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Is happiness quantifiable? This is an age-old question that ancient philosophers have tried to answer. Even the meaning of happiness and motivation eludes an exact definition. For utilitarians, happiness is, in its rudimentary sense, the absence of pain and the existence of pleasure. For Aristotle, happiness is the highest good and is closely equated with virtue and purpose, a concept which he referred to as eudaimonia or an activity expressing virtue. 

There is still no single meaning of happiness, more so now that the global economy is struggling to adapt to changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the realm of business, most companies are sustaining their momentum in digital transformation. They are scaling up their operational blueprints and adapting to the new normal of implementing remote workstations. 

They visualise investments in technology and infrastructure to level up their game. However, many of these organisations delay investing in one key area of the workforce – the mental wellness of their employees, their level of happiness. 

An Oxford study shows that a happy worker is 13% more productive. This increased productivity does not just benefit employees; it spills over to company profits and return of investments. Hence, the well-being of employees is equally important as other areas in business operations. 

Sanjeev Magotra: a contextual approach to manage stress and be more productive in the new normal

This is the same sentiment that Joye Founder and CEO Sanjeev Magotra lays on the table. Leveraging this perception, he found an innovative method to use artificial intelligence in tapping into the mental well-being of employees. 

During an exclusive interview with OpenGov Asia, Sanjeev discussed that they have launched an AI-powered digital service to help map out employees’ level of satisfaction, as well as their emotional and mental state. 

Joye was created alongside the company’s vision to attain what Sanjeev referred to as the “10,000-step mental health habit” which is equivalent to taking care of one’s self physically. Joye’s AI is trained to recognise users’ unique situations with extreme privacy, and it will guide you to the right care at the right time.  

Joye incorporates a ‘10,000-step mental habit’ to encourage employees to re-assess and take care of their mental well-being

These suggestions include mood analytics and contextual behaviour tips, podcasts and mindfulness audios. This service tries to understand employees’ feelings through contextual nudges and uses data gathered from these interactions to formulate a plan that would help employees address their life stresses. It also allows them to keep track of their emotional and mental well-being on a daily or weekly basis. 

Sanjeev further explained, “Our vision is that when you finish your video conference, and there’s a lot of stress in that video conference, we’ll pop up the Joye button to help you as opposed to staying stressed and becoming unproductive. We’ll help you immediately express yourself, self-reassess yourself and we will give you behavioural nudges to help you immediately turn positive.” 

The idea behind the Joye application is not new. Sanjeev said that employers have long realised the importance of investing in employees. Employees have also formulated their routines in keeping themselves emotionally predisposed to life and workplace stresses by hanging onto their support systems and social networks.  

What sets apart the Joye application is three-fold. At the outset, Joye is the first company to integrate a voice-enabled interface where individuals can express their feelings. This is in contrast to other apps that rely heavily on chatbots and not on systems that use voice responses. 

The Joye application is a contextual-based tool that maps out a re-assessment plan for individuals based on their interactions with the app

It is also the first firm to insert this type of programme into a company’s existing mental health and employee engagement apps. Sanjeev said that they are looking at enhancing this feature of the Joye app by embedding it in enterprises’ video conferencing programmes especially during the new normal. 

The more important distinction is that while most health platforms bank on mindfulness content or digital therapy and counselling, the Joye app employs a contextual behavioural nudge approach. Sanjeev stressed that “you say what is happening to you and we will tell you what you should do. We try to find out what is happening in your mind and what you should do at that point in time.” 

He was quick to add that the Joye application puts a premium on privacy. Although it uses digital methods to gather and analyse employee data, there is still a cloak of anonymity that keeps these data private. 

Sanjeev added, “Privacy is an important element of our design. We anonymise the data of the employee immediately after the session is finished, but we will keep the analytics so that the employee can see these data from time to time and that is a good way for the employee to manage their fitness over a period of time.” 

Additional challenges during the new normal

The new normal is shaping the way many enterprises work, including looking for innovative ways to run their business workstations. Sanjeev emphasised that remote work opens up additional challenges that piles on top of existing stresses an individual is experiencing. This is where the magic of Joye comes in. 

He also mentioned that the mind is the trigger of all actions and behaviour. The scenario is more amplified when working in a remote environment, as there are lots of new stresses and isolation working in the minds of the employees. This, he said, becomes an additional challenge to address. 

The Joye application tries to nip future issues in the bud by addressing them at a time when they are small and inconsequential before they balloon into bigger problems that are harder to address. 

