Innovate now to speed up Covid recovery, urges Commonwealth

Common Wealth secretary General Patricia Scotland during the interview in a Nairobi hotel on December 9, 2022. [ Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

The Commonwealth Secretariat is rooting for innovation and technology transfer to rescue the dire post-Covid economy in its 56 member states.

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland said innovation and technology will unlock the many job opportunities that were lost during the pandemic.

''I believe innovation and technology will be a major part of what we will need to recover from the trauma delivered to us globally as a result of Covid-19," Ms Scotland said during an interview with The Sunday Standard in Nairobi.

She said economic consequences of lock downs exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war and climate change have forced states to rethink how to conduct business.

The intra-trade between countries, she said, went down globally but held firm in the Commonwealth, improving marginally thanks to digital trade, she added.

Before Covid-19, virtual meetings were unknown as a way of life and doing business but huge innovations came out of Covid-19 period.

''And if you look at where we are now in terms of climatic challenges and other issues, it is human genius that has gotten us into a mess and it's the same genius that must get us out of this mess. This comes in the form of digitisation, innovation and so science and technology,'' she said.

She cited how science and technology played a huge role in finding vaccines, understanding and segregating data and finding out what works and does not.

Hopeless years

Ms Scotland said due to digitisation, it was also possible to stabilise a number of countries even after the hopelessness of the last few years.

Despite that, she said there exists a digital gap even as the world was in the phase of fourth industrial revolution (4IR), which will be through machine learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchaining, coding robotics among others.

The Covid-19 pandemic, she said, has sped-up the global move towards digitisation and while this presents opportunities for employment and trade, it also presents challenges exasperated by the digital divide in the Commonwealth and a lack of infrastructure.

Ms Scotland attended the Kenya Innovation Week on Tuesday, which was organised by Kenya's National Innovation Agency (KENIA) and was graced by President William Ruto.

During the innovation week, the Commonwealth pledged to support Kenya's innovation ambitions.

Today, more than 60 per cent of Africa's population is under the age of 29. By 2030, young Africans are expected to constitute 42 per cent of global youth.

However, nearly 40 percent of young people in Kenya are unemployed and that is why the need for training in digital skills.

To solve the digital skills gap, the Commonwealth Secretariat signed a partnership with e-scholarships provider Simplilearn at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda in June.


The agreement will provide 10,000 free e-learning course placements and 200 slots for each member states, worth $5 million (614 million) to young people across the Commonwealth with courses like AI, coding, software development and will be launched in Africa next year.

She said the project will first start in the Caribbean Island, Pacific and then to Africa.

In 2018, she launched the Commonwealth Innovation Hub on the opening day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London.

''The Commonwealth represents 2.5 billion people with 1. 4 billion under the age of 30. In Africa, 60 percent of the population are below the age of 25 and this is the real gold because young people are going to be the engine drivers of economy and growth,'' she said.

She lauded Kenya's role as a premier innovation hub in Africa saying thriving startups are building a prosperous and sustainable economy, which other Commonwealth nations can learn from. Ms Scotland mentioned Kenya's innovations like Mpesa that has become a disruptor in the banking sector locally.

She said other Commonwealth members can learn from its dynamism, investment in women entrepreneurs, and partnership between local government, business organisations, individuals and partners.

She also emphasised how crucial data is in helping African nations build back post-Covid and for tackling growing issues like climate change.

''I think its fundamental because if we are going to have evidence-based policy development, you really have to understand data because it will not just tell you what to do but also what not to and this is where machine learning and coding comes in to help you to understand, aggregate, disaggregate and understand the granularity of what you could do,'' she said.

She said Kenya is integral to the Commonwealth's vision of interconnected countries better placed to withstand future global shocks.

This is because of its blue and green economy, digital revolution and the lead it has taken in the African Union (AU) on some of the digital technological deliveries. ''The importance that the country is putting on young entrepreneurs, startups and the way the new government is focusing on innovation and digitisation change is key to us,'' she said.

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