Harnessing Ordinary Digitization Tools To Bring About Extraordinary Economic Changes

By Abheek Dutta

Is digital transformation just about keeping up with the latest gadgets, artificial intelligence and creating fancy mobile apps to make the lives of the urban populace even more comfortable, or can it become a powerful transformational tool for society at large — revolutionizing the lives of millions from even the most remote regions of the world?

Let’s explore how technological advancements have, in recent times, changed the lives of ordinary people in the most extraordinary ways using simple and sometimes even the most basic tools of digitization.

Basirat Olamide Ajayi, a math teacher in Lagos (Nigeria), might have never imagined how her determination to upscale her technical skills and use social media to teach would provide a way to learn for thousands of students. According to U.S. News, Ajayi started teaching using white sheets of paper and broadcast the video lessons using various social media platforms. Then one of the parents donated a whiteboard, and now her “free classes are attracting students from all over Nigeria, and now students abroad are joining. A recent request came from Canada.”

While digitization has made it possible to access education remotely, it has also incredibly changed the everyday operations in far-away towns and rural areas. For instance, in India’s Jammu and Kashmir, in a historic move, the government decided to rely on digitization and computerization for their bi-annual exercise of the “Durbar Move,” which, according to the Indian Express, involves a “shifting of the Civil Secretariat and other offices of the state government from Jammu to Srinagar in summer, and vice versa in winter.”

This practice had been going on for 148 years in the region. Prior to the decision to go digital, hundreds of trucks and buses would carry office records and waste a tremendous amount of time, resources and energy. But thanks to digitization, it’s believed that the numbers will come down significantly by almost 90 percent this year.

When looking at the finance sector, amid all the chaos of the Covid-19 pandemic, Fintech apps received a major boost as small businesses and large enterprises alike shifted online to accommodate lockdowns and social distancing restrictions. Various Indian startups launched mobile apps like OkCredit in order to help small merchants, grocery store owners, goldsmiths and various independent vendors in move their accounts and even traditional book-keeping ledgers online. Statistics show that there are more than 10 million active merchants present across these platforms in India, and the number is likely to reach dizzying heights in the times to come!

Opportunities

From digitizing life and work to building “smart” educational infrastructure, there are a lot of opportunities that are still waiting to be tapped into.

But for digital transformation to continue to flourish, it will require hundreds and possibly thousands of workers who will be willing to upgrade their skills in order to run various technical operations. Thus, millions of potential jobs will be created, which will further accelerate the economy worldwide.

Challenges

Although there’s no limit to what digital transformation can achieve for an individual nation (or the whole world), we will also have to face some unique challenges in terms of availability of (digital) infrastructure, feasibility and affordability to make this much-needed transformation, especially in second- and third-world economies.

Investing In A Digital Future

While the pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated digital transformation in every nook and corner of the world, we need to be wary of the fact that digitization does not happen overnight or by itself. Proper government policies and aggressive investment in smart infrastructure, above-average network conditions and technical skill development would make the road smoother.

As countries move in this direction, the following broad measures can help guide pro-digital policies:

• Investing in infrastructure — both traditional digital-friendly infrastructure and digital-ready IT infrastructure.

• Fostering a digital-friendly business and regulatory environment.

• Investing in core education along with focused investments in digital skills.

• Investing in security and risk management.

So it’s not an exaggeration to say that the future of a majority of economies throughout the world are deeply intertwined with digitization and technology, which offer great promise for growth and technological development across all economic sectors.