Digital development for recovery and transformation in the Arab region

10 July 2020

Written byRola Dashti, Executive SecretaryUN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia

It is now common knowledge that embracing digital development will strengthen the capacity of societies to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to augment its impact on all in an inclusive and equitable manner.

It is also widely recognized that digital development, which aligns the notions of information society and digital economy with those of digital transformation and Internet governance is central to all future inclusive development processes.

Early adoption of digital development and solutions will expedite reaching the outcomes expected of the Decade of Action. The COVID-19 pandemic drove the point home of the centrality of digital technologies in addressing most development challenges.

With only 10 years left until 2030, some countries in the Arab region have made significant strides in adapting digital policies and solutions to their development challenges.

Rola Dashti
Rola Dashti

Most, however, still face several hurdles in their efforts to optimally use digital solutions and adapting these to local conditions to meet the commitments to the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. In all countries, adoption and adaptation of digital solutions will be optimal when undertaken as part of overall national

As a prelude to integrating digital development in national plans, UN-ESCWA has been supporting Arab countries to conduct national digital development reviews to gauge for progress in building their own information societies and in linking them to the 2030 Agenda (similar to voluntary national reviews) and to formulate their national digital agendas, linking their ICT sector strategies with national development plans.

These national development reviews have been consolidated into a regional Arab digital development report highlighting efforts with regards to digital connectivity, cyberlaws, e-employment and job creation, as well as e-government, within the lens of ensuring inclusivity and citizen empowerment in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

At the regional level, ESCWA is partnering with the League of Arab States, to develop an Arab ICT strategy that is geared towards sustainable development, as part of a proposed wider Arab Digital Agenda recently developed by ESCWA.

In response to the global quest of the world’s aspirations to produce a Global Commitment on Digital Cooperation during the 75th anniversary of the UN, and combining the notion of digital cooperation and global governance with the above notion of digital development, ESCWA has already triggered work to support “Advancing Digital Cooperation and Development - Arab States Action Program (ADCD-ASAP)” at the regional level, timely coinciding with the UN Secretary-General’s launch of his Roadmap on Digital Cooperation.

Within this project, ESCWA endeavors to accelerate actions of digital development and to bring the region into synchrony with the envisaged Global Commitment for Digital Cooperation. We are committed to do so in coordination with Resident Coordinators, UN Country Teams and UN agencies including ITU, UNESCO and UNCTAD.

As a member of the Chief Executive Board and its United Nations Group on Information Society (UNGIS), I am committed to ensuring that information and communications technologies for development (ICT4D) are promoted as central to transformative pathways in all sectors, particularly in the post-COVID-19 era. I am equally committed to ensuring that all ESCWA support to member states is part of an integrated and well-coordinated UNDS One UN approach.

As the head of a regional commission, I am convinced that action at the national level will be strengthened by regional endeavors that include convening member states around critical digital development issues, regional cooperation and sharing knowledge, good practices and learning tools through several technology-based platforms that  have been adopted to better service ESCWA member states.

The United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) has initiated this Dialogue on the Role of Digitalization in the Decade of Action to raise awareness of both the importance of digitalization in achieving the SDGs and of the unique opportunity that UNGIS presents for more effective collaboration in this area within the UN System.