Learn from the margin, not the center: digital innovation with social impact as transformative force bridging digital divide

Research Studios Austria Forschungsgesellschaft mbH; Prof. Dr. Peter A. Bruck; Portrait;

(World Summit Awards, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Professor Peter A. Bruck, Chairman of the Board of World Summit Awards. The opinions expressed in this article belong to the distinguished writer.

While Silicon Valley may stand undefeated as the most prominent name for tech entrepreneurs and startup visionaries, other regions all over the world are worthy competitors. The transformative opportunities of digitization affect all areas of life. Especially in countries with difficult access to the Internet, the creative use of new technologies and witty content finds solutions to societal challenges.

Big Exits, Unicorns, sale headlines at the billion dollar end of the scale – that is what the world tends to focus on, a shallow, fast wavering perception of the tech world. The start-up industry is characterised by growth and opportunity, and as the industry changes, opportunities increase and decrease, as do start-ups. Innovation represents the constant development and movement of the digital revolution worldwide, but what is in it content wise? What is the down to benefit for humankind? Beyond numbers and big exits, the success of digital start-ups can be measured by something much more sustainable, namely the social impact they make.

It is a known fact that telecom providers support the data infrastructure, that services like Facebook use without investing a cent. Huge internet companies are dodging the fares, globally engage advertisers, while any other user of mobile networks must pay for their data volume. More and more heavy data usage being the status-quo and will grow with the AR movement.

Zuckerberg sees this as completely natural. As he declared in an interview with Jessi Hempel, the deputy – editor in chief of the magazine Wired in 2016, he would understand the continuing frustration of telecoms, who invest billions in better networks for Facebook. It would be up to them to come up with new business models. Facebook would be ready to partner anytime.

This imbalance in data using services and data transfer enabling infrastructure is creating an often neglected problem, especially in lesser developed countries. In Austria mobile 4G data packages are available at dumping prices while in developing countries a 500 MB Internet package costs up to 30% of the respective GDP and is therefore not affordable for 70% of the population (Source: Alliance for Affordable Internet for All). Thus, a large proportion of humanity is denied access to rapid technological progress, and also the opportunities and information potential it holds.

The term ‘digital divide’ describes the unequal access opportunities of different population groups to information and communication technologies – national, regional and international – and the subsequent imbalance of opportunities.

With digitalization having more and more impact on all areas of life and holding great potential for the further development of western countries as business locations, the situation in countries with no infrastructure combined with huge economic and social challenges gets more challenging.

Despite all adversities, digital entrepreneurs around the world are proving that these digital and infrastructural gaps can be reduced by creatively using existing resources and the courage to fight social disadvantages. For example, the Sudanese project oPerception, which supports blind people in object recognition with an offline AI app, or Malaysia’s Foreign Workers Centralized Management System, which facilitates bilateral integration and migration.

While the start-up center Silicon Valley dictates headlines of tech start-ups at the billion dollar end of the scale, our increasingly connected world has sprouted a number of other thriving start-up hubs, sometimes in places you’d not expect to find them. With a focus on using available resources and finding ways around missing infrastructure to solve local challenges, not the way of the fastest and biggest profit, digital innovation is able to demonstrate immense transformative power. The creative use of digital applications and the courage to fight social disadvantages provides a huge social impact in many regions of the world, providing a unique opportunity of learning from the margins.

A look on the margins instead of the center pays off and offers manifold learning opportunities. To provide this global overview of digital social entrepreneurs with a focus on big societal impact, the World Summit Award with its global network selects and connects the most creative entrepreneurs using digital innovation for a benefit to society – and that in over 180 countries. In March 20.-22., 2018, digital innovations with transformative power from over 80 countries will be presented at the WSA Global Congress in Vienna and present once more how digitalization in combination with the spirit of innovation makes it possible to bridge the gap between the digital divide – beyond the scope of Silicon Valley’s giants.

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