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Can Sustainability Be The Answer To A Growing Smart City Backlash?

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Yahya Mohamed Mao, Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Scientya.com questions ‘can Sustainability be the Answer to a Growing Smart City Backlash?’ is answered in his write up below. The picture above is for illustration and is of FinExtra, publisher of this article.

Can Sustainability Be The Answer To A Growing Smart City Backlash?

2 August 2021

The constant and ubiquitous transfer of data from various sources to a single government entity has led to concerns that these sources could turn into electronic panoptics as governments use data-driven technologies to maximize effective surveillance of their citizens. Smart City technologies have been developed with practical applications to improve effective law enforcement, optimize transportation services, improve basic infrastructure, including the provision of local government services, and e-governance platforms. This will improve urban planning and allow governments to tailor their services to the local population.

In some cases technology companies are believed to enter into opaque partnerships with municipal authorities that have profited from the project at their expense by using public resources such as land and development rights. Such criticism is also drawn from data protection factors, since information flows function at the level of citizens and governments and undermine the concept of urban anonymity.

In several cases, lawmakers have passed or are considering legislation that would ban or restrict the construction of 5G cellular towers due to health concerns. While private and business industries consider 5G as a true milestone in today’s technology landscape, residents are largely suspicious of city governments and large technology companies in smart projects whose data track and collect over their everyday activities, not only compromising their privacy and security, but also selling the data without their consent. Fears of privacy intrusion in today’s digital age and rampant development that undermines public interest have exacerbated the erosion of trust between residents and municipalities, especially when private companies manage smart projects. 

Moreover, people are afraid that the government will use the data it collects not only for the big government, but also for the companies that sell it. The lack of transparency about what happens to the data, in my opinion, is multiplying the increase in activity in smart cities.

It seems evident that smart cities cannot harness the potential of new data, emerging information technologies and many other components that are essential to fulfill the promise of better services and a better quality of life. One of the most important components of smart cities is sustainability, and sustainability as currently understood is poorly understood.

The exclusion of Smart City definitions from essays on technological solutions in computer science, engineering, and mathematics is one limitation of this study. Further research into the contribution of smart cities to sustainable development is essential. In fact, research suggests that one of the main objectives of Smart City initiatives is to improve quality of life, but there is no definition that explains what this means and what the cost to society and the environment will be. When defining smart cities, it is not clear whether economic growth and improved quality of life are closely linked or whether they are presented as competing agendas. Future efforts to define smart cities should take into account the cause-effect relationship between improving the quality of life and the use of modern technologies and reflect on the dimensions of sustainability.

Economic and financial resources influence the ability of governments to develop and maintain smart cities. Smart cities should focus on social sustainability not only on the provision of services, but also on sustainable mechanisms of civic engagement (Webster and Leleux, 2019) and knowledge sharing with employees (Radulescu et al, 2020) to achieve social sustainability. In terms of the attractiveness of urban life, the introduction of digital technologies and sensors to collect new data will help document weather conditions, noise, temporary projects, pop-up installations, festivals, festivals, holidays, day and night time and impact on usage. This will help landscape architects and urban planners to make informed decisions about the development of public places so that they are pleasant, inclusive and attractive places. 

Payment structures in Smart Cities

According to The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) the following cities are the leading global smart cities:

  1. Singapore
  2. Dubai
  3. Oslo
  4. Copenhagen
  5. Boston
  6. Amsterdam
  7. New York
  8. London
  9. Barcelona
  10. Hong Kong

Interestingly, several of these locations also ranking high on Findexable’s index of 2020’s leading fintech hubs. As a consequence, digital payment architecture is expected to be similarly advanced.

A growing backlash?

The growing backlash against large technology companies, combined with the pandemic, has led to a waning enthusiasm for the term that dominates the discussion about the future of cities. Dropping the term “smart city” does not mean ignoring the technology’s potential for better cities

Conferences, marketplaces, and exhibitions have sprung up to showcase the latest gadgets that cities can buy to transform themselves. The challenges posed by smart cities have prompted metros of all sizes to embrace new technologies for the benefit of all, it seems clear, in order to join a growing global club of innovative communities. 

