Zanfina Gashi, Female IT Training, American University of Kosovo (AUK), EYE Project | © Helvetas / Christian Bobst

Fostering Inclusivity and Sectoral Development through ICT

BY: Sabin Selimi - 07. May 2024
© Helvetas / Christian Bobst

In the digital age, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have emerged as powerful catalysts for inclusive economic development. The regional program, RECONOMY, with projects spanning across the Eastern Partnership and Western Balkan countries, stands at the forefront of connecting the potential of ICT to create inclusive job opportunities and drive the development of other sectors like tourism and agriculture. RECONOMY is an inclusive and green economic development program born out of the partnership between Helvetas and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

This article delves into the multifaceted development work of RECONOMY, exploring how its projects are shaping a more inclusive ICT landscape and leveraging digital solutions for sectoral growth in the Eastern Partnership region and the Western Balkans.

Bridging the digital divide: Inclusive jobs in ICT

One of RECONOMY's regional projects is centered around creating inclusive job opportunities in ICT. This project aims to dismantle the barriers that women and youth, particularly those from disadvantaged and excluded groups, face in accessing job opportunities within the digital economy.

Partnerships with specialized training providers like Beetroot Academy, Armenian Code Academy (ACA), and Serbian Games Association (SGA) equip participants with the technical skills required for the digital economy while also fostering a deeper understanding of the societal and economic implications of digital transformation. The focus on accessible training programs for individuals without prior technical backgrounds is particularly noteworthy, as it opens up new pathways for inclusive employment and self-employment in the ICT sector.

This project recognizes the significant employment challenges and skills mismatch among youth and women in the ICT sector, where many lack the technical skills necessary for the rapidly evolving digital job market, leading to barriers in securing gainful employment. Presently, the digital economy is expanding at a significantly swifter pace than the availability of adequately skilled individuals to meet its demands. This gap limits the sector's growth potential and overall development.

The advent of new technologies is reshaping the competitive landscape for businesses in the Eastern Partnership region, necessitating the acquisition of new skills. Inclusion issues compound this, as youth and women face additional hurdles like limited access to quality education, social and cultural biases, and lack of exposure to digital economy opportunities, contributing to their underrepresentation.

Beetroot Academy is known for its expertise in delivering technical training, developing high-quality, relevant programs, and facilitation of job placements. The partnership with RECONOMY enables Beetroot Academy to expand its impact and address the digital skills gap, enhancing its reputation and social influence. The academy has also expanded into B2B training products to support businesses in adopting new technologies, thereby improving efficiency, productivity and innovation. A pilot intervention with Ukrainian refugees in Moldova exemplified the adaptability of digital economy roles, with certain fields not requiring specific technical backgrounds. This highlights the potential for accessible specializations that can be quickly learned, emphasizing the importance of market-responsive curricula and effective outreach to engage women and youth.

ACA is reputed for aligning tech education with industry requirements and fostering practice-based, inclusive and lifelong learning opportunities. For a long time, the gaming industry has coalesced around three major hubs: Japan, North America and Western Europe. Publishers from these hubs were the largest and most powerful, taking what appeared to be an unassailable lead in this emerging, booming industry. In recent years, however, this has changed. With the relocation of game development companies to Armenia, there's a burgeoning demand for skilled workers in this sector. The partnership between RECONOMY and ACA aims to develop new training programs for the gaming industry, addressing the gap in the labor market and leveraging ACA's industry connections and RECONOMY's experience in gaming interventions. This collaboration will create a vibrant market environment for learning and experience exchange within the Eastern Partnership region, providing new employment opportunities for youth and women in the dynamic game development sector.

SGA's active promotion of gaming professions in the Western Balkan region, particularly Serbia, and the successful launch of the Shift2Games (S2G) educational and matching platform, have significantly contributed to raising awareness of career potential in the game development sector for youth and women. RECONOMY's partnership with SGA aims to support the platform's expansion throughout the Western Balkan region, leveraging SGA's will, skill and market influence to promote growth and development in the gaming industry, improve education and training, address gender inequality and enhance the overall ecosystem for professionals in the sector.

