Opening Remarks by ADB President Takehiko Nakao at the Digital Development Forum 2018 on 4 September 2018, ADB Headquarters, Manila, Philippines

I. Introduction 

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the Digital Development Forum 2018. This is the first ADB event covering the integration of digital technologies in both our operations and institution. 

Our operations in developing member countries promote the digital transformation of countries and use of digital technology in such areas as education, health, and finance.  ADB is now modernizing our IT systems and related processes so that we can support our members more efficiently. I hope that participants from developing member countries, business communities, and ADB staff will exchange views on these two aspects and learn from each other.

Digital technology is rapidly developing in diverse fields—including mobile communications, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, and 3-D printing. We are now entering the 4th Industrial Revolution. We are already experiencing the profound change that new technologies bring to the way we live, work, interact, and do business. 

ADB proactively seeks ways to help countries leverage digital technologies for development. For this purpose, ADB created the Digital Technology for Development Unit in March 2018. Our Office of Information Systems and Technology is moving forward with new digital reforms that focus on innovation and support dramatic modernization of business processes.

II. Digital technology for development

I will first discuss how we can leverage digital technologies for development growth in Asia and the Pacific. 

There are times in history when the world goes through a transformational shift where the new replaces the old. Just think of the impact of the first steam locomotive, the first light bulb, the first motor car, and the first computer. Throughout history, technology has been a dominant force in driving economic growth that uplifts countries and their people. History also tells us that rapid technological change presents challenges to countries and people.

The world is again in a time of immense change being brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution. With appropriate policies, the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific stand to benefit tremendously in this new era. I see great opportunities, as well as challenges.

ADB has started incorporating digital technologies in many areas of our operations. In education, computer-based adaptive learning and remote technologies will enhance learning outcomes in schools. Telemedicine, AI, and the use of big data will have great potential to improve health services. Fintech will help the poor to access financial services. 

In Central West Asia, as a part of ADB’s operations to enhance women’s business and entrepreneurship, ICT is expected to reduce barriers such as time and mobility constraints and promote access to market, financial services, and skills training. 

An ADB-supported social protection program in Pakistan is successfully using biometric information to verify legitimate beneficiaries for cash transfers to rural poor families.

For the last 8 years, since 2010, ADB has approved about 450 projects that have ICT components across sectors. We believe that ICT can play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Moving forward, ADB will deliver integrated solutions in the areas of “smart cities,” “e-government,” and “e-commerce.”

In addition to the use of digital technologies in our operations, ADB is helping build an enabling environment for countries to better use digital technologies. This includes (1) reliable ICT infrastructure, (2) skilled human resources, and (3) enabling policies and regulatory environments.
First, ICT infrastructure is the foundation of digital economies. Without reliable internet connectivity, any digital services including smart phone apps cannot be used. ADB is helping the public and private sectors invest in telecommunications infrastructure and internet connectivity, especially in disserved and under-served areas in the Asia and Pacific region. 

For example, ADB is financing a submarine cable system between Palau and Guam to provide affordable broadband internet to broader populations in Palau. Another example is Myanmar’s telecom sector development project. Myanmar used to be one of the most underdeveloped telecommunication markets in Asia. ADB’s private sector operations are supporting the construction of 5,000 telecom towers in Myanmar.

Second, building human resources with the right skills is a key driving force for digital transformation. Digital literacy is essential for people to take full advantage of new job opportunities and benefit from services that will become available on the digital platform.

A recent ADB study on the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution projected that while new technology will make machines take over certain jobs from humans, it can also create new jobs that did not exist in the past. In addition, economic growth driven by new technologies will result in the creation of more jobs, offsetting job losses. People should be prepared for these new jobs.

ADB has increased financial support for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in many countries. In Sri Lanka, ADB supported the country’s technical and vocational training system to provide better employment opportunities for graduates with high ICT skills. 

Third, we need to support countries to develop enabling policies and regulatory environments. In Kyrgyz Republic, ADB’s new country partnership strategy will support the national initiative on digital transformation. 

To benefit from digital transformation and avoid negative impacts, countries need appropriate regulatory environments to (1) promote data sharing with sufficient protections of personal data and privacy; (2) protect consumers against cyber-crimes and fraud; (3) prevent illegal activities such as money laundering and terrorist financing; and (4) enhance cybersecurity to prevent cyber-attacks and hacking. 

III. Achieving ADB’s digital reforms (digital agenda)   

I will now briefly talk about ADB’s digital reforms. As we promote the use of digital technology in our developing member countries, ADB itself should actively harness the use of digital technology in our organization. 

Computers entered ADB’s business operations in the late 1970s, and ADB acquired its first mainframe in the 1980s. Over the years, we have adopted IT systems for project approval and implementation, treasury operations, human resource management, and many others.

Taking advantage of rapid technological development, we are now investing in new IT reforms. We have already strengthened IT mobility, cloud platforms, and IT resilience. We will double our efforts in the five following areas in coming years.

First is replacing our aging mainframe with a cloud-based system. 

Second is automating business processes and dramatically modernizing procedures. 

Third is strengthening data governance, including a standardized data definition.  

Fourth is further enhancing remote IT access so that staff in headquarters and field offices can work from anyplace and anytime.

Fifth is further strengthening cybersecurity and IT resilience. 

These digital reforms will strengthen ADB’s operations, financial services, administration, and knowledge services in line with ADB’s new long-term Strategy 2030.

Execution is the key for every reform’s success. It depends on people embracing change. Change can be difficult when it involves learning new ways of working or doing things differently. Whether you are just starting your career or have a few years left, no one has an excuse to avoid this transformation.  

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, I hope this Forum will provide a productive venue for you to discuss fundamental changes in the development of countries and institutional opportunities regarding digital technologies. 

How can we leverage digital technologies for development in Asia and the Pacific? And, how can the development community work together to maximize the benefit of digital transformation in our institutions?  

I again welcome you to ADB and to the Digital Development Forum 2018.

Thank you.