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Meet the winners: Connect2Recover research competition

As the world contemplates education, jobs, and healthcare needs in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, governments and companies have largely concurred on the need to “build back better”. Yet they struggle with specific ways to ensure no one is left behind.

Addressing this key digital development challenge is central to the Connect2Recover initiative of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

With support from ITU member Huawei, the initiative launched an international research competition earlier this year, focused on fostering digital inclusion as part of COVID-19 recovery efforts.

Open to academics and think tanks, as well as to individual experts, the competition sought research proposals in the key areas of education, jobs and healthcare.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said:

“I am confident that the 15 winning proposals will contribute towards knowledge sharing and provide a foundation for building resilient digital infrastructure and impacting key areas such as education, healthcare and job creation for the beneficiary countries.”

“I am confident that the results of these projects will make a significant contribution to digital inclusion. Each of them seeks tailored and actionable recommendations to policymakers in the countries and contexts they address,” said Chen Lifang, Corporate Senior Vice President and Director of the Board at Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Selected research projects

After evaluating 307 applications from around the world, the jury selected 15 research projects to take further:

  1. Making higher education truly inclusive, by Michael P. Canares and team
  2. Market resilience in emerging digital economies: Case study of kenya during COVID-19 pandemic, by William Baraza and team
  3. Digital transformation of micro-enterprises in Ghana, by Stan Karanasios and team
  4. Rebuilding digital inclusion for the rural counties of Kenya, by Leonard Mabele and team
  5. COLRN:A community-based vision for local resilient networks, by Melissa Densmore and team
  6. A policy framework for education resilience by Hassan Radoine and team
  7. Network in a box to provide health services in remote areas, by Mohamed-Slim Alouini and team
  8. Creating a blueprint for Africa’s transition towards an inclusive and competitive digital economy: Identifying potential industries, stakeholders, and use cases for the development of a federated digital platform and advanced services with a focus on Botswana, by Michael Max Bühler and team
  9. What’s holding back digital inclusion? A comparative study of vulnerable groups in Uganda and South Africa, by Fredrick Kanobe and team
  10. Digital inclusion to cure Nigeria’s health service, by Lasisi Salami Lawal and team
  11. Determinants of digital inclusion in higher education: Exploring the Ethiopian context, by Wondwossen Mulualem Beyene and team
  12. How contemporary digital inclusion strategies can reinvigorate the quality of life for elderly population in post-COVID Malaysia by Maniam Kaliannan and team
  13. Telemedicine can fight chronic diseases in Dominica, by Benet Henry and team
  14. Digital financial inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises in the COMESA region, by Forbes Makudza and team
  15. Digital health provision through telemedicine ecosystem in sub-Saharan Africa, by Dr. Edward Asiedu and team
Unanimous selection

After the July 2021 submission deadline, the 15 winners were selected by consensus based on the following evaluation criteria:

  • Collaboration: Participants were encouraged to apply in teams comprising institutions from both developed and developing countries.
  • Relevance: Submissions were required to provide essential insights to foster digital inclusion, with research on connecting the unconnected receiving a special focus. The jury also looked for examples of good practices and how additional research could improve the status quo while enabling stakeholders to achieve improvements in future conditions.
  • Impact: Submissions had to offer fresh, innovative recommendations and highlight potential impact on vulnerable and currently digitally excluded groups.
  • Viability: Recommendations had to demonstrate research adaptability and replicability.
  • Sustainability: Proposals had to show financial sustainability, account for short- and mid-term impacts of COVID-19, and demonstrate engagement with local partners.
  • Novelty: Proposals were meant to put forward original research related to new knowledge discovery in the field of digital inclusion.
  • Implementation plan: Finally, the jury was on the lookout for concrete, actionable recommendations, along with a solid plan to implement each pilot project in a beneficiary country.

Ahmad Reza Sharafat, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Tarbiat Modares Univeristy in Tehran, headed the jury, which also included Nur Sulyna Abdullah, Chief of the Digital Knowledge Hub Department at ITU; Ellen Helsper,Professor of Digital Inequalities in the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics; Cosmas Zavazava, Chief of Department responsible for Partnerships for Digital Development; and Ida Nganga, Regional Head, Africa, Anglophone Countries for UNESCO Emerging Technologies for Development Steering Committee, based in Bordeaux, France.

Next steps

The 15 projects are now set to be elaborated further and submitted as Research Briefs for a forthcoming ITU publication series, Build back better with broadband: Research stories from the frontline. Learn more about the winning projects.

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