The Open Innovations plenary session, “New Digital Norm. Are we ready for a changed world?”, did not just cover the challenges we face in the world today brought about by Covid-19, but also the opportunities it has presented, pushing us towards digital transformation as society and economies adapt to the new norm.

"Are ready for a changed world?"

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin opened the session by welcoming South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun. South Korea is the partner country for Open Innovations 2020 and the Skolkovo Innovation Center’s long-standing partner, having joined the project right after its inception ten years ago.


“This year is a very important anniversary, as it marks 30 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation,” said the Russian PM. “I am confident that in the future we will have many great projects, and in spite of the changed format of this forum, there is great interest in it and the lively discussions taking place.”

The PM then asked the question, “Are ready for a changed world?” Covid-19 has dealt a blow to nearly all of the world’s countries, resulting in a transformation in the global economy as businesses and governments scramble to save what they have and ride the wave of new demand for digital tools.

“A couple of years ago, we were only thinking about hyper-connectivity,” said Mr. Mishustin. “But then economic isolation broke down logistics chains and closed borders, calling for immediate action.”

Covid-19 has compelled most governments around the world to spend significant amounts money on supporting vulnerable citizens, businesses, not to mention healthcare systems. The pandemic has had a double effect in this regard, whereby governments have put themselves into budgetary deficits from extra spending, while also facing greatly reduced tax revenues for 2020 due to lockdowns and the global recession.

Mikhail Mishustin, Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. Screengrab:

“We realized what we were doing,” said the Russian Prime Minister. “From the first days of the spread of the coronavirus, our scientists engaged in developing a vaccine and drugs against this disease. Russia has already registered two Covid-19 vaccines and hopefully they will help us stop the virus from spreading as soon as possible.”

According to Mr. Mishustin, the Skolkovo Foundation identified the areas of technological development that would prove popular during the pandemic, such as testing technologies, medical drugs, and services for remote work and learning platforms. Its residents have already provided express tests that can identify the presence of Covid-19 within 15 minutes and are working on a national AI monitoring system for disease incidence, forecasting breakouts and identifying infection. This daily forecast has already been implemented in the Moscow Region as well as the Republic of Sakha, and the Krasnodar Region.

“A digital platform has also been established for large-scale medical testing based on remote control principles, and this service is available to investors in Russia and to patients,” he said. “Each country has chosen their own way to contain the coronavirus and their own means of recovery, but I think that all of us would agree that the consequences would be much worse without digitization.”

It is a wonder to think of what might have happened should the pandemic have occurred in the early 2000s or in the 1990s, when the Internet was still young and devices like smartphones were still things of science fiction. What would people in lockdown have done to work or pass the time? How would businesses have stayed afloat in a lockdown scenario? The answer doesn’t bear thinking about, and in this regard, we are fortunate that this crisis is happening now.

“The fact that we can have this forum during such a difficult period is thanks to technologies, which are erasing boundaries between countries,” said the Russian PM. “Even though the coronavirus has physically distanced us from one another, we still have limitless capabilities to communicate. When the situation improves, we will be happy to see you here next year.”

“Should this life sometimes deceive you…”

When South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun took the floor, he echoed much of what the Mr. Mishustin had already said regarding then need for digital technologies. However, he made some key observations and outlined what is needed to successfully combat the pandemic, using his own country as a model example.

South Korea is among the most technologically advanced and innovative nations in the world, making it a great honor for Skolkovo’s Open Innovations Forum to have Mr. Chung at the event’s most important session. South Korea is also one of the least affected by Covid-19 due to the measures its government and citizens took early on and still continue to take.

Chung Sye-kyun, Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea. Screengrab:

“I believe that given the current circumstances, the Open Innovations Forum will become the most important platform for discussing issues related to the coronavirus and for preparing for change in the future,” said Mr. Chung. “However paradoxical it may be, we are moving into a society of new communications and a society of social solidarity through information and communication technologies, all because of Covid. Changes are taking place in all areas, including production, consumption and distribution. The pandemic has given us strong impetus to develop a new contactless economy and digital transformation. On the other hand, the spread of digital technologies has highlighted the problem of digital inequality and unequal opportunities for access to knowledge and information between people.”

This was the first key point Mr. Chung would make during his speech. Even though most of us in the developed world have these digital technologies to hand, it remains a struggle for people less familiar with them, such as the elderly and other groups that fall into the category of “digital immigrants.” Even a simple task that “digital natives” (people born into the digital revolution of the last two decades) take for granted, like ordering groceries through an app, can be challenging for people who are inexperienced with modern ICTs. It’s easy for a digital native to forget that basic terms that we take for granted, such as “scrolling,” “tabs,” “server,” “URL,” and so on, might be lost on a “digital immigrant.” Because elderly people are the most vulnerable to Covid-19, they are also the group most in need of digital technology and that is the divide that Mr. Chung pointed to during his speech.

His second key point was a comparison made between the current pandemic and the Black Death, which devastated Europe in the Late Middle Ages. While the Black Death was far deadlier, it also acted as a catalyst for major changes in society, and many historians see it as one that would ultimately bring an end to the Middle Ages and begin the Renaissance. Like back then, we are at a crossroads right now.

