UN Resident Coordinator Keynote | Atlas Convention 2021

Information, technology and communication are an important driver of growth and sustainable development.

Thank you, Mr Macheka,

  • Honourable Prof. Amon Murwira, Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development
  • Mr. Lacina Koné , Director General of SMART AFRICA
  • Members of the Business Community
  • All protocols observed:

I’d like to start my remarks by thanking the Atlas Convention organisers for inviting me to speak on timely topic of ICT and innovation for economic transformation and sustainable development.

Like many countries in the region, Zimbabwe faces many challenges to grow its economy, create jobs and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Globally, the focus on economic growth in past decades often led to inadequate attention to social and environmental consequences.

As a result, income inequality, for example, has risen in many countries. This in turn constrains economic growth and social development.

Even in sectors where we’ve seen economic growth, it has not necessarily led to decent jobs for many.

Inadequate attention to the environmental consequences of rising production and consumption has led to breaches in planetary boundaries.

In order to realise the commitment that Zimbabwe and 192 other UN Member States made in 2015 to leave no one behind, we will have to break away from the traditional models of economic growth.  

In other words, paying attention to the social and environmental consequences should not be viewed as an afterthought or as an add-on to the economic growth process.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The COVID-19 pandemic presents both a challenge and an opportunity to build an inclusive society and green economy by seizing the moment to build forward better.

In this endeavour, data, technology and innovation and information are critical   drivers of economic growth and sustainable development in the 21st Century. Some analysts have referred to data as the “new oil”.

The most profitable businesses around the world trade in technology, and data. These include Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook.

Information, technology and communication are an important driver of growth and sustainable development.

Indeed, they already play a part in improving quality of life, health, providing economic opportunities and addressing climate change.

Evidence around the world shows that technologies are critical for achieving the transition to low carbon and green economies across the world.

The optimism surrounding the transformative potential of technology and innovation has to recognise the potential negative impacts as well.

For instance, if the economic benefits are more concentrated among a small group, the increasing inequality can lead to political polarization and social unrest.

Any innovations and improvements thereof should put people at the centre of development and transformation of sectoral and the national economy and ensuring no one is left behind.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

For Zimbabwe to harness the demographic dividend, it will be important to harness digital developments for human capital development under the Youth Agenda for the country.

The creativity of the young generation is the single biggest opportunity, not only in harnessing available technology, but to break frontiers for local solutions to local problems.

Bridging the technology and skills divide to enable young people and women to engage in productive economic activities, informed by an assessment of skills gaps and skills for the future will be vital.

Spaces should be created for young people to experiment and find solutions for the social challenges facing the country including wider provision of connectivity to tackle limitations placed by for example the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future is also unimaginable without thinking about Digital Solutions to delivering social interventions. In a context where COVID-19 brought most things to a standstill, digital solutions could present an opportunity to  continuity of essential services that can save lives.

The UN in Zimbabwe, through the Zimbabwe UN Development Assistance Framework has deployed ICTs and innovation for sustainable development. Allow me to mention a few such examples:

  • International Telecommunications Union (ITU) supported the launch of a mobile application called in 2019 to address the issue of low doctor-to-patient ratio in rural clinics and hospitals. The application provides information on standardized and up-to-date trends, guidelines and clinical tools which are relevant for their continuous professional development.
  • Another example shows how technology can help to prevent youth from being left behind. In order to prevent 4.5 million school children stranded at home during the COVID- 19 lockdown from being left behind, UNESCO supported the development of a national virtual resource platform for teachers and teacher training.
  • Another example shows how technology can be used to ensure that those most in need have access to social protection. The WFP’s Urban Social Assistance programme is providing over 30,000 people affected by economic challenges in Norton with USD 12 a month, per household member, via its’s new SCOPE e-voucher system. Recipients are able to redeem SCOPE card “points” for both food and non-food commodities at select retail locations. Through e-voucher redemption, beneficiaries can purchase more for less with price-adjusted credit from WFP.
  • In the fight against COVID-19, reliable, easy to access and timely information is a matter of life and death. UNDP, UNICEF, and WHO partnered with WhatsApp to create WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub. This provides simple, guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate. The site also offers general tips and resources for users around the world to reduce the spread of rumors and connect with accurate health information. The app was replicated and localized in Zimbabwe by the national risk communications and community engagement to run on SMS.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The UN Team appreciates that the Government of Zimbabwe’s new National Development Strategy (NDS) 2021 – 2025 has specifically made digital economy one of the 13 national priorities and aims to improving efficiency and effectiveness of services delivery through online digital platforms; increased investment; improved access to ICT and enhance accountability, transparency and tame corruption through adopting e-governance .

In support of NDS 1 and to build on the initiatives mentioned above, the United Nations is working with the Government and various stakeholder to develop a new strategic programming instrument, commonly known as the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, 2022 - 2026.

The Cooperation Framework will be a key vehicle for supporting Zimbabwe to achieve the agenda 2030 for sustainable development and the current National Development Strategy.

Economic transformation is one of the key strategic priorities to support the country to accelerate progress towards achievement of the SDGs.

Through the new Cooperation Framework, the UN will work with Government   to support deepening economic policies and practices for more inclusive, diversified and job-intensive economic transformation, protects the planet and strengthen the ecological foundations of the economy for sustainable development.

I thank you for your attention and take this opportunity to wish you an invigorating Convention.

Speech by
Maria Ribeiro
Resident Coordinator
 Maria Ribeiro
UN entities involved in this initiative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Telecommunications Union
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
United Nations Children’s Fund
United Nations Industrial Development Organization
World Food Programme
World Health Organization