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A challenge for digital inclusivity

It’s a giant brainstorming session with a social mission.

The Ambassador for Cyber Affairs, Dr Tobias Feakin launched the Australia-Solomon Islands Technology for Development Challenge on 27 September 2018. The challenge statement reads, “How might we connect and support young people in the Solomon Islands to maximise their skills and education to access jobs across the country and internationally?”

The Economics of Technology Transfer

The challenges of Industry 4.0 are panacea for all age groups. While the current workforce upgrades their skills, the pipeline of incoming labour needs to posses an equivalent, or if not, a more superior level of skills. Unfortunately, the current education system in the world at large has been inadequate in preparing its students for the future of work.

For countries which already possess a thriving talent pool and deep pockets of financial reserves, the road to industrial transformation is less arduous. Countries like Australia boast a thriving startup scene, has some of the best universities in the world to conduct research and innovation, and sits comfortably on the leader board for technological readiness.

Smaller countries still at development infancy ­are bound to feel the pinch. Without technology transfers through international assistance, they are bound to fall behind.

Interconnectivity in this case is mutually beneficial. In a globalised one trading partner’s inability or unwillingness to upskill and transition could shrink the number of economic markets to venture into and therefore affect the scale of profitability.

The economic theory of technological transfer should not be questioned. The trading partner with a lack of high-skilled labour should accept technological transfers for survival. Once the workforce has developed its capabilities, consumption and R&D follows suit, stimulating national economic growth.

Small’s Big Problems

Solomon Island’s aspirations are exemplary. Driven largely by subsistence and cash crop agriculture, just over a tenth of its population are engaged in the formal economy. This numbers to about 43 500 people, based on 2009 statistics. The Solomon Island’s working population is slightly over 200 000 people.

To cope in a changing world, the Government envisions all Solomon Islanders to develop as individuals and possess the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to earn a living. The desired outcome is fair and equitable opportunities for a better life.

Strides toward embracing a digital future have already been undertaken. In 2017, the Solomon Islands Parliament passed the Solomon Islands Tertiary Education and Skills Authority Act. The Act aims to improve the provision of and access to skills training and improve the contribution that this training makes to local and international labour markets. Furthermore, the Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development is seeking to increase access to technical and vocational education and training through the secondary school system. In turn, students should be able to access job opportunities and plug current labour market gaps.

Kickstarting sustainable change begins with education. A catchall approach, it ensures citizens are equipped with the most rudimentary of skills needed to function in an economy. This is the most realistic and long-term strategy any government can put forth.

No Man is an Island

Considering Solomon Islands to be a key strategic partner, Australia is committed to bring Solomon Islands to the frontier of Industry 4.0.

Already, the Australian Government is working on the Coral Sea Cable Systems Project. Considered to be a project of great implication, the project will deliver faster, cheaper and more reliable internet to Solomon Islands. Solomon Island is highly dispersed and only 100 000 of its 600 000 citizens have Internet access. Most users reside in urban areas and are reliant on satellite technology. The development assistance will facilitate a digital economy and civic participation. Yet, it will expose the Islanders to malicious cyberattacks.

Adding to the theme of digital inclusivity, the Australian Government is calling for submission of ideas on narrowing the incongruence between skills needed and skills training in the Solomon Islands.

Challenge Accepted

The organisers are looking for ideas which address the Challenge Statement. The solutions should be driven by sustainable technology, with cybersecurity and privacy inherent by design. Solutions must have the ability to be prototyped, tested and refined with a view to scalable roll out in the future. The proposed idea should be new or in the early stages of development and be viable, feasible, and sustainable. Local conditions with the end-user i.e. young Solomon Islanders, must be accounted for.

Anyone with a passion for collaboration, technology which collaborates cybersecurity and privacy concerns, understanding of and is committed to supporting the Solomon Islands’ economic growth and prosperity can participate. Hopeful participants must be a registered entity or willing to formally partner with one.

Submissions are accepted between now till 10 December 2018. Winners of the challenge will receive a grant of up to AUD 250 000 to: access professional mentoring from technology, development and cybersecurity experts over the course of two years; develop a prototype and run a trial in the Solomon Islands; and build a scalable business model which can be pitched to potential investors.

Questions on the challenge may be directed to Tech4Dev@dfat.gov.au

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