Still image from the short film "Smart but fair - Make digitalisation work for all". Copyright: VENROOn 1 December, VENRO and various partners hosted the online conference “Smart but fair: How digitalisation works for everyone” to discuss opportunities and risks of digitalisation for social inclusion, political participation and sustainable development. 300 participants from politics, civil society, business and the digital sector examined issues like digitalisation and education, digitalisation in Africa, or sustainable supply chains and the “right to repair”. The day kicked off with the screening of the “Smart but fair” short film (watch here on YouTube).

Most participants of the “Smart but fair” online conference agreed that digitalisation can contribute to a better and more sustainable world. It offers access to information, international communication and cooperation, can increase political transparency or makes work and production processes more efficient. However, the risks have also become clearer: increasing inequalities between the global North and South, between generations or between men and women; authoritarian control and manipulation by states and corporations; or massive consumption of energy and raw materials.

The programme started with an interview on the topic “Society and digital change: How are politicians worldwide preparing for the digital future?”. The former politician turned digital activists Marina Weisband from Politik digital described current trends and gaps in politics and society.

Inclusive and integrated approaches to digitalisation

The panel discussion “Smart but fair: What opportunities and risks do digital tools and instruments offer for sustainable development and participation?” brought together experts working on the effects of digitalisation on people with disabilities, the young generation, social inclusion, access to information and environmental protection (among other issues). Jürgen Dusel, Federal Government Commissioner for Matters relating to Persons with Disabilities, vividly described how many barriers and restrictions still exist in the digital and physical world. He called on politicians and society alike to use an inclusive and integrated approach to digitalisation and avoid repeating the usual pattern of first building up structures and then later trying to adapt them to the needs of people with disabilities.

The second part of the conference examined concrete approaches for an equitable, fair and solidary digitalisation. All participants were invited to contribute their ideas in one of the following four workshops:

  • Fair raw materials policy, sustainable supply chains and the “Right to Repair”
  • Digitalisation as an opportunity for active participation
  • Opportunities and risks of digitalisation in Africa
  • Education must become more digital

The final panel discussion “How can politics, business and civil society contribute to socially and environmentally sustainable digitalisation?” brought together representatives from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) as well as civil society (Konnektiv Kollektiv), and the business sector (SAP SE) to take a closer look at the possible synergies between different actors.

The conference was co-organised by several German non-governmental organisations from different sectors, namely the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der deutschen Familienorganisationen (AGF), CorA-Netzwerk für Unternehmensverantwortung, Paritätischer Gesamtverband, Deutscher Bundesjugendring (DBJR), Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR), Forum Menschenrechte, Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung, Klima-Allianz Deutschland, and VENRO.

The publication “Smart, aber fair: Wie Digitalisierung alle mitnehmen kann” (PDF, in German only) closely examines the topics discussed at the conference.

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