The link between smart cities and the extensive development of technologies makes it unsurprising that today’s tech companies are heavily involved in the building and growth process. The likes of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Huawei have developed various ideas for smart cities. IoT devices are in need of the collection of information making the latter essential for running a smart city. In this manner, Amazon and Google’s venture in smart city activities should not come as a surprise. As we all know, they have been making our homes progressively filled with gadgets such as Alexa and Google Home for a long time. It was only a matter of time before the scale increased!

The concept of smart cities dates back to the 1970s, when Los Angeles created the first urban big data project. Amsterdam became the first smart city with the creation of a virtual digital city in 1994. When in 2011 the inaugural Smart City Expo World Congress was held in Barcelona, it has immediately become an annual event dedicated to smart cities’ development. By 2050, up to 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities and smart cities have been considered the ideal solution after decades of population growth and unplanned urban sprawl across the globe. Cities have a central role in strategic sustainable development. However, is smart also sustainable? Uncertainties and lack of trust resulting from the constant and ubiquitous transfer of data from various sources to a single government entity with tech giants believed to enter into opaque partnerships with municipal authorities have led to an increasing antipathy towards smart cities. People are afraid that the government will use the data it collects not only for the big government, but also for the companies that sell it. Could placing emphasis on sustainability be the answer to a growing smart city backlash? Lack of transparency is an important issue that must be actively discussed. We should stop presuming that “smart” is automatically “sustainable” and include sustainability as cornerstones of smart cities concept. Lack of transparency and people’s mistrust of how sensitive data is used accompanied by a poor understanding of sustainability and its relationship with increasing quality of life may contribute to the growing antipathy towards smart cities.

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region

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ZAWYA published an article by Sara Al-Mulla on how illiteracy is still the dominant factor in the MENA region. It recommends notably no less than Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all.

Radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all

The picture above is for illustration and is of the Gulf Times.

Students learn the alphabet in a classroom of 12 women of different ages all eager to learn to read and write at the literacy centre of Umm al-Hareth secondary school on April 17, 2009, in Amman, Jordan. Getty Images By Sara Al-Mulla, Arab News

In today’s world, knowledge is deemed to be the key to progress; spearheading innovations in myriad futuristic sectors, commandeering global competitiveness and empowering people to live high-quality lives. Indeed, the true wealth of any nation lies in its human capital’s ability to thrive.

The Arab region has achieved great strides in the field of education in the past five decades, with the widespread establishment of schools, high enrolment rates and government support for students. Data from the World Bank demonstrates this remarkable progress, as the Arab region has lifted literacy rates from 43 percent in 1973 to 79 percent in 2019. Despite this phenomenal achievement, illiteracy remains a shortcoming in the region. It is estimated that about 50 million adults in the Arab world are illiterate today, limiting their roles as active members of their societies. These figures are aggravated by the 6 million children who have been forced out of school due to conflicts and poverty.

The calamity of illiteracy manifests itself in a number of threats. Without the basic tenets of communication, people could find themselves drastically limited in their life choices and their ability to carry out important daily tasks. For example, illiterate people are unable to examine a medicine label, read a bank statement, skim through the news, calculate a financial investment, understand government policies, or communicate with family and friends via mobile phones or online social networks.

Illiterate parents also tend to have lower expectations with regards to their children’s educational attainment, aggravating generational illiteracy. Dr. Bernadette Dwyer, a professor of literacy studies in education at Dublin City University, made a powerful statement in this regard: “Literacy permeates all areas of life, fundamentally shaping how we learn, work, and socialize. Literacy is essential to informed decision-making, personal empowerment, and community engagement.”

Illiteracy also costs the global economy an estimated $1.19 trillion annually in lost economic productivity, according to the World Literacy Foundation. Globally, illiterate people earn 30 to 42 percent less than those who are literate, severely limiting their capacity to thrive and access important goods and services, such as food, shelter, education, and healthcare services. Furthermore, illiteracy has been linked to unemployment or low-quality jobs, lower lifelong earnings, reduced access to professional development courses, poorer health outcomes, increased crime rates, lower civic participation and community involvement, lower feelings of self-worth, increased isolation, limited retirement savings, and welfare dependency.

