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Tackling Digital Deserts: Launch of First Cross-Sector Alliance to Close the Digital Divide

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Access to digital technologies has enabled many to work, learn and live during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing gaps and inequalities: almost half of the global population, some 3.6 billion people, remain offline and broadband services are too expensive for 50% of the population in developed countries. These “connectivity deserts” hamper access to health, education and economic inclusion.

To ensure global and equitable access to the digital economy, the World Economic Forum is launching the Essential Digital Infrastructure and Services Network, or EDISON Alliance. The Alliance will work with governments and industries to accelerate digital inclusion. Its goal is to ensure an unprecedented level of cross-sectoral collaboration between the technology industry and other critical sectors of the economy.

A multi-sector Board will steer the Alliance. Hans Vestberg, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Verizon, will serve as Chair of the Alliance and Board. He is joined by Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation; Ajay Banga, Mastercard Executive Chair; Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Group; and Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. The World Economic Forum will serve as the secretariat and platform for the Alliance. A wider group of Champions Leaders will advise and support the Alliance.

“This marks the first time so many private and public sector leaders from across industries are coming together to close the digital divide. Accelerating affordable access to digitally enabled services – like healthcare, education or financial services – is foundational to economic recovery and social cohesion. Achieving this will take deep, sustained collaboration. It is critical that we move together and that we move fast.” Derek O’Halloran, Member of the Executive Committee, Head of the Digital Economy at the World Economic Forum.

The EDISON Alliance will prioritize digital inclusion as a platform of partners with a common purpose for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2021, the Alliance will focus on increasing digital inclusion in healthcare, education and financial services.

Quotes from the EDISON Alliance Board Members:

Hans Vestberg, Chairman and CEO, Verizon – Chairman of The EDISON Alliance: “Over the past ten months we have seen just how impactful connectivity and access to digital technologies is to working, learning and transacting. I’ve long believed that mobility, broadband, and cloud services are the 21st century’s infrastructure, but to use them to their greatest impact, we need to galvanize both the private and the public sectors. This is a critical moment for leaders across all sectors to join forces and recognize access and affordability to digital services as a top priority for recovery in every country.”

Ajay Banga, Mastercard Executive Chair: “There is no Internet of Everything without the inclusion of everyone. But by putting our collective capabilities to work connecting people and businesses in the right way—with secure access and informed usage—we can start to tackle other barriers, like access to capital, and provide other opportunities for growth. Digital Inclusion sets people up for so many other kinds of inclusion.

Paula Ingabire, Minister for ICT & Innovation, Rwanda: “We have seen tremendous collaborations during the pandemic to enable greater access to digital services. Moving forward we need even greater mobilization of all levels of government and private sector organizations to develop impactful solutions that will ensure equitable and affordable access to broadband connectivity, in order to achieve the targets set for 2025.”

Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice-Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals: “The age of health IOT was propelled to warp speed during the Covid pandemic across the globe. Geography, distances and convenience converged to make teleconsults available not only to those in distant locations, but also to cities in lockdown. In the US, telehealth usage jumped from 11% in 2019 to 46%, whilst in India, there was a massive jump of 300%in online consultations. Digital health is on trajectory to make health & well-being ubiquitous, affordable and life enhancing and as we transition to the post-Covid world, we will need to accelerate this effort through value-based digital services.”

Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners: “Connectivity is oxygen for opportunity. The global pandemic laid bare the divide between those who are connected and the billions who are not. Just as we push for equitable access to clean air and water, we also need to scale up access to broadband, devices, and digital literacy, which are onramps to education, healthcare, financial services, and human empowerment. This will require investment and coordination across countries and sectors, and the EDISON Alliance is an important platform to advance this mission.”

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100 Start-ups Join WEF’s Technology Pioneers Community in 2021 Cohort

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The World Economic Forum announced today its 2021 Technology Pioneers, young and growing tech companies taking on top global concerns with innovative technologies and business models. From artificial intelligence (AI) to fintech, the 2021 Tech Pioneers cohort is using new tech to protect the climate, improve healthcare and much more.

“The 2021 cohort of Tech Pioneers includes many future headline makers at the forefront of their industries,” said Susan Nesbitt, Head of the Global Innovators Community, World Economic Forum. “These companies show great potential to not only shake up their industries but offer real solutions to global problems. They’ll bring great value to the World Economic Forum’s mission of improving the state of the world with their participation in the Technology Pioneers community.”

