On July 1st around 60 countries gathered for the launch of Global Declaration on the Digital Response to COVID-19, co-sponsored by Estonia and Singapore. Both countries are formidable leaders when it comes to building a digital society and also have a history of good cooperation. Additionally, both Estonia and Singapore are co-chairs of the Group of Friends on e-Governance and Cybersecurity on UN level.
The challenges we currently face in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic are global and affect especially the most vulnerable countries and communities. Digitalisation can empower societies to emerge from this and future crises stronger and better equipped. However, digital transformation should be addressed in a holistic manner, encompassing all aspects of society. This crisis has underlined once more that digital transformation is crucial for strengthening the resilience of societies. At the same time, accelerated digitalisation could lead to widening digital divides. This has to be avoided, and no one should be left behind. We need strong political will, vision and a systematic approach to realise the potential of digitalisation.
This is why we have launched this declaration titled “Close the Digital Divides: the Digital Response to COVID-19”. Estonia has a well-established digital society, which proved fully functional even in the pandemic lockdown. What is more, it provided a safe way for citizens to interact with public services from healthcare to education to social benefits and more, without needing to come face-to-face with another human. We have a lot of experience and knowledge in digitalisation to share and we are open to doing so, especially when it comes to bridging the widening digital divide between and within countries.
The declaration outlines ten strategic areas that are crucial in achieving an open, functional and just digital society. These areas are namely: healthcare, education, security in the digital space, modern e-governance, accessible connectivity, human rights and internet freedom, digital literacy, refocusing resources, e-commerce, and strong international cooperation.
There are some great cases, for example, in the field of healthcare, where Estonian companies have been proactive in providing tech solutions to areas in need in the time of COVID-19. As an example, CoNurse, competence support software for inexperienced nurses created by Cognuse, is in the process of being implemented in Kenya through collaboration with Kenyan Red Cross. Additionally, many countries have also been looking to Estonia’s capability to quickly switch schools to remote teaching methods.
Estonia is also working within the EU on a global platform to accelerate innovation and a more extensive uptake of digital solutions to mitigate the impact of the pandemic. This common digital platform would help match innovative solutions to the needs of partner countries when dealing with the crisis, helping further to bridge the global gaps.
The aim of the declaration on closing digital divides is not to just promote technology. Organised and well-structured political will to lead digital transformation is just as important if more so. We’re inviting countries to join the declaration and to exchange knowledge to build stronger societies that can withstand devastating social, economic and political emergencies. We must not leave anyone behind on the path to digitalisation.
Read more information about the declaration on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Photo by Marko Mumm, retrieved from Flickr.