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The relevance of digital skills in the COVID-19 era

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The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed how the world functions, illustrating the limitations of many existing systems and highlighting the need to reimagine the role of information technology as a lever for economic productivity and growth. In attempting to contain the virus, countries have established mobility restrictions and, in some cases, lockdowns, which have fundamentally disrupted the functioning of society and the economy. This disruption has transformed the ways in which communities, businesses and individuals operate, communicate and transfer knowledge.

The emergence of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) is being accelerated by the measures and solutions governments and organisations are adopting in their efforts to maintain business and operational continuity. The opportunities 4IR presents are far-reaching. Post-pandemic, organizations, businesses, and individuals that hope to take advantage of  4IR will need to rethink their strategic approach to leveraging technology and digitalization. In preparing for 4IR, they will have to reposition technology as a critical component for each sphere of specialization and learn the relevant digital skills to become creators and users of these tools.

It is imperative that businesses and governments digitize their operations and coordinate their activities to enable business continuity and build resilience to future crises. Industries such as telecoms and media have been less affected by this pandemic than for instance aviation and tourism which have been squeezed by anti-pandemic measures. Companies in lesser impacted industries are better placed to continue with business as usual particularly if they leverage embedded digital channels and tech solutions as part of customer service and other business operations. In fact, many may claim greater market share once the business climate improves in the post COVID-19 world.

The steep rise in virtual working platforms enables organizations to ensure that workforces can continue to be productive. This trend has the potential to reduce operating expenses and point toward  the future of work. Microsoft Teams, a virtual collaboration tool which enables communication and interaction within organisations and work teams, has seen a 775% increase in use in countries where social distancing and other confinement measures  are in place. So too have Zoom and WebEx Meetings. Post-pandemic, organizations and governments will be compelled to consider incorporating technology into their operations if they have not already.

Technology is helping to ease global disruptions across many if not all sectors of the economy. In the fintech sector, for instance, mobile money solution Mpesa has ensured that most financial transactions in east Africa are processed even as other financial institutions have curtailed services in their physical branches. Mobile money technology has helped to reduce the need for physical cash transactions, thereby minimising the spread of the coronavirus. In the health sector, telemedicine platform Mobihealth, which provides 24-hour access to doctors across all specialties in several countries, has maintained medical services, thus reducing the burden on overstretched health centres. E-commerce platforms, including Jumia, Kilimall, Konga and LIB Delivery have provided   channels for consumers to buy basic essentials by leveraging their existing technology-enabled logistics systems.

In education, more than a billion students worldwide are now sequestered at home as schools have closed, and roughly three in four students have experienced disruptions in their learning processes due to the pandemic. Governments and school administrations have adopted e-learning technologies for home-bound students. For instance, Kenyan, Egyptian and Nigerian educational systems now facilitate access to materials and programs through cloud services, radio, television, and social media platforms.

The development of digital skills is an important part of building resilience to economic and social shocks like those presented by the COVID-19 outbreak. This is already being recognised in Africa, where the acquisition of digital skills can serve as a hedge against unemployment risks. This reality has begun to drive African youth to focus on developing these skills, which are available on globally accessible virtual learning platforms, including the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment platform (CfE) e-learning platform. The Bank’s flagship digital skills program equips African youth with demand-driven ICT skills and connects them to opportunities in the technology sector to develop solutions and create innovative products to solve day-to-day problems.

While not all forms of learning can occur online, the sharp increase in online learning shows the transformative potential of such platforms. Since the pandemic began, for instance, CfE has seen the number of users rise by 38.5% to 9,000 within one week. This upsurge illustrates that e-learning offers cost savings, including travel and accommodation, over traditional learning.

The transformation of global business and public administration systems is already accelerating because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as businesses and even NGOs struggle to survive. Those that survive the shakeout will be those that are best prepared for the coming 4IR.

