How Rome’s G20 Flop may be Good News for Bali Summit Next Year

" Attention Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati! Under her leadership, G20 finance ministers could step into the Bali summit with a plan to halt the winner-takes-all dynamics that leads to civilization’s breakdown."

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The Group of 20 summit in Rome hardly made a blip. With President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin as no-shows, it seemed just a stopping off point for leaders on their way to the Glasgow climate summit. But Rome’s failure may mean success for Bali, host of G20 in Bali next October.

Why? Because Rome holds two lessons for Bali.

One lesson came from Rome’s failure. As an economic-driven summit representing 85 percent of gross domestic product, the G20 should have included a formula for overcoming inequality, but the topic was ignored. In fact, due to COVID-19, 2021 became the most unequal moment in history, accelerated by a 24 percent jump in the economy’s top tier. A handful of tech billionaires now control most world wealth. The percentage will rise to a breaking point unless G20 acts forcefully in Bali. Such an unfair economy could never achieve cooperation required to reduce global warming nor any other existential threat. Attention Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati! Under her leadership, G20 finance ministers could step into the Bali summit with a plan to halt the winner-takes-all dynamics that leads to civilization’s breakdown.

The second lesson was from Rome’s success — a meager but important one: The 15 percent minimum tax on global corporations won approval of the entire G20. Indeed, all governments, including the Group of Seven seemed united on tech regulation to defend their own sovereignty in a digitalized world. On the very day that modest tax was proclaimed in Rome, Mark Zuckerberg had the gall to ignore critics to announce his unregulated utopian Metaverse, controlled by himself alone, while Elon Musk gained a quick US$36 billion.

You can bet the G20 will have the political will to go much further next October. It could actually reshape the internet to serve the public interest. Indonesia’s Communications and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate, who is the new chair of G20s Working Group on Digital Economy, could lead the charge. Even China and the United States, on both sides of the digital cold war, agree on the need to release corporate control over most data hoarded by their Big Tech companies. G20 could act in unison to allow data to flow southward into developing nations where it could be used meaningfully to reduce inequity. Here’s the big challenge to Bali’s G20. To remake digital economy into the driver of macroeconomic equity while, at the same time, to produce gains in sustainable development.

An impossible dream?

In fact an initiative that aims to do just that is emerging from Indonesia’s Information and communication technology (ICT) stakeholders now preparing for Bali. It is called Date for Equity (D4E). Its core idea comes from a prominent MIT data scientist named Alex “Sandy” Pentland. I can testify that he has always been ahead of the curve when predicting our digital future.

Sandy’s idea is simple: to flip data flow. He claims that it is within the means of governments to enable data to produce benefits that emerge from the bottom up, not the top down. In practical terms that means empowering micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), putting them on a level playing field with the big companies that line the in sleek towers along Jakarta’s thoroughfare Jl. Sudirman.

Sandy was the spark plug to catalyse an initiative that is emerging from the National ICT Council of Indonesia (Wantiknas), established by a presidential decree as the nation’s only inter-ministerial and cross-sector structure for ICT. It is directed by Ilham A. Habibie, the smart eldest son of former president BJ Habibie.

D4E’s initiatives would aggregate and integrate data for MSMEs, giving them credit scores and easy access to loans and banking without being burdened by the hefty transaction costs of banks. D4E could reshape data governance, overcoming the obstacles which block the implementation of the nation’s One Data policy. D4E could also do the unfinished work of broadband infrastructure, giving meaningful access and meaningful use of 5G internet, even to the nation’s remote and impoverished citizens in the far reaches of the archipelago.

West Nusa Tenggara (centered in Lombok), designated by the government as the seedbed for emergent “accelerator industries,” may serve as the geographic center of the D4e initiative, embraced by the governor. Rather than restore MSME businesses to pre-COVID-19 levels, D4E would use data to remake them to be climate-smart, culturally relevant, scalable, and tied to national and global markets. One example of such a remade industry may be jamu, the ancient herbal informal industry tied to traditional markets.

Jamu is a hidden gem, not known outside of Indonesia. It is the basis of the distinctly Indonesian approach to holistic medicine since the 8th century after Indian traders brought Ayurvedic plants with them on boats that landed in Central Java. As Indonesia prided itself on being a science-driven nation, jamu was sort of tucked under the rug. But D4E could change that. Other nations in the G20 — US, China, India and the entire European Community — have combined holistic natural remedies with scientific medicine into successful, sophisticated climate-smart national systems of “integrative medicine” for preventing the next coronavirus.                                                   

So could Indonesia. Its traditional medicine could be and developed alongside approaches of advanced G20 and G7 nations. Comparative research, led by Indonesia’s Health Ministry, could produce a distinct model of Indonesian traditional medicine tied to new farming, new medicinal plants, new insurance, new medical education, and new public health that gets activated before the next pandemic strikes. In fact a number of national stakeholders in Jakarta — line ministries, state owned enterprises, and Big Tech companies operating in Indonesia as well as Indonesia’s own unicorns (Gojek, Tokopedia, et al) — have joined a Meaningful Broadband Working Group. They will consider their role in D4E in an upcoming webinar organized by Wantiknas eyeing G20 inclusion.

What Rome omitted, Bali could emphasize. Indeed the emerging geopolitical forces could tackle the dominance of Big Tech. D4E may release data, rising exponentially, for the benefit of those who have been unable to meaningfully benefit from the internet at all. As our broken social contract gets restored even Big Tech could breathe easily as a more balanced and sustainable digitalized economy could come into view.

Source: The Jakarta Post Article – November 4, 2021 Edition

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