December 2, 2020

COVID-19 and its opportunities: digitalisation

During the height of the global pandemic, with strict lockdowns implemented in most countries around the world, Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) and SPARK signed an important new, four-year programme to support the economic resilience for Syrian refugees, IDPs and vulnerable host communities in Turkey and Jordan.

This group is particularly vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 restrictions. With thousands of jobs and livelihoods at risk, we brought together development practitioners, government officials and private sector representatives to discuss the opportunities for young people within digitisation. Digitisation has the potential to support entrepreneurs, SMSEs, students and universities not only to cope with the current crisis, but to come out of it stronger and more resilient.

Jobs Now: Going Digital During COVID-19 was held on Wednesday, 25th November 2020. Check out the descriptions below and watch each panel session again in full. 

Keynote address 

Speakers: Yannick Du Pont, CEO of SPARK; Libor Chlad, EU Head of FRIT; Yener Yılmaz,  Sector Coordinator at FRIT

Yannick Du Pont, SPARK’s founder and CEO, kicked off the conference with a keynote address featuring speakers familiar with the topic at hand. The keynote touched on topics including the Syrian conflict and subsequent refugee crisis, specifically those residing in Turkey. Libor Chlad, EU Head of FRIT, spoke about the opportunities presented by “crisis” in general and the advancements that have arisen from crisis situations. He also touched upon globalisation, and how to ensure that it’s benefits are more equitably shared amongst the population. He spoke about refugees in Turkey, the services they need to thrive, and how many of those services, including education, have become digitised in the wake of COVID-19. Following Libor, Yener Yılmaz, Sector Coordinator at FRIT, delivered remarks outlining the effect of lockdowns in Turkey on both the private sector and educational institutions. Overall, the keynote address set the tone for the panel sessions that followed. 

Scale-up: Acceleration of Digital Jobs 

Speakers: Arda Batu, Secretary-General & Board Member of TÜRKONFED; Joseph Sehwail, Associate Vice President of MEII, Duygu Aktaş, Women Entrepreneurs Coordinator at Hepsiburada; Yvona Nehme, Program Officer at SE Factory

Moderator: BJ Cunningham, Entrepreneur & Branding Master

This session brought together a diverse group of Turkish professionals, working in education, NGOs and the private sector, to discuss scaling-up the acceleration of digital jobs. The panelists spoke first about the challenges presented by the shift towards digitisation, particularly those faced by SMSEs.  From there, the conversation turned to the opportunities offered by digitisation, including differentiation of products, improved communication, and financial literacy. The panelists went on to discuss their organisation’s initiatives aimed at increasing digital employment.

They gave their recommendations on how organisations, entrepreneurs and students can better adapt to the digital paradigm shift occurring due to the pandemic. For organisations, these included having a financial plan, knowing your audience and differentiating yourself from competitors. Entrepreneurs were advised to hire a financial advisor, a digital strategist and a senior web developer. In all cases, the new hires should share the entrepreneurs vision for the company. The panel suggested students should keep abreast of changes in the market and acquire relevant knowledge for the new digital world, including software development and coding. Students are most likely to find success when following their passion, which can be discovered through taking advantage of e-learning, internships and traineeships. 

Start-up: Entrepreneurship in Times of Crisis

Speakers: Grace Atkinson, Executive Director of Jusoor; Lorraine Charles, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Na’amal; Mustafa El Sagezli, Director of BINA; Roberto Croci, Regional Managing Director of Microsoft for Startups

Moderator: Laith Al-Qasem, CEO of Innovative Startups and SMEs Fund

Entrepreneurship, and the effect digitisation is having on it, was the focus of this session. The panelists began by discussing how their organisations support entrepreneurship in their respective regions. These efforts include training, research and incubation projects, many of which have gone online due to the pandemic.

They then moved on to a discussion of the “entrepreneurial mindset” and how best to cultivate it amongst target populations, including encouraging creative thinking and the ability to learn from failure, rather than succumb to it.  From there, they outlined the challenges facing entrepreneurs in the wake of COVID-related restrictions. Interestingly, the panel conveyed the difficulty of entrepreneurship in general, and how it is often the only option available for refugees excluded from the formal labor market. To conclude, they explored the ways in which entrepreneurs (and organisations that support them) can move forward in this newly digitised world to ensure more successful outcomes. Recommendations such as building an entrepreneurial “ecosystem”, with laws, policies and incubators working together to encourage business growth were given. 

Match-up: Jobs and Markets

Speakers: Enis Kösem, General Manager of United Work; Leontine Specker, Regional Programme Director at SPARK; Şafak Boy, Senior Relationship Manager at LinkedIn; Zakarya Al Motair, FSL Program Officer at Qatar Charity

Moderator: Serdar Dinler, President of CSR Turkey

This panel focused on how remote work is impacting the matching of job seekers with employers. The potential for digital platforms, such as LinkedIn, to help job seekers differentiate themselves from the competition was examined. From there, the conversation moved on to programmes aimed at matching Syrian refugees in Turkey with employment opportunities. Interestingly, digitisation of these services has allowed for many more refugee participants than the previous face to face model. Additionally, the effect that digitisation has had on increasing demand for certain skills, such as advanced digital competencies, was discussed. The need for universities to adjust their curriculum accordingly was highlighted. Turkish language acquisition, a common stumbling block for refugee job seekers, was also explored, particularly in terms of online language training. 

Skill-up: Distant and Online Learning and Training

Speakers: Edward Holroyd Pearce, President of Virtual Internships; Dr. Lana Cook, Strategic Initiatives Officer at MIT Open Learning and MIT Refugee Action Hub; Shelley Hoy, Director of Programs at Re-coded; Cem Güneri, Vice President for Education at Sabancı University

Moderator: Dr. Sami Hourani, Founder/CEO of Leaders For Tomorrow

Online education and training, an increasing important issue during COVID-19, was the focus of this panel. The discussion began by examining the utility of digital internships, which have become much more common during the pandemic. From there, the question of whether current trends towards remote internships and education would continue after COVID-19 was explored. The panellists spoke about the ways in which they felt this “new normal” would be carried post-pandemic.

One important issue raised was the “digital divide” between rich and poor areas, and how to overcome this issue, whether it be through developing infrastructure to bring internet access to places lacking it to capacity building among educators (and para-educators) to fully take advantage of new digital tools.  The panel went on to speak about the changing face of university education in the wake of increased digitisation. Professors will need to find ways to become more engaging through digital platforms. Additionally, universities should better utilise the hybrid online/offline learning model, which is predicted to carry over into post-pandemic life. Though challenges exist, there are also many opportunities to expand the reach of higher education through digitisation. These include partnerships between universities across large geographical distances and digital internships that are more financially accessible to low-income students.

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