Speech by Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, at the Digital Transformation in Central Asia Conference 2019

Date: 04 October 2019

Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman, Board of Trustees, UCA

Hyatt Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
4 October 2019

Speech by His Excellency, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, President of Kyrgyzstan (Russian, Kyrgyz)
Conference Outcomes
Press Releases

The three-day “Digital Transformation in Central Asia” conference was organised by the University of Central Asia, the State Committee for Information Technology and Communications, and the High Technology Park of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Dr. Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the University of Central Asia Board of Trustees addressing the audience at the DTCA conference.
Bismillah-hir Raheman-ir Rahim
Your Excellency, President Sooronbai Jeenbekov,
Honourable Ministers, Oblast Governors,
Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Speakers, Media Representatives,
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees and colleagues at the University of Central Asia, the Aga Khan Development Network and on my own behalf, I warmly welcome you all to this inaugural Conference on Digital Transformation in Central Asia.
Your Excellency President Jeenbekov, we are doubly honoured by Your presence at this event. First, your declaration of 2019 as the Year of Digitalization and the Development of Regions, and policy pronouncements today, reflect the importance that the Kyrgyz Republic attaches to digitalization and its contribution to social and economic development. This is the reason why the University of Central Asia initiated today’s conference. Second, we are honoured and proud to welcome Your Excellency here also as Patron of the University of Central Asia, whose Charter bestows this formal title on you.
We warmly support the policy guidelines laid out by you. I assure you this conference will diligently explore how we can contribute further to these noble objectives.
My colleagues at the University of Central Asia and I also wish to convey our profound appreciation for the immense support received from Your Excellency’s Administration, in particular from our co-organisers, the State Committee for Information Technology and Communications and the High Technology Park of the Kyrgyz Republic. To their leaders and all the volunteers who have work really hard for the success of this conference as well as the many generous sponsors, I convey our deep gratitude.
This august gathering of prominent public officials, national and international experts, international development partners, researchers, civil society organisations, industry leaders and the media provides a unique opportunity for interaction, which is an essential precursor to unlocking the benefits of digitalization.
As one of my favourite Kyrgyz saying goes, “  JALGYZ DARAK TOKOY BOLBOYT” (A SINGLE TREE CAN’T MAKE A FOREST)
In this regard, be assured Your Excellency, that under the leadership of the Government, we will endeavour collectively to move forward this important agenda.
May I recall that the UCA Naryn campus, which Your Excellency inaugurated in 2016, offers majors in Computer Science as well as Media and Communications. These were selected as they reflect the opportunities and broader enabling environment in this mountain region. UCA is thus, ideally placed to support your Government’s key initiatives in Digitization and Regional Development. Our highly qualified faculty, partnerships with elite institutions of the world, such as the University of Toronto – one of the top 10 schools globally in the field of Computer Science, Cambridge University, Higher School of Economics in Moscow and others, is a demonstration of our commitment to academic excellence, research and development in fields of greatest interest to this region. 
Mr President, we are delighted that later today, you have agreed to engage more directly with the experts present here to know how this country can benefit from their knowledge.
Experience of many countries has shown that realization of digital transformation depends on at least the following four key priorities:
1) Improving governance and public services;
2) Creating new ideas through innovation hubs, including at universities across the country;
3) Encouraging inclusive economic growth, especially through robust support for SMEs; in particular adoption of technologies that facilitate financial connectivity for a large segment of the population currently outside the banking system; and;4) Appropriate human resource development, without which success of the IT sector will be impossible. Therefore, the Kyrgyz Republic must give the highest priority to this objective.
Esteemed participants, decision-makers and experts from near and afar, we are grateful for your presence and look forward to learning from your rich experiences and insights on actionable recommendations. Tell us not only what strategies and initiatives have worked in other countries but also which have failed.
We recognise this Conference is but a stepping stone along a longer journey, whereby uptake of innovative technologies can make a lasting contribution to improving the quality of life of the peoples in the region.
Committing to a long-term vision while not losing sight of pressing matters is something the Founders of the University of Central Asia – namely Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the Ismaili Imamat – considered while establishing this unique regional institution under an International Treaty. Resultantly, finding and maintaining this balance between the long-term vision and current needs, has been embedded into the DNA of this University. Thus, the transformative potential of ICT in Central Asia was recognised by UCA over a decade ago during its planning stages.
It is well known that ICT contributes to economic growth when it is applied to all sectors of the economy. Accordingly, the University, through its School of Professional and Continuing Education, rolled out IT courses, including Microsoft’s International Computer Driving License, which have already benefited thousands of learners of all ages and groups – children, students and adult entrepreneurs. Courses are provided by UCA in regional capitals as well as more remote and mountain communities. An independent evaluation confirmed that 90% of these adult learners either found better jobs or received promotions in their present employment. UCA has thus come to be recognized as a pioneer in the development of ICT skills.
I am pleased to inform Your Excellency that this year, UCA campuses in Naryn and Khorog, Tajikistan, welcomed their fourth cohort of undergraduate students. As part of their graduation requirement, it is mandatory for all students to undertake Cooperative Education internships for at least three summers. I am happy to note that while the first batch of students graduate in 20 months, many of them have already been offered jobs by leading business enterprises. It is therefore heartening that this pipeline of young graduates will begin to respond to the huge demand from national, regional and international employers.
Permit me to make one final point. As we extoll the virtues and promise of digitalization, we must also look at the other side of the coin.  In this regard, let me share some thoughts, which His Highness the Aga Khan, Chancellor of the University of Central Asia, has underlined on several occasions.
I quote: “We often think about technological innovation as a great source of hope for the world. We hear about how the internet can reach out across boundaries, helping us all to stay in touch, and giving us access to information from every imaginable source.
But it is worth remembering that the same affirmations have greeted new communication technologies for centuries, from the printing press to the telegraph to television and radio. Yet, in each case, while many hopes were fulfilled, many were also disappointed. In the final analysis, the key to human cooperation and concord has not depended on advances in the technologies of communication, but rather on how human beings go about using – or abusing – their technological tools.” Unquote.
To safeguard against this potential downside, we have learned that alongside coding and advanced mathematics, we need to also expose learners to the arts and the humanities, including sociology, anthropology, economics and governance. It is important to ensure that learning and technological advancements are not driving development in a haphazard manner, but that they are grounded in ethical, cultural, and normative frameworks of society. Intelligence may increasingly become artificial, but true wisdom should remain with the human being.
In conclusion, Your Excellency, I confirm our full assurance to continue to work with Your Administration, to advance your important policy recommendations and to deepen our engagement with partners to promote similar efforts throughout the region.

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