In order to tackle the issue of illiteracy in the region, it is imperative that policymakers understand its root causes. Perhaps the greatest barrier to literacy is the rampant poverty rate in certain communities, where children are forced to work to help their families make ends meet. At the same time, low economic productivity in many Arab nations has limited public funding for schools and reduced financial support for families in the form of tuition subsidies and scholarships. Poverty has also worsened gender discrimination in many parts of the region, resulting in limited female enrolment in schools due to early marriage and pregnancy, violence or cultural norms about the role of women.

Additionally, deteriorating safety issues and raging conflicts have, in recent years, resulted in an exodus of children from schools. Another leading cause of illiteracy is the presence of children with learning disabilities or difficulties that go undetected or untreated. Special education is expensive to finance for families on their own, as they would need to pay for diagnostic tests, treatments, dedicated shadow teachers, and special resources.

Research shows that children living in rural areas are more likely to drop out of school compared to children in urban areas, as nearby schools are lacking. Other institutional aspects that undermine children’s ability to learn include unsatisfactory learning environments, overcrowded classrooms, shortages of trained teachers, unengaging school curricula, and insufficient learning resources.

As such, radical improvements are needed to eradicate illiteracy in the region once and for all. It is imperative that household data be captured to elucidate illiteracy rates according to geographical location, age group and gender. Additionally, such research should evaluate the root causes behind illiteracy so that appropriate policies and programs can be formulated to overcome these specific barriers.

Solutions could be designed based on the size of the cohorts, such as the establishment of modern schools to cater for large groups or individualized workshops that are tailored to the needs of small groups of learners. Enrolment can be encouraged by taking on local volunteers who can sign people up or via applications on online portals. Additionally, relevant and engaging educational curricula need to be designed to accommodate local workplace needs, in addition to the hiring of skilled teachers. For participants who are unable to attend school due to work or family responsibilities, one-on-one tutoring sessions could be facilitated on a weekly basis to meet their learning needs.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is the cultural attitude toward education. Nationwide grassroots and media campaigns can play an influential role in highlighting the priceless value of literacy and its beneficial effects on people’s lives, especially among cultures that have contradicting viewpoints on the subject. Furthermore, governments could partner with nonprofit and private sector organizations that dedicate their funds and efforts toward literacy programs.

Nations are today competing against one another in terms of their ability to transform knowledge into economic productivity and high-quality living for their citizens. Literacy is the key for Arab nations if they are to create a new renaissance period.

  • Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at http://www.amorelicious.com.

A ‘value proposition framework’ for sustainable development

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It’s all about Value. It’s the name of the game. Create it economically; capture it distinctively. So, a ‘value proposition framework’ for sustainable development is put forward here by Green Biz authors.

A ‘value proposition framework’ for sustainable development

By Neil Hawkins & Laura Asiala

Whatever theoretical economic framework (such as game theory or decision analysis) or business model you want to select, value is at the heart of it. Individuals, organizations businesses and governments act to increase value — also referred to as utility — from their perspectives.

We believe this is a key to understanding the actions of various stakeholders in sustainable development, developing new strategies for making sustainability progress and, most important, for building effective collaborations across and between stakeholders upon which real sustainability rests and relies. 

Collaboration requires a desire for shared value — finding the commonalities in seeking defined outcomes, then working together to increase utility or value propositions for all involved stakeholders. Not everyone needs to like each other or agree on every outcome to build effective collaborations, but they also can’t be at odds. This requires all parties to understand perspectives and find the common ground.

Businesses — with their human, financial and capital wealth — represent an enormous (or potentially enormous) powerful force when it comes to sustainable development. Therefore, we think it critical to understand the value propositions that all businesses face — both danger and opportunity — in terms of sustainability. In the long run, their viability and success also depend upon it.Collaboration requires a desire for shared value — finding the commonalities in seeking defined outcomes, then working together to increase utility or value propositions for all involved stakeholders.

All companies have in common five primary value propositions, although not everyone regards them as a set. Each has a direct connection to sustainability:

  1. Profit
  2. Revenue
  3. Talent
  4. Capital
  5. Collaboration

Growing the bottom line: Profit

It’s the bottom line — revenues minus the costs — that still makes the ultimate business case.

