Digital Inclusion and Transformation in South Asia.”

Ayubowan !
It gives me great pleasure to be with you at this webinar on “Digital Inclusion and Transformation in South Asia” Organized by ORF India in collaboration with Colombo Initiative and the Sappani Foundation.
First of all I would like to thank the organizers for taking the initiative and conducting this much needed forum amidst current challenges we face due to this global pandemic.
Digital transformation is affecting how we work, socialize, and create economic value. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for significant support and investments on digital transformation and effective digital governance across all countries in the region, particularly to ensure the continuity and delivery of core government functions.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting impact is reaching every corner of the world. As we look back at this period, we will see history divided into a pre-COVID and a post-COVID world. A defining feature of the post-COVID world will be the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives.
As the Forbes magazine highlights there are six pillars of digital transformation. experiences, people, change, innovation, leadership, and culture.
I believe that inclusion must be at the heart of digital transformation to “leave no one behind”. We need to embed inclusive objectives in the four core foundations of the digital economy: Internet access, digital skills, digital financing and e-commerce.
If a nation is to move forward in the current context Community Led Digital transformation is vital. Irrespective of the government policies, the community needs to embrace the digital transformation fundamentals and take lead in this journey, governments will be then compelled to make the step toward digitalization.
We need to educate the public on the importance of Digital transformation and benefits of Digital Education specially during the pandemic. For example, digital education in Sri Lanka even though at the early stage is growing at a rapid rate, due to the pandemic the school system has had to embrace online education which they were reluctant to do before and now it is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country.
The United Nations has recognized digital education as one key pillar in their sustainable development goals. One of the objectives under this pillar is by 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment and entrepreneurship. This too is a key priority for us in Sri Lanka, we are committed to provide our youth with the skills and the tools to further their ambitions and promote entrepreneurship and assist them to find skilled employment. This is vital for countries such as ours. We need to keep our youth occupied.
The 21st Century is known as the knowledge-centric century. Therefore to remain globally competitive, we must be efficient and technology needs to be integrated with every sector of the economy, be it agriculture, industry, or the service sector. It is vital that we invest strategically in new technologies and include such innovations into our education systems, and economy. A culture of technological innovations must be nurtured.
Under the leadership of his Excellency the President a key priority of our government is to work toward a “digitally inclusive Sri Lanka”.
While we drive all this vision forward the convenience of our citizens would be the foremost consideration in setting up a Citizen Centric Digital Government. We will ensure that we put in place a process where people would not have to be inconvenienced due to inefficiency, delays, and having to commute to many points of service delivery to obtain public services, when such services could be obtained via the internet.
While we have already implemented digital access to vital documents such as birth & death certificates, we are working toward establishing a fully digital ID. The process of establishing a centralized Digital ID has already begun and we hope to begin work by the end of the year along with an E-Gramasevaka service which will allow the public access to essential public services from home.
While education, public services and work is shifting to the digital space Economies too have had to follow suit. With covid19 our entire lifestyles have changed we no longer interact or go about like we used to, we cannot.
Corporations and countries alike need to start investing more in digital platforms and online trading.
In Sri Lanka we hope to simplify the processes for E-businesses and we are looking at attracting more investment in E-Commerce space. We are also actively pursuing Block-Chain technology which would facilitate for digital currencies and a larger digital economy. We are also looking at promoting Esports and Gaming with so many talented youth and an already vibrant community of gamers and developers a like we see a lot of promise in this, especially for the younger generations. Globally Esports remains a 100 Billion dollar industry with infinite potential. We should encourage our youth to explore these avenues to create a livelihood for themselves but also create new industries. While youth are stuck in doors digital space provides them with an escape to not only express their creativity but also monetize it.
While digital transformation is certain, its direction is not. Governments, civil society and the private sector must work together to ensure that digital technologies benefit not only the economy but society and the environment and have inclusion at their heart. Only then do we stand a chance of realizing the true transformative potential of digital technologies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.