07:00 EST
13:00 CET
19:00 Bangkok

Asia and Pacific (RBAP): The Future of Digital Transformation

Webinar Virtual

We are living through truly testing times. As a result of the pandemic and its impacts, up to 150 million more people could slide into extreme poverty by 2021, 1.4 billion children have been affected by school closures, and more than 2.2 million have lost their lives from COVID-19 as of 1st Feb 2021. 

The pandemic has heightened the urgency of bridging the digital divide and investing in an inclusive and fair digital transformation. This is nowhere truer than in Asia, with nearly 52 per cent of the region’s 4.3 billion people offline. As such post-pandemic digital transformation strategies are being designed and rolled out now and hence whatever decisions we make now they will shape our digital futures.  

With this in mind, as part of Istanbul Innovation Days, UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific is convening a virtual dialogue to address the following questions:  

  1. How can we shape a more inclusive and equal digital transformation agenda, governance frameworks and practice across the region?
  2. Can we explore policy impacts and opportunities stemming from emerging technologies and novel social practices in the digital transformation space?
  3. Can we assess the gaps and outline capability- and investment-needs to support the emergence of ecosystems and digital communities based on trust?


The COVID-19 pandemic has required governments to re-examine the way they do things, how they interact with their citizens and how they keep their country functioning in these unprecedented times. Digital solutions in areas such as government services, education, the media, communication systems, and the economy have allowed some form of continuity in day-to-day life during lockdown. Linked to that, data as critical enabler of the emergency decision-making has gained enormous importance. New opportunities emerge for us to unearth more relevant, even if alternative data, and to develop integrated data governance models to break the silos across different systems and safeguard the responsible use of data to complement and underpin responsive and accountable rollout of digital solutions.

Thus, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for significant support and investments in digital transformation, societal digital capabilities and effective data governance in the digital space, particularly to ensure the continuity and delivery of core government functions and create social value to the society.  Examples of fast and large-scale digital transitions abound: Telehealth in Indonesia where millions of people received first-time medical consultations online; Digital cash transfers in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, where millions of farmers, migrant workers and newly unemployed were transferred billions of dollars. Schools switched to online education, universities shifted to online examination, and so forth.

At the same time, these investments have allowed for much more effective communication between government, communities, and citizens. Another parameter of governance success was the function of government capability, strong political leadership, social cohesion and trust between government and citizens. As OECD shows that government’s values, such as high levels of integrity, fairness and openness of institutions are strong predictors of public trust. 

In spite of the urgency and emergency powers behind many digital initiatives, we need to be mindful. Going forward it’s important that short-term benefits and expediency don’t overshadow long-term consequences. Obviously, respect for data privacy and digital rights are at the foundation of public trust going forward. To enable social inclusion across fragmented populations, there is a need to empower people and communities to retain their data rights and ensure their meaningful and informed participation in the digital space.

However, while there are notable successes in for COVID-19 response and recovery, last year served as a dramatic reminder that: 

  1. We often had to rely on emergency powers to get anything of substance done, but also reverting to ‘business-as-usual’ once practical short-term tasks were resolved.
  2. Across societies governments and societies had deployed superhuman efforts, but they have barely scratched the surface of the problems, and…
  3. Inequities have been compounded as both pandemics and unevenness of response by governments magnified deeply entrenched inequalities, ranging from access to basic health-protection infrastructure to lack of skills and training in an increasingly digital economy. 

Register for This Session


Date: March 1, 2021 between 7:00 AM to 8:15 AM EST

Provisional Agenda

  1. 07.00-07.05 am: Opening and Setting the Scene – RBAP Leadership
  • Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP (TBC)
  1. 07.05 – 07.55 am: Shaping Digital Transformation and bridging digital divides in post-covid era
  1. a.Service delivery in emergency: How the pandemics transformed service delivery? What are the new patterns emerging? How do we ensure leaving no one behind?
  1. b.Governments beyond New Public Management: Different nature of government-society relationship and developing digital capabilities for the ‘new normal’
  1. c.Inclusive and responsible digital governance: Collective intelligence for decision-making
  1. d.Looking into the future: Platform Economies, Platform Government, Platform Societies, and how to shift power balance?

Moderator: Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on Public Health  

Speakers (max 5 speakers, 4 mins each, TBC):

  • Mr. Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UNDP
  • (TBC)
  • Dr. Anna Roy, Senior Advisor- NITI Aayog, India 
  • (TBC)
  • Sushant Kumar, Principal, Responsible Technology, Omidyar Network

Panel discussion (20 mins)

Q&A (10 mins)

  1. 07.55 – 08.10 am: Digital transformation and data for policy (Next steps)
  • Ms. Deepali Khanna, Managing Director, Asia Regional Office, Rockefeller Foundation 
  • Ms. Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP 
  1. 08.10 – 08.15 am: Wrap up & group photo

SPEAKERS (Confirmed speakers in alphabetical order)

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. 