It’s also one of the easiest cases to make for sustainability. A company can increase its profit directly by reducing costs, and for many companies, energy, water and waste costs can be significant.

Reducing these through focused measurement, process improvement and/or specific projects can directly improve the bottom line while also improving the sustainability of the overall enterprise. It is where many companies start their sustainability engagement and with good reason: The economics can be enormous.

Dow Inc., in its first set of 10-year sustainability goals, returned $4 billion to the company on a $1 billion investment in projects. Energy reduction also reduces costs and carbon emissions. Reducing its environmental “footprint” is also often the most immediate way for a company to build credibility for its sustainability efforts. Companies that talk a good game about sustainability but don’t take meaningful action to reduce their own footprint lose credibility and reputation, which hurts them in markets for products and services, talent and investment. 

Growing the top line: Revenue

Revenues grow through increasing market share or successful development of new products and services in response to society’s needs and desires, and it’s clear that sustainability trends have become big drivers.

Tesla is one example of visionary and bold investment in a single, although major, sustainability driver: electrification of mobility. Tesla has been very successful in this regard, but looking across all auto companies, you see the accelerating interest — and new product announcements — to capitalize on this incredibly important driver. (It will be interesting to see if GM and Ford can make the transition to become leaders in the future of electric mobility; we like their chances).

In the water area, companies such as EcoLab have built entire platforms around the management of water, cleaning water and recycling of water. The list goes on, but the key principle here is to identify the trends, invest in R&D and new products and processes, and ride the wave all the way to successful business growth.

Attracting, developing and retaining top talent

Employees are the core of any successful company. Top talent is drawn to — and kept in — companies that are successful in developing and implementing the kind of proactive sustainability strategies for their companies that make a material and purposeful difference.

Very few top students want to join a company whose activities are viewed as making climate change worse or polluting rivers and oceans or harming biodiversity and nature. Sustainability is the new “table stakes” for attracting top talent today.

When Neil was CSO at Dow, Dow attracted thousands of new employees in China from top universities with a “Green Jobs” program where recruits could join Dow to have real sustainability impact in applying their degrees (and Dow’s retention rates for these students was much higher than peer companies). When Laura was director of communication/citizenship at Dow Corning, top students didn’t wait for on-campus recruiting. When the company launched its first Citizen Service Corps, students started calling the company’s media center.

Look at any companies on campus these days and you will see that their efforts in sustainability are featured prominently. What is more interesting is the importance of sustainability to developing and retaining top leadership talent.

Like a customer you don’t want to lose, retaining the most valuable employees is critical. The drivers for hiring new talent are really the same as “rehiring” current employees. Dow very successfully used sustainability experiences — special projects, in-field assignments, academies and simulations — to develop leadership and strategy skills, while integrating sustainability across the company. Many of these future leaders remained because of the skills that Dow invested in for them in sustainability.

Attracting and retaining investors

All companies require capital. And the pace of acceleration for consideration of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors has increased significantly. Virtually no company can survive and thrive anymore with its investor base without addressing sustainability concerns as an enterprise.

Dow started third-party verified Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting more than 15 years ago, and it learned and grew along the way; it worked with other reporting programs such as CDP as well. In 2020, Dow was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI) by S&P Global, the 21st year Dow has achieved this prestigious ranking due to its comprehensive sustainability programs. Dow became much more involved more than five years ago after the Paris climate talks when Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney appointed Neil (then Dow’s CSO) to join the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, part of the Financial Stability Board.

Dow helped establish the reporting criteria, but beyond that, the experience provided Dow real learning and insight into where banks, financial institutions, insurance companies, bond underwriters and investors were headed. All companies today need to pay careful attention because investors are paying careful attention. One has only to read BlackRock CEO Lawrence Fink’s growing expectations in his annual letter or observe ExxonMobil’s abrupt board member changes to see that the term “activist investor” has been redefined. Times have changed.

Collaborating for mutual success while addressing key challenges

Finding safe places to collaborate to create the healthy ecosystems in which enterprise thrives is critical: supply chains, marketplaces, workforces, communities, industries — no company goes it alone.

Finding safe places to collaborate is neither easy nor simple. Competitors have antitrust concerns. Customers and suppliers have adversarial positions relative to costs. NGOs often have adversarial advocacy positions to individual companies or to whole industry sectors, and governments view their roles as to regulate and tax companies.

All of that adversarial energy can be put to better use if the focus is on more narrow objectives, especially those that involve sustainable development of regions, countries and the world as a whole. There is usually widespread agreement that we cannot regulate or litigate to stop negative trends in nature, public health, social equity and ecosystems, and that if we work together we can accelerate progress. But to do that requires a maturity of perspective on the part of stakeholders that we can agree to disagree on many things, but still find common ground to solve more narrow challenges.Adversarial energy can be put to better use if the focus is on more narrow objectives, especially those that involve sustainable development of regions, countries and the world as a whole.

The collaboration between The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Dow, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, is one such example. Finding ways to incorporate the value of nature inside the company to better inform strategic decisions was of interest to Dow, and TNC was interested in preserving nature. Both saw that valuing the services of nature would help them to meet their respective goals, and they could collaborate with integrity. It set a new standard and example for collaboration, which continues to benefit both organizations, serve as an example to companies and organizations across industries, and preserve and enhance nature, using the power of capital in a way that no mere philanthropic strategy ever could. 

When Dow worked with the University of Michigan to establish the Dow Graduate Sustainability Fellows more than a decade ago, significant faculty concerns were raised about their independence and intellectual academic freedom. Together, the company and the university put in place safeguards in response to those concerns, and hundreds of Dow Sustainability Fellows have benefitted, as have the University and those communities whose projects were addressed and implemented.

Neither example would have occurred without a strong platform for collaborating on sustainability challenges. These collaborations have helped Dow advance its business strategies and helped it learn and grow, positioning the company for future success. At the same time, these stakeholders also thrived. Win-win.

Value propositions for corporate sustainability

What company does not want top- and bottom-line growth? What company does not want top talent in their sector? What company does not want access to capital that is lower cost and more plentiful? And what company does not need platforms to collaborate with their value chain, in their communities and with their governments?

This five-part value proposition framework holds that promise for companies. Nothing short of their survival and growth is at stake today.

But we also believe that the other major stakeholder groups can benefit from understanding this framework for companies, by surfacing new ideas and creating proposals for collaboration that are more sophisticated in understanding the aspirations of their prospective company partners. At the end of the day, we all want to drive more sustainable action and bringing all stakeholders into collaborations will help us accelerate progress. Show comments for this story. 

First World, Third World? Let’s coin new binaries

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In a Khaleej TimesOPINION AND EDITORIAL, Michael Jennings of the University of London comes up with criticism of the now well-established labels of First World, Third World, suggesting that it is time for coining new binaries. Then First World, Third World? Let’s coin new binaries; but what about the MENA region’s stand, one would ask. The answer is below per the IMF’s Economic Overview.

First, the illiteracy and educational indicators are significantly more unfavorable for women than for men. Second, MENA countries compare poorly to other countries when account is taken of spending on the social sectors, highlighting the impact of distorted labor markets, an inefficient educational delivery system, and neglect of female education. Third, when various human development indicators are combined (e.g., as in the UNDP human development index) the region’s ranking among countries in the world is less favorable than that based on income criteria alone.

The picture above is for illustration and is of the World Bank Blog.

First World, Third World? Let’s coin new binaries

22 June 2021

All too often, these terms have played into wider prejudices about places that reflect and are fed by the values ascribed to each.

For anyone living in ancient China’s Zhou empire in the first millennium BCE, the world was simple: they were in the “Zhongguo”, or Middle Kingdom, and everything outside was barbaric. Understanding the world at the height of European imperialism also was easy. On maps, vast swaths of territory were coloured in hues denoting each empire. Human nature strives for simplicity, and today we have come up with a multitude of descriptions for the world’s regions. But terms such as North/South and First World/Third World have flattened diversity and complexity through a simplistic binary gaze.

It isn’t just a problem of simplicity, though. All too often, these terms have played into wider prejudices about places that reflect and are fed by the values ascribed to each.

We can see this on social media, where the rise of intemperate comments and put downs against others can often be based on the implied superiority of where one lives or comes from. Social media weaponises and reinforces prejudices and racism that come from a facile understanding of the world. More than ever before, in an age of parity between the informed and the less-so, we must be careful of the words we use to describe each other.

