The IFIP World IT Forum (WITFOR) 2016 concluded in San Jose, Costa Rica last week with calls for developing nations to take decisive action to prevent mass job losses as a result of digital disruption.

Final keynote speaker, Dr Chrisanthi Avgerou, raised concerns about the potential impacts on jobs, saying that large parts of the population in developing countries are unable to take advantage of digital technologies because of limited access or a lack of skills, and could get left behind.

She also highlighted the impacts of digital development in advanced post-industrial countries as posing serious challenges for the developing world.

Dr Avgerou suggested two ways that developing nations could avoid mass unemployment:

  1. International regulations to delay or address the labour replacement effect, ensuring that appropriate measures are in place to protect jobs; and
  2. Strengthen areas of job and income creation.

She also highlighted three areas where governments should develop policies designed to boost economic growth and development:

  1. A strong focus on education, particularly in the area of exercising critical judgment;
  2. Regulation (and deregulation) to safeguard against the risks relating to privacy and cybersecurity; and
  3. International negotiations to alleviate the problems of jobless growth.

IFIP WITFOR 2016 attracted nearly 200 delegates and speakers from across Latin America and around the globe, focused on how technologies can be applied to further the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and enhance economic growth in the developing world.

Digitize, Digitize, Digitize

Earlier, delegates heard that that adopting technology is the key to solving the development challenges of productivity and innovation. In his keynote address, Dr Robert Atkinson, founder and president of international think tank, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), said Latin America and other developing nations must digitize as many processes as possible.

In considering the topic, “ICT and Innovation: What Firms in Developing Countries Can Do to Compete in the Global Economy?”, Dr Atkinson said productivity must come from new tools, particularly ICT tools, and using technology is more important than producing it.

“Firms in developing nations must adopt more ICT and digital business practices are essential for driving productivity and growth,” he said.

Dr Atkinson offered three strategies for companies wanting to enable growth:

  • Put enterprise first: the Cloud is much more plug and play and requires less ICT skills;
  • Enable scale: larger firms are more productive than smaller firms and use more ICT.
  • Embrace disruption.

He also highlighted a clear role for governments in developing policies that encourage and enable development:

  1. Put ICT-led productivity growth first. Nations need innovation in all industries;
  2. Do not raise ICT costs;
  3. Do not burden ICT-enabled business models – keep necessary service available and affordable;
  4. Make government a force for digital innovation.

Dr Atkinson also refuted claims that technology and automation will have a negative impact on the number of available jobs, saying that new technologies will translate to more positions and new job opportunities.

The WITFOR 2016 program also featured keynote presentations by:

  • Dave Hoelscher, Marketing Director of IoT Solutions, with Huawei, based in Shenzhen, China;
  • Malcolm Johnson, Deputy Secretary-General of the ITU (International Telecommunications Union); and
  • Erick Mata, Associate Professor at the School of Computer Science of the Costa Rica Institute of Technology (ITCR) and former head of the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.

WITFOR has been organized by IFIP every few years since 2003 in cooperation with key stakeholders in the host country. To date, WITFOR has been held in Lithuania in 2003, in Botswana in 2005, in Ethiopia in 2007, in Vietnam in 2009 and in India in 2012.