ICT for the development of other sectors

RECONOMY's vision extends beyond creating employment opportunities within the ICT sector. The program recognizes the transformative potential of ICT in catalyzing the development of other critical economic sectors. The TransDinarica serves as a prime example of this approach. By developing and digitalizing the TransDinarica cross-border cycling route, the Western Balkan region is being transformed into a destination for tourism.

This initiative capitalizes on the region's untapped tourism potential, while also leveraging digital tools to enhance the tourism experience and operational efficiency. The focus of the project is on inclusivity, with the aim to empower local communities, especially young individuals and women in rural areas, by stimulating tourism activities that generate employment and supplementary income like local services such as accommodation, food, guide services, and so on. The use of digital technologies in promoting and managing the tourism offering underlines the role of ICT in driving the sustainable development of the tourism sector.

In addition to tourism, RECONOMY also focuses on the agriculture sector, particularly in rural areas of the Eastern Partnership region and the Western Balkans that face challenges such as limited economic opportunities, high unemployment and a significant youth migration to urban areas. RECONOMY aims to address these issues by supporting farmers with better access to funds, offering consultancy services and advocating for their needs to the public institutions, with a specific focus on engaging and empowering youth and women within agricultural households. This approach is expected to improve agricultural productivity and income, and promote sustainability and resilience in rural communities​​.

Partnerships with initiatives like Seljak, a digital platform that supports agricultural producers by offering a marketplace and connecting farmers, are central to RECONOMY’s goal. Seljak has been successful in creating a stable marketplace, which makes it an ideal partner for driving change in the region. The platform focuses on youth in agriculture, digitalization, empowering women in rural areas, and promoting green agriculture models​​.

Another partner, SkyAgro, an Armenian startup that has recently expanded to Georgia with the support of RECONOMY, is advancing precision agriculture services through the use of agricultural drones and data-driven insights. This innovative approach promotes resource efficiency and has the potential to drive green and digital transformations in agriculture. SkyAgro is committed to expanding its services among women and youth in agriculture, providing them with tools for effective resource management​​.

Additionally, RECONOMY is addressing freelancing through the lens of remote work, leveraging technological advancements and digitalization to bridge the gap between the industry's talent needs and the available workforce. The program focuses on investing in skills development, raising awareness, and showcasing career prospects to build a skilled professional workforce from complementary industries. Digital platforms have become crucial in connecting labor demand with the available workforce, facilitating platform-based employment that encompasses various work forms across multiple sectors​​.

The Union of Young Entrepreneurs and Melita&Partners are key partners in this endeavor. The Union is focused on creating a favorable environment for the economic empowerment of young entrepreneurs and women, offering support services such as financial literacy, legal assistance and marketing resources. Melita&Partners specializes in training for freelance digital accounting, connecting students with potential employers and ensuring that training programs meet market demands​​.

Together, these initiatives highlight the significant role of ICT in transforming multiple sectors by introducing innovative solutions and digital tools that address critical challenges and unlock new opportunities for inclusive economic development in the two regions.

The path forward

The rapid pace of technological advancements necessitates the continuous adaptation and evolution of training programs to ensure that the skills imparted remain relevant and in line with market demands. Moreover, fostering a culture of digital adoption among businesses, especially in sectors with traditional operational models, requires sustained efforts in awareness-raising and capacity building.

The opportunities, however, are immense. The digital transformation catalyzed by RECONOMY's support can significantly enhance productivity, innovation and sustainability across sectors. By fostering inclusivity in the ICT sector and leveraging digital solutions for sectoral development, this program is contributing to the creation of a more resilient and equitable economic landscape in the Eastern Partnership region and the Western Balkans.

About the Author
Communication Manager of the RECONOMY Program