This article has been originally published in the GIZ magazine ‘akzente’ at https://akzente.giz.de/en/artikel/iraqs-digital-innovators. It is reprinted here by kind permission of GIZ.

A new generation of young Iraqi entrepreneurs are confronting the country’s challenges, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Text und Fotos: Olivia Cuthbert

The streets are eerily silent in Mosul’s old city. A fierce nine-month battle against Isis in 2017 left this once-bustling quarter in ruins and reduced its historic buildings to rubble. Even now, Iraq’s second-largest city is still reeling from Isis occupation, but there are visible pockets of progress.

Climbing the stairs to the Mosul Space innovation hub, the atmosphere lifts. The door opens onto a modern, open-plan room where young Maslawis, as the city’s residents are known, work to develop ideas that look ahead to the future.

Salih Mahmod

One of them is 23-year-old electronic engineering graduate Salih Mahmod, who devised the concept for the innovation hub back in 2014. He was in the first year of his engineering degree and frustrated with learning solely from books rather than also developing practical skills. Reading about makerspaces, that is, high-tech workshops offering digital training and opportunities to engage in dialogue and implement ideas, in Germany and elsewhere, he was inspired.

‘I thought, why not in our city.’ So he ordered computers and printers, but 20 days after taking delivery of the first computers, Isis descended on the city and he had to put his dream on the backburner for the time being.

Mahmod’s family fled the terror group, finding refuge in the northern Iraqi countryside. Determined to continue, he and his friends offered improvised computer and programming workshops for people from the region. When Mosul was liberated in summer 2017, he returned and hosted an engineering festival that drew more than 500 participants. The tremendous response spurred Salih Mahmod on to set about realising his original dream once again.

He decided to work with like-minded individuals to create a meeting space where young technology enthusiasts would be taught the skills they need, such as programming, the use of new robotics technology and business aptitude. The space would offer them inspiration and an environment in which to develop their innovative ideas, paving the way for the establishment of Iraqi start-ups. Mahmod found a small room and began by launching a project to produce parts for broken hospital machines.

Using a 3D printer, a group of young people created plastic screws and wheels that couldn’t be sourced locally, fixing incubators and other devices that had fallen into disrepair during the Isis occupation. ‘It was a clear example of how an innovative idea can be implemented in the field,’ said Mahmod.

Rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic

The young creatives were able to build on this experience when looking for ways to support the country’s medical professionals in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The makerspace in Mosul quickly switched to developing face shields and is now working with Iraq’s four other innovation centres. Over 10,000 of these shields have already been manufactured and delivered to hospitals throughout the country in recent weeks.

This was all achieved by the Mosul Space, as the innovation centre in the old city is now known, having grown from small beginnings. Salih Mahmod had already made contact with GIZ several years ago. The federal enterprise is working throughout Iraq on behalf of the German Development Ministry to promote the establishment of an ecosystem for tech start-ups and young computer enthusiasts.

There are now five innovation centres in the country where Iraqis can be trained to meet new requirements on the labour market or prepare for self-employment. Over 5,500 people have now completed courses or attended events at these centres. Offerings include workshops and mentoring programmes for aspiring start-up entrepreneurs looking to find solutions to the challenges facing the country.

Talent platform in Erbil

It’s not just in Mosul either. An hour down the road in the autonomous Kurdistan region, another hive of entrepreneurship buzzes with creative energy. Re:Coded House is pioneering the co-working concept in the city of Erbil. Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, a growing community of young people used the space to develop projects. ‘People tend to come here with ideas and we support them to make them a reality,’ said Wafa Al-Attas, Iraq Innovation Advisor at non-governmental organisation Field Ready.

Wafa Al-Attas

She runs the makerspace in Re:Coded House and manages the fund for Mosul Space. Al-Attas explains that the concept is quickly catching on in Erbil, fuelling a fledgling creative ecosystem that, five years ago, didn’t seem possible. But strict regulations, cumbersome bureaucracy and limited infrastructure have dampened creative ambitions. Nonetheless, she says things have started to get off the ground. With GIZ’s support, Re:Coded House, which opened in April 2019, has become a platform for talented youth who want to bring their ideas to life.

Refugee refines handbag design

Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the space was busiest in the evening, when students came after university classes to work on their projects. Book shelves and indoor plants add a cosy touch. Re:Coded House is normally also a social hub. ‘I don’t have many friends here in Erbil, but in the makerspace it feels like a family,’ said 26-year-old Sliman Khazal, who fled Syria before the war.

