IGF 2021 – Day 0 – Event #134 Cross-sectoral cooperation for digital inclusion

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.




>> JOLANTA JAWORSKA: My understanding is we also have the English-speaking participants.


And I think we need to wait a moment for the in‑person.

>> We all live in a digital world.

We all need it to be open and safe.  We all want to trust.

>> And to be trusted.

>> We all despise control.

>> And desire freedom.

>> We are all united.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI:  Okay.  So good morning, everyone.  Welcome to the Internet Governance Forum 2021, I think this is the first of the session of the day ‑‑ one of the first sessions of the day, and here we are about to talk about the digital divide in Poland and my name is Ignacy Swiecicki, Polish Economic Institute; Maria Thun‑Janowska, Kyndryl; and Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz, Alex Tarkowski, and Jolanta Jaworska.


>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: As I said, we want to talk about the digital divide in Poland.  This is an issue for a number ‑‑ that for recent, it was less of a subject in the public discussion and now the pandemic has changed it you will and it’s resurfaced as a problem in Poland.  We in the Polish Economic Institute published the gaps in the broadband infrastructure in Poland and I would diagnose that there are over 50 million people that live in areas that are at risk of digital exclusion due to low quality of broadband Internet access.

So now, with the pandemic, the issue of digital exclusion is, again, one of the main challenges for Poland.  Having said that, I would like to ask my guests to say what are their priorities, what do they see as the main challenge in this area?  And I would like to start with Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz of Orange Foundation.  Konrad, if you could please start and elaborate a bit as what you see as the main challenge in determines of digital divide in Poland.

>> KONRAD CIESIOLKIEWICZ: Thank you very much once again.  I would like to express my profound gratitude for inviting me here to this session and to have an opportunity to be and to discuss such a crucial issue.  So, yes, as you said, we have published these reports concerning the social digital exclusion.  First of all, due to the fact that the first organization, as far as I know, that defines and treats social digital exclusion or digital is OECD, the Division for Economic Cooperation and Development.  They ‑‑ so they perceived this exclusion into ‑‑ you know, they divide this exclusion into hard one and soft one.  Hard one is the OECD has published the report, the hard one and the soft one, which is bases on competencies and motivational aspects.  That's something that we are especially interested in.

We have created our own definition ‑‑ the layers the economic, social, psychological and obviously, infrastructural are intertwined and they impede all of them, they play together and they impede humans and communities development.  So all in all, under no circumstances in our humble opinion, should we perceive those two realms separately.

According to the report, we see just a few figures and numbers, yes?  We see almost 20% of Pols don't use Internet at all.  25% of households have an been able to access the Internet at home too.  Although 65% of people, it depends on the social section but even up to 60, 65% of those who don't use the Internet, they have access to Internet devices.  That's intriguing.

As you mentioned, the COVID speaks volumes about the divisions ‑‑ about the divides, and the social digital exclusion.  90% of people who had access to the Internet before the pandemic, still claim that they have no needs of using it.  Concurrently, at the same time, so the groups that had unlimited, if you will, access to the Internet and to the technologies, so I would like to say that they out run even more.  So the difference is ten times bigger between those groups, the poorest ones and the ‑‑ the poorest and the rich.

And the COVID situation that was supposed to have been elaborated for the new competencies, but it's created even bigger social divides since social and mental barriers.  So in my opinion, in the opinion of the colleagues, we should perceive this topic as a systemic one, not individually oriented problem and the barrier.  One point more I would like to share with you.  There are some elements and some qualities of social Darwinist that are running in our society and we have seen it in the support, namely 51% of us see the issue of digital exclusion, but we are purposefully or non‑purposefully, but we are indifferent to these problems, even though, vast majority of the excluded or so‑called excluded people are the nearest and dearest.  That's also intriguing.

And up to around 40% of us also put blame for the state of the matter on individuals of the excluded, not on the system for which we should take responsibility.  That's the main conclusions and something I wanted to share with you at the beginning of the discussion.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you.  Indeed, your diagnosis is very interesting.  We will get back to it in the later part of the discussion.  Now I would like to turn to Maria, who is the only compatriot here in Katowice.  How do you see this from the business perspective and also from the global perspective.  We want to talk about the cooperation of different institutions to combat the digital divide.  How can you comment on that from your side?

>> MARIA THUN-JANOWSKA: Right, yeah.  And Konrad, thank you for that diagnosis.  It's incredibly interesting what you were saying, and I think it gives a good framework for also the characteristic or the very specific characteristics and multifaceted issue of the digital divide.

