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  • 00:09 [Paul Blake] Hello, and welcome to World Bank Live. I'm Paul Blake.
  • 00:12 Today, we're continuing our effort to understand how COVID-19 is impacting  
  • 00:17 just about every aspect of global development,  as well as the solutions that the international  
  • 00:22 community is putting forward. We're doing that  today by looking at how digital development is  
  • 00:27 playing a key role in the global response. From  communications to remote working technologies,  
  • 00:33 from digital healthcare infrastructure to  distance learning, these are just a few of the  
  • 00:37 ways that digital development is underpinning  the response to this unprecedented crisis. As  
  • 00:43 the world starts to plan a recovery, access to  digital services will be critical. That is the  
  • 00:49 thought that World Bank Group president David  Malpass shared on this program just last month. 
  • 00:53 [David Malpass] One of the problems that poor countries  
  • 00:56 have is just being cut off. People live in rural  areas, they don't have broadband. In some cases,  
  • 01:03 many cases, don't have electricity or water that  is clean enough to drink. So as we look to the  
  • 01:12 other side of this, I think there's a way to make  progress on advancing the digital services that  
  • 01:21 people have available so they can get access to  information. That's a starting point for farmers  
  • 01:27 to do a better job, for people to learn skills.  One of the big things that people can do now,  
  • 01:33 and the Bank has big programs in, is the skills  learning at the basic level so that people are  
  • 01:40 able to have job in the future. That's something  that we're making available programs that will  
  • 01:50 help people get access to education or to skills  that will help them when there's a recovery. 
  • 01:58 [Paul Blake] Now, while many have reaped the benefits of  
  • 02:01 an advanced digital landscape, which is blunting  some of the worst effects that could have been  
  • 02:06 part of an even worse pandemic experience for  them, others are being left behind. Lacking or  
  • 02:12 having diminished access to technology that saves  lives, sustains education and promotes business  
  • 02:18 continuity. To learn more about the digital divide  and what it means for countries as they respond to  
  • 02:24 and prepare to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic  and what can be done to support digital inclusion,  
  • 02:29 I'm very happy to be joined this morning by the  World Bank's director for digital development,  
  • 02:34 Boutheina Guermazi. Boutheina, thank you so  much for being here. Welcome to World Bank Live. 
  • 02:38 [Boutheina Guermazi] Thank you so much. Thanks for having me, Paul. 
  • 02:41 [Paul Blake] Of course. Now, when I  
  • 02:43 think about the ways that digital technology is  playing a role in the pandemic response so far,  
  • 02:47 I listed some of them there in the introduction,  there are some obvious ways that come to mind like  
  • 02:53 video conferencing software that has allowed a lot  of businesses and schools to continue operating,  
  • 02:58 but I bet there are a lot of other ways that  connectivity has just been critical in responding  
  • 03:04 to the crisis. Just to kick things off here,  can you give me a sense of the scope in which  
  • 03:09 technology is playing in this response? [Boutheina Guermazi] 
  • 03:12 Thanks, Paul. In fact, we can look at the  many things that this call was called since  
  • 03:19 the start of the pandemic. It was called the  sector that came to the rescue. It was called  
  • 03:25 the hidden hero. It was called the sector that  allowed economies to have a lifeline at a time  
  • 03:32 where business as usual is so unusual. With the  social distancing, with the fact that people had  
  • 03:41 to be in a lockdown to contain the pandemic, the  only way for business continuity was for people  
  • 03:50 to hook on and to be part of this virtual world  where, if you are connected, if you have a good  
  • 03:57 broadband connectivity, if you have the hardware  and software, then, there was a possibility for  
  • 04:04 many people to cope with this new normal. The examples are many and they cover remote  
  • 04:13 work and we've seen many of us who had the luxury  of having connection, who were able to continue  
  • 04:20 their job in the virtual world. We know, just  in the US, for example, that 50% of workers have  
  • 04:29 moved to online work. We see it in schooling.  Schooling is a very important element. We know  
  • 04:37 that 1.5 billion school kids are out of school. The online learning, the EdTech were a response  
  • 04:47 that many countries have to use to make sure  that kids go to school. The health sector,  
  • 04:57 of course. The health sector is really a  sector where connectivity has been very  
  • 05:03 important and digital solutions have been very  important to contain the pandemic, to treat it,  
  • 05:11 in many cases. We have examples from telemedicine,  we have examples of countries that we're able to  
  • 05:19 use applications to self-test and the whole use of  data and big data and artificial intelligence to  
  • 05:30 help governments know how to trace the pandemic  and how to contain it. Of course, all of this  
  • 05:38 has to happen within due respect for privacy and  due respect for the personal data that is there. 
