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CSIS encourages private sector DPI investment as UN pushes for safeguards

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CSIS encourages private sector DPI investment as UN pushes for safeguards
 

An advocacy paper published by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a public policy non-profit, has explored how private companies can contribute to effective digital transformation by supporting the building of robust digital public infrastructure (DPI) ecosystems.

The report is authored by a trio of development researchers and experts, and argues there’s been a growing demand for digital services which means that the companies providing them, through DPI, can unlock the market growth benefits that come with it.

Companies can take advantage of the available opportunities in the economy, especially in developing countries, by driving innovation and creating more efficient and effective DPI solutions when they contribute their financial muscle and wealth of experience dealing with cutting-edge technologies and market dynamics, the writers hold. They further note that because enormous resources are often required in the building of DPI, governments must leverage the power of partnerships by identifying “new and innovative financing vehicles.”

On why they believe private companies have an upper hand in driving DPI development efforts, the authors posit that they “have a deep understanding of consumer and market opportunities and challenges,” as opposed to governments which pay more attention to “policy-level solutions and deliverables for citizens.”

“Collaborative approaches combine the private sector’s market insights and financial resources with the government’s policy priorities, thereby yielding optimal outcomes for all stakeholders,” the paper argues, adding that some of the ways through which private entities can make such contributions are either by “direct investment, PPPs [public-private partnerships], and collaborative projects with international organizations.”

The writers cite the example of a Google-led initiative for the construction of a submarine cable to enhance internet connectivity in Africa, which is vital for advancing digital transformation efforts. Recently at the Global Digital Summit in Washington, D.C., a panel discussed the urgent need to remove the barriers hindering digital inclusion, one of which is low connectivity.

The paper also alludes to philanthropic donors who have been instrumental in the development of open-source platforms such as Mojaloop and MOSIP which are now proving vital in the building of DPI such as digital ID and instant payment systems. Mojaloop has been used for digital payment projects in countries such as Tanzania and Uganda, while 17 countries are using MOSIP to build digital ID and civil registration projects. The paper also mentions the U.S.’s approach to the development of DPI, where its diplomatic channels and policy frameworks have proven vital to how the country attains its objectives.

“The private sector’s role and investment potential are vital for funding and scaling these projects, especially where public funds are limited,” the paper says, adding that the experience of actors in the private sector makes it such that “managing complex projects and implementing technology, leading to more sustainable DPI systems” can be easier.

Apart from providing funding or technological support for the building of DPI, private sector companies can also be of significant help in maintaining them through training and skill-development initiatives.

“Companies can develop training courses and educational tools and resources designed to enhance digital skills among individuals and businesses, thereby empowering people to expand their digital knowledge, prepare effectively for job opportunities, and foster growth in their businesses,” a portion of the paper reads.

In addition to partnerships from the private sector, collaboration among countries (governments) is also crucial in the development of DPI. This is exemplified through the 50-in-5 campaign launched in the last quarter of last year with the objective of helping 50 counties in the Global South roll out at least one component of DPI in a safe, inclusive and interoperable manner in the next five years.

The CSIS paper concludes by noting that because the role of DPI is extremely crucial in speeding up the global digital transformation agenda, developing these technologies unavoidably requires the “innovation and investment” of the private sector.

UN constitutes working groups on DPI safeguards framework

In a related development, the UN announced it has put in place six working groups to draft a safeguards framework that will factor in safety and inclusion in the development of DPI.

According to a news release, the six groups made up of 43 members drawn from diverse areas of relevant expertise will work to address inherent risks in digital transformation across multiple layers and across the DPI implementation cycle.

Unfolding under the stewardship of the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Technology and the United Nations Development Program, the safeguards framework aims to assist countries around the world in their quest to “build safe and inclusive DPI that maximizes benefits while mitigating inherent risks.”

Commenting on the initiative, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says: “I am pleased to see this diverse group of experts from around the world coming together to develop safe and inclusive digital public infrastructure. I am confident the efforts of this group will help countries to develop guardrails for digital infrastructure, so that it can work for the public good.”

The release also indicates that this initiative, which is accompanied by the establishment of a DPI Safeguards Resource Hub, is in line with the UN’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation launched in 2020.

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