Harnessing Technology to Build Human Capital in South Asia

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Harnessing Technology to Build Human Capital in South Asia

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South Asia is among the fastest growing regions globally, with a vast human capital potential. By 2030, it will be home to over a quarter of world’s working adults. Despite the potential, the region faces persistent human capital deficits—one out of every three children is stunted here, and four out 100 do not live beyond the age of five. There are added challenges including of low life expectancy, early deficits in learning, infectious disease burdens, and pervasive structural inequalities.

COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these vulnerabilities and reversed much of the recent gains in human development. For instance, in South Asia an estimated 5.5 million children are predicted to drop out of school due to COVID-related income losses. This is more than half of all global dropouts. With deep disruptions, the pandemic has shifted focus on digitalization and use of converging technologies for delivering health, education, social protection services, and on building future pandemic and climate resilience. Converging technologies refer to a synergy of biosciences, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, powered by big data and high-speed computing. 

The ongoing tech-revolution offers tremendous opportunities, but also exposes striking digital inequality. South Asia has the largest number of people without internet access—nearly a billion out of the global total of 3.2 billion. Given the contrasts, technologies can deepen inequalities, exclusion, and loss of livelihoods. Proactive steps need to be taken to ensure that technology adoption is guided by principles of human centricity, inclusion, and trust.

Our 7th #OneSouthAsia Conversation will focus on these potentials and challenges of leveraging technologies to build human capital and help South Asia manage risks and shocks: how can it overcome regional barriers, promote cross-country collaboration to support recovery from COVID and other shocks, and build human capital and adaptable resilience in the region. This conversation builds on our World Bank publication, The Converging Technology Revolution and Human Capital: Potential and Implications for South Asiawhich examines how technologies can accelerate human capital development, with a focus on improving service delivery, building adaptability and resilience, and promoting inclusion. 

“Data is an input. Technology is a tool. They are not ends in themselves. They are meant to make human development systems work better… Our objective should be to create the new systems where tech policy and innovations come together.” 

— Dr. Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister, Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Ministry, Pakistan

“Countries in South Asia can work towards common frameworks for data and technology governance. This will facilitate cross-border investments in sectors like education and health. Converging technologies can also open the scope for new avenues in regional cooperation that can, for example, use open-source platforms and e-commerce, build an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and innovation…” 

— Mamta Murthi, Vice President, Human Development, World Bank

"Regional cooperation for human development has been limited in South Asia but technology opens the door to many possibilities. I see opportunities for more knowledge exchanges and data sharing, especially in science and academia, and a strengthened regional voice on digital justice and data governance." 

— Cecile Fruman, Director, Regional Integration and Engagement, South Asia Region, World Bank

"The least we can do is to actually share knowledge and build a kind of academic community. I think that this should also be partly to do with how the community can co-construct technology… What is the meaning of a technological revolution if it's not being led by the people?" 

— Anita Gurumurthy, Executive Director, IT for Change, India

“South Asian countries need to work together. There is a need for bilateral cooperation on research, design and development, on reducing health care costs, providing data-driven health care services, and on disease surveillance. COVID-19 has shown us how quickly a disease can be transmitted and can transform into a big pandemic.” 

— Dr. Khondaker A. Mamun, Founder and CEO, CMED Health, Bangladesh

“Among other things like platform and content, one of the key areas where collaboration can help is sharing success stories and good cases where successful models have been implemented in different parts, and how can we learn, adapt and contextualize them in the local context.” 

— Rabi Karmacharya, Executive Director, OLE Nepal

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