Sliman Khazal

He dreams of one day launching his edgy, geometric handbag designs onto the market. ‘Everyone in here is supporting me to work harder and dream bigger.’

Online courses during the lockdown

Mallak Al-Rifaie

Re:Coded House, Mosul Space and the other Iraqi innovation centres are focusing during the pandemic on online courses and video presentations on subjects such as ‘software products for the post-Covid 19 period’. 24-year-old computer expert Mallak Al-Rifaie has been working on these kinds of ideas for some time. As the only female on her university degree course, she initially met with a lot of opposition. ‘At first, all the boys told me that I didn’t have a right to be there.’

But classmates quickly changed their minds when she gained top grades for her project which saw her develop a digital system to allow individuals with limited mobility to stay at home and receive rapid assistance in an emergency. Al-Rifaie also specifically promotes training for children. One of her teams of school pupils even won a national robotics competition last year. ‘I taught them university-level coding and they grasped it incredibly quickly. This generation is really smart,’ she says. And she doesn’t appear to be worried about the future.

Contact: Inga Niere, inga.niere@giz.de

The research in Iraq was conducted prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The young people used digital media to update the editorial team on their initiatives during the lockdown.

This article has been originally published in the GIZ magazine ‘akzente’ at https://akzente.giz.de/en/artikel/iraqs-digital-innovators. It is reprinted here by kind permission of GIZ.

A new generation of young Iraqi entrepreneurs are confronting the country’s challenges, even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Text und Fotos: Olivia Cuthbert

The streets are eerily silent in Mosul’s old city. A fierce nine-month battle against Isis in 2017 left this once-bustling quarter in ruins and reduced its historic buildings to rubble. Even now, Iraq’s second-largest city is still reeling from Isis occupation, but there are visible pockets of progress.

Climbing the stairs to the Mosul Space innovation hub, the atmosphere lifts. The door opens onto a modern, open-plan room where young Maslawis, as the city’s residents are known, work to develop ideas that look ahead to the future.

Salih Mahmod

One of them is 23-year-old electronic engineering graduate Salih Mahmod, who devised the concept for the innovation hub back in 2014. He was in the first year of his engineering degree and frustrated with learning solely from books rather than also developing practical skills. Reading about makerspaces, that is, high-tech workshops offering digital training and opportunities to engage in dialogue and implement ideas, in Germany and elsewhere, he was inspired.

‘I thought, why not in our city.’ So he ordered computers and printers, but 20 days after taking delivery of the first computers, Isis descended on the city and he had to put his dream on the backburner for the time being.

Mahmod’s family fled the terror group, finding refuge in the northern Iraqi countryside. Determined to continue, he and his friends offered improvised computer and programming workshops for people from the region. When Mosul was liberated in summer 2017, he returned and hosted an engineering festival that drew more than 500 participants. The tremendous response spurred Salih Mahmod on to set about realising his original dream once again.

He decided to work with like-minded individuals to create a meeting space where young technology enthusiasts would be taught the skills they need, such as programming, the use of new robotics technology and business aptitude. The space would offer them inspiration and an environment in which to develop their innovative ideas, paving the way for the establishment of Iraqi start-ups. Mahmod found a small room and began by launching a project to produce parts for broken hospital machines.

Using a 3D printer, a group of young people created plastic screws and wheels that couldn’t be sourced locally, fixing incubators and other devices that had fallen into disrepair during the Isis occupation. ‘It was a clear example of how an innovative idea can be implemented in the field,’ said Mahmod.

Rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic

The young creatives were able to build on this experience when looking for ways to support the country’s medical professionals in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The makerspace in Mosul quickly switched to developing face shields and is now working with Iraq’s four other innovation centres. Over 10,000 of these shields have already been manufactured and delivered to hospitals throughout the country in recent weeks.

This was all achieved by the Mosul Space, as the innovation centre in the old city is now known, having grown from small beginnings. Salih Mahmod had already made contact with GIZ several years ago. The federal enterprise is working throughout Iraq on behalf of the German Development Ministry to promote the establishment of an ecosystem for tech start-ups and young computer enthusiasts.

There are now five innovation centres in the country where Iraqis can be trained to meet new requirements on the labour market or prepare for self-employment. Over 5,500 people have now completed courses or attended events at these centres. Offerings include workshops and mentoring programmes for aspiring start-up entrepreneurs looking to find solutions to the challenges facing the country.

