Andrzej Malinowski, CEO of Beeline Uzbekistan.
It is a common perception that digital operators only provide services to their customers. However, I believe that we have an obligation to provide services that help change people’s lives and give back to help developing economies.
I am a Polish national working in Uzbekistan. I came from a country that is very different in the aspect of digital inclusion, and this gives me a chance to compare and draw some interesting conclusions. The main thing I have noticed is what I call digital hunger in Uzbekistan. I find the people here are overall proficient in using devices and have this fantastic tendency to adopt everything that is available and useful. This matters for one simple reason—Uzbekistan is the youngest society in Central Asia, and according to The Washington Post, “roughly half of Uzbekistan’s 30 million-plus citizens are under 25 years of age.” I think this makes the country a perfect cradle for new digital industry.
However, the difference is in the level of development and the level of penetration—both in terms of geography and society. Services such as television and music streaming are available to local people. But there’s still sizeable room for growth in the field of digital financial services.
Development Of Digital Banks
In Uzbekistan, branchless banking services are still not widely available. However, the regulator of the financial industry of the country has been doing an outstanding job of facilitating the growth of digital banking. For example, they have introduced digital identification—meaning you no longer need to go to a physical location to open an account but can do it by taking a selfie with your phone. This opens a wealth of opportunities for those who do not have a legally recognized form of identification.
Moreover, this changes the perception of various services, such as e-commerce, mobile payments and peer-to-peer transfers. All of these services now have more potential to become a part of people’s everyday life. They no longer require long and potentially challenging trips to the nearest bank.
Obviously, mobile operators, regardless of the specific brand, follow a certain path of development. Providing access to the latest mobile technologies to a certain percentage of potential users means that we can offer mobile internet services to a sizeable portion of the population, regardless of their location within the country.
Services At Your Fingertips
That said, one of the key ambitions in telecommunications should be to build an ecosystem. The key thing in everything we do should be to make the life of our customers easier by creating services that are accessible. Those in the industry should make it their mission to offer people content such as mobile education or future health services and, thus, be able to call themselves a company that provides digital inclusion.
There are solutions in these areas that already exist globally. For example, you can have your basic parameters measured using a remote device. It will be something that one can at least start with, especially for the remote areas of Uzbekistan.
The feedback my company is getting from the market proves that this is one of the essential services. It goes very much in line 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 useful for younger generations in the process of job searching. On the one hand, it can become more complicated and demanding, but on the other hand, it leads to more universal standards. The coronavirus pandemic gave us a chance to understand that your location does not really matter and you can work remotely if you have the knowledge and skills that are relevant to potential employers globally.
The objective of our industry should be to provide a platform with courses related to coding, programming and cybersecurity—allowing people to gain knowledge that is relevant and useful. It is especially important in countries such as Uzbekistan with a fast-growing younger generation.
Uzbekistan recently announced its ambition to be an IT hub for Central Asia through the infrastructure and digital skills that it can provide. Development of high-speed mobile internet is at the core of the 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 this provides is an example of the way the country is providing the digital services needed to realize its ambition and become a model for other emerging economies.
If you can find a way to have the government give support to your projects, this widens the opportunities for the realization of a digital society. As part of this strategy, telecom companies can open up a 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 a part of my obligation to society, which I would push to be also part of yours, is to raise the next generation. In that vein, you should provide knowledge not only for your company but also for everybody within and outside the industry. Be on the lookout for technology-related talents.
Going beyond telecommunication, the faster and more proficient we grow in our technological advances, the bigger demand we have for skilled workers. In order to fill in the gap between demand and supply, we should be mindful of more proficiently growing these talents, should this be through a training program for top talents or online education 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 utilize whatever knowledge they were able to gain and quench their thirst for digital access.