DigiTech as a Social Enabler

Ted Aldwin OngLast week, I attended the Digital Strategies for Development Summit held at the Asian Institute of Management in Manila. The summit was a multi-stakeholder’s gathering coming from government, the private sector, the academe, media, and civil society, not only within the Philippines, but likewise from other countries.

The gathering was an enriching experience for the participants after the organizers assembled competent resource persons and thought leaders in the field of digital technology. They were able to discuss how they formulated strategies to optimize the opportunity presented by advancements in digital technology.

The presenters was able to showcase the different platforms that they have utilized for effective service delivery in the area of local governance, on health, on youth, education and employment, disaster management and climate change, and social innovation and enterprises, among other areas of expertise.

Olga Babina, the conference director was precise in describing digital technology becoming more extensive and expansive and which it is being used for every purpose imaginable. Babina emphasized that “the power of social media and mobile platforms has helped pioneer and enhance existing processes across a wide range of sectors, making technology a truly social enabler.”

The panel discussions and thematic break-out sessions gave an opportunity for social development workers and media persons to gather relevant insights and learnings from the experiences of discussants. It also offered an opportunity for friends from the social development work from other parts of the country to discuss issues that were subject of interaction in the virtual community, in particular, through the social networking vehicle, Facebook.

In our side discussions, we were able to revisit the pressing issues of the day that were posted over Facebook mostly on government corruption and enforcement of legislations by incompetent public servants. These thematic issues that had sparked national debate, cascaded into the social media helped mobilized people to exercise active citizenship by checking on how national issues shape up and manifest in the local level wherein local government units and regional offices of national government agencies operate.

As what Olga Babina highlighted, the social media had indeed enhanced processes across a wide range of sectors. One prominent observation that I enlisted is the acceptability of Facebook among the poor. The Facebook alone has effectively empowered the poor for they have expanded its utilization from a more personal into societal.

It enabled the poor to look into how the few who are rich in our society, the elite, and the neo-elite politicians, live their lives. It provided them the opportunity to observe the way these people think in spite of their limited educational achievement. More importantly and above narcissistic concerns, it allowed them to reflect on the bigger issues in our society like the impact of corruption, injustice, and inequality.

The affordability of the communications gadgets gradually enabled the poor to acquire facilities for communications. Before it was only mobile phones yet today we see them use tablets and laptop computers. Undeniably, it is not the rich but the poor in our society that had become the biggest consumer sector in the communications industry’s pre-paid retail market – selling unlimited text messages, low-priced call schemes and promos of unrestrained use of the internet.

In spite of laws governing the use of the virtual world, the poor in our society had become unfazed by regulations. They have embraced the digital facility as their only space to ventilate grievances against abusive and corrupt government officials. In this facility, they need no land titles and permits to occupy its space building a reality of having acquired a property of their own and from which they can exercise their own power and authority over others.

For them, the digital world offered the platform that puts them in equal plain with the rich and oppressive. It provided them the freedom to criticize and condemn malpractices using language that they are proficient and comfortable and which they can express without pretensions.

The communications industry in the Philippines today is considered the biggest sari-sari store. The products that they are selling to the public is their own version of shampoos in sachet sizes or cooking oil sold by scoops in public markets. No wonder that this industry had raked billions in profits annually; profits that these corporations have acquired by feasting on the poor’s vulnerability through its newfound power through the use of digital technology. ###