Saudi Press

Saudi Arabia and the world
Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

Prioritize global cooperation over individual national efforts to bridge digital divide, says Deemah AlYahya, Saudi head of Digital Cooperation Organization

Prioritize global cooperation over individual national efforts to bridge digital divide, says Deemah AlYahya, Saudi head of Digital Cooperation Organization

For billions worldwide, the internet has become a vital part of daily life, with two-thirds of the world using it. Aside from communication with friends and family, the World Wide Web has established itself as the new economic platform and the volume of global e-commerce is growing by leaps and bounds every year.

Research by the Digital Cooperation Organization, an international body founded by Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, says that 70 percent of growth in the global economy over the next decade will be digitally based.

But as Deemah AlYahya, former Microsoft executive and current secretary-general of DCO, says, cooperative efforts must be made to ensure that the digital transformation of the world’s economy is inclusive and equitable.

“Over the past two decades, the digital economy has been growing at an unprecedented rate, becoming the backbone of our societies, bringing people together, offering infinite economic possibilities,” she said in the latest episode of the Arab News current-affairs talkshow “Frankly Speaking.”

“A thriving digital economy is critical to achieving sustainable economic development.”

Although technology presents great opportunities, 2.7 billion people around the world have no access to the internet, which can widen the economic gap and leave some behind.

Infographic courtesy of the DCO's Digital Prosperity Report - H1 2022


The DCO’s goal is “to enable digital prosperity for all by accelerating the inclusive growth of the digital economy across countries, advance their digital transformation and strengthen the collaborative efforts of our member states and the global digital economy.”

AlYahya said that the sharing of knowledge and practices combined with the establishment of proper digital infrastructure within the DCO’s member states, as well as the introduction of policies and legislations, can enable the building of “an inclusive, equitable digital economy, within which all people, businesses, and societies can innovate and thrive.”

She said that the DCO recently became an observer at the UN, further enabling the initiative to improve international and regional collaboration.

The DCO has launched several programs to spur the digital economy. In 2022, it partnered with the World Economic Forum to implement projects which will help grow digital foreign direct investments, or FDIs, with the first project taking place in Nigeria.

The same year, it launched the Elevate 50 initiative, which aims to create 50,000 business opportunities in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa by helping small and medium businesses set up e-commerce platforms to sell products online.

AlYahya believes suitable policies and regulations are critical for regulating digital economic growth given it is based on both intangible and tangible assets.

“We find that nations and several entities and continents are working on having harmonized policies and regulations that will enable innovators to create the new technologies which will empower the citizens,” she told Katie Jensen, the host of “Frankly Speaking.”

“Therefore, it is important to work with other organizations like the United Nations, for instance, and ITU at OECD, and also work with member countries themselves to try to bring in that unified message and unified policies and regulation that will help innovators to cross borders, as well as for nations to start sharing data.”

AlYahya, however, pointed out that the cost of getting online can be prohibitive even in countries eager to accelerate digital growth.


“It’s not enough that we’re connected. We do also have a big challenge, which is the affordability of the devices and services as well. We look at several countries that are … 98 percent connected, but we find that utilization of the service is only 3 percent. And that’s because of the high cost of either the devices or the services,” she said.

AlYahya noted that cost and accessibility are influenced by three factors: Proper data for investment, growth opportunities and a stimulating business environment for youth and policies and regulations.

The private sector can provide the data for appropriate investment to stimulate the economy, thereby providing “the right jobs and also the right growth opportunities for the youth,” she said.

“And by having that business environment, we will reach a balance when it comes to the cost of services and also devices.”

AlYahya believes policy and regulation recommendations will enable flexibility for cross-border expansion for businesses. “By removing these barriers to expansion, that will accelerate the availability of technologies in the countries,” she said.

With the DCO acting as a facilitator between the government and the private sector, communities can reach the right balance between cost and availability, AlYahya said.

As the online economy grows, so do concerns about data breaches, security and privacy. According to the Identity Theft Research Center’s 2022 Data Breach Report, more than 400 million people in the US were victims of data breaches or exposures last year.

