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)