As the world continues to trudge on during the new normal, some enterprises are adamant in investing in employee support technology like Joye, as they put more value on digital tools that can help streamline their operations. Sanjeev dispelled this notion by saying that investing in employee productivity does wonders to improve profits. 

The Founder of Joye explained that: “if we invest in something like this, first of all, it’s a necessity in the remote working environment. Second, this investment has a very good return on investment in terms of improved productivity for the enterprise.” 

Sanjeev concluded the discussion by leaving food for thought to employers. He reiterated that ultimately, employees’ mental health and well-being are crucial, more now as enterprises embrace a new remote working environment. To ensure that employees’ well-being is prioritised, Joye offers a quality solution. What differentiates it from other apps is that it helps the whole employee population and not just a small number of employees who are in most need of support. Their tool, he added, is for all 100% of employees who experience stress and anxiety daily and this can be overcome by engaging the workforce through a platform like Joye. 

A Hong Kong Baptist University-led (HKBU) research team has launched an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme called “EASE Online” to help people with a social anxiety disorder (SAD). It incorporates virtual reality (VR) scenarios that are common triggers for social anxiety, allowing participants to respond as they would to real-life situations and receive counselling services from mental health professionals.

The programme is recruiting 600 participants aged 18 to 70 with a social anxiety disorder. It will also provide training to around 100 local mental health professionals on how to operate the programme, to serve more people in need in the long run.

Blended mode of counselling to treat social anxiety disorder

People with social anxiety disorder are characterised by excessive fear and anxiety which are disproportionate to the social situations they encounter, such as meeting someone new, eating or even making phone calls in public. This overwhelming fear can keep them away from social contact and prevent them from seeking counselling services.

Dr Pan Jiayan, Associate Professor of the Department of Social Work at HKBU, who led a team comprising investigators from the Department of Social Work and the Department of Computer Science at HKBU, has developed a 13-week programme called “EASE Online” to help them cope with social anxiety and improve their quality of life with CBT. CBT is goal-oriented psychotherapy that helps people cope with life challenges by adjusting their patterns of thinking or behaviour.

Having started in 2020, the four-year EASE Online programme will run until 2023. It adopts a blended mode of service delivery including both online and offline counselling. The online service comprises nine weekly online modules delivered on the programme website or mobile app. The online modules include a briefing on CBT skills, case demonstration videos, exercises and feedback, a forum and self-assessment.

Integration of VR exposure therapy

The counsellor will provide three face-to-face sessions plus two telephone follow-ups to supplement the online service and review the service progress. VR exposure therapy will be adopted in two out of the three face-to-face sessions. The research team designed five VR environments that reflect real-life scenarios, such as giving a presentation and attending a job interview, for participants to experience the anxiety and fear associated with such settings.

These scenarios are designed by the research team and delivered in Cantonese. They are adapted and produced from local cases to fit the language and cultural context of Hong Kong.

Therapist-guided VR exposure therapy is an intermediate treatment step for SAD clients that exposes them to real-life social situations. A trained counsellor will guide participants in person throughout the exposure process and provide a debriefing for them on a variety of strategies as well as advice on how to tackle social anxiety.

To evaluate the effectiveness of the programme, participants need to fill in an online questionnaire upon completion of the programme, and at three- and six-month follow-ups, respectively.

Novel alternative tackles social anxiety

“Social anxiety disorder sufferers feel more than just shy or nervous in certain social circumstances. Their difficulty in building up good social and interpersonal relationships brings them unspeakable pain,” said Dr Pan.

Online counselling and VR exposure therapy create a safe and non-threatening environment for people with social anxiety to learn how to cope with fearful social situations. It is especially suitable for those who do not want to be stigmatised by society or cannot afford traditional face-to-face counselling services. The team hopes that the EASE Online programme will bring SAD sufferers’ social life back on track, Dr Pan added.

The programme is supported by a grant of more than HK$6 million from the Research Impact Fund of the University Grants Committee and HKBU. Besides investigators from HKBU, the EASE Online programme team also includes researchers from the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University, and the programme has also partnered with the Richmond Fellowship of Hong Kong and the Caritas Wellness Link – Tsuen Wan.

The energy consumption of a new artificial visual system developed through joint research led by City University of Hong Kong (CityU) can be reduced by over 90% per synaptic event when compared to synapses in the human brain. The new system’s low energy usage will be a boon to the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI), helping to perform data-intensive cognitive tasks as effectively as the human brain.