AlYahya said the DCO has major concerns over the privacy of vulnerable populations in developing nations new to the technological revolution.

Infographic courtesy of the DCO's Digital Prosperity Report - H1 2022


“It’s very important that we build that trust within the nation itself — between the citizens and the governments, as well as the governments together,” she said. “That, by itself, is important; that will enable the placement of any policies and regulations that are harmonized and where member countries, or the globe approves.

“The DCO has adopted a data-privacy statement and a call for action for AI, and is working with other governments on several projects. Chief among them is creating governance and standards and norms around the data flows, and data sovereignty as well.”

AlYahya added that engaging the private sector and governments together was critical for building trust and protecting both governments and citizens.

The DCO’s Digital FDI Initiative, launched in cooperation with the World Economic Forum, also contributes to building trust and a digital-friendly environment, according to her.

“We study the environment and the ecosystem of each of our member countries, and we see where are the sectors that really need and demand that investment. Also, what kind of technologies are missing, that need to be adapted and attracted to come into the country,” she said.

She said the DCO had already launched the initiative in Pakistan and Rwanda, with plans to launch in all member countries soon. She added that investment will bring with it new skills, knowledge, experience and jobs.

During its 2nd Annual General Assembly in Riyadh on Feb. 5, the DCO called for open cooperation globally to bridge the digital divide .


As the first secretary-general of the DCO and the first Saudi woman to work as an executive director for Microsoft, AlYahya is a trailblazer in her own right. She stressed the importance of encouraging the involvement of more women in science and technology.

She recalled meeting a woman in Taif, a Saudi city known for its rose farms, while working for Microsoft.

“She created products from these roses. She was a widow with six kids, and she used to sell these products in just the city or the village that she was in. She came looking for training and learning programs to help her create an e-commerce platform,” AlYahya said.

“So, we supported her with that, and we gave her that knowledge. In three months’ time, she had her e-commerce solution up online with the payment gateway and value chain. And after a couple of years now, she has created jobs for more than 80 women, and she sells to more than 100 cities (around) the world.”

Saudi Arabia in particular has made great strides toward female participation in science and tech. Saudi Vision 2030, a series of economic diversification initiatives announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016, has helped bring the percentage of female employees in the information and communications technology sector from 16 to 35 percent.

Saudi Arabia has made great strides toward female participation in science and tech, while much of the  world is facing a challenge of doing the same.


AlYahya pointed out that more than half of all ICT graduates in Saudi Arabia are female, adding that is “something that is very unique when the world is facing a challenge of attracting more women and girls to science and technology.”

The government of Saudi Arabia has worked with the private sector to bolster its digital infrastructure over the past five years, she said, including increasing internet connectivity in remote areas and the adoption of 5G mobile data networks.

While working as executive manager of Misk Innovation, a Saudi initiative which aims to encourage creativity and innovation among Saudi youth, AlYahya has overseen initiatives to teach coding and other computer skills to young Saudis, and to girls in particular. She believes a female perspective is critical to the development of digital tools.

“Just imagine an AI with only a man’s perspective — that would be dangerous in the future. We have to have both perspectives,” she said.

“So, we do have to increase the number of women scientists in AI and involve more women in the development of these innovations and creations. Universal access to the internet is almost fundamental for these issues. And that’s just the beginning, which is providing the right access to women.

“It scares me when I read reports that 350 million women will not have access to the internet by 2030. That by itself is a huge lost opportunity, not only socially but also economically.”

To minimize this lost opportunity, AlYahya recommends the teaching of skills such as coding, which “supports and helps in adapting and critical problem solving — analytical thinking — and therefore it gives a broader perspective than just providing that skill and teaching (them) how to fish.”

She added: “I really do believe that we have to work with our youth to enable them with the right skills first, then to create new fishing tools and expand their perspective and their mindset to other solutions and how to analyze problems to create the right solutions.”

