How can digital skills nurture social inclusion?


By JIA Jiexi

Did you know that almost 85% of the global population was covered by a 4G network at the end of 2020? According to a survey analyzed in ITU’s report Measuring Digital Development: Facts and Figures 2020, 93% of the world’s population has access to a mobile broadband network. Major digital transformations enabled by the increasing Internet accessibility are impacting capacity building and skills development for the 21st century digital economy.

However, while the COVID-19 pandemic has led to another leap in the digitalization of learning, working, and skill development, it has also exacerbated the digital divide that reinforces social and economic disparities.

To seize opportunities presented by digitalization and to keep up with new jobs requirements, equipping oneself with digital skills has become essential. Research carried out by the World Economic Forum predicts that 54 percent of the population will need strong reskilling by 2022 – and this need is even more pressing for developing countries.

Digital skills are not mere a necessity for decent employment for individuals, but also a driver of social inclusion. Some initiatives and businesses are working to empower communities with necessary digital skills and assist them to be employed and included, regardless of their genders, background, and physical conditions.

Below are the few examples of how digital skills are being applied to the push for social inclusion:

  • Ajude o Pequeno: an initiative supported by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) assists small companies in Brazil during the pandemic by offering institutional support and resources for its digitalization process. By linking demand and supply for small businesses and offering online lessons, the platform created by Ajude o Pequeno helps include small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and their employees;
  • Generation Connect: an initiative by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to engage and include global youth for equal participation in today’s digital change, and to empower young people with skills and opportunities. By assisting youth to further their digital skills and creating a community of young leaders, Generation Connect seeks to include youth in the digital world;
  • Enablecode: a social enterprise that employs computing experts with disabilities, with the goal of transforming society’s perceptions of this group and giving them the opportunity to become high-skilled professionals.
  • HeHe Academy: a programme dedicated to providing youth with digital skills and assisting businesses through digital transformation. With 69% female enrolment, it is contributing to a more gender-inclusive development and employment. By providing digital assistance and vocational training to farmers, HeHe strives to include women and minorities.

Leveraging digital technologies for social inclusion published by UNDESA looks at investment in digital skills and enabling affordable access to the Internet as crucial ways to increase social inclusion. It pinpoints four key dimensions for a framework for closing the digital divide and support efforts towards inclusion by governments and stakeholders: access, affordability, skills, and awareness/relevance of online content. These four dimensions of the digital divide need to be tackled together.

Initiatives by UNIDO, ITU, Enablecode, and HeHe set out to tackle the digital divide and facilitate social inclusion through digital skills enhancement, and representatives of each of these entities will participate in the LKDF Forum 2021.

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