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Women's Leadership Summit

The fourth AFA Women's Leadership Summit was held virtually on December 15, gathering the widest local and foreign audience for the first time in a novelty three-dimensional virtual environment. Over 50 experts from both Serbia and abroad, high-rank diplomats and government representatives, corporate leaders and representatives of the international academic community, as well as students and new generations of leaders spoke at the Summit, which gathered all of them at one place regardless of pandemic circumstance, to exchange their expert opinions on the future of work and the impact of accelerated automation on women.

Through panel discussions, interviews and keynote speeches, the main topic of the Summit "Women in the Age of Automation and the Future of Work" was addressed from angles of different industries and expertise, but the key message of the Summit was unambiguous - the urgency of acquiring digital literacy and technological skills, and importance of lifelong learning. Audience of the Summit could hear stories and experiences of developed countries, where even nowadays, without basic digital skills, it is not possible to stay not only in the labor market, but also to continue performing certain basic life activities. In particular, in these countries, it is almost impossible to make an appointment at a doctor without the use of digital technologies or to pay electricity bills. Therefore, the main conclusion of the Summit was that it is high time that we all understand that change is happening faster than ever, that we need to become open to change and flexible in our approach and work, as well as to be prepared for lifelong learning. When it comes to the immediate future of the labor market, it was concluded that women are at much higher risk because they are less digitally literate than men, and have less free time for additional continuing education, because women are traditionally expected to do more unpaid care and house-work. Also, in most sectors of the economy, women are more represented in lower value-added positions, which in turn can be more easily automated. Currently in Serbia, as many as 57% of women are at risk of losing their jobs by 2030, because they do not have basic digital literacy skills. These women make up 27% of the total population of Serbia, and if they do not catch up with new technologies soon, they will increasingly lag behind those who do catch up and will thus have less and less chances to participate equally in the new digital civilization. However, speakers of the Summit also pointed out that the lack of basic digital literacy of women should not be seen only as a problem and a risk, but also as a great opportunity for women to improve their position on labor market and society, if they get digitally and technologically literate on time. Namely, international experience shows that digital literacy can help women in the fight against social discrimination through digital inclusion.

The visitors of the Summit were most amazed by the technological innovations that they had the opportunity to see at the Summit. The first novelty was the virtual environment of the Summit itself, which was specially created for the needs of the Summit by one female startup from Serbia. It was a special 3D virtual space through which visitors had the opportunity to "walk", to visit various premises, and to take a view at works of young Serbian artists on a gallery upstairs. Another novelty was the robot Petra, which premiered to the Serbian audience at this Summit. This robot is the latest application of a well-known Furhat robot - the most advanced social robot in the world, created by a Swedish startup Furhat robotics. Summit visitors had the opportunity to see how this robot communicates with humans, how it recognizes human smiles and how it makes different grimaces, as well as how it can change appearances and play different characters. One of the characters of this robot, named the robot Petra, has been developed in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company Merck. Robot Petra is actually the first robot in the world that can do a pre-screening test for the three most common diseases of mankind - hypothyroidism, pre-diabetes and alcoholism.

In addition to these technological curiosities, the great attention of the visitors was attracted by the great introductory speeches given by the Minister of Telecommunications, Trade and Tourism Ms. Tatjana Matic, US Ambassador to Serbia Mr. Anthony Godfrey, and Australian Ambassador to Serbia Ms. Ruth Stewart. Ambassador Godfrey stated that “digital literacy of women is not only important for remaining on the labor market, but also for access to educational materials, for women’s activism and success of gender equality campaigns, access to right information, and the possibility of starting their own businesses”. A keynote speaker of the Summit - Ms. Marija Zivanovic Smith, vice president of corporate marketing and communications and CEAO of NCR Corporation - shared with the audience her personal experience that seven years ago, working on the American market, she was already looking to hire “candidates who did not only have traditional marketing skills, but also two new key words in their resumes: data and digital". By saying this, she confirmed that changes in Serbia and the region are coming with a certain lag and that we can perceive changes in the future just by looking at what is happening in developed countries. Another great panel discussion was the on the subject "What the future of work brings to women", which was moderated by Ms. Maja Piscevic, senior research associate at the Atlantic Council of the United States. During this panel, Mr. Dejan Cvetkovic, CTO of the Microsoft Development Center in Serbia, emphasized that "machines of the future will know people better than people know themselves" and that we will need "creative skills to collaborate with machines in the future”. Another panel discussion worth mentioning was a media panel where representatives of the most influential media in the country (such as NIN, Vreme, N1 and Color Press Group) were discussing the central topic of the Summit, with the conclusion that the media should urgently start to raise public awareness about importance of digital literacy, especially among women.

On the other hand, specific pieces of advice for certain industries could be heard during panel discussions concerning the impact of automation on individual sectors. Some of these panels were: a panel dedicated to the financial sector, moderated by Professor Goran Pitic, a member of the FEFA Faculty Council; a panel dedicated to the media, moderated by Maja Vujaskovic Djureinovic, communications manager of IKEA SEE; as well as a panel dedicated to women's entrepreneurship, which brought together five successful entrepreneurs from Serbia who had successfully built their careers in the world's large corporations abroad, and now had their own startups operating in these large developed foreign markets. Visitors also had the opportunity to hear the greatest experts from international development and financial organizations such as the World Bank, EBRD, EIB and DFC, directors of multinational companies such as IKEA, NCR, Generali, Microsoft, Rio Tinto, KPMG, Deloitte and Nutanix, as well as owners of successful global and domestic startups. Also, AFA young leaders traditionally presented themselves at the Summit, whom AFA chooses every year as the most prosperous young women, who by sharing their success stories give bright examples and inspiration to other girls. This year it was eight girls - from Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia.

This year's Women's Leadership Summit was just one of the AFA organization's efforts to raise awareness of the importance of education, especially in the field of digital and technological literacy, especially among women. Also, within the Summit and AFA's long-term initiative "More Girls in STEAM", the first hackathon for female students was held - GirlsHack2020, supported by the NCR Corporation and the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications. A total of ten multidisciplinary teams of five female students from different faculties created solutions for solving environmental problems during two days, and during the Summit itself they briefly presented their ideas. Given the quality and innovativeness of the proposed solutions, the jury decided to award two teams instead of one, so total of ten female students received awards from Huawei company.

The video from the Summit can be watched at:


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