This year’s Technology Pioneers are emerging leaders in a wide range of industries that span healthcare, cleantech, AI, logistics and more. While at the cutting edge of their industries, many Technology Pioneers are also addressing global societal issues by using new tech to improve education options, address climate change issues and others.

Ceretai, for example, is a Technology Pioneer helping media companies uncover stereotypes and representation gaps in their content through automated diversity and equality analysis. Banyan Nation is using technology to support circular economy climate solutions in India. Century Tech is supporting personalized education options through combined innovations in learning science, AI and neuroscience.

This year’s cohort has the highest gender diversity yet, with over 30% of companies led by women. There are also 26 economies represented this year, with the United Arab Emirates, El Salvador, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe represented for the first time. All the 2021 Technology Pioneers are bringing great innovation to their regions.

FlexFinTx, for example, is building self-sovereign digital identities to help the over 400 million Africans that lack proper forms of identification. Meanwhile, Cambridge Industries is addressing climate change by developing sustainable city infrastructure to support waste-to-energy products.

Following their selection as Technology Pioneers, this year’s companies will join an impressive group of alumni that include many household names, such as Airbnb, Google, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Palantir Technologies, Spotify, TransferWise, Twitter and Wikimedia.

The 2021 cohort will also be invited to participate in World Economic Forum workshops events and high-level discussions throughout their two years in the community.

The 2021 Technology Pioneers include:

Africa

  • Cambridge Industries, Ethiopia: Innovating next-generation urban infrastructure through sustainable city parks
  • FlexFinTx, Zimbabwe: Building the next generation of identity management
  • Kuda Technologies, Nigeria: Providing Africans with access to credit and free banking services
  • Moringa School, Kenya:A workforce development platform serving African students
  • mPharma, Ghana:Building good health in Africa through technology-driven healthcare
  • Sokowatch, Kenya: Offering same-day delivery and working capital to African retailers

Asia Pacific

  • AI Medical Service, Japan: Developing the world’s first endoscopic AI for gastric cancer
  • Aspire, Singapore: Banking South-East Asia’s internet economy
  • Avant Meats, China: Biotechnology for healthy, tasty meats made sustainably without animals
  • Banyan Nation, India: Driving circular economy via technology-driven informal recycler integrative technology solutions
  • Black Lake Technologies, China: Cloud-based collaboration software empowering manufacturers with real-time data
  • Cinnamon, Japan: An AI platform to drive digital transformations
  • Civic Ledger, Australia: Helping the world reduce its water footprint
  • CredoLab, Singapore: Developing bank-grade digital credit scorecards built on mobile device metadata
  • DoBrain, Republic of Korea: Game-based learning to unlock and optimize children’s potential
  • Equota Energy, China: AI intelligence-based energy optimization, maintenance and carbon management company
  • HiNounou, China: Using AI to promote healthy ageing and intergenerational solidarity
  • Learnable, China: Interactive and explainable AI solutions on less data
  • MakinaRocks, Republic of Korea:Making industrial technology intelligent and delivering it as transformative solutions
  • mClinica, Singapore:Building the largest digital network of pharmacies in South-East Asia
  • Minieye, China: Using cutting-edge computer vision technology to lead automotive industry change
  • Ocean Protocol, Singapore: Unlocking the value of data – a new asset class
  • Praava Health, Bangladesh: A healthcare platform providing high-quality digital health and in-clinic experiences
  • SandStar, China: Providing leading computer vision technology for retail
  • Shannon Technology, China: A language-understanding intelligent service powered by advanced AI technology
  • Standard Energy, Republic of Korea:Manufacturer of vanadium ion batteries specifically for energy storage systems
  • Videonetics Technology, India:AI and deep learning-powered video computing platform development
  • Zyllem, Singapore:Software-as-a-service solution for logistics network management

