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Paving the way towards an equitable digital future

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 8 min read
Paving the way towards an equitable digital future
Telcos and tech companies are helping to bridge the digital divide in the region. Photo: Unsplash
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The Asia Pacific (Apac) region is the most digitally divided in the world, with more than two billion people not having access to digital technologies, according to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. So, what are tech companies and telcos doing to realise a digitally inclusive society in the region?

Matthew Vesperman, vice president for Apac, Ciena

Many Apac governments are already implementing progressive policies to enable digital inclusion, but closing the digital divide isn’t solely the government’s responsibility and must involve the entire business ecosystem.

The telecoms industry has made great strides in improving existing networks’ capacity, reliability, and cost-effectiveness, which helps provide the necessary infrastructure required for rural connectivity. But more can be done, including investing in R&D that makes networks faster and brings them closer to the underserved.

Ciena is focused on providing the best technology to ensure our customers can deliver highly reliable connectivity. Our Digital Inclusion Programme also sees us collaborating with our customers, suppliers and partners to drive digital inclusion. We have committed US$10 million ($13 million) over the course of five years to enable technology access and digital skills for 100,000 underserved students in local communities.

Bee Kheng Tay, president for Asean, Cisco

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Digital transformation and technology adoption are transforming regional economies. As the world becomes more digitally dependent, private and public partnerships are crucial in connecting everything and everyone so that no one gets left behind.

Through our Country Digital Acceleration programme that now runs in 12 Apac countries, Cisco is partnering with governments, industry, and academia to unlock the value of digitalisation for countries with tailored initiatives that address specific priority areas. This ranges from creating a technology roadmap for smart city projects to providing integrated solutions to drive cyber resilience.

Building a local pool of next-generation talent is also critical to long-term digital inclusion. We have committed to training 6.7 million people in Apac in digital and cybersecurity skills over the next 10 years through Cisco Networking Academy.

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Chua Chee Pin, area vice president for Japan, Korea, South East Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Commvault

Many governments already provide digital inclusivity initiatives for underserved communities amidst a fast-evolving digital landscape. Yet, gaps still exist.

Digital inclusivity must go beyond basic access, underpinned by digital literacy, allowing users to apply practical uses to the wide availability of online information. This is where private-public sector collaboration can help, with companies contributing expertise by offering courses on cybersecurity, data privacy, and other best practices.

Digital inclusivity is closely intertwined with Commvault’s CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts. We regularly donate IT equipment to schools and partner with non-profit organisations to provide internet access for underserved communities at no cost. We also support underrepresented groups with initiatives encouraging careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to level the playing field for everyone, regardless of background.

Andy Sim, vice president and managing director for Singapore, Dell Technologies

From providing access to building digital infrastructure, upskilling the workforce and creating jobs, tech companies are in a prime position to drive and enable more people and organisations to participate in the digital economy.

In Singapore, Dell Technologies has established the Global Innovation Hub and partnered with institutes of higher learning on cloud-native architecture curriculum development, leveraging technology to connect underserved and underrepresented groups to skills and resources, delivering impact at scale. This will help future-proof our workforce in the coming years.

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To drive the long-term success of digital inclusion initiatives, the public and private sectors must work hand-in-hand to deliver devices, broadband and connectivity solutions, skill-building and resources that the communities need. Technology is, after all, meant to be an equaliser, not a source of division.

Steve Long, corporate vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific and Japan, Intel Corporation

In today’s era, where the use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) directly impacts a country’s GDP, we must focus on building a generation of tech creators to remain competitive in the global economy.

This can be achieved by inclusively accelerating digital infrastructure. That way, everyone can access affordable and high-speed internet connectivity and the right computing device that allows for indigenous knowledge creation.

There is also a need to enhance digital readiness, which encompasses fostering digital skills, trust and responsible use of tech superpowers like AI for broader socio-economic benefits.

Achieving digital inclusion requires a multifaceted approach involving shared values and responsibilities. Intel plays a crucial role towards creating a more equitable society by driving various digital readiness programmes in collaboration with governments, academia, civil society, and industry. These programmes help demystify and democratise technologies like AI for diverse audiences and help accelerate a more connected and digitally enabled future for everyone.

Lee Hui Li, managing director, Microsoft Singapore

Microsoft recognises that expanding access to digital skills is a crucial step in achieving our mission: To empower every person and organisation to achieve more.

In Singapore, we’ve created access to digital innovation through deep partnerships with the government, our partners, and customers. Through national skilling initiatives like #GetReadySG and Digital Enablement Programme, we’ve helped over 200,000 individuals in Singapore gain access to digital skills for the digital era and closed the gap between skilling and employability.

We firmly believe reskilling and upskilling as essential to driving broad economic growth and will continue our efforts to drive the adoption of skills for the digital economy as we build a resilient and digitally inclusive nation.

Aileen Tan, group chief people and sustainability officer, Singtel

Singtel’s purpose of empowering every generation guides our social impact strategy, which focuses on digital enablement. We believe in making connectivity accessible and providing digital literacy training so vulnerable groups can lead meaningful lives in a digital economy.

For low-income families, seniors and children in need, we offer digital skills training, data and device donation programmes and more to complement national digital inclusion efforts. We also provide customised ICT training and opportunities for internship and mentorship programmes for students with special needs to prepare for the workplace. Meanwhile, our Future Makers programme supports social impact start-ups using technology and innovation to address challenges faced by vulnerable community members.

We are committed to creating an equitable and inclusive digital society, but collaboration between the 3Ps (people, public and private sectors) is crucial to creating a world where everyone is empowered to be digitally self-sufficient and has opportunities to thrive, regardless of their ability, location or background.

Nikhil Eapen, chief executive, StarHub

We do digital inclusion in three ways — all applying tech and digitalisation to move our Singapore society forward.

First, we provide society access to a world of digital products and possibilities, enriching life experiences across connectivity, streaming content, cloud gaming and even health.

Second, we harness the power of cloud and digital to empower enterprises to drive their digital transformations and deploy innovative, green and sustainable solutions for a better Singapore.

Third, we focus on enabling digital platforms for less advantaged groups of our society. For example, we committed 10,000 mobile lines for persons with disabilities and their caregivers through giga!, our all-digital mobile service, helping beneficiaries gain speedy access to mobile services. This goes towards narrowing the digital divide.

With the vision of becoming Singapore’s digital platform, StarHub believes in creating equal digital access and opportunities for all.

Sumir Bhatia, president – AP, Lenovo ISG

Lenovo has three approaches to promoting a digitally inclusive society:  

  1. Product - We recognise the significance of accessibility and inclusivity in the technology industry. Lenovo established the Product Diversity Office (PDO) that ensures our products are accessible to everyone, regardless of background or ability. One example of Lenovo's inclusive products is the Aotearoa New Zealand Bilingual Keyboard, allowing users to communicate in their native language, te reo Māori.

  2. Company - Lenovo aims to drive digital equity in all its partnerships and programs like EdVision to empower the new generation of educators and students by raising the level of digital literacy and skills. We must all strive to increase access to technology to create a more equitable and innovative future.

  3. Community - Lenovo partners with organisations that share its vision of 'smarter technology for all', to provide strategic programs and promote access to STEM. Lenovo's annual ‘Love on Month of Service’ engages employees and has impacted over 250,000 individuals. By empowering communities with tools and knowledge to succeed in the digital age, we believe that we can work together to bridge the digital divide.

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