  • 05:47 There are many other examples. For example, the  issues about how do we help citizens that need  
  • 05:56 help through mobile payment, through the social  plans for paying through mobile. We've seen,  
  • 06:05 in many countries the unprecedented growth of  social protection support given through digital  
  • 06:14 tools. The examples are many and I think, as we  look at it, what this crisis really showed is that  
  • 06:23 the countries are taking advantage, in a way, of  transformation and digital transformation. We've  
  • 06:32 seen examples where people who were reluctant to  use technology because they don't know how to use  
  • 06:39 it or they don't trust it were able to use it in  case they have the connection and in case they  
  • 06:48 have the connectivity. [Paul Blake] 
  • 06:50 What I'm hearing from you here is just how digital  technology is really underpinning, whether it's  
  • 06:55 research, whether it's the healthcare front lines,  whether it business, whether it's education, it's  
  • 06:58 really underpinning the response here. One thing  that's been on my mind is, this crisis is being  
  • 07:04 compared, in many corners, to the 1918 Spanish  flu pandemic. Using that as a reference point,  
  • 07:10 none of those technologies were available back  then, or a lot of the technologies we're talking  
  • 07:14 about today were not available back then. As large  swathes of the world have gone into lockdown over  
  • 07:19 the past few months, I'd imagine there has been a  surge in demand and stress on the infrastructure  
  • 07:25 of the Internet, the networks that are coming  into people's homes. Could you talk a little  
  • 07:31 bit about that? You and your team's research and  the conversations that you have with government  
  • 07:37 and industry, what are you hearing about how  providers, be the Internet companies or other,  
  • 07:42 how are they coping with that extra demand? [Boutheina Guermazi] 
  • 07:45 Yes. Definitely, the demand has  happened at multiple levels. On voice,  
  • 07:51 we know that the demand for traffic tripled,  and we do know that many countries today- 
  • 07:57 [Paul Blake] Voice, meaning telephone calls. 
  • 07:57 [Boutheina Guermazi] Yes, but many countries  
  • 08:00 today are still voice dominated. We had a very  nice discussion with a number of countries  
  • 08:07 connected. We had the minister of Afghanistan  that really showed that the voice pressure in  
  • 08:13 countries that are still voice dominated has been  a challenge. So that's one dimension. Of course,  
  • 08:19 data is very important. And what we've seen  in data is on average, 20% surge of traffic  
  • 08:28 linked to data. In many countries, it has doubled. The other thing that requires a surge of increased  
  • 08:37 attention needed is Cloud and Cloud computing,  video conferences, streaming. In the different  
  • 08:46 phases of the digital space, there was a clear  need that the operators needed to create more  
  • 08:55 space to accommodate the surge of traffic, whether  voice or data or video. What we've seen, clearly,  
  • 09:03 an incredible response from both governments and  from the private sector to respond very quickly to  
  • 09:11 the situation. I can give you examples. [Paul Blake] 
  • 09:14 [crosstalk] the capacity there, whether it's voice  or data or Cloud to really boost that capacity so  
  • 09:20 that the infrastructure didn't become overloaded.  I'm sorry to interrupt you. I just want to take  
  • 09:23 a quick moment. We just want to take a quick  break, Boutheina, to catch our breath and welcome  
  • 09:27 everyone who is joining us here on World Bank  Live. Today, we're looking at digital development  
  • 09:32 and the role that it's playing in the coronavirus  response as well as how the digital divide between  
  • 09:37 those who are readily able to access Internet  technologies and those who do not have that  
  • 09:43 ability, how it's aggravating some of the worst  effects of the pandemic. We've got people tuning  
  • 09:48 in from around the world, Tenmeh from Mumbai,  Fabiola from Brazil, Rami in Stockholm and Suraj  
  • 09:54 in Nepal, Dora in Dubai, tons more people around  the world. Thank you so much for joining us. 