Trying to analyse and explain the world has always required some generalisation. We lump together countries or regions that share some similarities and gloss over details and important differences. But describing the world is not just about looking for objective points of commonality or difference. It involves recognising different world views, assumptions and values. The problems come when one side of that binary division of the world gets to decide what is the norm, reflecting the realities of global power and ongoing colonial legacies.

Since the end of empires, two dominant ways of dividing up the world have emerged. The first reflected the Cold War, seeing the world through the prism of an existential conflict between the democratic-capitalist West and the communist East, comprised of the Soviet Union and China. The “rest” — which related closely to maps of former colonial territories — were the regions in Africa, Asia and Latin America that together comprised the arena for this battle of ideas and influence.

The second way took a more economic perspective, categorising regions through their GDP or level of “development,” and allocated various terms to describe those differences. Some — such as the terms “low-,” “middle-” (or “emerging-”) or “high-income countries” — are unapologetically economic in their focus, based on levels of GDP that still conceal great diversity within populations. These remain widely in use but at least have the virtue of being a label one can escape: Tanzania and Benin recently moved into middle-income status, while Mauritius has now joined the group of high-income countries. But other terms have attained wider reach within popular and analytical vernacular. The terms “North” and “South” were always less about geographical location than about distinguishing between the rich and globally powerful regions and the poorer, less powerful ones. “Developed” and “un-/under-developed” have similarly focused on poverty.

The term I grew up with, the “Third World”, was originally coined in the 1950s by the French demographer, Alfred Sauvy, to describe those nations that were part of neither the Western nor Eastern blocs. By the 1960s it had become firmly linked to poverty, under-development and poor governance. In a world that still contained third-class train carriages, in which “third” was inevitably less good than “first”, the term was applied to those parts of the world where the majority of citizens were people of colour — and which, coincidentally, had been under imperial rule. The racism and patronising undertones of the term were readily noted and understood by those on the receiving end.

What underpins all these ways of compartmentalising the world is the assumption that the European and North American models of development, with the same governance and other values, are the end-goal for all global regions. The closer you resemble these two, the more you can claim entry to the North, the First World and to “developed” status. These terms assume that emulating Europe and North America makes a country better, so it’s what every other nation should aspire to.

Yet rich Middle East states like the UAE or Asian nations like Singapore have no desire to replicate Western norms. In the 1990s, Malaysia’s then prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, sought to articulate the “Asian Values” that marked a departure from a Western paradigm that twins development with liberalism.

Clearly, the binaries and indexes we are left with are not objective or scientifically indisputable. They are based on what counts most to a minority (albeit powerful) portion of the world. Is a nation’s GDP the sine qua non of being “developed”? What about Costa Rica and Cuba? Both are significantly poorer than the (very much “developed”) US, yet both enjoy better health and quality of life across a number of different indexes than their First World neighbour. As the past year has shown, rich countries contain enormous pockets of inequality and poverty — residents of a poor housing estate in Manchester might share more with those from a working-class area of Hong Kong than they care to admit.

Over the past couple of decades, the terms “Global North” and “Global South” have emerged in reference to global regions. While there is still some overlap with old terms, they do attempt to acknowledge how important discrepancies in power are in shaping relations and opportunities. They are at least an attempt to do away with disparaging terms for particular regions.

I use those terms myself, but with significant reservations. Do they really avoid the division of the world according to colonial legacies?

While that might make sense from the perspective of the Global North, would someone in India, for example, see themselves as more aligned with, say, Kenya, than with Thailand or even South Korea? It all depends, of course, on what you’re comparing with and on what the context is. It solves some problems, but not all — and it certainly does not distance you from a perspective and values that are far from universal. Perhaps it’s time for voices from outside Europe and North America to come up with new terms and for politicians, academics and journalists within Europe and North America to listen. There is much talk these days of decolonising education, development aid and global health, among other things. So how about decolonising our perspective on the world?

Michael Jennings is reader in international development at the School of Oriental and African Studies, or SOAS University of London, where he works on issues related to global health and the politics and history of global development.

Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC?

