Activist countries

Middle Eastern countries rank Japan highly in opinion polls

“By the next decade, 70% of the global economy will be based on the digital economy,” says Deemah AlYahya of DCO

DAVOS: Collaboration between governments, the private sector and civil societies is crucial to ensure that the digital economy works for all, according to an international digital innovation expert, who described internet access as “no more a luxury, but a necessity.

Following the launch of a digital foreign direct investment initiative with the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, Deemah AlYahya, secretary general of the Digital Cooperation Organization, told Arab News that the organization’s goal is to help facilitate a global digital transformation.

The DCO supports young people, women and start-up entrepreneurs in its member states, which have a combined economic output of nearly $2 trillion and a population of 600 million, with the organization hoping to bring its initiatives to more countries in the future.

The international body, which includes Saudi Arabia, aims to promote prosperity, social stability and the growth of the digital economy by unifying efforts to advance digital transformation.

“We are growing by the minute,” AlYahya said. “But we are really focused on creating the right impact; we were created to deliver and accelerate the digital economy for our member countries.

“Therefore, the focus is not on expansion, but rather on deploying the right initiatives, support and tools that will enable member countries and like-minded countries to turn digital opportunities into reality. But we are getting requests from several nations to join us.

Figures recently released by the International Telecommunication Union show that 2.9 billion people still do not have access to the internet and are excluded from the digital economy.

According to AlYahya, internet access is no longer a luxury, but a necessity “as important as electricity or even water”, and governments are now realizing the importance of implementing digital transformation.

DCO was created to provide governments with the tools, policies and guidance needed to facilitate this transformation. “It’s a huge problem, because it’s the start of any cultural, social and economic reform,” AlYahya said.

“After the pandemic, for governments to start digitally transforming, they needed the right tools, reforms in their policies and regulations; they needed resources, they needed investment, and that need takes time.

“So (DCO) was thought of and seen as that enabling force that helps governments.

“What is unique about DCO is that we are creating a shared space between governments, the private sector and civil society to co-create and co-design together from the start to accelerate this transformation,” she added.

Since the engine of the digital economy is data, legislation ensuring data protection and online security is an important topic, which the DCO takes seriously, AlYahya said.

“Cross-border data flow is something we need to address; it was the first, and it is one of our major initiatives (together with the Member States).

With 70% of their populations young and tech-savvy, DCO member states have a healthy entrepreneurial and start-up spirit that is shaping the digital economy, AlYahya said.

“The needs (of young people) are increasing, they need capital, they need an enabling environment to test and innovate; they need the right human capital development, as well as the training and resources to learn,” she said.

“But, also, they need to connect to the world. Even if countries provide everything (those things) and change regulations and policies to allow startups, if they don’t have a market and consumer base, they can’t grow.

According to AlYahya, the keys to successfully implementing digital transformation are to find a balance between too much regulation and too little regulation, as well as to facilitate foreign direct investment in the sector as much as possible.

“We know that by the next decade, 70% of the global economy will be based on the digital economy and digital solutions, so the key to unlocking all economic prosperity is FDI.”

Securing cross-border investment not only helps in terms of capital, but also knowledge transfer, innovation and human capital development, she said.

“I truly believe that with cooperation, working together, we can help every person, every business, every country benefit from the tremendous opportunities this economy can bring,” she added.