the advances made by the introduction of emerging technologies in almost all sectors.

However, the region needs to invest in digital infrastructure, better integrate developments in tech-based research, as well as reinforce the need of including as many individuals as possible, all coming from diverse backgrounds to generate a future-proof digital infrastructure designed by and for all. By enrolling women, youth, and people with disabilities in the process, we will create a more vibrant and articulated scenario, enabling the development of the perfect momentum to jumpstart the recovery from the damages produced by the pandemic.

3D entrance

Rodion Kutsaev @ unsplash.com

3D entrance

Rodion Kutsaev @ unsplash.com

Digital transformation can greatly set the path towards a more inclusive and sustainable future for MENA countries, but reliable and resilient digital infrastructure will be key for creating new jobs, improving finance service delivery, and improvement of capacity building. Broadband infrastructure, for example, can allow economies to improve efficiency and productivity, but to amplify inclusion for vulnerable populations, approaches such as skill development, technology and entrepreneurship services, and access to information will directly impact further growing rates of employment and inclusive economic growth.

Emerging technologies can surely elevate the level of resilience and adaptability of the region, but the assessment of both their positive and negative impacts are equally crucial for leveraging the necessary actions, strategies, and additional innovation plans. To support the region’s expanding access to the digital economy, the ideas and strategies suggested throughout this entire article are intended to match aims and objectives among all actors involved in the implementation of emerging technologies in the MENA region, with the goal of creating a diversified economy based on education, training, innovation, and inclusion of all societal groups.

20 topics
Anti-Corruption & Standards of Integrity
Decentralization & Local Governance
Digital Governance and Society
Employment and Labour Markets
Education
Gender Equality
Inclusion of People with Disabilities
Human Rights
Higher Education
Inclusive Finance
Investments
Peace Building & Social Cohesion
Political & Social Participation
Private Sector Cooperation
Public Administration
Public Finance
Regional and Sectoral Economic Development
Rule of Law
Social Protection Systems
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
7 SDGs
04 Quality Education
05 Gender Equality
08 Decent Work and Economic Growth
09 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10 Reduce inequalities
17 Partnerships for the Goals
16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

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20 topics
  • Anti-Corruption & Standards of Integrity
  • Decentralization & Local Governance
  • Digital Governance and Society
  • Employment and Labour Markets
  • Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Inclusion of People with Disabilities
  • Human Rights
  • Higher Education
  • Inclusive Finance
  • Investments
  • Peace Building & Social Cohesion
  • Political & Social Participation
  • Private Sector Cooperation
  • Public Administration
  • Public Finance
  • Regional and Sectoral Economic Development
  • Rule of Law
  • Social Protection Systems
  • Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
7 SDGs
  • 04 Quality Education
  • 05 Gender Equality
  • 08 Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 09 Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • 10 Reduce inequalities
  • 17 Partnerships for the Goals
  • 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions