ICT: The solution and the opportunity

Anna Easton
Anna Easton

BT works hard as part of a flourishing ecosystem of partners, suppliers and customers to erase the digital divide and build universal shared value.

Following her keynote at the Broadband World Forum yesterday, Anna Easton, BT’s director of sustainable business, explains all in this exclusive guest post…

At BT, bringing the benefits of a connected society is what gets us up in the morning.

By making connections we help improve the lives of millions of people by giving them access to healthcare, education, jobs – and each other.

For us, it’s all about using the power of communications to make a better world.

And that’s why it should come as no surprise to discover that many of BT’s current business activities are materially supportive of the recently agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals.

These 17 Global Goals, are aimed at ending poverty, fighting inequality and protecting the environment.

I’m proud to say that we in BT are fighting in the UN’s corner and contributing with enthusiasm to this pioneering agenda. Not as an add-on to our business activities, but every day through our people, products and services, we are working to make this world a better place.

ICT has a critical role in creating better business and a better world. It is both a solution, and an opportunity.

Smart money

The SMARTer2030 report published in the summer reveals that the use of ICT and the smarter use of digital technologies such as networked sensors, mobile applications and smart grids, could generate more than $6 trillion US dollars of additional revenue opportunity alongside $5 trillion in cost saving opportunities by 2030.

Critically, the report also highlights a future in which 2.5 billion people – who do not have access to ICT-enabled services today – could be connected to the knowledge economy by 2030.

And 1.6 billion people, according to SMARTer2030, could have access to e-healthcare with half a billion benefitting from e-learning solutions.

What’s more, findings show the potential for a near 20 per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2030. Again, all made possible by ICT.

Solution. Opportunity.  These two words represent the basis of BT’s approach to tackling some of world’s biggest social, economic and environmental challenges.

Building shared value

We want to erase the digital divide and build universal shared value.

Therefore, we are aligning the pursuit of digital inclusion with our business priorities to create possibilities for society and the environment, for our customers, our partners and our suppliers.

These are possibilities that can benefit a whole ecosystem – and be delivered by the very same ecosystem.

BT is now at the centre of a growing ecosystem of customers, partners and suppliers working closely with us to get people online.

And our approach has already enjoyed success.

You only have to have a look at what’s been happening in the south-west of England.

The Superfast Cornwall project – a partnership between BT, local councils, the European Union and involving a number of our technology suppliers – has totally transformed Cornwall.

Best connected

To the extent that Cornwall is now one of the best connected rural areas in Europe.

It’s fast and reliable fibre network has created or safeguarded 4,500 jobs (and counting), it’s produced more than £186 million in economic benefits. It’s an investment that’s has helped thousands of people get online for the first time – and it will help save half a million tonnes of CO2 by 2020.

Another great example is the Connecting Africa programme.

Here, BT has teamed up with the charity SOS Children’s Villages to help give vulnerable children in Africa a better life through technology.

By giving them access to the internet we are changing their lives and helping whole communities.

We’ve done this by providing free broadband access to thirty SOS Children’s Villages in thirteen African countries via a global satellite network. One of our products – VSAT has made this possible.

Connected communities

It’s enabled us to bring connectivity to the heart of these African communities enabling them to benefit from education, healthcare and more.

In my view, the reason BT’s approach works is down to three factors – collaboration, innovation and scale.

First, effective collaboration is a must. And it’s something BT has a world-class pedigree in.

For example, we joined hands with Coca-Cola in South Africa on a project to install free wi-fi points on Coca-Cola vending machines in two busy city areas. This internet access allows many local people to get connected as they go about their day-to-day activities. This includes a large number students who use the service to access online educational resources as well as local entrepreneurs who need access to business resources.

Build confidence

Closer to home we are working closely with Barclays to provide free wi-fi and hands-on digital support at libraries and community centres in deprived areas across England.

And we’ve helped introduce Barclays Digital Eagles, specially trained members of Barclays staff who provide free technology advice to customers and non-customers alike will work at the new wi-fi sites to help local people build confidence and develop the skills they need to succeed in the digital world.

Second, our approach involves innovation – what we call ‘informed innovation’. It means we take time to properly evaluate the social impact of the projects we work on because understanding the difference we make helps us create the next wave of product and service innovation

In Glasgow we took our learning of what helps people get online and developed a pilot product. Together with the Scottish Government we have brought affordable wi-fi access to more than a hundred households in a Glasgow Housing Association multi-storey.

New product development

The knowledge and insight we gained from undertaking that project helped us develop, refine and launch two pioneering products BT Basic + Broadband and our Social Housing proposition.

Finally, we recognise the importance of scale. Every day we support more than 6,500 of the world’s most demanding organisations using 89,000 people in over 170 countries.

We have the scale to deliver globally using our ecosystem of partners, customers and supplier.

A good example is the One Million Community Health Workers (1MHCW) where BT joined global pharmaceutical, communications and technologies companies as well as the UN, governments and NGOs.

Power to the workers

It’s all about using communications technology to deliver significantly better healthcare to sub-Saharan Africa’s rural poor. With more health workers, empowered with communications technology, the campaign is aiming to deliver systematic rural coverage of community healthcare support in Africa and prevent the deaths of two million people each year.

But, we know we can’t do any of this on our own.

We need to share the responsibility, share opportunity and, share the value.

We want more of our partners, our suppliers, our customers, start-ups, those in government, or academia, to join us in this business opportunity.

And, at the same time, help us to take on some of the world’s biggest social challenges and change the lives of millions of people.

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