The findings of the research team led by Professor Johnny Ho Chung-yin, Associate Head in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) at CityU, have been published in Science Advances titled “Artificial visual system enabled by quasi-two-dimensional electron gases in oxide superlattice nanowires”.

Scientists have been trying to develop AI computers that can be as light, energy-efficient and adaptable as the human brain. Communication between neurons occurs at tiny gaps called synapses in the human brain. An artificial synapse mimics the brain’s efficient neural signal transmission and memory formation process.

“Unfortunately, effectively emulating the brain’s function of neural network connections in existing artificial synapses through an ultralow-power manner is still challenging,” said Professor Ho.

To enhance the energy efficiency of artificial synapses, the research team has introduced quasi-two-dimensional electron gases (quasi-2DEGs) into artificial neuromorphic systems for the first time. The team has designed quasi-2DEG photonic synaptic devices using their newly developed oxide superlattice nanowires, a kind of semiconductor that allows the electrons to move freely in the superlattice interface.

These devices can achieve record-low energy consumption, down to sub-femtojoule (0.7fJ) per synaptic event. This translates as a decrease of 93% in energy consumption when compared with synapses in the human brain.

Upon exposure to light pulse, a series of reactions between the oxygen molecules in the environment and free electrons inside the oxide superlattice nanowires was induced, changing the conductance of the photonic synapses and resembling that seen in the biological synapse. Hence the quasi-2DEG photonic synapses can mimic how the neurons in the human brain transmit and memorise signals.

The special properties of the superlattice nanowire materials enable human synapses to have both photo-detecting and memory functions simultaneously. The team’s device can save energy as there is no need to construct additional memory modules for charge storage in an image sensing chip, Professor Ho explained.

This artificial visual system could accurately and efficiently detect a patterned light stimulus and “memorise” the shape of the stimuli for as long as an hour. “It is just like how our brain remembers what we see for some time,” said Professor Ho.

The team’s experiments have demonstrated that the artificial visual system with human photonic synapses could simultaneously perform light detection, brain-like processing and memory functions in an ultralow-power manner. They believe their findings can provide a promising strategy to develop bionic devices, electronic eyes, and multifunctional robotics in the future, the Professor added.

The synthesis of the photonic synapses and the artificial visual system does not require complex equipment, either. The devices can be made using flexible plastics in a scalable and low-cost manner.

Professor Ho is the corresponding author of the paper. The co-first authors are Meng You and Li Fangzhou, PhD students from MSE. Other team members include Dr Bu Xiuming, Dr Yip Sen-po, Kang Xiaolin, Wei Renjie, Li Dapan and Wang Fei, all from CityU. Other collaborating researchers come from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Kyushu University, and the University of Tokyo. The study received funding support from CityU, the Research Grants Council of Hong Kong SAR, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Science, Technology and Innovation Commission of Shenzhen Municipality.

The new strain of the COVID-19 virus was first discovered in South East Asia when a 45-person cluster got infected in Malaysia from a traveller who returned from India and breached his 14-day quarantine. The Philippines detected the strain among random COVID-19 samples in the largest city of its capital region. Since then, the world has been struggling to cope with the mutation that seems to be far more infectious.

The mutation called D614G makes a small but effective change in the virus’s spike protein, which the virus uses to enter the human cell. “The mutation is said to have a higher possibility of transmission or infectiousness, but we still don’t have enough solid evidence to say that that will happen,” Philippines’ Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a virtual briefing.

Graph: depicting the prevalence of the spike mutation in new cases in one UK lab, among RT-PCR Tests

The strain has been found in many other countries and has become the predominant variant in Europe and the US but the World Health Organization says there is no evidence the strain leads to more severe disease.

There’s no evidence from the epidemiology that the mutation is considerably more infectious than other strains, said Benjamin Cowling, head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s more commonly identified now than it was in the past, which suggests that it might have some kind of competitive advantage over other strains of Covid-19.”

Managing the pandemic at a national and global level is extremely difficult at it is being done in an environment cynicism of public health institutions. Data breaches of hospitals, health facilities and similar databases have been a fairly regular occurrence.

National responses to outbreaks vary greatly from country to country and there have been conflicting messages between leaders, health agencies and experts. These have fostered increased concern and confusion in the wider population. As Southeast Asian countries take various steps to prevent a resurgence while reopening limited travel, they struggle with people breaching quarantine rules after returning from overseas as well as false-negative test results at borders.

The delays in rolling out available vaccines and the discovery of new strains have forced a number to countries to go into lockdowns again and enforce stricter social distancing norms and restrictions.

