3 Ways to Engage Canada's Tech Companies in Global Development

Lessons for Canada from the G20 Investment Summit

Why It Matters

Canada’s role in emerging markets needs inspiration. According to Digital Opportunity Trust founder Janet Longmore, deeper engagement with home-grown technology companies could serve as the perfect jumping-off point for Canada’s development organizations working abroad.

Attending the G20 Investment Summit, held recently in Berlin, I was impressed at how German companies were collaborating — in partnership with the German government — to invest in skills development in emerging markets. This is resulting in job creation and sustainable business models that are aligned with both purpose and market ambitions.

Canada must not be left behind. However, our presence in emerging markets is far from encouraging and is mostly limited to our mining and extraction companies, our construction sector (for example SNC Lavalin), and our transportation giant Bombardier. There is more that Canadian industry can do, particularly in markets that are establishing themselves through the enabling force of technology.

In Digital Opportunity Trust’s submission to the government’s 2016 International Assistance Review, we stressed Canada’s opportunity to leverage its reputation as a digital leader from the perspective of communications infrastructure, software development, cognitive science and AI, and the e-commerce leadership of Shopify.

Our agile, innovative young companies must be encouraged and supported in taking advantage of the opportunities in emerging markets.

Importantly, we emphasized Canada’s strength and relationships in education and the critical role we can play as a global educator of digital literacy to improve lives and livelihoods.

We also spoke to Canada’s success as an innovator and our history of creating partnerships and ecosystems to build critical mass in research and innovation, something that is important in a country like Canada with its geographically distributed population and in countries whose skills may be less developed. We have the opportunity to build on Canada’s reputation in this area and share this with new and emerging frontier markets.

Related to the latter, we talked about how Canada, with its cultural diversity and national personality as a conciliator, should assert itself as a convener of multi-stakeholder partnerships for both the funding of development initiatives and the delivery of development projects and impacts.

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While the conditions are ripe for Canada and greater engagement of our private sector in responsible development, nothing is easy and so I focus on three critical pieces of advice.

  1. Both Canada’s development community and the private sector must build trust. They must understand and speak each other’s language and appreciate the motives and drivers from both perspectives. I place the responsibility largely on the shoulders of my development colleagues to do the homework to understand the corporate perspective.
  2. In order for partnerships to succeed and prosper, there must be mutuality in the value propositions. It must reflect both the goals of doing good, and be sympathetic to the pressures that today’s CEOs, indeed all our leaders, are under. Understanding market forces is critical.
  3. The private sector will not tolerate the frustrations of inefficient bureaucracy. In a rapidly changing world, decisions have to made in an agile manner and execution has to be both effective and efficient.