Talent platform in Erbil

It’s not just in Mosul either. An hour down the road in the autonomous Kurdistan region, another hive of entrepreneurship buzzes with creative energy. Re:Coded House is pioneering the co-working concept in the city of Erbil. Prior to the coronavirus lockdown, a growing community of young people used the space to develop projects. ‘People tend to come here with ideas and we support them to make them a reality,’ said Wafa Al-Attas, Iraq Innovation Advisor at non-governmental organisation Field Ready.

Wafa Al-Attas

She runs the makerspace in Re:Coded House and manages the fund for Mosul Space. Al-Attas explains that the concept is quickly catching on in Erbil, fuelling a fledgling creative ecosystem that, five years ago, didn’t seem possible. But strict regulations, cumbersome bureaucracy and limited infrastructure have dampened creative ambitions. Nonetheless, she says things have started to get off the ground. With GIZ’s support, Re:Coded House, which opened in April 2019, has become a platform for talented youth who want to bring their ideas to life.

Refugee refines handbag design

Before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the space was busiest in the evening, when students came after university classes to work on their projects. Book shelves and indoor plants add a cosy touch. Re:Coded House is normally also a social hub. ‘I don’t have many friends here in Erbil, but in the makerspace it feels like a family,’ said 26-year-old Sliman Khazal, who fled Syria before the war.

Sliman Khazal

He dreams of one day launching his edgy, geometric handbag designs onto the market. ‘Everyone in here is supporting me to work harder and dream bigger.’

Online courses during the lockdown

Mallak Al-Rifaie

Re:Coded House, Mosul Space and the other Iraqi innovation centres are focusing during the pandemic on online courses and video presentations on subjects such as ‘software products for the post-Covid 19 period’. 24-year-old computer expert Mallak Al-Rifaie has been working on these kinds of ideas for some time. As the only female on her university degree course, she initially met with a lot of opposition. ‘At first, all the boys told me that I didn’t have a right to be there.’

But classmates quickly changed their minds when she gained top grades for her project which saw her develop a digital system to allow individuals with limited mobility to stay at home and receive rapid assistance in an emergency. Al-Rifaie also specifically promotes training for children. One of her teams of school pupils even won a national robotics competition last year. ‘I taught them university-level coding and they grasped it incredibly quickly. This generation is really smart,’ she says. And she doesn’t appear to be worried about the future.

Contact: Inga Niere, inga.niere@giz.de

The research in Iraq was conducted prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The young people used digital media to update the editorial team on their initiatives during the lockdown.

Headquartered in the UK, Abacus Cambridge Partners, a leading consulting, technology, and outsourcing company, has announced a strategic partnership with Deep Engineering, a premier engineering company and a subsidiary of Joto Leading Group, to expand its presence in Northern Iraq by offering digital transformation solutions to the private and public sectors.

Technology plays an increasingly critical role in every aspect of a business. Leaders in the public and private sectors in Northern Iraq recognise the need to accelerate the development of digital solutions to ensure competitiveness.

The Abacus-Deep Engineering partnership brings together extensive skills in business and technology strategy, technology development and deployment, and organisational change management to help transform organisations across Northern Iraq.

Speaking on the signing ceremony, Yu Huang Chan, CEO of Deep Engineering, remarked:

“We think it’s a productive agreement as Iraq is now booming. We are happy to have this partnership with Abacus.”

Abbas Khan, CEO of Abacus, added:

“I am pleased to announce that we have now entered into a strategic framework agreement with Deep Engineering. Through this collaboration, we will be able to create massive opportunities for customers across the region. Our alliance with Deep Engineering is going to result in mutually beneficial outcomes.”

The partnership will play a fundamental role in achieving Iraq’s vision 2030, which is driven by digital transformation.

(Source: Abacus Cambridge)

By John Lee.

Fair competition is needed to economically empower women in the Arab world

Female labor force participation levels in Arab countries are the lowest in the world, despite the rising educational attainment of women reaching working age, according to an article from the Middle East Institute.

Rabah Arezki, Ferid Belhaj argue that young women across the Arab world exceed the education levels of young men, who are worrisomely falling behind.

Remedying the underrepresentation of Arab women in the labor force and reviving the educational motivation of young men are both social and economic imperatives, they say.

More here.

(Source: Middle East Institute)

By John Lee.

