Andrzej Malinowski, CEO of Beeline Uzbekistan.
It is a common belief that digital operators only provide services to their customers. However, I believe that we have a duty to provide services that help change people’s lives and give back to help the developing economies.
I am a Polish citizen working in Uzbekistan. I came from a country that is very different in terms of digital inclusion, and this gives me the chance to compare and draw some interesting conclusions. The main thing that has struck me is what I call digital hunger in Uzbekistan. I find that the people here are generally skilled at using devices and have a fantastic tendency to take over whatever is available and useful. This matters for one simple reason: Uzbekistan is the youngest society in Central Asia, and according to The Washington Post“about half of the more than 30 million inhabitants of Uzbekistan are under the age of 25.” I think this makes the country a perfect cradle for a new digital industry.
However, the difference lies in the level of development and the degree of penetration, both geographically and socially. Services such as television and music streaming are available to locals. But there is still a lot of room for growth in digital financial services.
Development of digital banks
In Uzbekistan, branchless banking services are still not widely available. However, the country’s financial sector regulator has done an excellent job of facilitating the growth of digital banking. For example, they’ve introduced digital identification, which means you no longer have to go to a physical location to open an account, but can do so by taking a selfie with your phone. This opens up a wealth of possibilities for those who do not have a legally recognized form of identification.
In addition, it changes the perception of various services, such as e-commerce, mobile payments and peer-to-peer transfers. All these services now have more potential to be part of people’s everyday lives. They no longer need long and potentially challenging trips to the nearest bank.
It is clear that mobile operators, regardless of the specific brand, follow a certain development path. By giving a certain percentage of potential users access to the latest mobile technologies, we can offer mobile internet services to a significant part of the population, regardless of their location in the country.
Services at your fingertips
That said, one of the major ambitions in telecommunications should be to build an ecosystem. The most important thing in everything we do should be to make our customers’ lives easier by creating services that are accessible. Those in the industry should make it their mission to bring people content, such as mobile education or future health services, and call themselves a company that delivers digital inclusion.
There are solutions in these areas that already exist worldwide. For example, you can have your basic parameters measured with an external device. It will be something one can at least start with, especially for the remote areas of Uzbekistan.
The feedback my company gets from the market proves that this is one of the essential services. It ties in very well with another essential service: building a platform for mobile education.
The importance of education
Education is a living thing; it evolves, and this is especially true in developing countries. It is important to provide education that can be helpful to younger generations in their job search. On the one hand it can get more complicated and demanding, but on the other it leads to more universal standards. The coronavirus pandemic gave us the opportunity to understand that your location doesn’t really matter and you can work remotely if you have the knowledge and skills relevant to potential employers worldwide.
The goal of our industry should be to provide a platform of courses related to coding, programming and cybersecurity so that people can gain knowledge that is relevant and useful. It is especially important in countries like Uzbekistan with a rapidly growing younger generation.
Uzbekistan recently announced its ambition to be an IT hub for Central Asia through the infrastructure and digital skills it can provide. The development of fast mobile internet is at the heart of infrastructure development, and the country recently completed the roll-out of 4G networks along the high-speed rail line from the capital Tashkent to the second city of Samarkand. The connectivity it provides is an example of how the country is delivering the digital services needed to realize its ambition and become a model for other emerging economies.
If you can find a way to get the government to support your projects, this will increase the chances for realizing a digital society. As part of this strategy, telecom companies can engage in direct dialogue with the presidential level in the republic.
The future mobile generation
As much as I love living in Uzbekistan, I won’t be here forever. And part of my duty to society, which I would urge to be a part of yours as well, is to educate the next generation. In that spirit, you should deliver knowledge not just for your company, but for everyone inside and outside the industry. Be on the lookout for technology related talents.
As we move beyond telecommunications, the faster and more proficient we grow in our technological advancements, the greater the demand for skilled workers. To fill the gap between supply and demand, we have to take into account that these talents can grow more professionally, for example through a training program for top talents or online courses.
The comfort of a position in telecommunications is that we create demand. So if we can create the supply as well, people will easily find a way to use all the knowledge they have and quench their hunger for digital access.