Newsletter

Related Articles

Saudi Press
0:00
0:00
Close
Apple warns against drying iPhones with rice
China Criticizes US for Vetoing UN Ceasefire Resolution in Gaza
In a recent High Court hearing, the U.S. argued that Julian Assange endangered lives by releasing classified information.
The U.S. vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza, instead proposing its own six-week ceasefire plan contingent upon the release of all hostages held by Hamas
Prince William Urges End to Gaza Conflict
Saudi Arabia ranks first in UN index for e-government services in MENA
Israel has gone ‘beyond self-defence’ in Gaza, says Labour’s Streeting
EU Calls for Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza Conflict
Israel Records 20% Drop In GDP, War In Gaza Is The Reason
Saudi Arabia's FDI Inflows Grow with New International Standards
Venture Capitals Power Up Across MENA Region
Saudi Arabia Introduces Terms for 30-Year Income Tax Exemption for Multinational Companies
Saudi FM: Establishing Palestinian state is only pathway for Mideast stability
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has died at the Arctic prison colony
Elon Musk's Starlink Gets License For Israel, Parts Of Gaza
Influencers Exploit X Platform for Profit Amidst Israel-Gaza Conflict
PM Modi Announces Opening Of New CBSE Office In Dubai
International Criminal Court's Chief "Deeply Concerned" By Rafah Bombing
January Funding for MENA Startups Totals $86.5 Million
Saudi Arabia accelerates digital economy growth through Nvidia partnership
Indian female military officers commend Saudi Arabia's progress and women's empowerment
Israel unveils tunnels underneath Gaza City headquarters of UN agency for Palestinian refugees
Israel deploys new military AI in Gaza war
Egypt threatens to suspend key peace treaty if Israel pushes into Gaza border town, officials say
Israel Utilizes AI Military Technology in Gaza Conflict
Saudi Arabia Warns Of A "Humanitarian Catastrophe" If Israel Moves On Rafah
China Warns Iran to Halt Houthi Attacks or Damage Trade Ties
US University To Shut Qatar Campus Due To "Heightened Mideast Instability"
Iran-backed hackers interrupt UAE TV streaming services with deepfake news
Facebook and Instagram Ban Iran's Supreme Leader
Finnish Airline, Finnair, is voluntarily weighing passengers to better estimate flight cargo weight
U.S. Secretary of State Blinken: The Israelis underwent dehumanization on 7.10, this does not give them the right to do this to others.
Defense Technology Showcase Held in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports rise 2.5% to $6bn in November 2023: GASTAT
UK Bans Misleading "Zero Emissions" Claims for Electric Cars
Gaza's Teen Inventor Sparks Light in Displacement
Netanyahu Rejects Ceasefire Proposal, Insists On Total Victory Over Hamas
Guterres appoints independent UNRWA review panel
Private Sector Employment Hits Record High with Over 11 Million Employees in January
Rolls-Royce Executive Encourages Saudi Women to Tap into Their Inner 'Superhero' for Success in Defense Industry
Saudi Arabia launches National Academy of Vehicles and Cars
Saudi Tourism Minister Reveals Plan for 250,000 New Hotel Rooms by 2030
SAR to more than double eastern network passenger capacity with new trains deal
Saudi Arabia Enhances National Defense with New Partnerships
Saudi Aramco Maintains Arab Light Crude Pricing to Asia for March
NEOM Establishes New York Office to Support Investors
Saudi Wealth Fund Draws in Over $25 Billion Worth of Investments in Three Years, Al-Rumayyan Reveals
ZATCA Cautions Against Scammer Schemes
INTRA Defense Technologies inaugurates drone factory in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's Minister of Industry and Mineral Resources, Bandar Alkhorayef, has announced a partnership with the London Metal Exchange to set up metal storage and delivery centers in the country. Alkhorayef highlighted Saudi Arabia's expanding military industries sector, crediting the Public Investment Fund (PIF) as a key partner, during his speech at the second PIF Private Sector Forum in Riyadh
×