Europe

  • Aave, United Kingdom: Built Aave Protocol, an open source and non-custodial liquidity protocol
  • Adhara, United Kingdom: Providing liquidity management and international payments for decentralized financial networks
  • Avrios, Switzerland: Empowering companies to own the true cost of mobility
  • Carbios, France: Green chemistry company providing an industrial solution to PET recycling
  • Century Tech, United Kingdom: Developing AI-based learning technologies
  • Ceretai, Sweden: Media diversity partner supporting companies with diversity strategies and insights
  • CloudNC, United Kingdom: Making manufacturing autonomous
  • Enapter, Italy: Providing green hydrogen technology through anion exchange membrane electrolyser manufacturing
  • EnginZyme, Sweden: Developing the definitive technology platform for sustainable chemical production
  • Greyparrot AI, United Kingdom: Waste recognition to increase transparency and automation in waste management
  • Hydrogenious, Germany: Enabling high-performing hydrogen value chains globally.
  • Parity Technologies, United Kingdom: Employing the blockchain pioneers who launched Ethereum, now building Polkadot
  • Polymateria, United Kingdom: A new scalable solution for the plastic pollution pandemic
  • Powell Software, France: Digital workplace solutions that improve the employee experience
  • PQShield, United Kingdom: Protecting information for the quantum era
  • Riaktr, Belgium: Developing software enabling telecom employees to make better data-driven decisions
  • Senseon, United Kingdom: A full-stack cyber-defence capability for the future, today

Latin America

  • Algramo, Chile: A platform connecting smart-reusable packaging with internet-of-things dispensers
  • Fondeadora, Mexico: Eliminating the inefficiencies related to the traditional banking system
  • Hugo Technologies, El Salvador: A multi-category marketplace for everyday products and services
  • Truora, Colombia: Fast, innovative, safe background checks and identity theft detection solutions

MENA

  • CHEQ, Israel: A global leader in customer acquisition security
  • CropX, Israel: Revolutionizing soil sensing, leading farmers into the connected soil era
  • MDClone, Israel: Self-service, big data, healthcare platform
  • MyndYou, Israel: Improving healthcare quality and lowering costs, engaging and listening
  • Phinergy, Israel: Clean energy generation and storage, using metals as energy carriers
  • Souqalmal, UAE: Building an online financial education platform in the Middle East

North America

  • 54gene, USA: Equalizing precision medicine
  • Airside Mobile, USA: Empowering businesses and people with privacy-based identity management
  • Akash Systems, USA: Manufacturing artificial diamond radios and satellites for low-cost internet access
  • AllStripes Research, USA: Unlocking new treatments for people affected by rare disease
  • Calibrate, USA: A telemedicine metabolic health business
  • CloudKnox, USA:Enabling organizations to implement least-privilege and zero-trust architecture
  • Crowdz, USA: Building a global ecosystem for good for receivables
  • DefinedCrowd, USA: A trusted data partner for AI
  • Diligent Robotics, USA: Building robots to support and empower patient care teams
  • Duality Technologies, USA: Enabling privacy-preserving collaboration and artificial intelligence on sensitive data
  • Dyndrite, USA: Powering the next generation of digital manufacturing
  • Enko Chem, USA:Crop health solutions, discovered and designed with intention
  • Evernym, USA:Leading globally in verifiable credential technology
  • FinMkt, USA: Omni channel and scalable point of sale financing software-as-a-service solutions
  • Gatik, USA: Developing and operating autonomous vehicles for B2B short-haul logistics
  • Gro Intelligence, USA: An AI-powered decision engine where ecology meets economy
  • Hazel Technologies, USA: Dedicated to solving the problem of food waste
  • HumanFirst, USA: Healthcare coming home, starting with digital clinical measures
  • Hypergiant, USA: Focusing critical infrastructure, space and defence using enterprise AI
  • Ionomr, Canada: Commercializing advanced ion-exchange materials to enable the hydrogen economy
  • January, USA: Analysing blood sugar and diet for diabetes control and prevention
  • Jopwell, USA: A diversity, equity and inclusion tech and human capital solution
  • Journera, USA: Helping brands improve marketing, customer experience and operations
  • Kobold Metals, USA: Deploying vanguard scientific computing to discover key battery material deposits
  • Kyndi, USA: Accurate and fast answers to any natural language question
  • LiveLike, USA: Converting passive audiences into engaged communities
  • Metabiota, USA: Building resiliency products and services for infectious disease threats
  • Mori, USA: Reducing waste and creating more sustainable supply chains
  • Natural Fiber Welding, USA: Creating circular and sustainable materials from plants and natural fibres
  • Numina, USA: Measuring street-level activity, privacy-first, to make the real world queryable
  • Pachama, USA: A tech-verified marketplace for nature-based carbon removals
  • Parsley Health, USA: Reversing chronic conditions with cutting-edge holistic medicine
  • Patientory, USA: Empowering users with insights from health data, improving health outcomes
  • Propel, USA: Helping low-income Americans make it through the month, every month
  • Propy, USA: An end-to-end real estate transaction platform facilitating transactions online
  • Reelgood, USA: An all-in-one streaming TV guide
  • Sinai Technologies, USA: Software to cost-effectively measure, analyse, price and reduce emissions
  • Skyhive, Canada: Optimizing human economies for companies, communities and countries
  • Tellus You Care:Improving eldercare with dignity and privacy
  • Unit21, USA: The command centre for risk, fraud and compliance
  • Upguard, USA: A cybersecurity platform that helps global organizations prevent data breaches
  • WooBloo, USA: Passionate about disrupting the smart home space
  • Wright Electric, USA: Building the next generation of aircraft – large, zero-emissions aircraft
  • Xanadu Quantum Technologies, Canada:A quantum technology company building fault-tolerant quantum computers using photonics
  • ZeroAvia, USA: The first practical zero-emissions, hydrogen-fuelled, powertrain technology provider for aviation

