By Gustavo Montalvo, Chairman of WSIS Forum 2020
ITU News recently connected with Gustavo Montalvo, the Minister of the Presidency of the Dominican Republic and Chairman of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2020 to discuss why WSIS will be so important and how the Dominican Republic is expanding its digital development efforts.
Why are you looking forward to chairing the WSIS Forum this year?
For the Dominican Republic, it is an honor to chair the 2020 WSIS Forum. Our country commends the work of ITU and Secretary General, Mr. Houlin Zhao, which culminated in the WSIS Forum becoming a world-class platform for the exchange of knowledge, experiences and good practices ICTs implemented by member countries and stakeholders.
As the first Latin American country to preside over the WSIS Forum, the Dominican Republic sees this distinction as a recognition of our continuous efforts toward the implementation of inclusive policies set by the national government in recent years.
The fact that for the first time this summit is taking place virtually highlights the importance of the ongoing digital transformation. The value of new technologies has never been so clear as in recent months as new means of communicating and working.
In fact, ICT tools have proved indispensable to fight the coronavirus pandemic while keeping our economies going, keeping business activities running, avoiding greater job losses and reduction of economic activity.
As teleworking has already become part of our daily life, it is possible that once the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed, the current ways of telecommuting and remote work will become the new normal for many organizations.
What ICT developments has the Dominican Republic achieved that have had the biggest impact to improve lives?
One of such efforts in the República Digital Program (literally translated as Digital Republic). This multi-pillar scheme is an attempt to revolutionize every aspect of society and the economy with the aggressive implementation of technological advancement to help integrate our population into the information society and bridge the digital divide.
In line with República Digital, the current Dominican administration has distributed electronic devices for learning to 343,725 public system students and enrolled over 600 thousand pupils in robotics and science programs among many more important initiatives. There are other projects in the pipeline such as the installation of over 1,000 wifi points, the deployment of 1,200 km of fiber optic infrastructure and the training of over 50,000 students in applied technologies through Apptiva-T.
The Dominican Republic is pushing the boundaries of technology in the public sector with over 1,000 government services being offered online involving over 99 public institutions.
With the successful implementation of these initiatives, the country stands to improve standards of living across the board.
In the next few years, what are the priorities for ICT development in your country — and the region?
The pandemic and its aftermath have made us double down on the support for República Digital and the need to expand internet access throughout the country.
Despite of the progress made in our telecommunications ecosystem and the narrowing of the digital gap, we recognize that there is still work to be done. The WSIS Forum is a good occasion to reflect on the future challenges our country and Latin America face.
The pandemic has shown that too many students are still not able to carry on their schoolwork on a totally virtual platform due to lack of devices, training or proper connectivity. Too many of our workers could not make the shift to virtual labor and many of our companies were not able to compete in a digital economy whose advent has been accelerated by the pandemic.
We must give our workers the necessary training so that employment is sustained regardless of technological disruptions. We need better connected communities that can have more access to information and are able to use ICTs to improve their productivity and quality of life.
Challenges remain for our Latin American region. We must answer questions such as: How can we use information technologies to have more livable and resistant cities, for example, in the face of a pandemic? How can we use them so that the elderly or people with disabilities can live fuller lives? How can we use tools, such as augmented reality, to advance the Sustainable Development Goals? And what is the role of youth, women or the private sector in each step of this process? We want a future for our countries in which they are more prosperous and freer. With increasingly healthy, more educated and safer societies. With a living democracy that accompanies increasingly participatory and transparent governments.
What are some of the biggest benefits of WSIS — in general and for your country?
We must reflect on how the Fourth Industrial Revolution will impact labor markets. But above all, what should we do to take advantage of the opportunities that arise, while mitigating the risks that come with any technological change?
Together we can erect a world where these technologies serve to create more egalitarian and inclusive societies, with more opportunities for all. For this reason, it is very positive that the International Telecommunication Union and the United Nations assume as indispensable the need to combine the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals with the development of information technologies.
The WSIS Forum is a great opportunity to further all of these goals.