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Gulf Business‘s article that as an Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC? is a good snapshot of the present situation of that part of MENA countries.

We all know that ‘Big Oils’ management and petrol countries alike have underscored scientific research showing the link between burning fossil fuels and a dangerously heating planet. They’ve lobbied and funded reports to either downplay or deny the risks to the climate—and humanity—of using their products. It went on unabated until the advent of clean and accessibility to all the latest technological hard and software for a broad spectrum of commercial activities. 

Explainer: Is data the new oil in the GCC?

Technology has now become a key driver of economic growth in the GCC, with data already defining the region’s future, opines Maurits Tichelman, VP – Sales, Marketing, and Communications and GM – Global Markets and Partners, EMEA at Intel

Is the term ‘data is the new oil’ still relevant?
Yes, data has practically become the ‘new oil’. Data is playing a significant role as a crucial source of wealth for oil-rich nations and territories such as the GCC, which has historically been particularly dependent on oil as the main contributor to the GDP.

We are witnessing a significant shift from oil to data in the region as governments embark on strategic initiatives to diversify towards more knowledge-based and tech-driven economies. Data is already playing a key role in this transformation. A concrete example of this process could be autonomous driving. Autonomous vehicles run on data in the same way that today’s cars run on gasoline. Therefore, undoubtedly, data will be the new oil.ADVERTISING

In the GCC, oil has been crucial to economic growth. Will technology/data be able to provide the same level of economic prosperity?
Countries in the region are heavily investing in diversified industries such as technology, manufacturing, education, and healthcare, among others. As the Gulf states transform and diversify, the importance and impact of technology will take on an even greater role. Data is already defining the region’s future, complemented by mega projects planned with greater focus on smart infrastructure (smart cities), advanced telecoms services, and somewhat
accelerated by the rapid rise of remote learning and working due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Furthermore, technology has now become a key driver of economic growth, from providing goods and services efficiently, to optimising advanced technologies to help businesses and governments access natural resources that can benefit people. Additionally, increased efficiency of labour has improved productivity and profitability.

While we are producing ample amounts of data in the region, are we currently maximising its benefits?
We are surrounded by data and it continues to grow exponentially. According to estimates, in 2021 alone, there will be 74 zetabytes of generated data and it is expected to reach 149 zetabytes by 2024. As a result, the need to understand and optimise data has become even more significant as every business uses data to some extent. However, there is a lack of knowledge and skills in utilising the data to its full potential. With the rise of digitalisation, companies and governments across the region and worldwide are investing in digital transformation, a positive indication that more organisations are now realising the importance of data.

The Covid crisis has highlighted the importance of technology – but will it retain its relevance post-pandemic across industries? 
The pandemic has undeniably prompted companies to invest more in technology adoption across industries including healthcare, education, retail and real estate, among others. The use of innovation technology such as virtual medical/doctor consultation has helped people during lockdowns. The Covid crisis has forced organisations and governments to adapt and prepare better to tackle future calamities with the aid of technology.

Businesses have seen the advantages and have started deploying smart and intelligent technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to improve safety standards and increase productivity. Thus, it is clear that technology has become an absolute necessity rather than a mere option; its relevance has never been so crucial and without a doubt the use and benefits will play a bigger role post-pandemic across industries locally, regionally and internationally.

What are the biggest challenges hindering tech adoption/data-driven growth in the region? 
Although organisations are implementing advanced technologies, the vast majority still operate on outdated and traditional models, which prevent them from utilising the benefits of the latest available technologies. Secondly, reluctance and resistance from employees in adopting technology poses challenges for companies. Lastly, a lack of skilled professionals is a key factor that has restricted organisations in the region from completing their digital transformation.

Looking ahead, GCC states are seeking to become global knowledge hubs. How can that journey be accelerated?
GCC governments are accelerating their digital transformation journeys with progressive strategies and initiatives. Smart Dubai, Dubai Data Strategy, Saudi Arabia’s The National Strategy for Digital Transformation and the Qatar Smart Program (TASMU) are examples of the regional commitment and ambition to explore all possibilities of technology and its impact on daily life and business. These strategies, roadmaps and ambitions are the key drivers and accelerators of their technological transformation journey.