On Wednesday 24 July, Khaled T. Kanaan, Chairman of the Jordan Iraqi Economic Association (JIEA), met with HE Mr. Ali Mohsen Al-Alaq, Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI).

The meeting was a follow-up to the “Digital Transformation in Financial Sector Forum” held in Baghdad on 10 July, which was jointly organized between the JIEA and the Iraq Private Banks League (IPBL), supported by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank Group.

The meeting addressed the CBI strategy to move forward with their drive towards digital transformation in the financial sector.

The JIEA conveyed the message that Jordanian fintech firms will be more than ready to engage in any effort that will assist the Iraqi side in their drive.

(Source: Jordan Iraqi Economic Association)

By John Lee.

The Jordanian-Iraqi Forum on digital transformation in the financial sector was held on Wednesday in Baghdad.

It was organized as part of the partnership between Jordan’s Information and Communications Technology Association (int@j), the Jordanian-Iraqi Economic Association, the Iraq Private Banks League, and the International Finance Corporation, and saw the participation of 30 Jordanian IT companies.

Through the forum, int@j aims to assist Jordanian IT companies enter the Iraqi market.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors at int@j, Dr. Bashar Hawamdeh, said that the company’s role in organizing the forum is part of their efforts to bolster networking among Jordanian companies and Iraqi banks and others operating in the financial sector. int@j’s role in organizing the forum comes as well amidst efforts to enable Jordanian companies to offer their expertise in digital transformation and technology to Iraqi sectors more broadly, particularly considering there exists an urgent need on the Iraqi side to implement digital transformation projects.

Dr. Hawamdeh noted that the Iraqi market is an important market to Jordanian companies, as those companies possess significant expertise in systems building and management. He added that Jordanian companies have been instrumental in developing e-governance for states in the region and have assisted in building systems that serve digital transformation.

He added that the forum is an opportune time for Jordanian companies to explore opportunities related to cooperation and sharing of expertise, especially considering the faith the Iraqi market has in Jordanian expertise in all areas.

The following Jordanian companies are taking part in the forum: Access 2 Arabia, Bridges PR and Events, Globitel, Green Circle Co., Hayyan Horizons, MenalTech, HyperPay, MadfooatCom, Jordan Payments and Clearing Company (JoPACC), Middle East Payment Services (MEPS), and Quality Business Solutions.

Also participating in the conference are: Real Soft Advanced Applications, Sidra Electronic Payment Software, Synaptic Technologies, Trismart, VTEL Holdings, dot.Jo, Jordan Data Systems, Takamol, ProgressSoft, Al Bayanat Al-Raqamiah for Information Technology, Image Technologies (ITECJ), OPTIMIZA, Oracle, Jordan Systems Consulting Co, OFFTEC, Dell, KPMG Jordan, Virtual/Al-Nayi for Informational and Communications Consulting, and Mawdoo3.com.

(Source: int@j)

By John Lee.

A major hackathon weekend is planned to take place in Slemani (Sulaymaniyah) on the weekend of 8th to 10th August.

HackaSuly describes itself as “the largest international hackathon in Iraq that brings the coding community together over a weekend to work in teams and turn their ideas into technological solutions“.

More here.

Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have committed to digitally transform their countries, discussing their roadmaps to support the Mashreq region’s integration into the rapidly evolving global digital economy.

The commitments came on the first day of the landmark, high-level forum on Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Development in Mashreq, which was  hosted by the Government of Jordan and organized jointly with the World Bank Group.

The three governments had identified the challenges and solutions that would allow Mashreq countries to realize more gains to their economies and societies. Digitalization is shaping the present and future of economic activities as it brings about higher productivity, efficiencies and quicker inclusion of lagging economic and social groups, such as women and youth.

Mobile and digital solutions are contributing to facilitating greater financial inclusion. E-commerce and other digital applications are being leveraged to promote entrepreneurship, including the empowerment of women as entrepreneurs, and digital solutions are being sought to improve access to learning resources in an easier and less expensive way.

The Mobile Gender Report for 2018 lists a gender gap in mobile ownership among women in the region which can reach up to 20%. while this gap is only 2% in countries like Egypt or Turkey. Bringing this gap to less than 4% everywhere in the Mashreq would bring income opportunities for women in the region. Broadband access is estimated to increase employment among married women by as much as 4% in high income economies.