In an increasingly tech-dependent and tech-driven world, it is pertinent that the healthcare sector explores new technologies to provide information, options and advice. Citizens need safe and secure solutions that can help them track, monitor and manage risk from the virus and also help them go out for work and fulfil essential tasks of daily life.

Novel technologies and platforms, of course, have been launched to help inform citizens on testing, care and movement. The most well-known of these would be contact tracing and symptom-reporting apps, some of which are increasingly being deployed by local and national public health agencies.

Liberty and Passage is one such solution for this persisting problem. Developed by Access Anywhere, the total outbreak management system combines several cutting edge technologies on one platform that can be used across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. It is a useful tool for all industries to restart their business.

Using AI and ML, Liberty & Passage has been designed to help provide relevant timely information and build the confidence required to restart free movement between countries and continents, giving travellers when crossing borders and authority’s confidence when processing foreign visitors at customs.

With these critical features, Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations, and the entire travel industry.

The platform is designed for the entire population with Liberty Open designed to manage personal risk, Liberty Corporate for organisations to ensure a safe return to work and Liberty Passage for travel and reopening of borders. Everyone gains from the vast insights the system provides to be able to go about their normal lives while keeping as safe as possible against this virulent threat.

By joining the three pillars together, ‘the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts’ giving the general public, employees and travellers freedom to move with confidence and a more intelligent understanding of their risk exposure using cutting edge technology.

Tech innovation is helping to manage the pandemic and better equip countries when dealing with the current public health emergency and for future public health emergencies. Outbreak management systems will be the key in building confidence, mitigating risk and enhancing safety in everyday life.

For more information on how the Liberty Solution works – please visit www.libertyandpassage.com

A local tech firm operating under the Hong Kong Smart Government Innovation Lab recently announced that it has launched a new solution. It is now ready to be acquired by companies and institutions.

Solution description

Conversational user experience

Chatbots offer a new and flexible way for businesses to create a brand-new experience for mobile users. Chatbot responses are conversational, it can give personalised suggestions, answer enquiries, process orders, show the effect of a certain product or update the latest news stories etc.

Natural language processing – can understand Cantonese, Mandarin and More

The firm has designed a bot that uses Natural Language Processing (NLP) to understand the meaning behind what is being said to it; the bot can also respond appropriately. Modern NLP relies on machine learning, which means the bot is continually learning from the conversations it’s having and improving its own performance.

Artificial Intelligence – can provide personal recommendations via machine learning

The research found that 35% of what consumers purchase on the leading online shopping site and 75% of what they watch on an American over-the-top content platform come from product recommendations. The HK tech firm’s bot can be trained to learn what user’s like or dislike and make personalised recommendations about users’ products.

Application Areas

The solution was designed to be applied across a variety of areas including Broadcasting, City Management, Climate and Weather, Commerce and Industry, Development, Education, Employment and Labour, Environment, Finance, Food, Health, Housing, Infrastructure, Law and Security, Population, Recreation and Culture, Social Welfare as well as Transport.

Technologies Used

The solution employs Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.

Use case

Use case 1

The firm’s chatbots enable customers to engage with utility services via a self-service experience that is highly efficient, check for plan usage and purchase bonus service options on various social media sites, buy prepaid plans and recharge data plan without the need of visiting a store, troubleshoot for customers who need advice when installing new equipment, modifying service plans and connecting with a live agent if needed.

Goal: Drive revenue via various messaging channels and provide scalable services to customers with an immediate response.

Functionality: Mobile Usage Data, Consumption Controls, eCommerce Integration, Step-by-step Troubleshooting, Surveys

Integration with: Product Database, CRM Software, Support Ticketing Software, Plan and Billing Database

 

Use case 2

The firm deployed the chatbot for the government sector and other public institutions for help desk support.

About the Smart Government Innovation Lab

In 2018, the Government established the Smart Government Innovation Lab to explore hi-tech products such as AI and relevant technologies, including machine learning, big data analytics, cognitive systems and intelligent agent, as well as blockchain and robotics from firms, especially local start-ups.

The Lab is always on the lookout for innovation and technology (I&T) solutions that are conducive to enhancing public services or their operational effectiveness. I&T suppliers are encouraged to regularly visit the Lab’s website to check on the current business and operational needs in public service delivery and propose innovative solutions or product suggestions to address them.

The Digital Economy Promotion Agency (Depa) plans to roll out artificial intelligence (AI) university project and drone academy this year, as part of the agency’s plan to drive digital skills and support the digital economy.

