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How Bold Ideas, Technology, and Collaboration Can Bridge the Rural-Urban Divide
By Marco Landi, President, Polycom Asia Pacific
Equity of access and inclusive growth have long been at the forefront when it comes to the economic and development agendas of many nations - from availability of high speed broadband networks in rural Australia, to the provision of quality healthcare and education in India, China, and Vietnam. In fact, at the World Economic Forum’s ‘Shaping Davos’ event held earlier this year, the economic impact of the increasing urban and rural divide was a hot topic for discussion as it continues to be a key factor in intensifying political tension within several countries.
At a time when the inequalities between city and rural communities continue to mar transformational growth within Asia Pacific (APAC), it is clear that a catalyst for transformational change is urgently needed. Governments throughout the region are actively ‘thinking big’ as they seek innovative ways to create more job opportunities, improve parities in income levels, and expand access to quality healthcare and education in rural areas within their respective countries. China’s recently-announced, ‘One Belt, One Road’ mega infrastructure initiative is a great example of thinking big–a project of mammoth proportions which aims to bring more than 60 countries together to build the infrastructure needed to drive economic growth in APAC and beyond.
Technology Lag is Stifling Growth
Despite the current challenges and need for transformational change, APAC continues to be a region of huge potential. Not surprising, given that it is home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies. In fact, according to the International Monetary Fund, this diverse region is expected to lead in global growth in 2018, remaining strong at over five percent. However, it is not all positive news. Issues like ageing populations and reduced productivity have been flagged as potential growth threats. What caught my attention the most in this report, was that the productivity problems flagged were due to a need for more technology ‘catch up’ even though countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand have rapidly progressed in this sphere.
While developing economies like India and Malaysia are well-placed for rapid digital growth, more digitally advanced countries in the region such as Australia and South Korea are at risk of falling behind from slowing momentum.
There is a marked correlation between economic development and access to technology. Take India as an example, 70 percent of its one billion population lives in rural areas but currently only about 400 million people have Internet access.
Big Ideas Are Needed To Identify Smart Ways To Connect People And Communities For The Greater Good Of Their Economies
Collaboration Technology as Catalyst to ‘Build Bridges’
Let us put aside the science and mechanics of technology for a minute to understand its impact at a socio-economic level. At the very heart of it, technology is about human interaction – it enables connections and the transfer of ideas and knowledge across great distances. Access to the Internet and the ability to connect to experts, peers, other cities and institutions, brings with it knowledge and improved status for self-development, lowering socio-economic barriers that cause divisions between urban and rural societies.
Collaboration technology, particularly high definition video, audio, and content-sharing, is an enabler not just in bringing people together and keeping them informed, but also in transforming productivity, workflows, and ultimately business results and outcomes. How does that translate to everyday life? It is when a renowned higher education institution can extend post-graduate learning to more cities around India, or when critical healthcare services can be provided to remote populations in India or Vietnam, and when emergency preparedness and disaster management during bushfire season in New South Wales, Australia can be strategically coordinated across hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
Inclusive Growth and the Changing Workplace
Technology has also been the catalyst for change in the workplace–such as the evolution of workspace design, which encompasses wireless and agile technology, to the changing habits of people who are choosing to work from anywhere. Research has shown us that almost two-thirds of the global working populations take advantage of flexible work practices, while an overwhelming 97 percent of respondents from five APAC countries (Australia, China, India, Japan, and Singapore) believed collaboration technologies were important in bringing colleagues closer together.
How do these changes signal a step towards reducing inequality? What flexible or ‘anywhere working’ can do for productivity is, tackle a multitude of human capital challenges, including talent shortages, an ageing workforce, or the lack of rural job opportunities. This progression has even led to the OECD calling out flexible work policies as a recommendation to tackling inequality and promoting inclusive growth.
More Bold Ideas Needed to Close the Digital Divide
While there is still much to be done, it is encouraging to note that governments across APAC are recognizing technology as an enabler towards decreasing inequality and driving productivity. In addition to the nation-wide Digital India drive, programs such as Australia’s National Innovation & Science Agenda, the EU-funded Asi@ Connect project, and Singapore’s ongoing ‘Smart Nation’ initiatives are among the many steps laid by governments in the region in digitally transforming and bringing about vast changes in economy and society.
Governments in the region need to continue to ‘think big’ and ‘think bold’ in their application of technologies if they plan on achieving real sustainable progress in more cities. Big ideas are needed to identify smart ways to connect people and communities for the greater good of their economies and efforts to overcome social disparities. Technological advancement towards progress and productivity will be a critical priority to ensure that inequalities are lessened for generations to come.