Why GIZ is championing free online systems.
By Björn Richter, Digital Transformation Cluster Coordinator
The commitment to digital public goods involves providing free access to digital applications so that citizens are able to obtain better services, independently of major corporations such as Google or Huawei. It also means making digitalisation fair and democratic. The focus here is not on social control, economic interests or data skimming, but instead on the availability of digital platforms that enable citizens to access certain services and make social tasks easier. This is the case for applications for all sectors, such as the health care or education system, birth or housebuilding registers, but also for passport applications, tax returns and other administrative transactions.
It is important that digital public goods are not only operated without the need for a licence, thus making them free of charge, but are also open to everybody. This saves costs, is inclusive, and strengthens the local ecosystem. These digital public goods on open source software can also be transferred from one administrative district to the next, or from one country to another. They can therefore be expanded and replicated, while the global ecosystem can improve the impacts they have. The learning and dissemination potential that is created as a result is considerable and valuable for joint scaling-up activities.
Another example is the atingi learning platform, which GIZ has developed and set up on behalf of the German Government. This provides learning content that people are able to use free of charge. atingi now offers more than 300 courses, from hospitality to tourism, from careers guidance to e-skills, and has already reached more than three million people worldwide. Upon completing a learning unit, participants receive a digital certificate. The most important partner in this regard is the Smart Africa Secretariat, an alliance of 30 African digital ministries.
The fact that mutual learning in the digital world is multi-directional is also demonstrated by SORMAS as a digital public good. This is a contact tracing app and stands for Surveillance, Outbreak Response Management and Analysis System. It was invented in Nigeria, with German support, in response to the Ebola epidemic. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, it was updated to include COVID-19. As well as having being rolled out to other African countries, the app is now also used in more than 240 health authorities in Germany: a perfect example of reverse innovation.