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Digital Transformation

On Digital Globalization and Closing Digital Divides: World Economic Forum Panel Discussion

Technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are reshaping everything from economies to the nature of work. As this transformation takes shape, it’s important that this wave of digital globalization doesn’t leave people behind and is broad-based and inclusive. This was the theme of a panel discussion titled “Making Digital Globalization Inclusive” on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The panel was moderated by Heather Long, Economics Correspondent, Washington Post. Keith Block, co-CEO of Salesforce, participated and other panelists included: Michael S. Dell, Chairman and CEO, Dell Technologies; Gayle E. Smith, President and CEO, ONE; Erik Brynjolfsson, Director, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, MIT Sloan School of Management; C. Vijayakumar, President and CEO, HCL Technologies; and Michael Froman, Vice Chairman and President of Strategic Growth, Mastercard.

Digital technologies and processes now exert a larger impact on GDP growth than merchandise trade, according to the World Economic Forum, making it easier for organizations to globalize with less capital-intensive business models, yet also opening new digital divides. Panelists discussed ways to bridge those divides and create more equitable outcomes.

Addressing Digital Divides

The panelists agreed that businesses and governments alike are going to have to make commitments to reskilling the workforce.

“The convergence of all of these technologies has created opportunity and divide,” Block said. “What I think about is society, government, public sector and private sector working together, hand-in-glove, to effectively absorb these technologies not just to provide access, but to make sure people are reskilled and that we don’t have massive job loss without massive job creation.”

“I don’t know if robots-per-capita is a measurement,” Dell said, “but if it were it seems to me that the countries that are most roboticized actually have the lowest unemployment rates. I’m not convinced that technology is a big part of the problem. We do need to develop skills, and I think that companies play a big role here.” He said that his company sees a shortage of talent and that seeking talent from other companies isn’t the best answer, while training, retraining and reskilling workers hold great promise.

Block pointed to education as an equalizer. “We have to look at the root issue — the root issue is opportunity and equality, and that starts with accessibility. Technology is a great equalizer. If people have access to technology, there is so much opportunity to create jobs, to create wealth, to do the right thing as good corporate citizens,” he said.

Michael Dell discusses making digital globalization inclusive in Davos.

Challenges or Opportunities?

While there are great challenges in making digital globalization inclusive, all of the panelists expressed optimism about doing so. “Over the past 30 years, the outcomes for most people have improved far more than anyone would have expected,” Dell said. “So I think of it as the digital opportunity, and I think we’re just at the beginning of that as we look out toward a whole new wave of technologies that are just arriving. The other thing that gives me great hope and optimism is that the rising generation doesn’t see it the way the old folks see it. In our own company, for example, the rising generation is far more diverse than ever before.”

Smith noted that as companies and governments make commitments to closing digital divides, others will follow. “Where there is a model of success, people want to follow it,” she said.

Froman noted that access to technology is opening up the financial system to traditionally marginalized populations.

“I think that technology is setting the table for our future,” Block said. “I very much echo what Michael said. We have to look at a younger generation who views things through a very different lens. They’re more community-minded, they care about how they live, they care about their environment, they care about their people in a different way. And I get very optimistic when I get to spend time with these people because they just bring a different perspective. It’s a cliché to say, but everything is in their hands. They understand technology. They understand the implications of technology.”


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