Last month, I spoke at the German Marshall Fund’s Atlantic Dialogues in Marrakesh, Morocco. The event brings together leaders from around the Atlantic Basin for discussions on cross-regional issues ranging from security to economics, migration to energy.
I participated in a panel discussion on “The Power of Tech: Entering a Brave New World” with the Honourable Moulay Hafid El Alamy, Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment, and New Technologies, Morocco; Dulce Maria Guevara Lopez, Legislative Advisor, Senate, Mexico; and Vahid Monadjem, CEO, Nomanini, located in South Africa.
Our discussion ranged from the importance of free trade agreements to developing communications infrastructure to the impact of mobile connectivity for citizens and economies. For countries across the Atlantic Basin, the benefits of a digital economy are widely recognised. The panel highlighted the role of governments when it comes to digital technology and growth. Mexico Conectado and Vive Digital in Colombia were mentioned as positive examples of initiatives to connect communities.
For the Atlantic Dialogues’ host region – North Africa – increasing connectivity in the region also presents a unique opportunity to use mobile technology to drive social and economic growth. According to a study released last week by GSMA:
- More than half of the population across the Arab States of the Middle East and North Africa are now subscribed to a mobile service.
- There were 195 million mobile subscribers in the region at the end of 2013, a penetration rate of 53 per cent of the total population.
- Additionally, mobile industry contributes 4.4% to regional GDP and directly supports one million jobs.
The study also highlights ways the region could help realise the full potential of the mobile industry: For operators, it will require the development of new business models and increased collaboration. Governments should seek to establish an open and consultative regulatory environment that encourages investment by the private sector. Additionally, the allocation of more spectrum is crucial. Finally, both operators and policymakers alike should look to reduce the barriers to the adoption of digital services.
These areas of focus are a roadmap for any region. Technology is evolving rapidly – we’re looking at the future with expectations for driverless cars, 3D printing any number of things, and drones that deliver packages to your front door. There’s tremendous potential for the digital economy, if we can get the policies right. And, it’s not just about telecom policy – policy in many other industries also will be impacted. The countries that develop the best ecosystem for innovation will see the most benefit from the digital economy.