So, when looking at cross‑cultural cooperation to combat the digital divide, it's with kind of a deep understanding that no one sector and no one institution has the answers of how to approach this issue and how to solve this problem.  And we really need to partner with all sectors to ‑‑ to address the several different facets of digital exclusion.

So maybe starting from the perspective of sustainable development goals, first of all, goal 4, which talks about quality education, which at the moment without digital inclusion is not possible.  And goal eight, economic growth, we know if you are digitally excluded, the ‑‑ the chances for decent work and economic growth of your environment are low.  We're talking about goal 10, so just reducing inequality, again is one of our obligations.

But what I see most important that brings all of us to go and bring all of us as panels, as institutions is partnerships for the goals, which is goal 17.  Here there are indicators by which you can measure whether this goal is being achieved.  When talking about us combatting or trying to make the digital divide smaller, we can look at indicators like systemic issues and capacity building.  And here, again, talking about what you said, Konrad, this is a systemic issue that we have to approach together, and so to directly answer your question, Ignacy, how do we see this cross‑sectoral collaboration, first of all, it's not possible without the thought leadership of researchers and nongovernmental institutions without the strong cooperation of governments for policy reasons, but also for a lot of funding reasons.

And then without a very strong leg of the business community, which both has a lot of resources not only talking about financial resources but the resources and the possibility to support and connect in good connectivity in hardware, but also resources in terms of the most complex area fundamental to the digital divide, which is skills.  And this is something, again, Konrad which was so visible in your analysis, right?

So that 65% of those that weren't using the Internet actually have access to devices?  Why aren't they using them?  Why do 90% still claim they have no need of using the Internet?  And I think there's a lot about skills which is very complex.  And these skills are often in the private sector.  So from the knowledge about skills and the knowledge of how to spread these skills and also the understanding of what direction the economy is going in, and our possibility to share these skills.

But not only.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you.  And a line between our national problems and the global issues that we are also interested in.

I would like to now turn to Jolanta Jaworska, who was talking about digital skills and competencies.  Do you see the changes that the pandemic brought to this area of digital exclusion and also what is the perspective ‑‑ what is your perspective and the perspective of your global corporation?

>> JOLANTA JAWORSKA: Thank you very much.  And thank you very much for this discussion.  The topic is absolutely extremely important for us.  And for our company, but also for all or majority ‑‑ majority of companies.  I'm saying this because 88% of companies for them, the skills labor availability is the key business factor, and the ‑‑ the topic we are discussing is absolutely related to this, and for us, obviously, the priority is more focused on closing the skills gap.  And, of course, we are doing a lot as business and also as other businesses in technology, but we are talking about what can we do and how can we collaborate externally to make a real change?

And for that, obviously, our priority is improving the quality of education and later on, we will ‑‑ I will share the exact examples.  For what?  For preparing these young people, but not only preparing the young people but also helping the adults to reskill, to adapt to the changing ‑‑ the changing environment.  And obviously, our activities are also to help teachers, to help the education, to improve the ‑‑ the quality, to orchestrate the effective collaboration between the business and academia by sharing our best practices by offering ‑‑ not only our knowledge, but also our technology.

And for years, these are our objectives and I'm so glad that we can implement the best practices with other businesses, to such an extent also in Poland.  Thank you.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you.  I would just like to ask you, do you see any change that the pandemic brought you?  Do you see more people willing to reskill, to update their skills?

>> JOLANTA JAWORSKA: Absolutely.  Absolutely.  And what I see ‑‑ what we have noticed from the beginning of last year, I would say great. opening from ‑‑ both from the side of our employees, but also from ‑‑ from the schools, from students, from other people who are really willing to work together to share our ‑‑ our knowledge, and to help those who need this help.  So we had great examples of working together with other companies to very quickly teach a couple of thousand of students.  We have done this project with Cisco, to each almost 5,000 teachers how to use ‑‑ how to use the remote technology, to run the online ‑‑ the online education and this wouldn't be possible because this whole project was done pro bono with the ‑‑ with such an engagement from the employees, from the companies.  So this was also a great example of our collaboration with the NGOs, and Maria was really the author and Alek, thank you very much for your participation as well.