The AI university project is meant to provide AI knowledge to learning programmes and workshops at designated universities, while the drone academy is set to help Thais learn how to use drones for their businesses, particularly in the agricultural sector.

The Depa president and chief executive stated that the projects are part of the agency’s strategic cooperation plans aiming at digital economy development, which covers digital transformation, manpower skill enhancement and startup incubation.

About THB200 million will be used to develop the AI university project, with half the amount budgeted by Depa and the remainder by private entities through a matching fund. For the drone academy, Depa plans to set aside THB50 million to develop the project and a matching fund will earmark another 50 million.

Universities are being considered for the AI project, with Mahidol, Chulalongkorn and Thammasat the main contenders, he said.

He noted that drones are a new technology for Thais in terms of business use, especially big drones, which are very useful in several sectors, including agriculture and logistics. When the drone business approaches maturity, international tech companies will come and invest in this segment in Thailand. Depa will also support AI courses at four vocational schools in 2021, targeting 150 students at each school.

The agency also aims to incubate 70 start-ups throughout 2021 under a start-up fund. This is an increase from 50 start-ups this year. These start-ups’ operations must be linked with the country’s core technology development and infrastructures in five digital service areas: agriculture, education, finance, tourism and healthcare.

The aim is meant to support digital start-ups while the economy is sluggish and accelerate the digital service transformation to improve people’s quality of life. Through the start-up fund, Depa plans to spend THB1 million on each start-up in the initial development stage.

Another THB5 million will be allocated to each start-up when they begin to grow their business. Some 120 start-ups have been financially supported by Depa the past two years. Their combined business valuation is THB7 billion.

In addition, the agency is supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), communities and farmers in terms of digital adoption, he said. Some 350 SMEs, 100 communities and 3,000 farmers are under the Depa’s assistance programme. They can use digital solutions and services provided by tech start-ups at half the cost because of Depa’s subsidy, he said.

In the first quarter of 2021, Depa plans on unveiling a labelling scheme called “d Sure” to guarantee the functionality, safety and security of digital products sold in the country. The scheme should help people to choose trustworthy digital items; it is expected to be a boon for innovation adoption.

Depa will work with the National Science Technology Development Agency and the Thai Industrial Standards Institute on this scheme, he said. The programme should make consumers more confident in their decisions to buy digital devices, ranging from drones and Internet of Things gadgets to CCTV cameras and wearable devices.

Digital product producers or importers can ask to test their equipment to receive the label. Three security camera brands and five drones’ brands have qualified for the standard. Depa plans to roll out a new mobile app called “d Hunt” to search for digital services or tech professionals that can assist people.

The astronomical rates of transmission and a lack of a sure cure for COVID-19 till now has been reason enough for global leaders and citizens to have grave concerns. With the promise of a slew of vaccines, this panic has been somewhat assuaged but extreme caution is still the order of the day.

To their credit, many countries were quick to realise technology’s potential in effectively managing the impact of the virus. Tech giants across the globe supported governments by launching AI-powered solutions and applications to help citizens control risk.

Solutions had to be created under extreme pressure and absurdly tight timelines, leading to phenomenal creativity. Here are some of the significant ways in which technology has and can help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic:

Using AI to Identify, Track and Forecast Outbreaks

AI-based solutions have been designed to detect an outbreak with the premise that the better one can track the virus, the better chances of dealing with it. Such solutions can detect an outbreak by analysing news reports, social media platforms and government platforms.

Canadian startup BlueDot’s, San Francisco’s Metabiota, and Boston’s health map are few examples where the power of AI was harnessed to warn people of the threat days before the WHO issued its public warnings.

Liberty and Passage by Access Anywhere is a prime example of this technological application. Developed by Access Anywhere, it is a total outbreak management system that combines a plethora of cutting-edge technologies on a single platform. Liberty & Passage is an outbreak management solution for individuals, organisations and the entire travel industry.

Extremely versatile, it can be deployed across various sectors including airports, cruise lines, immigration and tourism boards. Its ease of use, flexibility and scalability means it can be a significant tool for organisations in almost any sector to restart their business safely.

Using AI to Help Diagnose the Virus

Infervision, an AI company had launched a coronavirus AI solution that helps front line healthcare workers detect and monitor the disease efficiently. It also has the capacity to improve the speed of a CT diagnosis. Alibaba has built an AI-powered diagnosis system, which is 96% accurate in diagnosing the virus in seconds.

