SINGAPORE – While Covid-19 has accelerated the pace of digital transformation around the world, it has also heightened the risk of divisions between “the digital haves and have-nots,” said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran on Tuesday (April 27).

Singapore will continue to work closely with the member states of the United Nations (UN) to forge a digital future that is “inclusive, innovative, and interoperable,” said the minister at the High-level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity convened by UN General Assembly president Volkan Bozkir.

The hybrid event was streamed online from the UN headquarters in New York, with some international speakers delivering remarks virtually.

Held in response to calls from member states to address the issue, the one-day debate highlighted the importance and urgency of political commitment at the highest levels to plug the digital divide in Covid-19 adaptation, response and recovery efforts. It included speakers from the private and civil society sectors, as well as representatives from more than 60 countries and territories.

To ensure that digital transformation efforts are inclusive, countries around the world must recognise the diverse circumstances faced by nations, Mr Iswaran said in his speech.

UN platforms which will allow for experiences and actions to be shared across countries, like the Internet Governance Forum, should continue to have a strong focus on digital inclusion, he said.

The platform brings together various stakeholders from the private and public sectors to discuss public policy issues relating to the Internet. The UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which was released in June last year, is also a good start, said Mr Iswaran.

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Among other things, the roadmap calls for everyone to have safe and affordable access to the internet by 2030, and to ensure digital inclusion for all, including the most vulnerable.

Singapore has a Digital Readiness Blueprint that could serve as a useful reference for other countries in fostering digital inclusion, said Mr Iswaran.

The blueprint provides a comprehensive guide for equipping all segments of society in Singapore – from children in lower income households, to senior citizens and micro small and medium-sized enterprises – with digital access and skills.

Countries must also be innovative in their efforts to end the digital divide, said the minister.

“The accelerated pace of digital transformation has created opportunities but is also profoundly disruptive to some, and requires complex trade-offs,” noted Mr Iswaran.

In Singapore, the Digital for Life movement that was launched in February will encourage ground-up projects that bridge the digital divide, he said. It provides resources for initiatives such as basic computer skills and online safety workshops.

An interoperable digital framework is also vital for a thriving global digital environment, added Mr Iswaran. This allows for individuals and businesses to gain access to global opportunities.

In Asean, initiatives like the Asean Data Management Framework will help to facilitate the flow of data across borders to unlock new business opportunities, especially for SMEs, said Mr Iswaran. Among other things, the framework promotes sound data governance practices by helping organisations discover the data sets they have access to, as well as appropriately manage data and protect it.

The initiative, which is led by Singapore, was approved at the first Asean Digital Ministers’ Meeting in January.

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