So definitely, this has changed a lot, because I think many people have noticed that this is not something that we can or cannot have.  We must use this technology, because we don't know what the future can bring to us.  So this is one thing.  And another thing is that really, we have seen a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of openness, and willingness from all different people and institutions to work together and to help each other.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you.  Alek, so it's finally to you.  You have been researching digital exclusion, and digital divide for years and you have been engaged in a number of initiatives in Poland.  I would like to first ask you about the contrast that I hear in the ‑‑ in the previous speakers have said, Konrad is painting a picture where the division is getting stronger.  I mean, it's accelerating, the people who are aligned and using digital technologies, they use it more and those who are digitally excluded, and they still don't use it.  And Jolanta says she sees a lot of engagement and willingness to skill up and to learn.  How do you see this state of affairs in Poland currently?  Can you add anything to this diagnosis?

>> ALEKSANDER TARKOWSKI: I think paradoxically both diagnoses are correct.  I think we are facing both issues at once, and that's the whole challenge, that we cannot have a strategy that just focuses, let's say, broadly speaking, on upskilling, because I think that's the case with a lot of adults, especially.  They don't require a deep divide to be bridged, but there are other shapes of divide, of being excluded that need to be dealt with.

But then we ‑‑ we cannot just leave alone people who are really excluded and there are some very specific groups that are obvious, like, for example, older people and seniors, but not only them.  For instance, I think this is really important, your research shows that geographically speaking, this leads to maybe not a scenario where Internet is not available, but it's really a handicap how you can access it.

And I would add one more factor, you know, Magdalena has been writing about it.  We are also at a stage where we need to reconceptualize the divide.  Also in terms of how people are capable of functioning on the modern Internet and understanding challenges it faces with issues like ethics and values.  This is something we haven't been discussing, let's say ten years ago when shaping our strategies.

Unfortunately, it's one more layer that makes this whole system a bit more complex.  And I want to make very quickly one more point that is probably obvious to us, but I think should be signals in the context of IGF that I treat the Polish case, once we understand very well as not unique.  Rather as exemplary of challenges with digital inclusion and dealing with digital divide happening all around the world, not even just across Europe.

Of course, we are in probably a certain specific category of countries which I would define somewhere in the midrange of challenges, but this is, I think, a very big group.  I just wanted to mention this.

Thank you.

>> KONRAD CIESIOLKIEWICZ: Some categories are exceptional.  In terms of education and the correlation between education and the functional and dysfunctional use of Internet, it places us in the lowest ranks in the countries, and so the less we are educated, the worse is, you know, the usage and, you know, the behaviors of using the Internet.  This is exceptional theoretically, unfortunately.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you.  I would like to add from our report that we mentioned before that Alek referred to, we propose to measure real Internet speeds, the actual speed that the final user has in his or her home, but this is something that really brings the divide indoors, right?  If you have a 30 megabit cable connection but when you use it on your home WiFi, it's only 5 or 6 megabit, then it's obviously too little to have online education, or home office.

So this is something which is not often measured, it's often not included in strategies ‑‑ in strategies, either European or national, but this is something we should look at if we really want to combat the digital divide.

Alek, coming back to you, could you start with looking into the future.  What should be the next steps if you want to cooperate and effectively combat this growing digital divide in Poland and internationally?

>> ALEKSANDER TARKOWSKI: I think one thing I wanted to highlight is there are probably a lot of things to be done with, but I think this' a way to deal ‑‑ there is a way to deal with this complexity.  It can be daunting to see a digital inclusion, including infrastructure work, to really big challenges with skills.  And I agree, by the way, Konrad, it is challenging to see ourselves always on the ‑‑ on the data of these diagrams to be in the lower part.  I'm hoping, and still optimistic that we can at least, in my lifetime, shift a bit.  But it's hard work, let's face it.

I'm in favor of the UCL, and there's interesting pilot missions, I think, some Polish representatives are involved in the one around smart cities, but missions are these ideas that you have to take a daunting challenge.  Our typical example is flight to the moon but also one to which a lot of people can contribute in different ways.  And I think this is exactly the case with digital inclusion.  There's a role to play, for instance for infrastructure providers be it telecom operators, cloud solution operators, right?  They really need to make the technology accessible.  There's a huge educational work to be done.

And then there are these new challenges, for instance, I will broadly frame them around ethics of Internet use, which require different actors to ‑‑ to take responsibility for that, and the whole strict is that we should be coordinating it, but without putting some very big formalized, central structure and I think the concept of the mission will allow us to do exactly that.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: So I assume that you see government's role in naming those missions and saying what's the ‑‑ what's the mission and then other actors joining this call being right?

