1. Let me first say that I am very happy to be joining this panel, addressing this very pertinent subject of the global challenge of the digital divide. I think as you have already explained, COVID-19 has really brought home the significance of digital technologies, not just from the point of view of strengthening our resilience in the battle against the pandemic, but also as the foundation for our post-pandemic recovery. So I think globally, we have seen the centre of gravity shift decisively towards the adoption of digital technologies.

2.
Having said that, the digital dividends co-exist with the risk of a digital divide - again, something that is the topic of this panel, and also something that all of us are very aware of.I would say the digital divide, in a sense, manifests itself. It is both an urban - rural divide; it is also a developed country - developing country type of divide, and even within developed countries, I think we are seeing a divide, and that divide occurs because of a variety of factors. The first set of factors is really around awareness. The second is around access and affordability, and the third is around knowledge and skills to use them.

3. So, effectively, we need a collective response from governments, the private sector and the people sector in order to mount a credible effort to bridge this digital divide, because ultimately, if we are to reap the dividends of a digital economy we have to ensure that a digital divide is minimised, if not eliminated, so that everyone feels that they are a part of this digital future. I would say the efforts to ensure digital inclusion itself has to be an inclusive one, and by that I mean, it must involve all parties. Clearly it involves the public sector and governments, because of the overall responsibility we carry for the outcomes in our society and our economy, but also involves the private sector because it is not just the pursuit of the corporate goals of individual organisations, but how they contribute toward a larger enabling and conducive environment. Finally, I think it involves the people sector because we have to nurture ground-up initiatives.

4. On that score about being inclusive, I just wanted to share something that we have embarked on in Singapore. We call it the Digital for Life movement, because digital is something that is a lifelong endeavour, and digital also can make a profound difference in our lives. What we have done through this is to embark on a nation-wide movement, catalysing efforts by individual corporations, by ground-up volunteer-led initiatives, and of course, government-supported programmes, for all of these to converge and synergise to contribute towards this larger effort of bridging the digital divide.

5. So to summarise my point, the digital divide is a global challenge which we must take seriously - as seriously as we do the challenge that digitalisation poses to our competitiveness from an economic point of view. If we do not address this social dimension, then I think we will be the poorer for it, and we will not be able to fully realise the benefits of a digital future. We want to ensure that this effort is an inclusive one, where all parties come on board to ensure that everyone has a role - companies with capabilities, workers with skills and knowledge, and individuals and citizens with the knowledge and awareness to thrive in our digital future.

6. Thank you.

 

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