Broadly speaking, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon face similar obstacles to their quest to transform Mashreq into a regional hub for IT and Business Process Outsourcing.  Policymakers, international and regional businesses, startups and investors all convened at the King Hussein Business Park to enrich the discussion with their expertise and experience on how to push this agenda forward.

The digital roadmaps were presented by the three ministers holding the Information Technology portfolio in their respective countries. World Bank Group  committed to supporting these countries achieve their goals with specific focus on increasing broadband access, establishing cashless payment systems and bridging the gender gap in mobile usage.

Iraq

The Government of Iraq (GOI) is committed to further advancing the digital economy and aims to ensure affordable access to high speed internet, by doubling access to broadband to 54% in 2021 and 90% by 2030, achieving 100% broadband network coverage, establishing a conducive regulatory and policy framework for digital payments, developing interoperable digital payments infrastructure, and striving towards 100% financial access. The GOI is also committed to delivering digital government services and ensuring highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy to boost consumer trust. The GOI is also keen to ensure that education and training programs meet current and future job market skills needs.

Jordan

The Government of Jordan (GOJ) is committed to advancing the digital economy as strategic growth sector for the Kingdom. On digital infrastructure, the GOJ commits to further developing access to internet broadband to reach 100% penetration rate by 2021. As part of that, the GOJ is opening the National Broadband Network (7,000 kilometers of fiber) for Public Private Partnership, allowing affordable fiber broadband to 1.3 million households around Jordan. On digital payments, the GOJ commits to increasing country-level cashless payments from 33 to 50% by 2020 and to digitizing 80% of government to citizens payments by 2021.  On developing digital skills, the GOJ will launch a national skills development initiative to train 35,000 people on the 21st century skills and mainstreaming digital skills in public schools to train 300 thousands by 2022. To enable a friendly business environment for entrepreneurs, the GOJ is committed to launching a regulatory reform process in 2019, following a participatory approach with ecosystem representatives. To complete automation of Government services, the GOJ commits to automate key services by 2021. Building on the recent transformations of the Ministry of ICT to Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, the GOJ will launch its digital transformation action plan in partnership with the ecosystem by end of 2019.

Lebanon

The Government of Lebanon (GOL) is committed to building a Digital Nation and to transform Lebanon into a regional technology and innovation hub. The GOL  is in the process of finalizing its digital transformation plan and aims to double the knowledge economy’s contribution to GDP and double the employment in this sector by 2025. To achieve this, the GOL plans to: (i) reach 100% broadband penetration rate by end of 2021; (ii) develop and execute the digital transformation of the public sector and offer citizens a fully digitized journey across all government services, with 500,000 users signed up to the government digital platform by end of 2021; (iii) provide a supportive regulatory framework to help grow the Fintech industry and facilitate digital payments, launch a new national digital currency by the end of 2020, and launch an Electronic Trading Platform (ETP) to improve financing for private sector activities in 2020; (iv) leverage its pool of skilled and entrepreneurial talent in Lebanon and abroad to build a digital economy focused on innovation and private initiative, increase the number of start-ups fivefold and double yearly venture capital funding by 2025; and (v) address the existing skills gap by preparing the youth for the global, digital jobs of the future through launching a national training academy by 2021.

The World Bank commits to support Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan in achieving their visions and plans for digital transformation by providing the necessary resources and instruments. The World Bank will work closely with the Governments, private sector, academia and civil society to maximize the impact of digitization and reap the digital dividends for their societies. This support will include: (i) pursuing plans to ensure affordable access to high-speed internet and facilitate investment in broadband; (ii) delivering digital government services and improving access to data, while ensuring the highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy; (iii) developing a modern digital payment infrastructure; (iv) scaling up digital entrepreneurship; and (v) ensuring education and training programs meet current and future skills needs.

More details, including a video of the procedings, can be found here.

The second high-level Digital Mashreq Forum will convene in Beirut in June 2020.

(Source: World Bank)

Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon have committed to digitally transform their countries, discussing their roadmaps to support the Mashreq region’s integration into the rapidly evolving global digital economy.

The commitments came on the first day of the landmark, high-level forum on Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship Development in Mashreq, which was  hosted by the Government of Jordan and organized jointly with the World Bank Group.

The three governments had identified the challenges and solutions that would allow Mashreq countries to realize more gains to their economies and societies. Digitalization is shaping the present and future of economic activities as it brings about higher productivity, efficiencies and quicker inclusion of lagging economic and social groups, such as women and youth.