According to Mr. Chung, South Korea overcame the last two economic crises (monetary and financial) through “bold projects to stimulate venture capital entrepreneurship and create high-speed internet.” Through what he described as “efficient and transparent measures,” South Korea has been among the most successful countries fighting the pandemic and registered only 58 new cases on October 20. The Korean PM emphasized the necessity of implementing such measures to win the battle against Covid-19.

“I would like to present three main Korean strategies for countering Covid-19 and for economic recovery. Firstly, the successful implementation of sanitary and anti-epidemic measures is a direct path to economic recovery. Confronting Covid-19 and rebuilding the economy are both major critical goals, so we need a wise approach to find the right balance. The Republic of Korea in following a principle of transparency, trust, and openness from the very beginning has pursued a consistent anti-epidemic policy.”

South Korea implemented its so-called “three T’s” policy, which includes mass-testing, tracing an infected person’s contacts, and early-stage treatment. However, a crucial element is that South Korean citizens took the initiative and actively participated in anti-epidemic measures and social distancing, stopping the virus’s spread and saving lives, thus enabling the country to avoid mass-scale restrictions.

The PM began his closing statement with a quote from Alexander Pushkin’s poem titled, “Should this life sometimes deceive you…”, before offering his own words of hope. “We have built this civilization brick by brick and I am sure that the future holds a lot of good for us and will be nothing like today. The pandemic is not over, but I am still hopeful. I hope that this forum will be an additional impetus to all of us, opening up a new page and a new chapter in our cooperation in this great digital transformation.”

“Covid-19 is a crisis, but it is also a test for our innovations.”

Following the South Korean PM’s speech, the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev took the floor. It should be noted that it was under Mr. Medvedev’s watch as President of Russia that the Skolkovo Foundation was created and much has changed since then, what with increased government investment, not to mention the innovation center’s growth into a veritable ecosystem.

During his opening remarks, Mr. Medvedev emphasized that in spite of certain differences between states, countries should work together to fight this common enemy. He then moved on to cover solutions in four key areas: healthcare, education, digital security, and labor relations.

“As many of you know, Russia is working on vaccines and drugs in order to fight Covid-19,” said Mr. Medvedev. “The first medicine, Avifavir, was designed by a Skolkovo resident; but Skolkovo has a lot of other interesting projects to share with us, which can all advance our telemedicine, healthcare, and molecular lab testing. Many of these projects have turned out to be very useful, and these technologies have helped us to monitor infection levels, including through remote testing. Some of these programs have received investment even during the pandemic.”

Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chairman, Security Council of the Russian Federation. Screengrab:

Mr. Medvedev stated that it is critically important to maintain education levels even during the pandemic, mentioning that they initially were unprepared for e-learning. “We thought distance education would be easy, yet the pandemic proved us wrong. We successfully coupled e-learning with in-class learning, because there is no substitution for real interaction between a teacher and a student. Digital technologies have helped us create this continuity of education throughout the crisis and several Skolkovo residents are in the top-20 companies that are helping us create advanced training and education platforms for students.”

It’s clear that forced digitization will speed up changes in the way we acquire new occupations and how we work. Mr. Medvedev said that in-demand occupations will be the likes of bioengineers, smart environment planners, neuropsychologists, augmented reality designers, and so on. In other words, all those who can create a favorable environment for life and work in the post-Covid world. “Of course, we need to be aware of these changes when coming up with new curricular plans,” he said.

Cybersecurity is a large factor in digital transformation, because many companies that were not previously fully online, have found themselves vulnerable during transition. Even prior to Covid-19, the Internet was already a huge marketplace and vast forum for entrepreneurs, startups and developers of hi-tech solutions; yet during the pandemic, there has been a significant spike in cybercrime.

“This is to be expected,” said Mr. Medvedev, “because many companies have transferred their companies online. That is something to be mindful of when it comes to problems of this magnitude and scope.”

Indeed, Skolkovo is home to IT companies working in cybersecurity, preventing data leaks for those moving to remote channels.

Regarding labor relations, Mr. Medvedev pointed to the changes underway in the Russian labor code.

“In talking about remote work, there are many challenges to protecting employee rights, such as the division between rest time and work time,” he said. “As a result of these changes in labor relations, the Russian government is adapting the labor code and will continue to do so as technological changes occur in the future. All these ideas and concepts should be part of our discussion, including the concept of the four-day week.”

In his closing statement, Mr. Medvedev said:

“The whole idea of innovation is permeating our lives and is especially pronounced during this challenging period of humankind. We are facing many goals and challenges and we need better public support measures. We need investment plans for SMEs, big business, we need technological companies involved, and of course the State, with its development institutes, should expand support for innovative business in order to have a more integrated approach. Innovations have always been the stimuli for human development, especially when the world is experiencing great transformations. I am confident that even with the digital transformation, the State will focus all its efforts. That is the whole idea of Open Innovations – to be open not just to new knowledge, but also to one another. That is the main element of trusting one another and it will help us be successful in solving the many challenges that we face today.”