  • 09:59 We have Boutheina Guermazi on the line. She's the  World Bank's director for digital development.  
  • 10:04 I just want to bring Boutheina back into the  conversation here and Boutheina, like I said,  
  • 10:09 sorry to interrupt you there, but before the  break, we were talking about the increased demand  
  • 10:13 that the Internet service providers, the companies  that we pay to connect our homes to the Internet,  
  • 10:19 the increased demand that they're experiencing.  A lot of places are seeing that increased demand,  
  • 10:24 as you said, and there's been a fast tracked  response to help meet some of that demand. Can  
  • 10:31 we talk a little bit about the digital divide  between countries and places where people have  
  • 10:36 ready access to the Internet and where they  don't? Help me and those watching understand  
  • 10:41 this a bit more, geographically speaking, where  are we talking about? What countries and regions  
  • 10:46 are struggling to provide that connectivity  and what are some of maybe the common factors  
  • 10:51 between countries and regions that struggle  to provide ready and able Internet access? 
  • 10:58 [Boutheina Guermazi] Yes. Now thank you so much.  
  • 11:00 I think one of the major learnings from  this crisis is that this digital divide,  
  • 11:06 I mean, we all know that it exists and we all  know that we need to find a way to bridge it,  
  • 11:12 but I think what the pandemic highlighted  like no other time before is, if you don't  
  • 11:19 have the tools to connect to this new normal,  then there is the risk of deeper inequalities  
  • 11:26 between countries and within countries. If we  want to talk about the global digital divide,  
  • 11:34 today, there are 3.5 billion people in the world  who do not have access to broadband connectivity. 
  • 11:41 And the world, as a big village, in a way, we  reached a very important milestone last year with  
  • 11:51 50% of people connected to the broadband. It took  50 years for the world to reach that milestone,  
  • 11:58 so a lot to celebrate, but also, if we flip the  coin and look at the other side, it means we have  
  • 12:07 so many people that are completely cut off from  what we are discussing now about digital having  
  • 12:15 been the hidden hero or digital having been an  opportunity for business continuity and a lifeline  
  • 12:25 for the economy, in many cases. So 3.5 billion and  connected, a lot of the lack of connectivity is  
  • 12:35 in low-income countries. If we look at the case  of Africa, for example, out of the 25 countries  
  • 12:45 that are not connected to broadband, 21 are in  Africa. Africa, today, we're still at a single  
  • 12:52 digit connectivity rate when it comes to broadband  defined as 4G. There is a lot of success on mobile  
  • 13:01 communication in Africa, a lot of it, but when it  comes to broadband, the ability to use what we're  
  • 13:11 using now to have this connection, unfortunately,  many countries in the world still do not have it. 
  • 13:17 [Paul Blake] Yes, I spent some time in rural parts  
  • 13:19 of East Africa and in some places, just getting an  email out to folks back home was really difficult,  
  • 13:25 much less trying to make a video call like we're  having today. For the World Bank's Development  
  • 13:30 Podcast, I recently spoke to two mothers  in the Valle del Cauca region of Colombia,  
  • 13:34 Carolina Jaramillo and Elena Rojas Rodriguez.  They're two women, they're quite good friends.  
  • 13:40 One works in an office, Carolina does. Elena  is Carolina's housekeeper, but also really  
  • 13:46 close friend. They're living on two sides of that  digital divide we're talking about this morning.  
  • 13:51 They told us on the podcast what it meant for  their children's education, because in Colombia,  
  • 13:57 like large parts of the world, the schools have  been shut and many of the children have come home.  
  • 14:02 We got that clip here, we'll just play that clip  so we can hear from these two mothers in Colombia. 