Co-Authors: Tochukwu Mbanugo & Uyoyo Edosio

AfDB

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Science & Technology

What is a ‘vaccine passport’ and will you need one the next time you travel?

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An Arab-Israeli woman shows her COVID-19 card which shows she has been vaccinated against the virus. Mohamed Yassin

Is the idea of a vaccine passport entirely new?

The concept of a passport to allow for cross border travel is something that we’ve been working on with the Common Trust Network for many months. The focus has been first on diagnostics. That’s where we worked with an organization called “The Commons Project” to develop the “Common Trust Framework”. This is a set of registries of trusted data sources, a registry of labs accredited to run tests and a registry of up-to-date border crossing regulations.

The set of registries can be used to generate certificates of compliance to prevailing border-crossing regulations as defined by governments. There are different tools to generate the certificates, and the diversity of their authentication solutions and the way they protect data privacy is quite remarkable.

We at the Forum have no preference when it comes to who is running the certification algorithm, we simply want to promote a unique set of registries to avoid unnecessary replication efforts. This is where we support the Common Trust Framework. For instance, the Common Pass is one authentication solution – but there are others, for example developed by Abbott, AOK, SICPA (Certus), IBM and others.

How does the system work and how could it be applied to vaccines?

The Common Trust Network, supported by the Forum, is combining the set of registries that are going to enrol all participating labs. Separately from that, it provides an up-to-date database of all prevailing border entry rules (which fluctuate and differ from country to country).

Combining these two datasets provides a QR code that border entry authorities can trust. It doesn’t reveal any personal health data – it tells you about compliance of results versus border entry requirements for a particular country. So, if your border control rules say that you need to take a test of a certain nature within 72 hours prior to arrival, the tool will confirm whether the traveller has taken that corresponding test in a trusted laboratory, and the test was indeed performed less than three days prior to landing.

The purpose is to create a common good that many authentication providers can use and to provide anyone, in a very agnostic fashion, with access to those registries.

What is the WHO’s role?

There is currently an effort at the WHO to create standards that would process data on the types of vaccinations, how these are channelled into health and healthcare systems registries, the use cases – beyond the management of vaccination campaigns – include border control but also possibly in the future access to stadia or large events. By establishing in a truly ethical fashion harmonized standards, we can avoid a scenario whereby you create two classes of citizens – those who have been vaccinated and those who have not.

So rather than building a set of rules that would be left to the interpretation of member states or private-sector operators like cruises, airlines or conveners of gatherings, we support the WHO’s effort to create a standard for member states for requesting vaccinations and how it would permit the various kinds of use cases.

It is important that we rely on the normative body (the WHO) to create the vaccine credential requirements. The Forum is involved in the WHO taskforce to reflect on those standards and think about how they would be used. The WHO’s goal is to deploy standards and recommendations by mid-March 2021, and the hope is that they will be more harmonized between member states than they have been to date in the field of diagnostics.

What about the private sector and separate initiatives?

When registry frameworks are being developed for authentication tools providers, they should at a minimum feed as experiments into the standardization efforts being driven by WHO, knowing that the final guidance from the only normative body with an official UN mandate may in turn force those providers to revise their own frameworks. We certainly support this type of interaction, as public- and private-sector collaboration is key to overcoming the global challenge posed by COVID-19.

What more needs to be done to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines?

As the WHO has warned, vaccine nationalism – or a hoarding and “me-first” approach to vaccine deployment – risks leaving “the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk.”

COVAX, supported by the World Economic Forum, is coordinated by the World Health Organization in partnership with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; CEPI, the Centre for Epidemics Preparedness Innovations and others. So far, 190 economies have signed up.

The Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator) is another partnership, with universal access and equity at its core, that has been successfully promoting global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines. The World Economic Forum is a member of the ACT-Accelerator’s Facilitation Council (governing body).

World Economic Forum

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Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right

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Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.

Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.

The concept of “network neutrality is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.

 Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.

It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullfill basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.

 As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.

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