What is digital equality? An interview with Nanjira Sambuli

equality

(Søren Astrup Jørgensen, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Nanjira Sambuli, Digital Equality Advocate, World Wide Web Foundation & Silvia Magnoni, Head of Civil Society Communities , World Economic Forum


Nanjira Sambuli is a Kenyan researcher, writer and policy analyst. She is currently digital equality advocate at the World Wide Web Foundation. We caught up with her to ask about digital equality and how technology is changing the humanitarian sector.

Nanjira, you are a firm advocate of the concept of digital equality. What is it in practice?

In the simplest generalization, it’s about equality in the digital age – which remains a mirage for many. So it’s about dissecting the analog and the digital aspects of political, social, cultural, economic dimensions in society today, and ultimately striving to ensure that we do not widen inequalities through digital technologies.

For instance, only half of the world’s population is online; progress in getting more people connected has slowed down dramatically. Yet there was (and still remains) a “build it and they will come” mentality driving planning, innovation and investments in the technology sector. That is: make the internet and connecting devices available in the market, and voila!

Nanjira Sambuli
Image: World Wide Web Foundation

But digital technologies’ antecedent factors come into play here; for instance, inequalities between and within geographies (e.g. urban vs rural; developing countries vs developed countries), gendered inequalities (across the political, sociocultural and economic domains) all contribute to who gets to access and meaningfully use the internet, and tap into its benefits.

In devising solutions to address this, one example is about digging deeper into why the aforementioned inequalities persist and how digital technologies can be leveraged to rid of them altogether, to “leave no one behind” as the Sustainable Development Goals mantra goes.

Digital equality is as much about digging into history as it is about making sense of the present, while planning for the future. It’s this heady space that calls for lateral, cross-sectoral thinking to complement the vertical (sector-specific) expertise. Often, the latter is pursued over the former, leading us to the situation we are in today, where for instance, we are going to miss achieving a Sustainable Development Goal – specifically SDG 9C: to significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries by 2020.

Lastly, digital equality – in my experience – is a policy issue. In particular, centering the role of public policy in taking in all these dimensions to develop coherent roadmaps towards addressing the complexity of issues in society today, that could easily be turbocharged by digital technologies, as they do not exist in a vacuum, unaffected by the realities affecting people in societies today.

How do you see civil society playing a role in influencing the governance of emerging technologies for inclusive outcomes? In general, how do you see the relationship of the civil society sector with technology?

First of all, I must commend civil society actors across the globe for the work they’ve already been doing to influence discourses, deployment and decisions on how emerging technologies could impact the communities they represent. This is the sector that has been leading the charge in countering the feverish tech solutionism that is still quite rampant with every new technology (we’ve seen this with the blockchain, for instance, just as we saw it with mobile apps a few years ago) that is assumed to be a silver bullet.

Civil society actors have also been meticulously articulating potential threats and documenting the very real harms that emerging technologies pose to people, the environment, and even in creating new digital divides. Unfortunately, all too often our warnings have fallen on deaf ears; now that these issues are coming to a head is when it seems that the message is finally being heeded.

By virtue of being steeped in the realities of the communities they represent, civil society has a crucial role in shaping the governance of these emerging technologies. This role need not be a reactive one; if engaged right from the onset, there are so many critical insights that civil society actors can bring to the table – from concept/idea stage, to design to deployment – that can mitigate against perpetrating exclusions, divisions and divides in societies through emerging technologies.

Civil Society

What is civil society?

Whether you call it “third sector”, “social sector” or “volunteerland”, civil society includes an array of different causes, groups, unions and NGOs. Their combined aim is to hold governments to account, promoting transparency, lobbying for human rights, mobilizing in times of disaster and encouraging citizen engagement.

Ranging from small online campaigns to giants such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace, civil society employs around 54 million full-time workers and has a global volunteer force of over 350 million.

The World Economic Forum is committed to accelerating the impact of civil society organizations. With a view to this, it created Preparing Civil Society for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a multi-sectoral platform to support the transformation of the social sector and its inclusion in the governance of emerging technologies.

Civil society is a key stakeholder for driving public-private collaboration and advancing the Forum’s mission. Through dialogue series and platform initiatives, civil society actors from a wide range of fields come together to collaborate with government and business leaders on finding and advocating solutions to global challenges.

What needs to happen to make the sector more empowered and prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead? Any particular sectoral dynamics that need to change to unlock transformation?

For starters, more acknowledgement and appreciation of the work civil society has done so far, from those working within communities to those at the international level.

Shedding the conception that this is an adversarial sector to industry, government and development actors is urgently needed, as that idea is still quite prevalent.

It’s also an opportune time to address this, since the “move fast and break things” kind of thinking that’s driven other sectors insofar as emerging technologies goes has now shown – as civil society has known – that the things that break are indeed societies.

To proactively engage civil society calls for humility from the other sectors, to accept that it may entail slowing down the pace at which we roll out emerging technologies to accommodate reflection and testing of all hypotheses at every stage.

