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A Whole-of-Society Agenda: Global Cooperation for National Digital Transformation

Strategic Dialogue

Programming Partner: Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)



  • Laura McDonald opened the discussion by stating that a whole-of-society agenda digitalizes systems and information to improve healthcare, education, and infrastructure around the world. Since the beginning of the pandemic, her organization, DIAL, has collaborated with Smart Africa to research and develop hardware and software infrastructure to support digital health services in 30 African states. This software aims to assess individual risk and guide decision making, assist African populations in locating testing sites, provide updates from public health authorities, and track and report transmissions. She said that beyond digitalization of healthcare, digitalization across multiple sectors and government agencies must be centrally coordinated according to a national strategy. 
    • Digitalization for country governments:
      • Didier Nkurikiyimfura shared Smart Africa’s mission to accelerate sustainable socioeconomic development in 30 African states by transforming their economies into knowledge economies equipped with modern information and communication technologies and affordable access to broadband. He spoke of the immense economic potential of digitalization for Africa, as it opens new markets and business opportunities, creates jobs, and broadens horizons for rural communities. He elaborated on the shift toward mobile money over traditional banking, with African mobile money deployments increasing each year over the past decade, with double-digit growth in both transaction volume and value. 
      • Katherine Getao covered Kenya’s progress with the Smart Africa Initiative. Sending funds to rural families had once been risky, expensive, and inconvenient, but with the advent of mobile money, such funds are easily transferred to those who need it. Digital inclusion remains at the forefront of the Kenyan government’s plan for pandemic recovery, and may help Kenya make the most of its youthful population and rich natural resource endowment. Getao expressed optimism for digital entrepreneurship and innovation among Kenya’s youth and hopes Kenya’s digital task force will build skills and trust in digital platforms for all of Kenya’s demographics. Digital inclusion entails distribution of technological resources to the most marginalized—disabled people, homeless youth, women in remote areas whose deep-seated cultural values thwart their personal agency and pursuit of digital literacy and device ownership. 

“If you cannot be trusted, your digital economy is nowhere. We have not only to build the right skills, but also the right kinds of values that make a trustworthy society,” Katherine Getao 

    • Digitalization for international actors:
      • Robert Opp discussed the UNDP’s digital transformation, which has been in progress since before the pandemic. He described how the onset of the pandemic increased the urgency within UNDP for greater digital operations, as well as requests from governments for insight into how to augment online civic engagement and their provision of online services. 
      • Björn Richter detailed regional digital collaborations in the European Union and Germany’s advancements in digital transformation and artificial intelligence strategy. Europe aims to capture the benefits of local data markets, including greater productivity and improvements in health and wellbeing, environment, transparent governance, and convenient public services. 
      • Kirsten Jonsson Cissé advised international actors to guide national digitalization processes that “leave no one behind.” She says that Sida has supported a program called Women’s Rights Online, which aims to expand local culture and knowledge of digital systems in Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Egypt, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines by opening secure internet access to women with low levels of education, who face a stark gender gap in digital participation. 
    • Digitalization for private technology service providers:
      • Erik Arnold pressed private sector actors to help address and deliver digital solutions at scale, but not to seize complete control of public-private partnerships for these solutions. He said these solutions must be identified by the governments, academia, and nonprofits in the best interest of each country’s citizens. Arnold emphasized Microsoft’s prioritization of data security as it invests in infrastructure and hyper-scale data centers on the African continent. In response to increased reliance on technology during the pandemic, Microsoft has launched a global skills initiative aiming to bring more digital skills to 25 million people worldwide by the end of the year. He says increasing citizens’ digital skills will be crucial to the post-pandemic economic recovery as they face employment challenges like the rapid emergence of automated, AI-powered technologies, the growing need for technological acumen to compete in a changing commercial landscape, and the decline in employer-based training investments.
  • “To be successful, we must work with civil society, governments, and academia to identify the needs and the ethical approaches to soften those needs,” Erik Arnold

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Technologies must be integrated beyond Africa’s university campuses and to the continent’s wide network of primary schools in order to introduce African children to technology and develop their digital literacy from a young age.
  • For the European Union to assume leadership in the data economy, it must now address—in a concerted manner—issues ranging from connectivity to data processing and storage, computing power, and cybersecurity. 
  • Empowering women’s digital competence, participation, and rights is key to enhancing access to knowledge, to providing them with new information and skills to make their voices heard politically, and to increasing the competitiveness of female-owned businesses.


Session Speakers