UNDP’s BOOST sets out to amplify digitalization efforts across the region

Photo by Ashwin Vaswani on Unsplash

The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic have been felt by all corners of society since it unfolded in March last year. Whether it be the endless video conferencing with colleagues, science sessions via class chat, or the daily video calls with our loved ones, the increasing uses of technology to work, play, and stay connected are shaping new digital habits and accelerating the digital transformation. 

Digitalization has become a lifeline for societies during the pandemic and will be key to the long-term growth of economies across the world. However, the degree to which it has been embraced by countries has varied across Europe and Central Asia. Central Asia is one of the least digitally connected regions, albeit with some long term digital development programs, while digital public services and the integration of digital technology varies widely across European countries. 

The pandemic hit hardest those countries which were already falling behind in digital development and had not yet managed to build a reliable digital infrastructure, provide digital public services (including in healthcare and education), improve digital literacy or introduce a digital economy. However, regardless of the stage of digitalization, all countries needed to quickly adapt to a new virtual reality. Now, the question is how to scale and sustain this digital transformation so it is beneficial for all. As many countries are currently in various stages of the pandemic and vaccination roll out, now is the time to reset, pivot, and think big to transform our modus operandi, answer the new digital expectations, make sure nobody is left behind and increase recovery and resilience. 

Launched in August 2020, BOOST, a UNDP regional acceleration program, has been working with selected participants to design, implement and scale their digital solutions to reshape our shared future beyond Covid-19. In collaboration with our partners, BOOST aims to address three key topics identified as being crucial for tackling the impacts of Covid-19: digitalization, wellbeing, and low-touch economies1.

Here we’d like to highlight a selection of BOOST participants who have been working to transform their operations so that they can continue to function during COVID-19, and others who are using digital solutions to answer the most pressing needs in society resulting from the pandemic.

Wellbeing: Accessibility to healthcare services and problems facing patients and doctors has become more challenging as a result of the pandemic. To alleviate some of the burdens that Covid-19 has placed on the healthcare system, DokTok provides fast and easy online medical consultations through real-time, one-on-one audio and video calls. The application aims to offer a wide range of medical services to all citizens, regardless of status, age, and location, with complete privacy. Beyond Covid-19, DokTok aims to give people a quick and easy way to receive medical consultations, wherever they are.  

Digital connectivity is critical to societal resilience and business continuity in times of crisis. SGDD-ASAM is in the process of building a wellbeing mobile application for humanitarian workers to provide psychological support to those whose stress levels have increased as a result of sustained isolation. The app will enable humanitarian workers to self-evaluate and access relevant information on topics such as resilience, stress management, and coping skills. Simultaneously it will provide an online collaborative platform for coworkers who have faced similar challenges to share their experiences.

Online Learning: Amid all the chaos, the digital divide has become a new mark of inequality. Young Guru Academy is working on building an online platform to address the key barriers created by limited internet access and usage gap. By transferring science sessions online, the project creates a space where children can engage in scientific and awareness-raising issues and conduct science experiments at home. More than 300 children have attended the online sessions. Young Guru Academy is working on scaling this project by making an interactive online platform more accessible to disadvantaged children in Turkey and Kenya through the principles of STEM Education2

Enabling all people to adapt and excel in the digital economy, including using ICTs and other technologies to upgrade their skills, is essential. This requires identifying the mix of skills

needed to increase quality employment and active participation in a digitalized economy. The WIN project supports Ukrainian migrant women in Poland via an innovative platform to empower them to find their digital path in the Covid-19 impacted labor market. The project’s goal is to develop, test, and disseminate a practice-oriented, ICT-based pilot system which supports entrepreneurial women by automatically matching their identified skills with required competencies related to remote and distance jobs or business creation.

Digital Culture: One of the most distinctive outcomes of the crisis for community is the shrinking of the physical experience of culture and collaboration to fit our computer screens. As the crisis continues to confine us to our apartments and impede social interaction, Science Heroes is developing a digital platform for active community engagement. Utilizing modern approaches, including gamification and machine learning, the platform will enable civil society organizations (CSOs) to stay engaged with their communities through various activities including volunteering, events, applications, e-learning and other CSO-specific tasks.

As a result of the lockdowns, the cultural sector was amongst the first to close its doors to the public. The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) is currently adapting its website to be more accessible to people with disabilities, who have become even more isolated due to the Covid-19 pandemic and generally face more difficulties in participating in cultural and art events. By leveraging their digital capacity, the website will provide information about İKSV’s events, most of which are currently taking place online, and adjust their publications to be accessible to those with physical disadvantages, including visual or hearing impairments. 

When we look at the diversity of the solutions what we are looking for is insights across all them how are habits changing, how do potential transformation pathways look, how do we build solutions that are inclusive & adaptive, and ultimately how can technology lower barriers, increase access and where are socio-economic barriers/divides that we should address by designing differently. The acceleration of the digital transformation will be crucial to weather the crisis and ensure long-term growth as we enter a “new normal.” The BOOST community is gearing innovative solutions towards a resilient future: from accelerating digital literacy to preventing social exclusion to contributing to the development of a low touch economy. 

You can explore all the BOOST solutions here. We will be announcing the winners of the first BOOST cohort soon. Stay tuned!

1. Low touch economies refers to the way businesses across the globe have been forced to operate in the face of social distancing restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19.

2. STEM is an interdisciplinary approach to learning and development that integrates the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Through STEM, students develop key skills such as problem solving and creativity. 

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