Connectivity as a means to promote cultural diversity

Interview with Wenche Agerup, Head of Corporate Affairs at Telenor Group

This Sunday (May 21st) marked the UN’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. As part of recognising the role of connectivity in bringing people together, Wenche Agerup, Head of Corporate Affairs at Telenor Group, elaborates on the role of telecommunications in bringing down social barriers and empowering societies.

Happy World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, Wenche! We appreciate you taking the time to talk to Inside Telenor.

Thanks for asking. And happy May 21st to you too! As with many UN declared days, it’s easier to refer to the date than the name of the day…

Agree, so why is May 21st an important day to you?

It’s important to Telenor employees because it gives us a reason to remind ourselves about our vision, to empower societies. We firmly believe that providing internet and digital services for all, without discrimination, will bring about fewer barriers between cultures and people across the world.

In its declaration of this day, the UN has stated that “… acceptance and recognition of cultural diversity – in particular through innovative use of media and Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) – are conducive to dialogue among civilisations and cultures, respect and mutual understanding.” – I assume you agree with this statement?

I do, and it has been proven many times over that connectivity and basic mobile services, such as access to internet and financial services, can reduce some of the main amplifiers of conflict between people, such as poverty, lack of education and information deficiencies. We bear witness to this every day in many of the emerging markets where we operate, such as Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.

Can you mention any specific examples?

There are many examples of mobile services providing greater inclusion for the underprivileged, but some of my favorite initiatives include our efforts within education and health, such as the Lighthouses in Myanmar or Telenor Health in Bangladesh (for further reading, see this link). At the core of this is access to connectivity, and through our mass market approach in all the markets where we operate, we can ensure everyone gets these opportunities.

Telenor is present in some countries where conflict is part of everyday life for many—how do you view your responsibility in these markets?

First of all it’s important to point out that we are committed to respecting human rights in all our markets. Equality and non-discrimination is core to who we are as a company. Secondly, I believe that countries impacted by regional or cultural conflicts, it is even more important to ensure connectivity for all, without discrimination. Take Myanmar as an example where we are committed to building network and providing services also in the conflict areas. As part of the international community, we are concerned with the many sustained conflicts around the world, and encourage active dialogue between government and affected communities in all markets where we operate.

Can you be more specific on how connectivity can promote better understanding between cultures?

If you believe that dialogue is critical to promote understanding, there is reason to be optimist about the adoption of internet and social media platforms across the globe. What we see is that people in Pakistan or Bangladesh are no different from people in Norway or Sweden in the way they use services on their mobile such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. We are all becoming more informed and interactive, which is a good starting point to promote dialogue and, in the long run, respect and understanding across people and cultures.

Being present in 13 markets, is there anything more tangible that you can do to make people come together across nations and cultures?

We can definitely leverage our global presence to bring people together, not only virtually but also face to face. This week we are hosting the Telenor Youth Forum in Bangkok in collaboration with Nobel Peace Center. The idea is to bring together talented youth from across all our markets and have them tackle some of the major challenges of our time, including unemployment, climate change and gender inequality, by using technology in innovative ways. This represents the notion that solving common issues can bring people together in a constructive way.

Ok, so we look forward to seeing these solutions!

Yes, definitely. They will be showcased in a virtual exhibition from October onwards, so make sure to have a look.

Will do! Thanks for talking to us and have a good week.

Thank you!