 

It also means that for all sectors to work together on ensuring emerging technologies lead to inclusive outcomes, other sectors will need to also stop infantilizing civil society – by assuming/attempting to dictate its role, or omitting it altogether.

The sector needs resource support (funding) to continue playing its critical role, and in many cases, to adapt its work and structuring to the impacts of digitalization. There are gigantic expectations placed on civil society, all too often with very little consideration of the fact that it’s a lot of labour, and that it cannot be powered by passion or values alone.

Additionally, we need urgent reforms in how said funding is structured. Gone are the days when one can plan for projects or programmes on one specific issue; digitalization is blowing wide open the siloed approach to addressing issues. As I stated above, achieving digital equality calls for lateral thinking and working, ergo “lateral support” (i.e. unrestricted funding).

Nor should it be assumed that the sector is homogenous or represented by specific actors (be they international ones, or those that have existed for decades). Just as with industry, where you have established players (big tech) as well as startups, it cannot be assumed that their perspectives on challenges and opportunities ahead are similar for the communities that civil society represent.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

These are the world’s most tree-covered countries

Drought in Europe: Commission presents additional measures to support farmers

Monday’s Daily Brief: Nigeria massacre, Libya shelling condemned; recycled plastic used to build classrooms in Côte d’Ivoire

Fail fast, fail better: 3 ways companies can master innovation

The global appetite for meat is growing, and it’s harming the planet

Why leaders need to upgrade their operating systems

If people aren’t responding to climate warnings, we need to change the message

How India’s globalized cities will change its future

We are close yet so far…

Brexit Update: EU endorses unprecedented compromise to help Cameron out of the referendum mess he got himself into

Politics is failing to protect the Amazon. It’s time for finance to step up instead

Why the ECB suddenly decided to flood banks with money?

UN rights chief calls for international inquiry into Kashmir violations

Miguel Arias Cañete European Commission

EU should invest more in climate and not sit back on its laurels and watch

Thomas Cook bankruptcy: Better consumer and employee protection needed

4 crazy things that are happening in the Arctic right now

European Business Summit 15th year: Controversy and Constructive Ideas

Anti-vaccination scaremongering: What should we know about anti-vaccine argument?

Migration crisis will keep deteriorating as common EU political will is simply not there

The dangers of data: why the numbers never tell the full story

My disability, my identity

EU imposes provisional anti-dumping tariffs on Chinese solar panels

UN chief calls for ‘increased commitment’ to resolution on 10th anniversary of Georgia conflict

The banks first to benefit from the new euro trillion ECB plans to print

Financing the 2030 Agenda: What is it and why is it important?

Facebook/Cambridge Analytica: MEPs pursue personal data breaches probe

Tropical Cyclone Idai affects 1.5 million across Mozambique and Malawi, as UN ramps up response

Release of prize-winning Reuters journalists in Myanmar welcomed by UN

Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson: who forced the two ‘brave’ Brexiteers to quit?

EU Commission: a rise in wages and salaries may help create more jobs

Brexit uncertainty keeps shaking the world’s financial markets

Why today’s leaders need to know about the power of narratives

No recovery for EU economy in sight and a Brexit can aggravate things for everyone

Want a sustainable business? Hire in talent

Fresh airstrikes kill dozens in conflict-ravaged Syria

EU finally agreed to cut roaming charges in 2017 but criticism is always there

Trade is not a weapon. Let’s not use it as one

Failure to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia is a mistake

Worldwide terror attacks have fallen for the third year in a row

Israel @ MWC14: Israel The Start App Nation

Trump questions US – Europe kinship, approaches Russia

Greenhouse gas emissions have already peaked in 30 major cities

How India’s government can build better contracts with blockchain

German elections: Is Merkel losing ground or Shultz is winning?

Macron plans for Europe, Brexit and banks but vague on France

EU to take action against fake news and foreign electoral interference

DR Congo: Following second brutal assault on Ebola clinic, UN health chief vows to continue serving ‘most vulnerable’

Protecting the Treaties in the interest of all Europeans: the College takes solemn oath to serve the EU

FROM THE FIELD: Restoring life to Ghana’s land

EU and U.S. castigate Facebook on Cambridge Analytica scandal as citizens’ data privacy goes down the drain again

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wins Nobel Peace Prize

ZTE @ MWC14: ZTE excels in all areas at this year’s Mobile World Congress

Hostilities in Syria’s southwest, mean cuts in vital aid across Jordanian border: Senior UN official

OECD Secretary-General statement on Europe Day

How to build a fairer gig economy in 4 steps

Monday’s Daily Brief: the future of food and digital tech, labour justice in focus, denuclearization, and Kosovo

EU and China discuss economic and trade relations at the 7th High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue

Amid Venezuela exodus, UN refugee envoy Angelina Jolie visits camps on Colombian border, appeals for humanity, more support

Cédric in India

State aid: Commission approves €300 million public support for the development of ultrafast broadband network in Greece

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s