We cannot know what awaits us in 2023. But the last few years, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the war of aggression against Ukraine, have shown that we need to prepare for crises. In this context, resilience is increasingly becoming the magic word of our time.
Depending on the discipline, resilience is applied at different levels: In psychology, resilience refers to a person’s individual, psychological resistance, while sociology understands it as the ability of societies to cope with external disruptions. The term digital resilience is interpreted primarily in economic terms, when the targeted use and expansion of technologies and digital infrastructure serve to cushion crises and maintain services. Resilience thus always describes the ability to withstand prevailing uncertainty and to adapt flexibly to changing conditions.
Since the Global South in particular suffers from crises (such as climate change) and their consequences, and at the same time has fewer resources and economic stability to counter them, successful development cooperation is also measured by the extent to which it can contribute to global resilience.
Support in a crisis
When war or a pandemic breaks out, rapid action is required. Targeted measures must be taken immediately to help those affected and to alleviate the suffering as quickly and as effectively as possible. Ideally, however, emergency aid should already be channeled into investments that will have an impact beyond the crisis, i.e. facilitate future cooperation, modernize infrastructure and stabilize societies – especially in view of the crises to come.
Digital pandemic response
The COVID-19 pandemic can only be brought under control through joint global engagement. Vaccines are central to this, as they reduce the severity of the course and the further spread of the virus. In developing and emerging countries in particular, quite few people have yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Against this background, the global network initiated by WHO to accelerate the development, production and distribution of COVID-19 medical products is a historic example of international collaboration.
As vaccines, medicines, and tests arrive at national ports and airports, recipient countries assume responsibility for distribution. This task presents a significant challenge: many of our partner countries lack effective digital solutions in their health systems that could assist with pandemic prevention and response.
Transformation out of crisis
Digitalisation is characterized by the fact that it provides users with a high degree of flexibility. Services can be accessed at any time and from any location, are easy to scale and can therefore potentially be made available to many people at minimal marginal cost.
The example of Ukraine (cf. citizen portal Diia) also shows how digital infrastructure and e-government systems enable governments to remain in contact with the population and provide support even in times of war.
Crises and transformation are not mutually exclusive. Rather, crises call for sustainable transformation – toward increased resilience, i.e., the ability to remain functional through adaptation even in crisis situations. Future measures should therefore contribute to a transformation that makes societies as a whole more independent, flexible and resilient. Digitalisation plays a crucial role in this.
What will be important in the future
Digitalisation has proven to be a key stabilizing factor in recent crises – and at the same time has shown under a burning glass in which areas there is still a need to catch up. If we want to use the digital transformation to make societies more resilient, we must (continue to) pay attention to the following:
- Access for all: especially in crises, digital offerings replace analog ones (in both the public and private sectors). If, at the same time, the Global South in particular suffers from the consequences of the crises and the majority of the approximately 3.6 billion people there live without Internet access, the existing inequality will be further exacerbated. This digital divide must be closed first and foremost.
- Security: With the dependence on digital infrastructures and global networking, the risk of cyber attacks and data misuse is also growing. To counter the risks and ensure the security of the digital space, measures on the part of government agencies must be coordinated.
- Open standards: Free and open software should make digital innovations publicly accessible; open standards ensure, for example, that data can be exchanged more easily and read by machines. In this way, they facilitate and accelerate the exchange of knowledge and enable forms of international and intersectoral cooperation.
- Using crises for sustainable transformation: In addition to direct emergency assistance in the face of an existing crisis, investments should also pay into the prevention and/or mitigation of crises to come. Instead of reconstruction, the crisis can and should be seen as an opportunity for reconstruction, expansion and transformation. The pressure for change brought about by an acute crisis can be an important impetus for modernization (despite all the misery caused).