interview

Fathi Derder: «What we need is real guidance»

He is one of the most outspoken advocates of an entrepreneurial and innovative Swiss ecosystem with a nationwide digital strategy. Fathi Derder, 46, politician (National Councillor PLR,The Liberals, Vaud) journalist, author of the book «The next Google will be Swiss» and member of the Executive Committee of Digital Switzerland, talks about political challenges and how to survive as a journalist in the digital era:

– Start-Alp: The parliament has elected a new member to the Federal Council. Many proponents of a more aggressive national digital strategy were in favor of Pierre Maudet, called by some the «Candidate 4.0». With Mr. Cassis elected, will digitalization nonetheless become a priority?

Fathi Derder: Making digitalization a priority is not so much a question of having the right person in charge. It’s more about having the right political agenda, and we don’t have this yet. The decision makers are not aware enough about the challenges to come. There is no global vision regarding digitalization. Digitalization isn’t even part of any political agenda. So, it is not about Pierre Maudet or Ignazio Cassis. It’s about the mindset. We are still looking at current political issues with old-fashioned glasses.

– Where does this old-fashioned mindset come from?

A lot of it has to do with communication. When it comes to government and the implementation of new policies, there is often a lack of coordination between different departments and authorities. Furthermore, quarrels about responsibilities are the reason why procedures are so slow. I think it’s a structural problem.

– But that is in part due to our democratic and very federal system. You cannot disrupt these Swiss characteristics

 I’m not looking to disrupt anything. What we need is real guidance. That’s why I am advocating the adoption of one of the following three solutions: a Federal Councillor in charge of digitalization, a State Secretary in charge of digitalization or making the Chancellor of the Federal Council the main authority in charge of our digital strategy. It’s all about having the right competencies united at the right place.

«Until now, digitalization was kind of a catchphrase and very cliché-driven.»

– What can the economy and, in particular, Digital Switzerland contribute to this end?

We do not yet know what impact the digital era has on our society and our economy in the long run. Nor do we know how it affects science, education, small and medium enterprises and startups. It is imperative that all Swiss economic players come together to discuss digitalization. And Digital Switzerland offers the right platform to discuss and address these challenges.

– On the November 21st, a Swiss Digital Day will be organized by Digital Switzerland and its partners. Looking at the program, it appears to be a very Swiss-German event, held mostly in Zurich. What about the Lake Geneva area?

Several events are planned in Geneva. The main driver of the event is the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Other partners like the Canton of Vaud will also participate.

– What are your expectations for the Digital Day?

It is of the utmost importance to educate the Swiss public about the impact of digitalization. Until now, digitalization was kind of a catchphrase and very cliché-driven. On the 21st of November, we will present concrete perspectives, challenges and opportunities, to make the public more aware about the impact that new technologies can and will have on different elements of working and living here in Switzerland.

«It’s all about having the right competencies united at the right place.»

– In May of this year, you took over as editor-in-chief at AGEFI. One might be surprised to discover that your webpage looks still quite old-fashioned. Have you lost your digital enthusiasm for journalism?

No, not at all. We are currently adapting the page and will relaunch it next month. Additionally, we are reviewing our business model.

– So, what’s the best business model for an editor in the digital era?

It’s horizontality. For too long, journalism was a very vertical business. Journalists wrote their papers, discussed issues of concern and set agendas, but readers played a very passive role. Even nowadays, many media still function like that. Today’s internet gives us the tools to animate and access those communities. By taking this into account, we can interact a lot more frequently and directly with our readers. This is what I mean by applying horizontality to our business model.

– And AGEFI does this?

Yes, we have just started creating an online-application in collaboration with a specialized company and will launch it soon. Our aim is to build a platform that should ultimately allow us to animate the entire community. By doing so, AGEFI is becoming in the long-run a community of entrepreneurs.

«The new digital era doesn’t destabilize or alter good journalism – it’s just the way you commercialize it that has changed.»

– Is your personal journalism experience helpful for your parliamentary work?

 Of course it is. I would say that about 90 percent of it is the same as in journalism: in Bern we collect information, we put it into layman’s terms and diffuse it to the public. But then there is negotiation, the building of alliances, etc. which are quite a different set of skills.

– What are the main qualities one should possess to survive in today’s journalistic jungle?

The qualities you need are still the same as before: curiosity, good general knowledge, a robust network and the capacity to listen and animate content. The new digital era doesn’t destabilize or alter good journalism – it’s just the way you commercialize it that has changed. The skills remain more or less the same.

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