  • 14:07 [Carolina Jaramillo] Okay, I have two kids. One of them is 11. The  
  • 14:11 other one is 14. Fortunately, they're working,  they're studying private schools. So I think  
  • 14:17 that the stress hasn't been so much as in  public schools, because we have full internet,  
  • 14:23 they have access to virtual classes through  Zoom or Hangout or WebEx, I think it's called.  
  • 14:31 So the different platforms and Skype as well. So  they have been receiving their classes by these  
  • 14:37 different platforms and they have homework to do  after class, which has been quite easy for them  
  • 14:45 in terms of it hasn't been difficult because as I  said before, I have all the internet connections. 
  • 14:49 [Paul Blake] Elena, how are  
  • 14:50 your kids continuing their education while  they're not able to physically attend school?
  • 14:54 [Carolina Jaramillo translating for Elena] Basically, there's no internet connections.  
  • 14:59 Whenever there is internet connection, it's  very bad. In order to study, they're sending  
  • 15:03 some homework via Facebook. But as I said before,  the internet connection is really bad. And the  
  • 15:08 other way is that they're sending photocopies  to the school and they have to pick it up,  
  • 15:12 but it's far away from where they live.  So sometimes it's difficult for them to  
  • 15:16 pick it up. And that's basically how they're  managing right now, their virtual classes. 
  • 15:20 [Paul Blake] Well, Boutheina, that was  
  • 15:22 Carolina and Elena's story of trying to educate  their kids while living on opposite sides of that  
  • 15:27 digital divide we've been talking about for the  past few minutes. As schools have locked down,  
  • 15:31 is that a pattern you are seeing elsewhere where  the digital divide is really creating haves and  
  • 15:37 have nots in other aspects of their lives? [Boutheina Guermazi] 
  • 15:40 Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. We see different  dimensions of this digital divide within  
  • 15:47 countries. Even in advanced countries, like for  example, in the US with very good connectivity  
  • 15:54 rate, there is a big issue between urban and  rural and there is a thinking to make sure  
  • 15:59 that there are solutions for rural connectivity  to make sure no one is left behind. The other  
  • 16:07 dimension about the digital divide that is very  important to highlight is the gender digital  
  • 16:13 divide. We know, today, that 300 million  women, fewer women than men, have access,  
  • 16:20 even access to a broadband mobile connectivity.  We know that 33% less women than men know what  
  • 16:31 to do with it. It's a big, big issue and linked  to COVID-19, it's really a pandemic that is not  
  • 16:38 gender neutral. As we think about the digital  divide, we think about the rural urban divide,  
  • 16:43 we need to think about the gender divide.  We need to think about those who have  
  • 16:49 the skills to use the opportunities that the  technology offers and those who don't. In the- 
  • 16:56 [Paul Blake] Adding factors here that makes it  
  • 17:00 much more complicated than just a simple digital  divide here, I think is what I'm hearing you say. 
  • 17:04 [Boutheina Guermazi] Absolutely. It's like an onion.  
  • 17:07 Every time you rip one part, there is another  part that shows up and it's really complicated. 
  • 17:12 [Paul Blake] One of the other things I  
  • 17:15 wanted to ask about is, we received a question on  the World Bank's Facebook page from Gopal Agarwal,  
  • 17:21 he's in India. Like I said, he was commenting  on the World Bank's Facebook page and he was  
  • 17:26 asking about some of the particular challenges  that people who are disabled or illiterate. Now,  
  • 17:31 you were sort of hinting at that there, talking  about skills. Can you talk a little bit about  
  • 17:35 that? Some of the challenges that people who  either have disabilities or who may be illiterate,  
  • 17:39 what does the digital divide mean for them? [Boutheina Guermazi] 
  • 17:42 Yes, it means that governments and private sector  operators need to think about solutions within the  
  • 17:51 technology space, and there are many out there  that cater to the needs of the disabled people.  