>> ALEKSANDER TARKOWSKI: Yes.  And this is sort of how we went to the moon basically.  The government says let's go and points in the right direction and immediately says we will not do it alone.  We need to procure ride solutions on the market and we need to activate the energy of basically the citizens.  A good mission is one where a single person hearing that there's a problem with digital inclusion will find some way to deal with it.  There's basically a very basic solution to that problem, which I understand is huge, that there are people with access to the Internet, not using it.

There's someone missing in their vicinity, either someone in the family or a neighbor, who should pick up this modern form of volunteering and basically say, you know, I will help you.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you.  Jolanta, how do you see your role in the ‑‑ in the vision that Alek, the publicly defined missions where I assume you could join as IBM.  What concrete actions or steps do you see are relevant for your organization?

>> JOLANTA JAWORSKA: Thank you very much.  This is absolutely crucial what Alek said, the collaboration between business and academia and obviously governments and without this collaboration, we ‑‑ we are not able alone as business to ‑‑ to improve the situation.  And what we have done in Poland, and actually, worldwide, as IBM, starting as IBM, but now with a lot of ‑‑ more than 600 partner companies, we have very concretely started the pathways to technology project, which is addressing the skills gap for the young students at the high schools.  We ‑‑ in Katowice, that is the best example because we have started the Polish Project being right in Katowice with the schools, and 4 with Samsung and now many more Polish and foreigner companies with the schools where we declared that as a business, we will take care not for one month, not for half a year, but we will set up the ‑‑ we are setting up the program and our volunteers who every month for at least four months are working with the classes.  And obviously, we are able now only to work with six, maybe seven, maybe ten schools which is nothing, and we do realize this.  So because of that, and because of huge interest worldwide, for improving the digital skills, IBM decided to start the program and start the program free of charge for anyone who would like to upgrade their skills with the mini budgets, in different areas, like cloud, and block train and data analysis, new technologies, quantum, and we are open to collaborate with all the companies and who are willing to ‑‑ to move forward.

I think that we have, in Poland, not only in Poland, huge number of different initiatives, but we are not working together.  We are working in silos and this is in my opinion the biggest challenge that we have to overcome together with academia, with ‑‑ with business and obviously, with central and local governments.  Thank you.

>> MARIA THUN-JANOWSKA: Yeah, building on exactly what you were saying, right?

So this working in silos, we need a common strategy for impact, because if he with want to have impact, then together, we need to ‑‑ and we are quite often, right?  But really sitting down, look at the data that's been collected and start looking at what underlies the problem, and what can we do together to solve these problems?  And that's why when I talk about resources, what are we bringing to the table, each of us as academia, as think tanks, as thought leaders, as the public sector, and as business, what can we bring to the table in order to address tease very specific issues and problems that have been named by the way of doing research and looking into it?

And, for example, these ‑‑ you know, the P‑tech schools or this platform, that's a very specific resource that's being brought to the table, but without cooperation and aligning this towards goals that will be named together, the impact will be much smaller.  A lot of work is being done by Orange Foundation, and here I think in synergy, we can really go miles farther, especially in synergy also with the government.

What I also want to add, again, talking about what you said, Konrad, that we put the blame on individuals, not on the system.  It's a systemic issue, yet we blame individuals for not being digitally included or maybe not making the effort.

I think a huge question we have to ask ourselves is how can we make the digital economy or the Information Society that we live in more inclusive?  How can we lower these barriers of access?  Because the risk of a digital transformation that huge percentages of the population will not participate in, is enormous.  And if we don't do this well, we are going to have a very, very big problem soon.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Thank you for this comment.  Unfortunately, we missed the representative of the government in this panel today, but we ‑‑

>> MARIA THUN-JANOWSKA: Due to illness.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: This is a pity, Konrad, if you could say what are your recommendations as to concrete steps that could be taken and how to cooperate and also if you ‑‑ as Maria mentioned, you run large projects such as ‑‑ related to schools.  Can you say, is it ‑‑ do you already see there's cooperation between your foundation, your ‑‑ the business that it's attached to and the government?

>> KONRAD CIESIOLKIEWICZ: Oh, definitely.  We do our utmost to collaborate with organizations from, nongovernment organizations, local authorities that are crucial here and they should be mentioned too.  And also the government and the public institutions.

