A top UN official has urged nations to follow the example of social reformer and Dalit icon Baba Saheb Ambedkar in the fight for social justice and equality, calling them to harness the power of digital technologies for social and financial inclusion. “It is fitting that we honour his (Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s) legacy of fighting against social discrimination by talking today about how to use digital technologies to promote empowerment and inclusion for all people – not least, women,” Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said at a special event organised here by India’s Permanent Mission to the UN to mark Ambedkar’s 126th birth anniversary.
She said nations live in an era of rapid and momentous change driven in large part by advances in information and communications technologies, which have the power to help us achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals.
In this spirit, she called on nations to harness the power of digital technologies for social and financial inclusion and the advancement of societies everywhere.
“I am sure Baba Saheb Ambedkar, who stood for the rights of women, minorities, and the underprivileged, would welcome these efforts. Let us follow his example and fight for social justice and equality by fulfilling the promise of the 2030 Agenda. Let us mobilise the best minds in the world of technology to invent more ways to improve people’s lives, and ensure that no one is left behind,” she said yesterday.
Mohammed said the introduction of digital identity can provide a breakthrough, citing the example of the biometric identity cards in India, Aadhaar.
Digital identity would help to provide better and more inclusive access to public services and finance, including for the poorest and most vulnerable, she said adding that the use of biometric identity cards in India for over one billion people is a “great example”.
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She noted that currently, more than half the world’s population — some 3.9 billion people lack access to the Internet and in the Least Developed Countries, the number is as high as 85 per cent.
“We need to do more to connect the unconnected, especially the poorest and most vulnerable groups. With connectivity and digital skills, anyone, anywhere in the world, can create and innovate to improve his or her well- being and that of humanity. That is why we need to share and transfer technologies,” she said.
Addressing the event, attended by senior UN officials, diplomats, academia, civil society and private sector, India’s Permanent Representative to UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said the belief that new technologies hold the key to human progress has grown exponentially.
“Along with this has emerged the determination that technological transformation, to be meaningful, needs to improve the lives of common people,” he said at the event titled ‘Empowering People through Digital Technologies for Social and Financial Inclusion’ organised by India’s Permanent Mission in association with the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and US-based NGO Foundation for Human Horizon.
He said as India and the UN commemorates the 126th birth anniversary of Ambedkar, the best way to pay tribute to his vision of social justice and equality is to address whether what economists term as the ‘digital build-out’ is actually indeed happening.
“The pursuit of financial inclusion is a huge task,” Akbaruddin said noting that it is estimated that 40 per cent of the world’s adults remain financially excluded.
“Hence, it is a task that is measured not in thousands or even in millions but in billions – to be more specific 2 billion people still await financial inclusion globally. However, there is hope. In the last 3 years, 700 million adults are said to have gained access to the financial means to protect themselves and invest in their future,” he said.
He told the gathering that the Unique Identification System of Aadhar ID Cards in India has enabled 1.1 billion Indian residents to benefit from e-governance and e-services. Over 270 million bank accounts have been opened in the last two years through the Jan Dhan financial inclusion scheme.
“Digital governance, it is said, is adding to good governance; digital delivery is ensuring faster delivery; digital accountability is leading to effective accountability,” he said.
With millions still continuing to grapple with various socio-economic challenges, the ‘Digital build-up’ in support of those who are deprived, marginalised and discriminated remains a work in progress, he said.
On the occasion a panel discussion was also held on the topic of ‘Empowering people through digital technologies for social and financial inclusion’.
Speakers at the event included Provost and Vice Chancellor at University of Massachusetts Amherst Katherine Newman, Country Head-US operations State Bank of India Padmaja Chunduru, Julia Glidden of IBM and Olivier Rabeschlag of Google.