The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Technology report reveals an interesting, but unsurprising distinction: trust in social media is at 43 percent while trust in technology stands at 78 percent. The report shows that individuals tend to trust technology as much as they see it personally benefitting them, but emerging technologies are yet to earn that trust. Only 55 percent of people trust blockchain, 54 percent trust self-driving vehicle technology and 62 percent trust Artificial Intelligence.
For companies in this sector seeking to use their sustainability reporting to demonstrate the positive impacts of their activities, this means taking some bold steps to pilot new uses of technology, and building ways to measure and communicate the outcomes. The recently released Sustainability Report from digital communications and services company VEON is an example of a report that does just that. VEON has 210 million customers in 10 countries, operating in Algeria, Armenia, Bangladesh, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Many of these markets have young and growing populations with relatively low smartphone use and internet availability. VEON’s Digital Entrepreneurship and Digital Skills and Literacy programmes are part of the company’s ‘licence to grow’ and are designed to contribute long term value. In several of VEON’s operating markets, the percentage of schools with access to computers and the internet for teaching purposes is less than 40%. The VEON report includes a range of data on numbers of schools and students benefitting from access to ICT and training in digital skills and literacy.
Going back to the Edelman 2019 report, 77 percent of global respondents believe that technology companies need to play a larger role to ensure education systems keep pace with emerging skills in demand. A clear example of this comes from VEON’s operations in Pakistan, under the Jazz brand. According to Pakistan’s 2018 Education Statistics Report, almost 23 million school-age children – including 12 million girls – are not in any form of education. For those who are being educated, basic numeracy and literacy skills often lag behind international benchmarks. To help improve digital skills and literacy among female students, Jazz launched the Jazz Smart Schools Programme in 2017. By the end of 2018, more than 25,000 female students aged between 12 and 16, along with 600 female teachers across 75 public-sector schools in Islamabad have benefitted from the Jazz Smart Schools programme. With evaluations showing significant improvements in learning outcomes, teaching quality, and student engagement, this initiative has huge potential for wider applications.
Whilst there has long been pressure on companies to find new types of data to report, and to assign some financial value to non-financial data, reporters should not lose sight of the importance of ‘place’ and ‘context’, including ‘gender context’. Nearly a decade ago, a McKinsey survey highlighted the multiplier effect for companies in focussing their programmes on women in developing countries. The impact of schooling on women’s future wages is especially significant as they reinvest a larger portion of their income in the health, education, and well-being of their families, compared to men.
Measuring and ‘accounting’ for the impact of companies’ initiatives in developing countries is important, but for sustainability reporters, it is equally (if not more) important to explain these impacts in their local context. The Pakistani human rights activist and youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, is quoted as saying “there are many problems, but I think there is a solution to all these problems; it's just one, and it's education”. Mobile technology has enormous potential to contribute towards education in developing countries. Building trust in technology requires accurate, relevant and balanced reporting; to demonstrate to stakeholders the positive benefits and the potential for scale.
Jon Woodhead, Challenge Sustainability, June 2019
For the first time this year, Challenge Sustainability provided independent assurance for the VEON Sustainability Report. If you would like to discuss how Challenge Sustainability can add value to your reporting, please contact us.
“Our sustainability strategy centres on fostering digital entrepreneurs, addressing digital literacy gaps and encouraging greater sustainability in those countries where we operate. VEON is focused on maximising the exciting opportunities afforded by the adoption of digital technologies across our markets for all our stakeholders. This year is the first time that VEON has sought independent assurance for our Sustainability Report – a further sign of our transparency and commitment to responsible business. The assurance team from Challenge Sustainability were thorough and constructive, and added real value to our reporting.” Sohaib Arshad, Head of Corporate Responsibility, VEON