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An App to Ease Safety QR Check-Ins Wins the 2021 APEC App Challenge

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An app that makes it easy for people in the region to do their safety QR code check-ins, developed and designed by a team from Australia, has won the 2021 APEC App Challenge, held on the eve of the 2021 APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade meeting (MRT). The announcement was made by Damien O’Connor, New Zealand’s Minister for Trade and Export Growth, who chaired the meeting.

In its fifth year, the APEC App Challenge asked software developers and designers from across the region to build new mobile and web tools that can help the revival of the tourism sector and promote a safe and trustworthy travel environment, especially as the APEC region prepares for a resumption of travel.

The APEC 2021 host economy, New Zealand, has based the competition on a key priority for the forum this year: pursuing innovation and a digitally enabled recovery.

“As member economies work to facilitate the movement of people around the region, it is important to pursue digital tools that support the resumption of travel—when the time is right,” said Minister O’Connor.

“The safe resumption of cross-border travel will be critical to the region’s recovery,” Minister O’Connor said. “Returning to sustainable tourism numbers will support a wide range of businesses, boost employment, and underpin inclusive growth.”

Bryce Cronin and Saira Ambrose, who are from Australia, developed the OneQR Check-In app to help travelers scan and complete their safety check-ins quicker no matter the destination in the region. The winning team will receive a prize of USD 4,000.

“Around the region, people now need to do a safety check-in using a QR code before entering a venue,” said Ambrose. “As we prepare for a safe resumption of travel, QR check-ins will play an even more prominent role.”

The app works by showing travelers what QR check-in app they need to use or install when they travel to a different location. If the local check-in app has been installed on the traveler’s phone, OneQR will redirect travelers to the app. If not, OneQR will direct travelers to the phone’s app store to install the local safety check-in app.

“We believe that the safety check-in process should be quick, easy and simple,” Cronin explained. “Our app aims to assure travelers and hopefully contribute to building back the confidence of the tourism sector both for businesses and travelers.”

Held virtually from 14 May to 5 June, the coding competition, supported by The Asia Foundation and Google, attracted 170 participants from 13 APEC member economies.

Seirios, an app to help travelers rediscover local attractions with a COVID-19 safety rating, by an Australian team won second prize. Wanderer, an app that offers a safer shopping experience, by a Malaysian team won the third prize of the 2021 APEC App Challenge. The developers of Seirios and Wanderer will receive USD 3,000 and USD 2,000, respectively.

“The APEC App Challenge is not only a creative competition for young software developers and designers,” said Dr Rebecca Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, “it is a critical measure for addressing the current challenges within APEC where we need to bring together various stakeholders in the region, including the youth, to solve the biggest economic and health crisis of our generation, together.”