Mobile and digital solutions are contributing to facilitating greater financial inclusion. E-commerce and other digital applications are being leveraged to promote entrepreneurship, including the empowerment of women as entrepreneurs, and digital solutions are being sought to improve access to learning resources in an easier and less expensive way.

The Mobile Gender Report for 2018 lists a gender gap in mobile ownership among women in the region which can reach up to 20%. while this gap is only 2% in countries like Egypt or Turkey. Bringing this gap to less than 4% everywhere in the Mashreq would bring income opportunities for women in the region. Broadband access is estimated to increase employment among married women by as much as 4% in high income economies.

Broadly speaking, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon face similar obstacles to their quest to transform Mashreq into a regional hub for IT and Business Process Outsourcing.  Policymakers, international and regional businesses, startups and investors all convened at the King Hussein Business Park to enrich the discussion with their expertise and experience on how to push this agenda forward.

The digital roadmaps were presented by the three ministers holding the Information Technology portfolio in their respective countries. World Bank Group  committed to supporting these countries achieve their goals with specific focus on increasing broadband access, establishing cashless payment systems and bridging the gender gap in mobile usage.

Iraq

The Government of Iraq (GOI) is committed to further advancing the digital economy and aims to ensure affordable access to high speed internet, by doubling access to broadband to 54% in 2021 and 90% by 2030, achieving 100% broadband network coverage, establishing a conducive regulatory and policy framework for digital payments, developing interoperable digital payments infrastructure, and striving towards 100% financial access. The GOI is also committed to delivering digital government services and ensuring highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy to boost consumer trust. The GOI is also keen to ensure that education and training programs meet current and future job market skills needs.

Jordan

The Government of Jordan (GOJ) is committed to advancing the digital economy as strategic growth sector for the Kingdom. On digital infrastructure, the GOJ commits to further developing access to internet broadband to reach 100% penetration rate by 2021. As part of that, the GOJ is opening the National Broadband Network (7,000 kilometers of fiber) for Public Private Partnership, allowing affordable fiber broadband to 1.3 million households around Jordan. On digital payments, the GOJ commits to increasing country-level cashless payments from 33 to 50% by 2020 and to digitizing 80% of government to citizens payments by 2021.  On developing digital skills, the GOJ will launch a national skills development initiative to train 35,000 people on the 21st century skills and mainstreaming digital skills in public schools to train 300 thousands by 2022. To enable a friendly business environment for entrepreneurs, the GOJ is committed to launching a regulatory reform process in 2019, following a participatory approach with ecosystem representatives. To complete automation of Government services, the GOJ commits to automate key services by 2021. Building on the recent transformations of the Ministry of ICT to Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship, the GOJ will launch its digital transformation action plan in partnership with the ecosystem by end of 2019.

Lebanon

The Government of Lebanon (GOL) is committed to building a Digital Nation and to transform Lebanon into a regional technology and innovation hub. The GOL  is in the process of finalizing its digital transformation plan and aims to double the knowledge economy’s contribution to GDP and double the employment in this sector by 2025. To achieve this, the GOL plans to: (i) reach 100% broadband penetration rate by end of 2021; (ii) develop and execute the digital transformation of the public sector and offer citizens a fully digitized journey across all government services, with 500,000 users signed up to the government digital platform by end of 2021; (iii) provide a supportive regulatory framework to help grow the Fintech industry and facilitate digital payments, launch a new national digital currency by the end of 2020, and launch an Electronic Trading Platform (ETP) to improve financing for private sector activities in 2020; (iv) leverage its pool of skilled and entrepreneurial talent in Lebanon and abroad to build a digital economy focused on innovation and private initiative, increase the number of start-ups fivefold and double yearly venture capital funding by 2025; and (v) address the existing skills gap by preparing the youth for the global, digital jobs of the future through launching a national training academy by 2021.

The World Bank commits to support Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan in achieving their visions and plans for digital transformation by providing the necessary resources and instruments. The World Bank will work closely with the Governments, private sector, academia and civil society to maximize the impact of digitization and reap the digital dividends for their societies. This support will include: (i) pursuing plans to ensure affordable access to high-speed internet and facilitate investment in broadband; (ii) delivering digital government services and improving access to data, while ensuring the highest standards of cybersecurity and data privacy; (iii) developing a modern digital payment infrastructure; (iv) scaling up digital entrepreneurship; and (v) ensuring education and training programs meet current and future skills needs.

More details, including a video of the procedings, can be found here.