  • 17:58 If you cannot read, then, there is an opportunity  for you to know what's out there on the Internet,  
  • 18:04 but through different means. So far, what we see,  a lot of good pilots. AI and having somebody who  
  • 18:14 talks your language is very important. You don't  need to read it to be taking advantage of the  
  • 18:22 promises of technology. It requires solutions,  and it requires scaling up these solutions beyond  
  • 18:28 the pilot phases. But definitely, the digital  divide has also a very important dimension about  
  • 18:34 disability that needs to be taken into account. [Paul Blake] 
  • 18:36 Let's just take another quick moment here,  Boutheina, we'll catch our breath and welcome  
  • 18:42 everyone who is joining us here on World Bank  Live. We've got Boutheina Guermazi. She's the  
  • 18:46 World Bank's director for digital development on  the line. She's talking us through how the digital  
  • 18:51 divide is really making the response to COVID-19  and the plans and the preparation for the recovery  
  • 18:58 from COVID-19 that much more complicated, the  digital divide being the difference between people  
  • 19:04 who have ready and quality access to broadband  Internet technologies and those who don't. 
  • 19:11 We see people joining from across the world,  this webcast, Banty from the Ivory Coast,  
  • 19:16 Mohamed in Sudan, Amore in Indonesia, Adriana  in Colombia, Patrick in Lebanon. Welcome to you  
  • 19:23 all. Welcome to everyone else who's out there. We  really appreciate you being with us this morning.  
  • 19:27 Boutheina, I want to come back to you now. Just  as we start to wind this program down, let's talk  
  • 19:33 a little bit about some of the solutions to the  problems we've been talking about this morning.  
  • 19:38 What can be done? What is the World Bank Group  doing to try and bridge the digital divide that  
  • 19:44 we've seen both during this crisis, but also  before that we even had COVID-19 on our minds? 
  • 19:50 [Boutheina Guermazi] Yes. First, it starts by understanding where  
  • 19:54 are the problems and understanding the causes of  these problems. Some of it is linked to the fact  
  • 20:00 that the investment pattern for broadband  connectivity is very different from voice.  
  • 20:05 It requires patience capital, it requires looking  very closely at policy and regulatory environment  
  • 20:13 and it also looks at the skills that are needed  to improve connectivity. It starts by getting  
  • 20:22 deeper into understanding the topic. And for us,  I think, connectivity is very important, but it  
  • 20:28 is only important if it's meaningful connectivity.  I'm giving a shout to the ITU on this particular  
  • 20:36 concept that is very, very important. We need to have connectivity, but we  
  • 20:41 need to know what to use it for and it needs  to be meaningful. Understanding the needs,  
  • 20:47 understanding what needs to be financed, we did a  very good exercise under the broadband commission  
  • 20:52 that looked specifically at Africa and we know  today that we need to invest 100 billion dollars  
  • 20:59 to bring 90% of Africa to a broadband connectivity  of at least 4G. We know this, for it to happen,  
  • 21:08 we need very close collaboration with  private sector, with partners. I think  
  • 21:16 COVID-19 also highlighted very, very clearly  the importance of a collaborative approach. 
  • 21:22 [Paul Blake] And one important, but maybe not as  
  • 21:26 obvious factor, I was reading a little bit about  this before this program, but help us understand  
  • 21:31 it a little bit. In terms of broadening that  access, it requires that capital, it requires that  
  • 21:37 investment, but another important aspect is proof  of identification. Can you talk to me a little bit  
  • 21:43 more about that? Why identification is important  and how it's being improved around the world? 
  • 21:50 [Boutheina Guermazi] Yes. In a digital world, having a digital  
  • 21:54 ID is very important as a big part of our life  is moving to the online world. Being recognized  
  • 22:02 with a digital ID is, is very, very important.  Today, a billion people do not have ID, so they  
  • 22:10 are invisible, and a big part of it is still in  Africa and many other parts of the world. Having  
  • 22:17 an ID that is recognized, that is digital, is very  important to also take advantage of the services. 
