How skills development contributes to sustainable digitalisation and digital sovereignty

Digital skills development empowers people to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive job markets and fuels economic growth. But in order to lead to long-term benefits for society and the planet, digital skills development has to fit into a comprehensive strategy of sustainable digitalisation.

Sustainable digitalisation refers to a systematic approach of digitalising the economy for the long-term benefit of all. It means empowering local small and medium businesses in the ICT sector and facilitating their growth through B2B relationships with other companies, which often have a lower level of ICT skills. Public administrations choosing European digital SMEs and their specialised software solutions instead of multinationals as partners for their ICT projects also contribute to sustainable digitalisation.

Digital skills development is a crucial base-layer of this process. Without digital skills, there are no ICT businesses to empower. On the other hand, a lack of strong, SME-based innovation ecosystems, means that highly skilled workers will leave the country (or continent) to find good employment elsewhere.

A strategy towards digital sovereignty—achieving a high level of independence from other countries’ (or multinational tech giants’) locked-in software solutions or patents—has to build digital skills from the bottom up: Starting in schools and universities, upskilling SMEs, and ensuring that talent in emerging technologies finds good employment in local innovation ecosystems.

Skills for Sustainable Digitalisation: Doubly important for Emerging Economies

Building a sustainable, resilient, and inclusive digital economy is doubly important for developing countries. While industrialised nations face the challenging task to switch entire sectors from physical to digital (or physical-digital), emerging economies can focus efforts on leapfrogging from predominantly agrarian to information economies.

Countries like Rwanda are already pursuing comprehensive digital skills development for all their citizens. Having faced immeasurable suffering and hardship in preceding decades, the small African country has been pursuing an incredible digital transformation that has brought about a thriving ecosystem of local innovators. Empowering and educating youth and achieving a high degree of gender equality has enabled Rwandan entrepreneurs to find skilled workers for sustained growth in the ICT sector.

Following this strategy has allowed Rwanda to become a digital leader in Africa and future-proof its economy. Instead of relying entirely on foreign technology, the small East-African country is a host of local innovation and software development which now exports its tech to other nations.

Learn more at this year’s LKDF Forum

On 22 September, Rwandan entrepreneur Clarisse Iribagiza and project manager Dr Geraldine Schmitz will present examples of inclusive innovation at our panel at this year’s LKDF Forum by UNIDO. You can learn more about the forum and register here!

This article was developed in the context of #skills4prosperity, a joint campaign by UNIDO‘s Learning and Knowledge Development Facility and the European DIGITAL SME Alliance.