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Rwanda digital transformation: Charting the future of global data access

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  • Globally, many policies limit the movement of data, but Rwanda is charting a different course.
  • The absence of data protection laws restricted access to digital healthcare in Rwanda.
  • New data laws passed in Rwanda allow for better integration of cutting-edge technology, such as AI, into the country’s healthcare system.

The impact of a new data protection law.

In the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a modern digital economy thrives on data availability. From healthcare and education to e-commerce and financial transactions, access to data has become indispensable.

The World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) Rwanda has worked with the Ministry of Information, Communication Technology and Innovation to promote and shape new data policies that balance innovation with security. Recognizing the importance of cross-border data flows, the centre has supported the Government of Rwanda in developing its own personal data and privacy law to place the country at the forefront of international data legislation standards.

This vision became a reality when the Chamber of Deputies of Rwanda officially passed legislation on the protection of personal data and privacy in October 2021. This law, set to be effective from October 2023 after a two-year transitional period, will enable trusted and secure domestic and international data flows and maximize the economic and social benefits of data-driven technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), for individuals in Rwanda.

"This law provides the necessary foundation to transform Rwanda into a data-empowered society, by ensuring all critical stakeholders, starting with government institutions, are attaining the gold standard in personal data protection and privacy."

Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation, Rwanda

"Building on Rwanda’s track record of reimagining regulation for emerging technologies, we will use the Centre as a catalyst for Africa to lead the world in shaping a more inclusive Fourth Industrial Revolution that addresses unique challenges and unlocks more equitable opportunities for innovation and growth that deliver societal impact."

Crystal Rugege, Managing Director, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Rwanda

What’s the challenge with cross-border data flows?

Cross-border data flows are fundamental for countries and regions that wish to harness the data necessary to unlock the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This holds particularly true for nations that do not have their own advanced computing infrastructure, making them dependent on sending data to servers in other countries. Despite this reality, there has been a proliferation of policies around the world that restrict the movement of data across borders. These policies pose a serious threat to the global digital economy.

As countries share sensitive data, the risks of breaches, misuse and cyberthreats loom large. Additionally, the global community has not yet achieved a uniform stance on data protection and privacy. The absence of a standardized approach results in varied legislation across countries, complicating cross-border transfers and fostering distrust among nations. Such variations deter companies from operating in regions with unpredictable or stringent data regulations, impacting economic growth.

Addressing these challenges is vital for countries like Rwanda, aiming to benefit from the global digital transformation.

Our approach to support Rwanda's digital transformation.

Rwanda’s new personal data protection and privacy law is not a standalone effort, but the culmination of a multistakeholder initiative. Driven by the Rwanda Information Society Authority in collaboration with C4IR Rwanda it aims to ensure Rwanda stands at the forefront of global data protection standards.

The capabilities of the C4IR Network were instrumental in achieving this. Leveraging its global reach, the network facilitated the assembly of an experienced group of international experts to support Rwanda in understanding what best-in-class legislation for data looks like. This collaborative approach was enriched by insights from the Government of Bahrain, which was a key partner in this process and shared its own experience in developing similar forward-thinking legislation. The new data law will allow better integration of cutting-edge technology, such as AI, into Rwanda’s existing healthcare system.

This collaboration is part of a broader effort. In 2020, the World Economic Forum led a global community of experts in close cooperation with the Bahrain Economic Development Board, to develop A Roadmap for Cross-Border Data Flows. This roadmap reveals world-class, best-practice levers of digitization for governments of all sizes and seeks to reduce barriers to international data flows, which are key to the development of new technologies.

A major takeaway from the roadmap is the need for countries to develop foundational data protection laws. These laws not only ensure the secure and lawful exchange of personal data, but also lay the groundwork for technological innovation within a regulated framework.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing about the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

How can you get involved?

As many nations collaborate with the C4IR Network to craft future-ready data and AI policies, there is a growing need for leaders to steer this transformation.

By joining the C4IR Network, companies and governments can:

  • Shape tomorrow’s policies: Actively participate in crafting and co-designing governance protocols that accelerate societal benefits of emerging technologies and mitigate potential pitfalls.
  • Stay ahead of the curve: Increase understanding of new technologies and fast-track their implementation through pilot projects.
  • Get global recognition: Stand out as leaders committed to using new technologies for societal good.
  • Engage with the best: Connect with and learn from a community of cutting-edge technology innovators.

Reach out to discover how you can make an impact.

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Artificial IntelligenceFourth Industrial Revolution
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Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) RwandaMinistry of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of RwandaRwanda Government
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