Using Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies

Drone delivery is considered the safest and fastest ways to deliver medical supplies during a disease outbreak. For example, Terra Drones is using their unmanned aerial vehicles to transport medical samples and quarantine material with minimal risk. Additionally, drones are being used to patrol public spaces and track non-compliance of quarantine mandates.

Using Chatbots To Share Information

Chatbots are an effective way for people to get specific information and advice. For instance, Tencent operates WeChat, where people can access free online health consultation services. Similarly, the travel and tourism sector has immensely benefited from the use of chatbots.

Using AI to Identify Infected Individuals

As the COVID-19 virus transitioned from an outbreak to a full-on pandemic, China’s sophisticated surveillance system used facial recognition technology and temperature detection software from SenseTime to identify people who have developed a fever and were likely to have been infected by the virus.

Technological innovations like ‘Smart Helmets’ are also being used by officials in Sichuan province to identify people with raised temperatures. Additionally, the Chinese Government’s monitoring system, Health Code, uses big data to identify and assess the risk of each individual based on their travel history.

Innovation in technology is helping to mitigate the impact of the current pandemic by keeping people informed and abreast with the latest developments and encouraging them to take all the necessary precautions.

With the discovery of the new COVID-19 strain and experts declaring the pandemic to be a recurring feature in the future one can only see technologies like AI and Machine learning playing a pertinent role in keeping people and organisations up and running.

A virtual disaster resilience programme has been launched in the Philippines in a bid to improve disaster preparedness and further scale up community resilience. 

The local government of Muntinlupa City has recently unveiled the Mobile Learning Hub, an application that gives insights on disaster and emergency protocols through virtual reality. The Hub is a project of the Department of Disaster Resilience and Management (DDRM) and is the first of this type of disaster preparedness project in Metro Manila. 

Muntinlupa City Mayor Jaime Fresnedi referred to this project as a state-of-the-art ‘learning bus’. He highlighted that once open to the public, the Hub shall provide better disaster prevention tips by using VR representations.  

The Mayor explained that city residents looking to get more insights on disaster preparedness can visit the Hub’s VR area. Once inside, residents will be given VR headsets and instructions. The Hub shall provide a realistic backdrop of what transpires during a calamity through holistic, visual and sound-based reflections of various weather disturbances. 

The Hub has an interactive lecture area where informative materials and videos on disaster prevention, first aid response and management, life support protocols and other calamity preparedness measures shall be showcased. Learning materials covering COVID-19 protective measures shall also form part of the exhibit. 

It is anticipated that as residents experience being in “close-to-actual” scenarios during natural calamities like earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions and storms, they will be more familiar with emergency and disaster procedures. Residents are likewise exposed virtually to other disasters like bomb explosions, landslides and even chemical poisoning through the virtual hub. 

The City Mayor added that the Learning Hub can be utilised to empower and entice more residents of the Muntinlupa to improve their preparedness. This is one solution that the City said will spread more awareness on climate change adaptation and risk reduction. 

For his part, Muntinlupa City DDRM Chief Erwin Alfonso said they are looking at providing mainstream disaster mitigation and resiliency measures. This they plan to achieve by providing different learning resources to communities and sectors considered more vulnerable to certain calamities. 

The DDRM Chief also stated: “The Learning Hub is expected to visit several communities during the time of the pandemic. [H]ealth and safety protocols will be strictly implemented and regular disinfection of the facility will be conducted.”  

As of writing, the complete schedule of operations of the Mobile Learning Hub is yet to be released on DDRM’s Facebook page. 

This recent addition to the local city government’s roster of disaster preparedness schemes comes on the heels of the release of the 2020 Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI). The Index showed that Muntinlupa ranked first in resiliency among highly urbanised cities. In terms of competitiveness, Muntinlupa ranked fifth while the City of Manila topped the list, followed closely by Davao, Pasay and Makati.

The CMCI is an annual ranking created by the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Competitiveness Council which covers over 140 cities and municipalities nationwide. The criteria used by the Index include economic dynamism, government efficiency, infrastructure and resiliency to calamities and disasters. 

The local and national governments are making strides in their rollout of innovative projects intended to ensure smooth transactions in government. With this objective on the table, the government allocated a bigger budget this year to the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). A big chunk of this budget will be allotted for the department’s National Broadband Programme or the NBP.  

This month, as cited in a report by OpenGov Asia, the DICT said it has installed 4,395 live broadband sites under its Free Wi-Fi for All Programme (FW4A) This number is a massive increase from the number of internet sites put up since 2016.

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