Realising digital transformation through collaboration
Attaining a full digital economy was the major discussion of the second General Assembly of the Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, who was there, writes on the readiness of member countries to make this a reality.
The unprecedented disruption by COVID-19 is accelerating the urgency for agility, adaptability and transformation. Industry structures and business models are being disrupted – and the digitalisation of the economy is being rapidly accelerated.
The World Economic Forum estimates that 70 per cent of new value created in the economy over the next decade would be based on digitally enabled platform business models.
Indeed, harnessing the global digital economy estimated at $11.5 trillion, which translates to about 16 per cent of the global economy, formed the major crux of discussion at the second general assembly of the Digital Cooperation Organisation (DCO) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The DCO, established in November 2020, as a partnership to pursue common values and goals in the digital economy, between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, and Jordan, seeks to promote shared digital aspirations among member nations for economic diversification and increases social prosperity through the growth opportunities available across the digital economy, and public sector digital transformation. Nigeria joined the DCO in 2021.
The organisation now represents 13 nations and serves around 600 million people with a collective Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than $2 trillion. Ghana and Gambia joined DCO this year.
Prior to now, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) participation in the digital economy is seen as being hampered by many infrastructure challenges, particularly those relating to the Internet. While big organisations can muster the resources they need for infrastructure development to participate in the Net economy, the challenge is to get SMEs on board by working around their resources and skills shortages.
Recently, a common resource-related problem has been SMEs’ limited capacity to buy and sustain broadband. Information security also causes great concern to SMEs because they largely rely on vendors for advice and assistance; most do not have the capacity to implement their own security measures. This and other issues relating to security and privacy over the Internet are overwhelming barriers to the adoption of e-commerce.
Accepting changes brought about by adopting new technologies, also pose significant challenges to SMEs. Essentially, resistance to change is the fear and unfamiliarity that go with fundamental and radical changes to business processes.
Need for global collaboration
INDEED, at the meeting, which the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, led the Nigerian delegation to, including the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Prof. Umar Danbatta; Director-General of NITDA, Kashifu Inuwa; Managing Director, Nigerian Communication Satellite, Tukur Muhammad Funtua, among others, the DCO, which called for global collaboration to bridge the technological divide, announced its 2030 roadmap.
The plan targets an ambitious future in which the digital economy contributes 30 per cent to the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and creates 30 million jobs worldwide. The plan is designed to promote common interest, advocate advanced cooperation, build regulatory framework and business environments, and ensure the inclusive and trustworthy nature of the digital economy at local, regional, and global levels.
DCO Secretary-General, Deemah Al-Yahya, said: “The beauty of this roadmap is, it is very agile and very nimble.
“It looks at all the challenges that we are facing now in our member countries. It goes in-depth into what the needs are, and what reforms we should change, and what initiatives we should run to achieve these targets.
“We really believe that with the right cooperation between the governments, in the private sector and civil society, we will actually over achieve by 2030.”
Call to action
The call to action mirrors the goals of the organisation to create a space that promotes under-represented groups, such as women and youth, and helps to affirm their value within the digital infrastructure.
At the first in-person meeting, the DCO brought together member nations from across the globe to discuss the current condition of digital economies and the roadblocks faced by countries in an effort to achieve growth.
Al-Yahya added: “By fostering and facilitating cooperation and expanding transformation across all sectors, we can unlock the full potential of the global digital economy.”
As governmental and industrial digital transformation accelerates as a result of the pandemic, a key challenge is to recognize the essential role of technologies in fostering sustainable growth across formal and informal economies.
Al-Yahya said: “(The pandemic) tested the resilience to digitally transform very quickly, which is a huge agenda. No country alone can transform quickly and harness this opportunity of digital economy without putting hands in hands together and sharing best practices.”
There were also strategic announcements, where the DCO established new organisational bylaws, including the approval of the Stride Association, which will work to empower micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) between member states.
Al-Yahya explained that empowering MSMEs, which make up 90 per cent of all businesses, is crucial for success and growth in a dynamic digital economy. She said DCO acknowledged the role of multilateralism as an enabler of digital inclusion and transformation and a facilitator for exchanging knowledge and active dialogues, especially in driving the global digital economy.
Al-Yahya said that the digital economy would grow by enabling the underrepresented communities that make up the majority of world’s populations.
Speaking on readiness of member states to drive digital transformation, Bahrain’s Minister of Digital Economy and Communications, Ahmad Hanandeh, said the meeting was an opportunity for DCO members to come together to foster digital development across the countries.
Hanandeh, who said digital is now seen as a daily aspect of peoples’ lives, noted that COVID-19 really opened the world to the power of digital. “Therefore, DCO members must work together to achieve the objective of the digital economy,”Hanandeh said.
On his part, Pantami also emphasised the need to work together to build a global digital economy. He stressed that countries must move from consuming to becoming a producing nation.
“In Africa, with 54 countries and about 1.4 billion population, we must harness our talents and ensure that we enthrone a knowledge economy. Nigeria would support DCO through collaboration; knowledge sharing and ensure mentor/mentee relationship,” he stated.
For Ghana’s Minister for Communications and Digitalisation, Mrs. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, it is time Africa countries must come together to realise the objective of digitalisation.
Owusu-Ekuful said digital technology would be crucial in achieving African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), stressing that a robust infrastructure linked together can help Africa greatly.
While adding that countries must harmonise policies to be able to push the AfCFTA agenda to a reasonable conclusion, Ghana’s minister said it is incumbent on member countries in the region to work together and invest in digital infrastructure.