  • 22:24 For example, earlier I mentioned the cash  transfer. How do we make sure that it gets to the  
  • 22:29 right people? The idea that I mentioned is very  important. The whole digital discussion, Paul,  
  • 22:37 don't get me wrong, the whole digital discussion  is really a discussion beyond the pipes that are  
  • 22:45 needed. It's really a whole ecosystem approach, a  mindset that we need to have to think about using  
  • 22:52 technology for development and it starts with  the infrastructure. It also needs the skills,  
  • 22:58 it needs the ID, it needs the platform,  it needs this vision of the importance for  
  • 23:05 digital as an equalizer. If we don't have it,  then, digital can become a source for deeper  
  • 23:12 inequality. I'm very happy that in the Bank,  we are really thinking along those lines and  
  • 23:16 we are working with many partners to have this  ecosystem approach for digital connectivity. 
  • 23:23 [Paul Blake] So it's bigger  
  • 23:25 than just laying those, as you say, the pipes,  the wires, to connect people to the Internet,  
  • 23:30 to develop digitally. It's a holistic approach  that requires a lot of different aspects. Just  
  • 23:36 as we wrap up here, one last question for you,  the World Bank believes digital development will  
  • 23:41 be a key part of ensuring resilient recovery  from the pandemic that we're going through  
  • 23:46 right now. Anyone who saw David Malpass on this  program last month, he made the case for that,  
  • 23:53 and we saw the clip at the top of this program. Do  you think that the pandemic we're living in right  
  • 23:59 now is an opportunity to strengthen connectivity  around the world? Is it underlying the need to  
  • 24:04 strengthen that connectivity? [Boutheina Guermazi] 
  • 24:05 Yes, definitely. I think one of the silver  linings for the difficult times that we are  
  • 24:12 going through is that it really brought to the  fore the importance of being connected to cope  
  • 24:18 with this world. It also brought the importance  of handling the risks. We mentioned the risks of  
  • 24:23 exclusion, but also, that is linked to cyber  security or not having very robust systems  
  • 24:29 for privacy and data as we move to a digital  economy. It is an opportunity. People say,  
  • 24:37 "Let's not waste a crisis," to get things  right, in a way. I think it really brought  
  • 24:44 the importance of thinking big, re-imagining  all this sector that can rebuild better with  
  • 24:52 digital as an element in how we think about it and  reset. So very much an opportunity. The time is  
  • 25:02 now and it requires doing things not the usual  way. It requires thinking outside of the box. 
  • 25:08 [Paul Blake] Well, Boutheina, thank you so much  
  • 25:10 for taking the time to join us today. [Boutheina Guermazi] 
  • 25:11 Thank you for having me. [Paul Blake] 
  • 25:14 Boutheina Guermazi is the World Bank's director  for digital development. She joined us from her  
  • 25:18 home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Before we go, a  quick programming note for those who tune in  
  • 25:23 here on World Bank Live. Later this month, we'll  start looking in earnest at the challenges and  
  • 25:28 opportunities that the pandemic recovery presents.  We're looking at the big topics with some of  
  • 25:33 the brightest minds from around the Bank and the  international development community. We're kicking  
  • 25:37 that off, like I said, later this month with a  special program on food security. You can find the  
  • 25:42 details in the coming days at live.worldbank.org. A huge thanks to everyone who joined us today.  
  • 25:47 Let us know what you thought. Leave us a comment  or message us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.  
  • 25:52 Your feedback helps us improve these programs and  make each one better and better. In the meantime,  
  • 25:57 if you want to learn more about the World Bank and  its work and responding to the COVID-19 crisis,  
  • 26:02 head on over to worldbank.org/coronavirus. You  can all also listen to the complete interview  
  • 26:09 with the Colombian mothers we featured in  this program. Just search for the World  
  • 26:13 Bank's Development Podcast on Spotify, Apple  or whatever your favorite podcast platform is.  
  • 26:18 Until next time, stay healthy, stay safe, and  we'll see you back here again soon. Goodbye.

Coronavirus Live Series: Bridging the Digital Divide

Follow the event on Twitter #COVID19

The internet has been vital in connecting us to friends, family, work and school during #COVID19, but the poorest countries and people are being left behind. What can we do to support digital inclusion? Our @BoutheinaGuerm1, Director of Digital Development, shares some ideas. 

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