Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 5: Digital Inclusion and Post-Pandemic Economic Reactivation

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The cities that participated in this fifth dialogue are all Brazilian cities, Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife accompanied by an expert in the field, Carina Lopes, who is the director of Digital Future Society Think Tank at Mobile World Capital Barcelona. The session was moderated by Marcelo Facchina, Chief Executive in Smart Cities and Digital Municipalities at CAF.

According to UNESCO, digital inclusion is a crucial element to overcoming socioeconomic inequalities in the region, as well as to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda. Therefore, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have been prioritizing universal access to the internet as a public policy. However, the region still faces challenges related to the digital divide, such as telecommunication infrastructure deficit, low population density, lack of human capital, multidimensional poverty, digital illiteracy, and an inadequate regulatory framework. Furthermore, in the context of the pandemic, the digital gap represents a very significant vulnerability which undermines the success of the response and recovery measures undertaken by governments. Therefore, there is an urgent need to maximize the capacities of the digital ecosystem in the region, so it becomes an effective tool to fight Covid-19 and turns into a solid foundation for building more resilient urban communities.

The main challenges and opportunities identified during this session are the following:

Social

The health crisis has shed light on the deficient, limited or inexistent provision of basic services, including digital services, particularly to the most vulnerable population. According to an ECLAC study conducted in 2019, only 66.7% of the inhabitants in Latin America have a reliable Internet connection. This reality presents multiple challenges in combatting inequalities and creating economic opportunities for citizens – for example, barriers to access goods and services which is becoming more and more digitalized. The key takeaways from this session include:

 1. Educate smart citizens for a smart city;

2. Clearly understand the social role of technology;

3. Set forth a principle of co-responsibility and solidarity;

4. Mainstream a gender perspective in public policies for digital inclusion; 

5. Provide strategic support services for citizens – GovTech for exemple; 

6. Information and communications technology (ICT) for an educational transformation.

For example, the Salvador Resilient Challenge focuses on identifying, boosting and supporting the implementation of women-owned businesses that incorporate technology for digital inclusion or that enhance the positive effect generated by businesses through digital transformation. It also contributes to job and income creation to minimize the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic.

Economic

The use of digital tools and social media with productive and commercial means has grown considerably during the pandemic, however, they have not yet been widely adopted by a significant part of the society, including the elderly and the most vulnerable population. One of the biggest challenges is to understand the intersections between technology development and territorial planning, rethinking entire sectors such as the tourism sector through a sustainable and resilient approach. The key takeaways from this session include:

1. Inclusive equipment in peri-urban and/or low-income areas;

2. Place-based digital inclusion through smart neighborhoods and innovation districts; 

3. Development of innovation ecosystems that promote productivity; 

4. Importance of the role of innovation and of a creative and collaborative economy; 

5. Public and private investment with an inclusive focus and a network logic; 

6. Labour mobility and employee reskilling.

For example, the Center for Business Innovation in Salvador is creating a hub for innovation and technology to help startups, new businesses and innovative entrepreneurs prosper and build more resilient communities.

Institutional

The lockdown measures necessary due to the pandemic have accelerated the digital transformation for governments, businesses and communities in a way that has never been witnessed before. One of the main challenges for the public sector is going to be combining urgent operational speed with a long-term strategic focus, as well as guaranteeing and universalizing the access to digital technologies. The key takeaways from this session include: 

1. Multi-level and multi-stakeholder institutional arrangement that develops a long-term and shared vision for urban development;

2. Co-responsibility between the local government and the civil society; 

3. Foster a public sector that has close ties to citizens and that creates spaces for interactive dialogues; 

4. Local resilient plans with a technology focus and a vision towards the future; 

5. Map the productive networks and data-based reactivation of the economy; 

6. Digital government and open data policies.

For example, Fortaleza online aims at making public management efficient agile and transparent while giving citizens public power to create incentives for economic growth, opportunities for new initiatives, etc. This should ultimately lead to a city that is fairer, more inclusive, sustainable and competitive.


[1] UNESCO (2020). Available at: http://www.iiep.unesco.org/en/ict-latin-america-policy-and-planning-emergencies-13484

[2] ECLAC (2020). Available at: https://www.cepal.org/es/publicaciones/45938-universalizar-acceso-tecnologias-digitales-enfrentar-efectos-covid-19

This content is the product of a series of dialogues organized by the Resilient Cities Network and CAF, through the Cities with a Future Initiative, to exchange knowledge and good practices among municipalities and key actors in the regional urban ecosystem of Latin American and the Caribbean, aimed at mitigating the effects of the pandemic.

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Recovery Dialogues in Latin America 5: Digital Inclusion and Post-Pandemic Economic Reactivation