And so having heard what Alek has already said and to add, it is visible, and maybe it sounds like a platitude, but I would like to say that this is not only ‑‑ this is not only crucial what is ahead of us, but also the way, how we would like to achieve it.  And this is ‑‑ this is also equally crucial, especially from the perspective of the organizations like mine, the organizations I represent.  And so answering this question directly, in order to achieve our goals better, and to get to know the local needs better, because sometimes we see, speaking from my personal experience that we assume how the reality looks, or how the reality looks, but this is a far cry from the real needs that the people have in local communities.  And also, sorry, I would like to be slightly philosophically but we wanted to avoid the effect by psychologists, the St. Matthews effect, which is about providing affluent with aids, charity and educational programs on different levels, and concurrently contributing to exasperation of inequalities.

So that the groups that are underprivileged are not supported by us efficient and we need to tell the truth that sometimes we are not efficient enough, even though we have the assets and the capacity to do that.  According to the local deprivation index, we know that up to 22% of Polish communes are in peril of social digital exclusion.  22%.  It's huge.

And so we implemented it in our ‑‑ we put it into practice in our programs, especially in the recruitment process to our programs, just to inform you that our foundation has been involved in the schooling system for 15 years.  We support schools all over Poland and we provide them with media literacy, digital education and to an extent also civic education.  So we have created a special call center that proactively contacted each and every school from the communes that are in peril of the exclusion.

We intensified inclusion.  We explained the benefits of participating in our programs.  We intensified communication to those schools through letters and papers that included, you know, different information to those territories, then to the others so that they were full of information concerning local issues.  And also, we used the targeting on social media and on top of that, thanks to this report and this index, it has changed our philosophy and the mission of the foundation to an extent that we have to changed our methodology of the selection of the applications, the selection of the applications is assessed by the detached objective committee.  But two points were granted for the mere fact of living in those territories.

Today we feel we are closer to their needs.  Actually 80% of our participants come from small towns and rural areas up to 40,000 inhabitants.  More than 20% of schools that are in our programs come directly from the territories at risk of the highest level of exclusion and so on and so forth.  That's exactly the first step we have taken ,and we would like to continue and this is sort of a commitment to the local societies that we would like to continue in the future.

And also maybe at the end, sorry for this, but I would like to also say that thanks to this ‑‑ this report, and these kind of actions we have taken, we have also ‑‑ we have just started, for example, collaborating ‑‑ collaborating with youth community centers that are cut out for serving underprivileged groups by nature, like broken families, for example, and, you know, thanks to those centers, the kids might catch up on curriculum, and this is also the place we had ‑‑ we had hadn't had any experience with those centers, and now it's ‑‑ it's about time we started, you know, collaborating with them in order also to get to know better their needs.

So I would like to say, that you know, taking first step is something that opens ‑‑ opens up to new ‑‑ to new realities, yes, and realities that are multifaceted as Maria and Ignacy said at the beginning.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: And Maria as the last voice of the discussion, what comes out of the discussion for you and the missions that we hope to be ‑‑ to be executed and implemented in Poland?

>> MARIA THUN-JANOWSKA: Yes.  I would say the ‑‑ so the mission that we hear field together partnerships for impact to really have a measurable effect on combatting the digital divide.  To be able to say this is what we are planning to do.  These are the problems we see, both Orange Foundation and Polish Economic Institute have really done in‑depth research.  It shows us the situation, where we can define goals, which we can measure, and really show how this part ‑‑ how these partnerships towards a strategy commonly defined and everybody bringing to the table what they could, gives us a measure impact and not just talk.  We see incredible work done and we hope more and more will join this train.

>> KONRAD CIESIOLKIEWICZ: And may I add something?  I'm so sorry for being too talkative maybe.  It's not only a matter of just IT category of governmental, you know, structure, of the public institution, but it's first of all, and what Alek, what you, Maria have said that it's a matter first of all, of social solidarity and that's why we should take responsibility for state of the matter, all organizations and all sectors.

>> IGNACY SWIECICKI: Okay.  Our time is up.  I would like to thank everyone for the discussion, and I hope we can meet together again to see the silos broken down and our cooperation and realizing missions which are not flying to the moon but taking everyone on board in our society.  Thank you very much.

>> MARIA THUN-JANOWSKA: Thank you for moderating us.

>> JOLANTA JAWORSKA: Thank you very much, and let's work together.  Thank you.

>> KONRAD CIESIOLKIEWICZ: Thank you.  Thanks for a fantastic moderation and, you know, have a terrific day.  Thanks.

>> MARIA THUN-JANOWSKA: See you soon.