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World Telecommunication Day 2020: Telecom and CSR

The global telecom industry observes World Telecommunication Day 2020 today. The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on telecom and brought with it a host of opportunities as well, as this video depicts:

Theme for World Telecommunication Day 2020

This year’s theme “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” highlights the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) advances for transitioning to smart and sustainable development. We show you how telecom can be a powerful tool to achieve the SDGs, especially for India.

ICT and digital identity

A growing number of successes stories are emerging, highlighting the possibilities for citizens, governments and private sector actors if digital initiatives are designed with scale and sustainability in mind. For example, the impressive rollout of Aadhaar cards in India, highlights the potential for digital identity to reduce corruption and drive inclusion and efficiency. The World Bank estimates that India has saved one billion US dollars through linking Aadhaar numbers to its government payment programmes, reducing duplicate and ghost payments, improving financial planning and management and increasing transparency.

ICT and CSR in education (SDG 4)

ICT is helping to improve education in India, allowing students to access learning assets and teachers to prepare for classes digitally. ICT can assist in opening up access to education for all, particularly underserved populations and those living in remote, resource-poor areas of India. One such example is Pratham’s PVOS project.
Pratham, India’s largest education NGO, in partnership with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Initiative (SDSN), launched its Virtual Open School programme “Open Schools Online” in 2014, with the aim of leveraging technology to improve quality of education at scale in low-resource settings. Pratham’s Virtual Open Schools (PVOS) project develops and demonstrates low-cost technology and pedagogy interventions that can be scaled to impact children’s ability to learn, and thus their academic outcomes.
PVOS is an out-of-the-box programme to roll out Virtual Learning Centers (VLCs) within schools and communities. Designed as a two-year pilot aimed at 10-18 year olds, the programme provided ‘courses’ that schools, NGOs and local educational entrepreneurs can offer to in-school and out-ofschool children. In 2015-16, foundation courses in Math, English and computer usage were offered across two states in India (Rajasthan and Telengana) both in and outside schools, reaching approximately 2,500 students. Each course required students to attend approximately 30 sessions of 90 minutes each.
For students, the course include interactive course content to be accessed through a laptop or tablet and access to virtual teachers over Skype during every class period. For schools, NGOs and education entrepreneurs, benefits include a web portal to register students and track their learning progress and learning outcomes, training for VLC facilitators and hardware set-up guidelines and support.
In order to be able undertake programme such as the PVOS, students must first have proficiency in basic Hindhi, Mathematics and English. The CSR of Ericsson had partnered with the Pratham Education Foundation to support its Learning Excellence Programme (LEP) in 28 schools in Gurgaon. All teachers were given training throughout the year with the intention of equipping them with the required skills to take students from one learning goal to another. The project also included a library programme which provides assisted reading to all pupils in the school. The basic skills provided by this programme are critical to ensuring their ability to effectively communicate and partake in digital literacy training and engaging with the digital economy.
The PVOS model shows that technology can help overcome the initial barrier of learning, however this must be supported by careful design integration to ensure that children continue to learn and sustain their engagement and performance. The greatest potential of technology in education is its power to deliver large-scale improvements in student learning through a combination of self and group-learning content, structured sessions and accessible teachers. Without carefully integrating technology in the design of education delivery, its impact is likely to be limited. When introduced thoughtfully, it can transform the entire structure of the school system.

ICT and CSR in financial inclusion

One of the greatest advantages of using ICT to deliver services is that access can be cost effectively scaled once the infrastructure is in place. This is particularly significant in the context of achieving target 1.4 (of SDG 1), which requires reaching a large number of poor and vulnerable people in the goal of reducing extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is measured by the World Bank as living on less than $1.25 a day.
Through Internet, broadband and mobile phone-based ICT infrastructure, people living in poverty gain the capability to improve their economic situation by accessing reliable financial services that can provide a vital safety net. From obtaining an account and conducting basic transactions such as money transfers and bill payments, users can move on to access more advanced financial services such as loans and insurance products. The increased access to financial services that ICT enables can in turn encourage private investment, spurring job creation and economic growth for vulnerable target populations.
When it comes to meeting the enormous challenge of rolling out financial services to the unbanked by 2030, ICT can be a powerful accelerator. As well as improving access, mobile—or branchless—banking also offers a number of quality and efficiency gains. It reduces the time and cost required for people to travel to bank locations and wait in line, for instance to pay bills.
CSR of SBI and HDFC Bank is using information flow and data collection to improve customer service by facilitating deposits and transfers. Their programmes also offer a means of providing financial services to those who would otherwise not be eligible for banking services due to low asset ownership.
There are a growing number of examples of mobile money initiatives that provide financial services to a vast population formerly without access to banking services. Mobile technology has enabled a platform for various types of mobile money and services, such as mobile finance, mobile banking and mobile payment. As a result, people can send and receive money, save money, check their account balance, make payments for purchases, pay bills, perform bank transactions and get access to lower cost credit and insurance services. The reduction in use of cash has made such financial services more convenient, affordable and accessible, especially in these times of social distancing.
On World Telecommunication Day 2020, we ask: Can the central and local governments, along with the private sectors prepare for—and implement—this rapid ICT-led advance in India? The answer is yes, provided there is a strong, shared vision of how to proceed and new ICT-supporting policies are quickly put in place.