Digital inclusion: Activating skills for the next billion jobs

Digital inclusion: Activating skills for the next billion jobs

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The COVID-19 crisis has put millions of people out of work and exacerbated economic inequality around the world. It has also squeezed years of digital transformation of the economy into just a few months — opening up new possibilities and challenges. Many workers will likely spend the next year or two in a "hybrid economy," with work continuing at least partially remotely. That means it will be more important for people to have the tech skills to succeed in a totally new workplace.

Connecting the more than 3 billion people who today lack reliable internet access to the communications tools and essential services they need to participate in the modern economy is an essential first step. Broadband is the electricity of the 21st century. Without universal access to broadband, the economic recovery from COVID-19 will be neither comprehensive nor inclusive. The pandemic underscores the risks of a digital divide — increasing the reliance of households, small businesses, and entire economies on internet access, while leaving those without it further and further behind.


In addition to eliminating or transforming current jobs, the pandemic may also generate many new ones. If industries maximize digital transformation, the 2020 lockdown could generate by 2025 as many as 150 million new tech jobs in software development, cyber security, data analysis, and other fields. To take advantage of this opportunity, governments, the private sector, and international organizations will need to invest in teaching workers new skills and reverse a two-decade decline in training on the job.

In order to make sure that the post-pandemic economic recovery is inclusive, we need to ensure that all people — especially those unreached or displaced by technology — have access to the skills needed for jobs and livelihoods as well as the connectivity to enable the development of the skills needed in this more digital economy.

What's the UN doing about it?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) - the UN's specialized agency for information and communication technologies - is tackling digital inclusion through its Connect 2030 Agenda. The Agenda is working across five goals:

  • Growth - enabling and fostering access to the digital economy,
  • Inclusiveness - bridging the digital divide and providing broadband access for all,
  • Sustainability - managing emerging risks, challenges, and opportunities as society digitizes,
  • Innovation - driving technological improvement, and
  • Partnerships - broadening the coalitions working to expand access to digital opportunities.

The UN and ITU play a key role in collecting data — more than 100 indicators across 200 economies — to help better understand connectivity challenges and to benchmark progress toward closing the digital gap and expanding opportunities, including for women, youth, and minority communities.

On the ground, the UN also works extensively with governments and businesses to expand digital access and training in developing countries — from Colombia and Kenya to Thailand and beyond. But the UN can't do this alone, particularly when so much important data and insights are being generated by private tech platforms — from videoconferencing to networking to content creation — that underpin the 21st century economy.

How are others trying to help?

Industry, civil society, and government have to help prepare people with the skills they need for a 21st century economy. A key bottleneck is access, especially in rural or low-income areas. Technology firms including Microsoft have launched programs to connect people with fast, safe, and reliable internet, and to ensure that once they get online they can take advantage of educational resources to build up skills. Microsoft's Airband program to expand internet access in rural communities is operating in 20 countries, 25 US states, and serving 16 million people through programs and partnerships. And it in turn is helping to support Microsoft's commitment to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a post-pandemic economy.

What's needed next?

Everyone has a role to play, from government to industry to nonprofits. Employers can play a bigger role than they have in recent years to help employees develop these new skills. Governments can provide funding for citizens to access the relevant skills training or provide incentives to employers to do so. They can also make some of their data sets available for public use to enable job seekers and employers to identify in-demand skills and growth areas.

How can I get involved?

News broke across the United States on Friday evening that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died, ending her long and distinguished career as a jurist. Tributes poured in quickly from men and women on both sides of the political spectrum. But just as quickly, her death has sharply raised the stakes for the upcoming US elections for president and the Senate, as well as the longer-term ideological balance of the nation's top court.

A few thoughts.

First, President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already made clear they will move quickly toward a Senate vote to confirm a replacement before the election. Neither man cares about arguments that they should wait until after the election to move forward. Trump will name the nominee within days, and McConnell will begin lining up the votes. Four years ago, McConnell refused to give a vote to Obama's pick to replace deceased Justice Antonin Scalia because it was an election year, although for McConnell that argument doesn't apply now.

Second, this may set the scene for large-scale protests in many American cities. As for the election itself, this fight, however it plays out, is only likely to increase enthusiasm among voters on both sides by reminding them of the larger stakes that come with a lifetime appointment that can swing the ideological balance of a divided court. The partisan battle over the 2018 confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh could be child's play compared to what could happen if Republicans try to confirm a nominee before the election, or even after it (especially if Trump loses).

Third, there will be no replacement for Ginsburg until a nominee can get 50 votes in the Senate. Of the 53 Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine) have said in the past they don't believe a nominee should be rushed through close to an election. There are other names to watch, including a few in close races for re-election that might benefit by saying no to Trump. There is also Mitt Romney (Utah), the man who has emerged as Trump's most frequent Republican critic.

Fourth, here's the potential wildcard: The Constitution stipulates that there must be a Supreme Court, but it doesn't specify how many judges it should include. There have been more than nine justices in the past.

In theory, if Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the election and Democrats win a majority in the Senate, Biden could nominate six new justices of his own for a 15-judge court. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried this ploy in 1937, it failed and dealt his presidency a heavy political blow. But 1937 is not 2020, and Biden might succeed where Roosevelt failed.

The bottom line: The death of Justice Ginsburg is a major plot twist for what has so far been a remarkably stable election, and it will reverberate through American politics for years to come.

Jon Lieber, Managing Director of the United States for the Eurasia Group, shares his insights on the biggest development in US politics this week:

So, the scriptwriters for 2020 have thrown as a real curveball, introducing the most explosive element in US politics, just six weeks before the election. The tragic death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will be remembered as a trailblazing jurist, but also a reliably liberal vote on a court that was divided along ideological lines with a five-four conservative majority. This has the potential to upend the presidential election. And likely will motivate turnout on both sides. But also, importantly for president, Trump could remind some Romney voting ex-Republicans who were leaning towards Biden why they were Republicans in the first place. Which means that it has the potential to push some persuadable voters back towards the president.

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The pandemic has forced this year's UN General Assembly to be mostly virtual, but will it prove to be an effective way for world leaders to discuss the critical issues of the moment? Ian Bremmer talks to UN Secretary-General António Guterres about the challenges of diplomacy in the Zoom where it happens. The exchange is part of a wide-ranging interview for GZERO World.

The episode begins airing nationally in the US on public television this Friday, September 18. Check local listings.

Nicholas Thompson, editor-in-chief of WIRED, discusses technology industry news today:

Does Trump's TikTok and WeChat ban infringe on American free speech rights?

I don't think that as a legal argument you could make the case that he's violated the law. But as a principle, potentially shutting down a vibrant platform where a lot of people say a lot of stuff, it doesn't look good. I think he's in violation of the spirit of the constitution, but I have a hard time viewing it as a legal matter.

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