Well before COVID-19 the pandemic, many countries had already embarked on their Fourth Industrial Revolution, wherein the digital or “virtual” and physical, “real” worlds progressively converge.
But navigating the so-called “4IR” is not easy – especially for developing countries, where the benefits of new tech can be very unevenly distributed.
By early 2019, as policy-makers and regulators across the developing world struggled with the growing digital divide, the onset of the pandemic suddenly made it worse.
The abrupt shift to remote work and online life simultaneously accelerated the long-term digital transformation everywhere. But it also threatened to leave the unconnected – who still make up nearly half the world’s population – even further behind.
Mind the gap
The shift – both abrupt and enduring – has taken a toll on marginalized or vulnerable people and communities.
A study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) sees global working hours down by 3 per cent globally in 2021, equivalent to the loss 90 million full-time jobs worldwide (assuming a 48‑hour working week), with blue-collar workers and daily wage earners being hardest hit.
At least the pandemic may have prompted global leaders and innovators to recognize the fragility of different economic systems, look harder at underlying conditions, and try to address some of the gaps in economies and value chains.
Such gaps are glaringly obvious in the ongoing 4IR.
As the world moves from response to recovery, digital transformation can help rebuild economies and integrate resilience into communities.
But first, policy-makers must identify, recognize, and nurture digital communities that can accelerate the 4IR equitably in the post-COVID-19 era.
Around the world, digital innovators are already working on ways to make the new normal better for their communities.
About the challenges
ITU Innovation Challenges help countries:
• recognize and grow digital entrepreneurship by discovering and engaging with change-makers and their projects,
• connect ecosystems to global resources and other ecosystems, and
• nurture a community of change-makers for social impact.
The event’s third edition, which opened on 2 June, focuses on building vibrant innovation communities to unlock digital transformation for the new normal. This year, additional challenge categories will be opened for participation at later stages.
Two categories are currently accepting submissions:
1. Global South COVID-19 Digital Innovation Challenge
This challenge – co-organized with the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) – seeks scalable innovative digital solutions that can enable countries, societies, communities, institutions, and individuals from the Global South to deal with the cascading effects of the pandemic across governance, economy, social sectors, and well-being, as well as strengthen the focus of ITU and UNOSSC on digital technologies as a key element in South-South cooperation.
Deadline: 15 July 2021
2. Generation Connect Video Pitch Challenge
This challenge – co-organized by ITU’s Generation Connect programme – seeks remarkable stories from youth on how to connect the unconnected and close the digital divide.
Deadline: 31 July 2021
Ten winners will be chosen for each challenge.
A selection committee of experts from ITU, UNOSSC, Generation Connect and supporting partners will be convened to select the winning proposals. The precise terms and conditions differ for each challenge category.
Global South Digital Innovation Challenge winners will receive USD 25,000 in seed funding, along with mentorship and training to implement, improve or scale up their proposed solution(s) in a new market.
The winners of the Generation Connect Challenge will be featured at the Generation Connect Youth Summit and participate in flagship events.
ITU Innovation Challenges began in 2019 and has subsequently adapted to an online format.
For more details about the Innovation Challenges and to learn about previous winners’ success stories, visit innovation.itu.int.