“This year’s App Challenge has highlighted an issue we’ve all been wondering about: how can we help generate income in communities that are heavily reliant on tourism and have been hit hard by the pandemic?” said John Karr, The Asia Foundation’s Senior Director of Technology Programs. “Participants have developed a range of solutions that highlight the ability of digital tools to help people discover safer and more local recreation opportunities, and—where it’s possible—get people moving again.”

“Tourism is vital to local economies and livelihoods across Asia-Pacific, and the impact of the pandemic has hit regional communities and small business owners especially hard,” said Scott Beaumont, President of Google Asia-Pacific. “There is a long road to recovery, but technology can help the industry rebuild and emerge stronger—and these brilliant developers are showing us the way.”

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Commission proposes a trusted and secure Digital Identity for all Europeans

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The Commission today proposed a framework for a European Digital Identity which will be available to all EU citizens, residents, and businesses in the EU. Citizens will be able to prove their identity and share electronic documents from their European Digital Identity wallets with the click of a button on their phone. They will be able to access online services with their national digital identification, which will be recognised throughout Europe. Very large platforms will be required to accept the use of European Digital Identity wallets upon request of the user, for example to prove their age. Use of the European Digital Identity wallet will always be at the choice of the user.

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age said: “The European digital identity will enable us to do in any Member State as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles. Be that renting a flat or opening a bank account outside of our home country. And do this in a way that is secure and transparent. So that we will decide how much information we wish to share about ourselves, with whom and for what purpose. This is a unique opportunity to take us all further into experiencing what it means to live in Europe, and to be European.”

Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said: “EU citizens not only expect a high level of security but also convenience whether they are dealing with national administrations such as to submit a tax return or to enroll at a European university where they need official identification. The European Digital Identity wallets offer a new possibility for them to store and use data for all sorts of services, from checking in at the airport to renting a car. It is about giving a choice to consumers, a European choice. Our European companies, large and small, will also benefit from this digital identity, they will be able to offer a wide range of new services since the proposal offers a solution for secure and trusted identification services.”

The European Digital Identity framework           

Under the new Regulation, Member States will offer citizens and businesses digital wallets that will be able to link their national digital identities with proof of other personal attributes (e.g. driving licence, diplomas, bank account). These wallets may be provided by public authorities or by private entities, provided they are recognised by a Member State.

The new European Digital Identity Wallets will enable all Europeans to access services online without having to use private identification methods or unnecessarily sharing personal data. With this solution they will have full control of the data they share.

The European Digital Identity will be:

  • Available to anyone who wants to use it: Any EU citizen, resident, and business in the Union who would like to make use of the European Digital Identity will be able to do so.
  • Widely useable: The European Digital Identity wallets will be useable widely as a way either to identify users or to prove certain personal attributes, for the purpose of access to public and private digital services across the Union.
  • Users in control of their data: The European Digital Identity wallets will enable people to choose which aspects of their identity, data and certificates they share with third parties, and to keep track of such sharing. User control ensures that only information that needs to be shared will be shared.

To make it a reality as soon as possible, the proposal is accompanied by a Recommendation. The Commission invites Member States to establish a common toolbox by September 2022 and to start the necessary preparatory work immediately. This toolbox should include the technical architecture, standards and guidelines for best practices.

Next Steps

In parallel to the legislative process, the Commission will work with Member States and the private sector on technical aspects of the European Digital Identity. Through the Digital Europe Programme, the Commission will support the implementation of the European Digital Identity framework, and many Member States have foreseen projects for the implementation of the e-government solutions, including the European Digital Identity in their national plans under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Background

The Commission’s 2030 Digital Compass sets out a number of targets and milestones which the European Digital Identity will help achieve. For example, by 2030, all key public services should be available online, all citizens will have access to electronic medical records; and 80% citizens should use an eID solution.

For this initiative, the Commission builds on the existing cross-border legal framework for trusted digital identities, the European electronic identification and trust services initiative (eIDAS Regulation). Adopted in 2014, it provides the basis for cross-border electronic identification, authentication and website certification within the EU. Already about 60% of Europeans can benefit from the current system.

However, there is no requirement for Member States to develop a national digital ID and to make it interoperable with the ones of other Member States, which leads to high discrepancies between countries. The current proposal will address these shortcomings by improving the effectiveness of the framework and extending its benefits to the private sector and to mobile use.

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