Accelerating Kosovo’s Digital Economy through Whole-of-Society Digital Transformation

Posted December 23, 2021

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Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of Europe and Central Asia highlighted the importance of digital inclusion in her keynote address at the “Accelerating Kosovo’s Digital Economy through Whole-of-Society Digital Transformation” roundtable held on 9 December 2021. The event brought together prominent speakers from both the public and private sector to share their perspectives on key drivers of Kosovo’s digital economy. Ms. Spoljaric Egger emphasized the strong digital dimension in UNDP’s work around the globe: “Digital is an enabler, not a goal. It changes the very context of development and development cooperation. Reinventing development for the digital age means redesigning development programming with a digital lens on the one hand, and on the other, enabling countries to achieve their development outcomes using technology.”

Ms. Spoljaric Egger highlighted the risk of the digital gender divide. According to the 2021 Inclusive Internet Index, billions of people, predominantly from low-income and lower-middle-income backgrounds, are deprived of the benefits of a digital society. Women and young girls are most affected.

“At the core of the digital gender divide is a combination of factors: the affordability and accessibility of the internet, digital skills, concerns about online safety and security, and opportunities for education and employment of women in the ICT sector.” Accordingly, UNDP is tackling the challenge in many ways. “We work to ensure that gender dimensions are integrated into the design and delivery of digital services so that digitalization does not worsen but, on the contrary, lowers existing inequalities.” 

“Digital transformation must be intentionally inclusive and thoughtfully designed and implemented to ensure that all processes put people at the center, and that no one is left behind,” Ms. Spoljaric Egger concluded. 

Addressing the new Kosovo 2030 Digital Agenda under preparation, Deputy Minister of Economy, Mentor Arifaj, emphasized that people are at the center of whole-of-society digital transformation. “Our digital vision is based on citizen centric services, where transparency and accountability are ensured. We envision digital transformation that allows everyone - whether in rural or urban areas and irrespective of their economic or social status - can benefit from digital. To achieve this vision, joint and coordinated engagement of public and private sector is critical.”

The panel discussion included a video message from UNDP’s Chief Digital Officer Robert Opp who emphasized the importance of ensuring an inclusive approach to digitalization. He highlighted UNDP’s Digital Readiness Assessment as a diagnostic tool identifying the emerging digital gaps and ways to bridge them across the pillars assessed – i.e. infrastructure, legislation, public institutions, private sector, and safe access by the public.

Advisor to the Prime Minister on Information Technology, Lulëzon Jagxhiu, emphasized “Digital transformation is a joint effort of the whole society and economy. With the joint engagement of all parties and well-coordinated efforts, we can benefit from digital transformation.”

Country Manager at SQA Consulting SEE, Kosovo Association for Information Technology and Communication (STIKK) and Innovation Centre Kosovo (ICK) Board Member, Zana Budima, highlighted that Kosovo holds a unique potential to leverage jobs in the digital economy but that there is a need for targeted attention towards ensuring a level playing field for women in terms of education, training and access to financing, encouraging “Everyone who wants to join the ICT sector, whatever the role, however they decide to choose the career, just go for it!”.

The founder and CEO at Gjirafa, Mergim Cahani, added that “We have a unique opportunity for a paradigm shift, not just transformation. [...] So, we can talk about GDP growth and transforming digital, but I think we also cannot ignore the fact that we are living in an age where we have an opportunity to present disruptive technologies that actually are able not to transform, but to do a paradigm shift. […] I would like to encourage everyone: Think Bigger, not all initiatives will work but if one does, it will make a huge impact and make up for the rest.”

Building on the findings of a whole-of-society Digital Readiness Assessment launched by earlier this year, the panel shared their views on priority areas for digital transformation. These include digital skills training and education programmes that are practical and designed to foster a skilled workforce in ICT-related sectors. Also, it was acknowledged that putting in place financial support mechanisms for businesses that can catalyze e-commerce is crucial.

UNDP in Kosovo and the UNDP Chief Digital Office are piloting UNDP’s new, global Digital Readiness Assessment tool with a whole-of-society perspective, assessing the state of play in digitalization across the public and private sector, and identifying challenges and opportunities for accelerating digitalization. This analysis is intended to contribute to and supplement the existing, significant international partnerships built around digitalization in Kosovo, including with the World Bank, the EU and USAID amongst many more partners. After stress-testing ideas and findings during stakeholder consultations with the public and private sector, CSOs and academia in November 2021, UNDP is now exploring best ways to strengthen public-private collaboration to ensure that skills development, investments, entrepreneurship support and e-service expansion underpin the transition towards digital inclusion, digital economy and data exchange. The initiative will contribute directly to the finalization of the Kosovo 2030 Digital Agenda currently under preparation by the Ministry of Economy and partners with expected completion in early 2022.

Read more about the Digital Readiness Assessment in Kosovo.