Recognizing SME innovation: The engine of digital transformation

*The following article has been adapted from my remarks at yesterday’s SME Awards online ceremony as part of ITU Virtual Digital World 2020.

This pandemic has shown us how we can accelerate progress towards connecting all of humanity when we work together across borders and sectors, with both large and small businesses.

I am more confident than ever in the lasting impact of small, medium-sized, and micro-enterprises (SMEs) on lives in communities around the world. Tech SMEs are key to achieving the level of connectivity and digital transformation we are striving for. They have the power to bring about social and economic development like no other industry or industry sector.

Celebrating achievements

It has been five years since we launched the ITU Telecom SME Awards and SME Programme in 2015, the same year the world adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we enter the Decade of Action, supporting entrepreneurship-driven innovation has never been more important.

These awards recognize start-ups and SMEs that are creating innovative tech solutions for connectivity, smart cities, e-health, and digital finance – all areas that are of major importance to the SDGs and the digital economy.

Tech SMEs and entrepreneurs need support and encouragement from governments, industry, and international organizations to thrive.


And it is in this context that ITU introduced reduced membership fees for start-ups and SMEs in January of this year to encourage greater participation in ITU’s work. The SMEs we celebrated yesterday are the engine of the digital economy and will be critical to the speed and success of the recovery, even though SMEs have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Meet the winners

I congratulate all participants in the ITU Digital World SME Awards, past and present, and especially yesterday’s winners:

  • Astrome from India, using millimetre wave wireless communication to provide fibre-like backhaul capacity for 4G and 5G infrastructure, in the Connectivity category.

  • BusMap from Viet Nam, providing smart public transit solutions through navigation algorithms and advanced user experience features for consumers, corporates and governments in the Smart cities, smart living category.

  • Appy Saude from Angola, for their e-health platform identifying the nearest pharmacy location, best price and availability of medicines, in the E-health category.

  • OKO Finance from Israel, providing smallholder farmers with crop insurance and access to digital financial tools through simple mobile technologies, in the Digital finance category.
These are small companies with big ideas, which develop local solutions with the potential to go global.

I look forward to hearing about their future success and call on these businesses to continue their important work accelerating digital transformation and bringing the benefits of ICTs to everyone, everywhere.

Looking ahead to Ha Noi

Back in October Viet Nam hosted ITU Virtual Digital World 2020, a three-day event where Ministers, regulators, and private sector leaders from around the world stressed the importance of SMEs in building back better in the wake of COVID-19. I was pleased to see Viet Nam issue investment incentives for SMEs early in the pandemic.

We especially look forward to ITU Digital World 2021 in Ha Noi from 12 to 15 October 2021. We cannot wait to meet in person to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the ICT industry – and to see for ourselves the tremendous progress made in Viet Nam’s digital transformation.

I hope to welcome this year’s SME Award winners in Ha Noi for what promises to be a great opportunity to network, debate, share experiences, and learn from each other.

Image credit: ITU

 

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