Narayan Prasad Ghimire
Currently, the developed countries have undergone fourth industrial revolution (4IR) while the least developed ones like Nepal have lagged behind and are unable to reap the benefits from it. One of the central elements of the 4IR is knowledge economy, which has also been referred to as knowledge-based economy, digital economy, tech economy, and information economy as well.
And, the fuel to knowledge economy (KE) is data and information. With the digital activities increasingly dominating every aspect of human life of late, creation, storage, and use of data has surged alarmingly in the world. An estimated 465 exabytes of data will be created everyday by 2025, thereby reaching total data to over 180 zettabytes.
The data creation and use in 2010 was only 2 zettabytes. Such ballooning increase of data suggests that digital activities have created new opportunities of employment, innovation and service delivery.
The KE, which is also called new economy, is the transformation from labour and capital-based economy to skill and intelligence-based economy. It is the result of creative and innovative mind that hugely slashed the role of labour in economy. Although labour is also a part of human resources, the knowledge faculty is heavily prevalent in KE. The properties, including land and money, are brushed aside as capital.
The more you generate, analyse and use data in a unique way, the more you earn. In the knowledge economy, the technology, innovation and education are harmonised in a way that they result in a disruptive business - a radical transformation in production, supply, and consumption of goods and service. The most glaring examples are the global tech giants- Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Google, Apple, etc.
Therefore, the capacity to create, store, use and analyse data with special skill is directly linked to knowledge economy. For this to happen, the infrastructural development along with policy and law reforms is equally vital.
Thanks to COVID-19 pandemic, we are forced to adopt alternatives to numerous works and services. The Nepalis too consumed huge internet broadband, and purchase of mobile phone grew alarmingly. During the lockdown last year, the internet use was upped by 35 per cent in Nepal, too.
Whether it is for virtual class to students or for work-from-home parents, transaction of takeaway food and ride-hailing services, the internet and smart devices are essential. Being relieved of different skilled and unskilled works, thousands of Nepalis joined ride-sharing service as drivers. Despite adversity, ride-sharing service drivers took advantage of the absence of public buses on road. The mobile banking is another important sector that thrived during the pandemic.
Although these digital activities were already launched before pandemic, there is no denying that COVID-19 demanded to foster digital economy in Nepal. When it comes to the development in the legal and policy sectors to augment KE, the Digital Nepal Framework (DNF) comes on top. It has extensively mentioned the digitisation of dozens of sectors. It was brought with the aim of preparing Nepal for digital economy.
In line with this, the government launched various apps like Nagarik App and MeroKitta. These will undoubtedly help create digital Nepal by improving digital services. In addition to the government initiatives, numerous private sector entities have brought the Apps to a huge relief to people in the crisis. It is, however, worrying that the draft of e-commerce bill is yet to be debated extensively for lack of parliament. Once the e-commerce bill is passed after extensive debate in the parliament, it will regulate e-business including revenue generation.
The initiatives mentioned above are however largely limited to facilitating customers and service seekers. In order for the KE to thrive in the country, the digital technology must be leveraged fully. Mere minimisation of bureaucratic hassles with some apps does not create atmosphere for KE.
The digital data must be monetised and the revenue collection ensured from digital business. Information should be utilised in a way it functions as a pillar of national economy. Promotion of current digital initiatives launched by the government and private sectors and creation of new data, their use and link to economic activities prepares base for KE.
Equally important is how Nepal creates stepping stone to link agriculture to the present revolution. Worrying is the fact that Nepal badly missed the industrial revolutions which the developed countries have now reached the fourth stage. We are bound to be happy with news that farmers are provided tillers now- at a time when others are enjoying the benefit of 4IR.
Nepal is therefore in double burden – first, continuing and systematising present scattered digital initiatives, and second, uplifting agriculture to mechanisation and linking to industrial revolution.
Other challenges before Nepal to enter KE are- dearth of data, low/no digital literacy, inability to retain technological human resources, insufficient attention to vocational and technical education, meagre investment in research and development, risk avoiding culture, etc.
It will be imperative for the government to at least retain the high-skilled and technological human resources within country and build an atmosphere conducive to launching digital entrepreneurship.
(Ghimire is a journalist at National News Agency (RSS) and writes on contemporary issues.)