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Young researchers bring fresh solutions to pressing digital challenges

28 May 2019

Twenty-five young researchers have presented evidence-based policy solutions to leverage opportunities arising from the digital transformation for member countries.

They are pursuing Master of Philosophy degrees in Public Policy at the University of Cambridge. The Commonwealth selected them for an innovation challenge to assess digital opportunities to design and deliver public services.

Latisha Harry, a researcher from Trinidad and Tobago, participated in the challenge at Marlborough House, the Commonwealth’s headquarters in London. Her team pitched the winning innovation to the judges. It involved launching a low-cost satellite from Seychelles, which is solely reliant on a submarine cable for connectivity.  The satellite would not only be a backup when the cable is not functioning but could also monitor weather and climate patterns, providing data for disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

“Coming from a small island state, I understand how vulnerable our people and our infrastructure is to natural disasters,” said Latisha, recounting her experience. “In 2018, more than 150,000 people were affected by flooding in my country which left many misplaced without power, mobile service and internet.”

Other ideas presented by the five teams included:

  • expanding and improving the delivery of healthcare and education in Ghana and Uganda through digital services;
  • providing basic public services to rural communities in Malawi and Sierra Leone through digital community hubs;
  • improving internet reliability and affordability by implementing a shared infrastructure programme between telecommunications providers and other utilities in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands; and
  • facilitating e-services to citizens in the Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis to enhance public service accountability.

The judges’ panel was composed of diplomats from Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis as well as the Deputy Secretary-General, Arjoon Suddhoo.

In his remarks, Deputy Secretary-General Suddhoo congratulated the researchers and wished them success. He said: “This innovation competition shows the commitment which we in the Commonwealth have to our work, particularly with regards to helping young people move forward.”

Abhik Sen, head of innovation and partnerships at the Commonwealth described innovation as a critical driver which enables member countries to achieve the sustainable development goals.

He said: “Young people often have the most innovative ideas, therefore, it was very exciting to hear all the brilliant proposals pitched by the Cambridge researchers.

“We hope to turn at least a few of the ideas into real projects. The rare opportunity to receive advice from such a distinguished panel of judges was an invaluable learning experience for the students, too.”

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