Published on Digital Development

Digital resilience is key to post-COVID recovery in Eurasia

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A physician uses a tablet for their work
Efforts to integrate telemedicine and electronic patient records into healthcare facilities across Kyrgyzstan were ongoing since 2016.  Image: © Getty Images

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, some Eurasian nations were better prepared than others to respond to the crisis and ensure the delivery of essential public services—including healthcare and education. The key differentiator was their level of digital resilience. Estonia, a country that brands itself as “the first fully digital republic” has the world’s most advanced e-government along with a dynamic start-up community.  Right at the onset of the pandemic, the government launched a global hackathon to incubate and scale practical solutions. Estonia’s digital responses to COVID-19 were successful because of the country’s digital maturity, including lessons learned from past experience.

Earlier investments into digital transformation by authorities in Eurasia are helping them navigate the crisis.  In the capital city of Kazakhstan, for example, an app called SmartAstana was designed and deployed for contact tracing. The app was used prior to the COVID-19 outbreak to improve citizen access to an array of citywide services. Additional functions specific to the pandemic were added following a decree issued by the Chief Medical Officer. Like others in the region, the Kazakh Ministry of Health turned to social media, including Telegram, to launch a bot application to help disseminate information about COVID-19 and help people secure assistance.

The COVID-19 pandemic also accelerated ongoing government efforts to digitize public services. For example, efforts to integrate telemedicine and electronic patient records into healthcare facilities across Kyrgyzstan were ongoing since 2016. In January 2017, the Minister of Health ordered the creation of the Centre for Electronic Healthcare. 

So, what is digital resilience?

Digital resilience is a mindset as well as a constellation of strategies, practices, policies and programs that safeguard a society's ability to maintain, change, and recover digital capabilities and withstand digital crises and shocks. Digital resilience is measurable: it is possible to map government, business and civil society readiness to adapt to and recover from short-term shocks and longer-term stresses. It is not limited to cybersecurity even if a capacity to safeguard digital infrastructures is a core attribute. As an “all-of-society” concept, digital resilience emphasizes human, institutional, and digital stability. The three core attributes of digital resilience are cybersecurity, business continuity, and data governance and privacy.

Across Eurasia, the Baltic countries emerged as the most digitally resilient—long before the COVID-crisis—in part, because of virtual universal digital literacy. The awareness and training of government officials, the private sector and citizens in new technologies proved to be a major asset. By comparison, in Ukraine, less than 50% of the population is considered digitally literate. To bridge the gap, Ukraine has invested public funds in "A State in a Smartphone" program that seeks to teach digital skills to at least six million people over three years and enable a 100% digitalization of public services.

When to expect a return on this investment?

A big lesson in all of this is that digitally resilient and connected societies require a trained workforce.  This is easier said than done. The IT industry in Ukraine, which is growing by 26% a year, requires more than 50,000 new IT specialists in order to fill all available positions. Strong digital industries and digitally enabled work forces are essential for digital resilience, and that will only be sustained through ongoing investment in education and training.

This insight is not lost on countries across the region. Uzbekistan is opening 200 educational centers nationwide in order to train one million IT specialists. In Georgia, StrategEast established a public-private partnership with EPAM Systems to create an IT HUB educational center in the capital Tbilisi. This center proved critical in March 2020 when it transitioned its operations online—enabling Georgian IT specialists to continue working despite global restrictions on travel and local lockdowns.

It takes an average five to nine months to train an IT professional but according to some experts, you can expect a return on investment (ROI) within two or three months. And this has the potential to generate substantial new export earnings for the region. For example, the share of exports earnings in the revenue of Belarusian IT companies in 2019 was 85%.

To prevent and recover from future crises, countries in the region must adapt early and invest in fundamentals like digital skills. This will not only improve their resilience but also their competitiveness , while ensuring that governments and the private sector are better able to meet the needs of the citizens.


Digital Development at the World Bank 
Digital Development Partnership 


Oleg Petrov

Senior Digital Development Specialist, World Bank

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