Achim Steiner was elected by the UN General Assembly in 2017 as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He is also the Vice-Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, which unites 40 entities of the UN system working to support sustainable development. In 2018, the Secretary-General appointed him to co-chair the United Nations’ Task Force on Digital Financing of Sustainable Development Goals.

He has been a global leader on sustainable development, climate resilience and international cooperation, and has worked to champion sustainability, economic growth, and equality for the vulnerable. He has been a vocal advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Prior to joining UNDP, he was Director of the Oxford Martin School and previously led the United Nations Environment Programme. He was also Director General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and Secretary General of the World Commission on Dams.

Dr. Anna Roy, Senior Advisor, NITI Aayog, Government of India

Anna Roy is a 1992-batch Indian Economic Service (IES) officer of West Bengal. She has done her graduation in economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce from Delhi University and post-graduation in economics from Delhi School of Economics. She was a lecturer in Delhi University and TERI before joining the IES. In the government she has worked in the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Civil Aviation and NITI Aayog. She has worked in important sectors like Infrastructure reforms, public-private partnerships, financial sector and banking sector. In NITI Aayog she heads the vertical dealing with data management and frontier technologies. In this role, she has led teams which have brought out major reports like the National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain- the India Strategy, Approach Paper on AIRAWAT. Roy also heads the Women Entrepreneurship Platform, a NITI flagship that works towards developing the ecosystem.

Deepali Khanna, Managing Director, Asia Regional Office, Rockefeller Foundation

As the Managing Director of Asia Region Office, Deepali Khanna manages the Foundation’s policy, advocacy, grant-making, and partnerships in Asia. She leads The Rockefeller Foundation’s initiatives to convene and catalyze strategic collaborations that advance development in Asia, as well as harness Asia’s role in enhancing the wellbeing of humanity in the region and around the world.

Ms. Khanna joined The Rockefeller Foundation in 2015. She most recently served as Director and managed one of the Foundation’s flagship initiatives in India, Smart Power for Rural Development (SPRD). In this role, she provided leadership and direction across the full range of activities, partners, and resources of the initiative to provide affordable and clean energy access to over a million people in India.

Prior to joining The Rockefeller Foundation, Ms. Khanna served as Director of Youth Learning with The MasterCard Foundation, an independent, private foundation based in Toronto, Canada. She was responsible for the global grant-making strategy across more than 50 projects within the portfolio, managing a budget of USD 800 million. Ms. Khanna has held multiple leadership positions with Plan International, including Country Director for Vietnam and Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, where she led overall strategic planning within the region and managed operations in 12 countries.

Ms. Khanna earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Delhi University and holds a certificate from the Humanitarian Leadership Program at Harvard Business School.

Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on Public Health

Tan Sri Dr. Jemilah Mahmood is Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia on public health. In her previous roles, she was under-secretary-general (partnerships) of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva and chief of the World Humanitarian Summit secretariat at the United Nations in New York. She founded MERCY Malaysia in 1999 and worked for many years as a humanitarian and an obstetrician/gynaecologist.

Kanni Wignaraja, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, UNDP

Ms. Wignaraja served as the Acting Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Management Services, UNDP and as Special Adviser to the UNDP Administrator, roles that she has performed throughout 2019, after working as the Director of the United Nations Development Operations Coordination Office (DOCO) from 2014 to 2018.

She brings over twenty-five years of experience of the United Nations mission and UNDP’s role in the sustainable development agenda.  She has a deep knowledge of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the global, regional and country level workings of UNDP, across policy, programme, management and operations.  Ms. Wignaraja  joined the Organization in 1990 as the Policy and Evaluation Officer of United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and has worked in various field as well as in UNDP’s Headquarters in New York, serving in the Asia and Pacific and the Africa Region.  She also served in the Bureau for Development Policy in progressively senior positions, including that of United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zambia. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration (Development Economics) from Princeton University and a Bachelor of Arts (Economics) from Bryn Mawr College, USA.

Sushant Kumar, Principal, Responsible Technology, Omidyar Network

Sushant Kumar leads Omidyar Network’s investments in the “new social contract for data.” His work is focused on advancing an equitable data economy and activities include investing in research, advocacy, and communication campaigns. Kumar is a member of the WEF global future council on data policy and he writes about the data economy in his column Tech for Good in India’s leading newspaper Mint.