SEATTLE, Washington — In recent years, the technology industry in Romania has boomed. Technology giants like Google, IBM, Microsoft, Vodafone and others have set up shop in the country’s growing urban areas to take advantage of one of Romania’s best resources—its people. According to a 2017 study by information services company KeysFin, more than 106,000 information technology (IT) workers were employed in urban cities like Bucharest and Cluj, with about 7,000 new graduates added each year. Yet, the advances in technology have not been proportionate across Romania. Here is how Romania is looking to solve its technology and poverty disparities in 2020.
The Booming IT industry in Romania
Romania has a strong background in computers and technology from its communist regime and has a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) focused education system. Aside from English, Romanian is the next most used language in the Microsoft Suite, and Romania ranks third behind Russia and China in the International Mathematical Olympiad. Foreign companies are attracted to these skilled and intelligent workers, a majority of whom speak English and are willing to work for less than many other European countries due to the low living costs in Romania.
In addition to foreign companies flocking to Romania for high-quality IT services, foreign investment has aided a growing number of technology start-ups in Romanian cities. Humans is a technology start-up developing AI software to recreate people digitally. TypingDNA is another start-up that strengthens security by identifying a person with their keyboard typing tendencies. There are hundreds of new companies like these forming and growing that fuel the IT industry in Romania and its economy. In 2017, the economy was growing at 7.1%, compared to the EU average of 2.5%.
Technology and Poverty Disparities in Romania
From its rising IT industry, it may seem as if Romania is being rebuilt as a nation in the cloud, years ahead of competitors. However, almost 40% of Romania’s population has never used the internet, according to the 2016 World Development Report by the World Bank. The majority of impoverished Romanians living in rural areas either work in agricultural fields or have no steady source of income. The country has been evolving in two separate directions.
Those living in the major cities are being propelled into higher standards of living with high-speed internet and access to the global economy. At the same time, many impoverished Romanians living in rural communities are being left behind. There are a social discord and a wealth disparity between those living in urban and rural areas. As of 2017, the wealthiest Romanians, which make 20% of Romania’s population, earned roughly seven times more than the bottom 20%, making Romania the highest income inequality ratio country in the EU.
Bridging the Digital and Income Inequality Gap
With the rise of technology, Romania’s urban and rural areas almost appear to be separate countries, with differing standards of living and income expectations. However, many Romanian and foreign agencies are intervening to bridge the disparities between the two areas. Initiatives are focusing on education and healthcare, but there are also initiatives striving to help the digitally attached Romanians by getting them online and connected. For instance, the 2020 National Strategy for Romanian Digital Agenda aims to get all Romanians connected to the internet by the end of 2020. The initiative also strives to get at least 80% of households to a 30 Mbps internet broadband and 45% to 100 Mbps broadband.
The initiative’s goal is to make the internet more accessible to Romanians and to educate new internet users. About 80% of Romanians do not have a basic grasp on digital technology, and the digital agenda looks to reduce this number. Moreover, many Romanians do not trust internet security. Out of all EU countries, Romania ranks as the lowest in having internet users use online shopping and banking. About 17% of Romanians go shopping online, and less than 8% of them use online banking. The 2020 digital agenda looks to get more people engaged and trusting in similar online services through “eGovernment.” As a part of the eGovernment goal, the National Agency for Fiscal Administration has set out to make taxes payable through the internet. Additionally, the Romanian government is also establishing other services like digital profiles for citizens instead of paper documentation. Moreover, ePrescription is another digital service that strives to connect medical providers and pharmacists, aiming to integrate healthcare institutions across the country
Romania, along with the World Bank, is actively looking for ways to increase internet connectivity and internet access to citizens living in rural areas. Despite Romania’s growing IT industry, there are technology and poverty disparities that the country needs to improve to have united progress toward higher standards of living and technological advancements. Though the booming technology industry has exacerbated many of the regional differences in Romania, the government and the 2020 digital agenda are using the internet to reunite Romanians.