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How can connectivity solve world problems? 5 takeaways from Act for Impact Day Barcelona

Founders and CEOs from the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, Telefónica, Einride, Seliro and TechBuddy discuss digital access, climate change, and workplace inclusion.

By Poppy Koronka

How can collaboration, tech and connectivity improve the world we live in? This was the topic of the Act for Impact Day Barcelona by Team Sweden, which coincided with Mobile World Congress on June 30, and which saw experts from the public and private sectors discuss how tech can act as a revolutionising force in everything from transport and diversity in the workplace to human rights. 

Sifted learnt how tech can improve the world from the likes of giants such as Ericsson, Nokia and Telefónica, and startups like automated transport innovator Einride, connectivity startup Seliro and tech support provider TechBuddy. Here are the day’s biggest takeaways.

1. 5G is here, and it could revolutionise IoT (and IIoT)

While 5G has been the subject of scrutiny, misinformation and many, many conspiracy theories, the mass rollout of the new network has the telecom sector buzzing at its potential. 

Marc Miralda, expansion manager at tech support platform TechBuddy, says that by 2025, 20% of all communications will happen through 5G. And we’re not just talking about texts and phone calls; Miralda says we can expect to see everything from 5G robots to 3D printers that print meat alternatives running on a 5G network. 

“5G will make the industrial internet of things (the IIoT) much smoother and much faster — and as well, it will mean that the interaction between robots and humans in the factory floor will happen much faster and in a more optimised way.” — Miralda, TechBuddy 

2. Covid-19: good or bad for equality in the workplace?

Kajsa Arvidsson, CEO of smart homes software solutions provider Seliro, says working from home in the pandemic has offered new opportunities and access to workplaces for those who can’t come into the office — whether they live in another country, or they cannot leave the house for other reasons, including physical disabilities.

For those reasons, Arvidsson says tech has really allowed the workplace to step 10 years into the future. 

However, this new post-pandemic world has in some ways exacerbated the issues women have faced in the workplace for years. During Covid-19, professional women globally were confined to the house, increasing the pressures of carrying out the ‘second shift’ of household labour and parenthood duties, and leading to what many refer to as a ‘shecession’ — a recession of women’s workplace gains.

Arvidsson says tech companies need to make a concerted effort to make sure their female employees don’t fall behind. 

“How can we, as employers, prevent this 10 years of stepping back in diversity? It’s important to be much more purpose driven… If you work from home, and you have to be off for three hours in the middle of the day, should you then work another three hours in the evening? Or should you just focus on what is being delivered and when?” — Arvidsson, Seliro 

3. Digital access will become a human right

Peter Wennerström, head of strategy, business development and business operations for Europe at Nokia, says digital access and inclusion will soon become a human right — and with the increasing role technology plays in our everyday lives, from smart cities to IoT, this could be sooner rather than later. 

He told the panel that Nokia believes in a hyperconnected, post-5G world where innovation is king, and everyone has access to the technology they need.

“We know connectivity has a massive impact on its own, but connectivity is also the enabler for innovation, which has further impact. So technology means that better connectivity is becoming a human right, and we need to fight the digital divide. Collaboration is key to foster innovation, in order to make this impact.” — Wennerström, Nokia

4. Public-private partnerships could be key to solving the digital divide

Tech’s role in inclusion extends far beyond just gender equality. Heather Johnson, Ericsson’s VP for sustainability and corporate responsibility, says the last year has shown just how important tech can be for inclusion, specifically in digital literacy.

Johnson spoke about digital inclusion, and the role the telecom sector can play in advocating and facilitating change. Public-private partnerships are in a particularly unique position to help drive change, as they can coordinate to better address the root cause of the issue, and distribute solutions across communities.

Johnson cites school connectivity as an example, and says it’s not just a case of making sure all school children are connected –– but also making sure there’s adequate training and support via public education to ensure digital literacy too. 

“Digital literacy will also be another area where we will continue to work both with private sector partners as well as public partners, to really drive change. Just referring to what we saw in the pandemic, I think the digital divide is a global one. It’s not something that’s in developing markets, and I think the risk is if we’re not convening, coalescing and working together, that divide could become a chasm.” — Johnson, Ericsson

5. Innovation in transport had stagnated — but not any more

Per Olof Arnäs, senior logistics strategist at Swedish startup Einride, spoke about the transport industry, its contributions to the global carbon footprint and how it needs to do better. 

His company, Einride, makes semi-autonomous and fully autonomous electric vehicles. He says autonomous vehicles are the “inevitable” future of transport, but have been held back by rising fuel costs and the high price of the vehicles themselves. This future is now being sped up, thanks to the urgency of climate change.

“10 years ago, electric vehicles were very expensive. The charging was not that built out, it was really a hassle to own an electric car. Look at them now! They’re now entering this exponential growth phase, where we have all major car manufacturers resetting their production to create electric cars. That’s the only thing that they will sell in 10 years from now.” — Arnäs, Einride

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