The second high-level Digital Mashreq Forum will convene in Beirut in June 2020.

(Source: World Bank)

Address by Dr Victoria Lindsay, British Council Country Director for Iraq, to the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC)‘s International Tech Conference in Baghdad:

The fourth Industrial Revolution underway and it is technology changing the world and the way we live.

Globalization means it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore developments such as automation, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, mobile and cloud technology and the Internet of things; E-commerce is changing banking and shopping habits creating an increasingly globalized economy.

So far too little attention has been paid to the implementation of e-commence and the impact of this seismic shift on education and the educational infrastructure required to support e-commerce growth.

Skills and Education Disruption and Digital Literacy

The rapid changes described above are leading to skills disruption; a change in the nature of jobs available, and the work that people can undertake. This evolving need is driving a demand for new and adaptable skill sets. Alongside of this the nature of learning is also changing; no longer are students required to learn by rote instead they need to be able to locate, evaluate and use information. Education at all levels needs to change to support this shifting landscape.

These changes in education can be divided into three areas:

  • Firstly, those who study computer science education: the computer science graduates and professionals who are required to develop and maintain e-commerce and other systems;
  • Secondly e-commerce education itself: entrepreneurs and businessmen and women who need to understand how e- commerce and the online environment works;
  • Thirdly, the users who will require sufficient levels of digital literacy to be able to use online platforms and trust e-commerce and services become increasingly available online.

Digital literacy has been defined by organisations such as the Global Digital Literacy Council and can be evidenced by certificates such as the IC3 Global Standard; however, considering more fully and at individual level, digital literacy is a skill set that is more advanced than certification. Being sufficiently digitally literate to interact with an online world is beyond the ability to use computer programmes such as Word for Windows. It includes the skills to access and judge the value of information; ability to identify fake news and to use a search engine to locate trusted information, advice and guidance.

Digital literacy also includes the proficiency to interact with others in a global world using devices for synchronous and asynchronous communication. Digital users are also required to have developed their social emotional skills in this new environment; what is described as cyber awareness, navigating a world with trolling, flashing and phishing.

Lastly, digitally literate users require photo visual skills, the ability to navigate and read sources such as websites and to have learnt basic motor skills to connect and navigate an ever increasing variety of changing devices.

Turning now to each of these diverse but related areas of education.

Computing Education

Now and in the future those studying computer education will be providing the technological support and expertise that will support domestic economic growth via IT advancement, software, infrastructure and devices. They require a rapid and responsive curriculum which focuses on underpinning knowledge as well current and potential future programming skills.

Key to success will be the development of skills which will allow further development and adaptation that will support future developments. Related to this but not explored here in detail is the need for wider-reaching skills and knowledge that support the e-environment; for example, legislation and international business.

e-Commerce Education

The second area to consider is the implications for e-commerce education. A growth area will be short professional courses which will be delivered by commercial providers. Within formal education stand alone modules and extra curricular activity will develop to meet student demand. Longer term dedicated undergraduate and post graduate degrees will emerge.

These courses will provide students and attendees with sufficient knowledge to be able to make informed technical and marketing decisions relating to online business. Content might, for example, include the development of an e-catalog (product range), understanding of secure web servers and protocols, the development of a graphic user interface, underlying processing e-commerce engines and databases and communications management systems.

Digital Literacy

Finally, there is a need to consider the implications of a shift to e-commerce and e-society to digital literacy education. Users need to be able to use and understand mobile devices and the online environment. This could be achieved through a combination of formal education and informal learning through modeling innovators and early adopters.

Caution here is required when we think of younger generations, the so called Digital Natives — those considered, by their age or social demographic to be natural immersed in the online world. Research shows that these assumptions may be incorrect, and that although technologically familiar with devices, Generation Z struggles to evaluate and assess the validity of information.

It is also, at this point, worth highlighting those who will be left behind and the need to maintain a minimum level of service for those unable due to poor education (illiteracy), location (poor bandwidth) or social demographic (limited funds) who will be excluded from the digital revolution. Services and products whose services are essential to these customers should carefully consider a move into e-commerce to balance both current and future needs with social responsibility.

Recommendations

So, with regard to the next steps, the following recommendations can be made. The development of a Computing Education Plan to meet the technical needs, an E-commerce Education plan to meet the needs of innovators and entrepreneurs who will be in the vanguard of this shift change, and a digital literacy plan that raises users skills.

(Source: IBBC)