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How to Spark Innovation: Inclusivity as a Backbone

August 17, 2021

“Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance” said Vernā Myers, diversity advocate and VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. Fortunately, inclusion has been at the center of discussion of many studies and debates as we try to rebuild and reshape the global economy while ensuring that no one is left behind. More than ever, it is clear that inclusivity is indispensable to spark real progress and innovation. According to McKinsey, companies that are more gender, ethnic and cultural-diverse are more likely to outperform companies that are less inclusive.

The transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of “leaving no one behind” (LNOB) represents the global agreement of ensuring that those who are part of marginalized groups of society are also properly represented and given access to equal opportunities and technologies. Innovative technologies that emerged from the digital transformation have enormous potential to drive the inclusion of those groups and guarantee concrete steps towards LNOB.

The successful transition to the digital economy requires a holistic approach to close the existing digital divides, assuring higher levels of participation of minority groups through the development of digital skills and their consequent involvement in the jobs of the future. Digitalization is particularly important to nurture innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are the main pillar of the global economy and crucial actors in the struggle to close digital divides. According to OECD, SMEs can help reducing inequalities by the development of inclusive growth strategies and better working conditions to their workers.

Fostering innovation and closing divides

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in 2019, 46% of the population worldwide was not using the Internet. Among least developed countries, this number goes up to 80%. And amidst those who do not have access to the technology, women constitute the biggest share. Hence, initiatives that foster innovation and female inclusion are crucial for bridging the digital gender divide.

In Rwanda, a country that is among the top 5 global leaders in gender equality, inclusivity can be clearly seen in many national initiatives. One practical example is HeHe Academy (HAc), an award-winning program dedicated to helping companies and workers to stay relevant in times of digital transformation. With 69% female enrolment and more than 500 young people directly benefited from the program, the academy fosters talented youth by equipping them with digital skills and promoting innovation. HeHe is the largest e-commerce business in Rwanda, digitizing over 150 businesses, 60% of which are female-led and serving 2 million consumers.

Another important divide that must be closed is among the world’s largest minority group – people with disabilities. Globally, one in six people have a disability and are prone to face some type of exclusion – economic, social, or technological. The promotion of disability inclusion was found to be an advantageous element for business productivity and innovation ability. Studies show that companies identified as “Disability Inclusion Champions” had 28% higher revenue.

Enablecode, a social enterprise based in Vietnam, contributes to the closure of this gap. The software company employs computing experts with disabilities, with the goal of transforming society’s perception of this group and give them the opportunity to become high-skilled professionals who contribute to their families’ wellbeing.

Would you like to learn more about how digital skills and innovation can promote an inclusive future? Register now for the #LKDForum 2021 and hear directly what HeHe and Enablecode’s CEOs have to say about the theme. The online event will take place on 22 September 2021 and will serve as a platform for industry leaders, experts, and the general audience to discuss how digital skills development is the gateway for greater inclusivity in SMEs, education, and society in general.

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.