WSIS 2019 – High-level policy statements: Concluding session

10 Apr 2019 14:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

Mr Philipp Metzger, (Director-General, Federal Office of Communications, Switzerland) started the session by underlining the importance of cooperation between all stakeholders, especially between national and international levels of governments. Although this was not a new idea, it was nonetheless not implemented often enough, and not with the right attitude. The issue of trust was then addressed by Metzger. He urged everyone to make the most of the unique opportunity Geneva presented this year with both WSIS and IGF 2017 taking place in the city, bringing together experts and decision makers from all sectors to discuss digital policy issues and their links to the sustainable development goald (SDGs).

Mr Jean Philbert Nsengimana, (Minister of Youth & ICT, Rwanda) took the floor and stressed the increased and perhaps unprecedented levels of participation in this year’s WSIS by all stakeholders, especially the private sector and civil society. He proposed that WSIS could be the, ‘Leading platform in terms of associating SDGs with new technology.’

The session reviewed each of the fourteen High-Level sessions, their highlights and key messages in the past, presented by their High-Level Track facilitators. Topics covered by the sessions and presented by the facilitators focused on the SDGs and use of ICTs in reaching them. The key themes and messages visited by presenters and participants both during the original sessions and the concluding session highlighted emerging issues of trust, and the digital divide from an infrastructure, affordability, adoption rate, awareness, and relevant content point of view. In addition, the role of governments was touched on in facilitating a competitive market for reduced prices, and there were also points raised on the crucial role of government initiatives, private-sector investment, and cutting-edge technology directly linked to overcoming poverty. In this context Pakistan’s example of including a separate provision in its ICT document to address the digital divide was praised.

The importance of skills building according to specific needs of nations was addressed. These efforts need to focus not only on developing countries, but also developed ones, especially in areas of cyber security and big data. Projects facilitating ICTs to reach SDGs were cited, such as Congo’s free public hotspots at bus stops, and Paraguay’s implementation of 4G networks.

The need for an enabling regulatory environment for both innovation and investment, and the need to focus on skills and capacity building, not just early in life but throughout an entire life and at all levels of education and training, was also addressed.

How trust and confidence in use of ICTs by businesses and communities determined the limit or the enabler of growth was also reviewed. The multi-disciplinary nature of trust, not only in the aspect of security but also safety, reliability, and usability was underlined. Microsoft’s call for a Digital Geneva Convention to limit and define state behaviour was explored.

Among best practice shared in different fields were:

  • Multilingualism in Africa, outlining the importance of quality local content.
  • Projects using ICT to combat Ebola epidemics in West Africa.
  • The Indian government’s programme for a projected 600 million people to be trained in digital literacy in the next three years.
  • Inclusiveness initiatives in Colombia such as connected prisons which provide access and ICT training to inmates.
  • Portugal’s development of digital competency for all ages through education.
  • Singapore’s policy sandbox for FINTEC.

The gender divide was another issue addressed: As 90% of jobs in the future will require ICT skills and knowledge, the critical importance of training girls and women in STEM fields was mentioned, citing gender mainstreaming practices and awareness programmes by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Trademark Association (INTA).

Closing remarks by Nsengimana and Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary General, ITU) underlined key further achievements in SDGs, including gratitude, respect, and commitment.


by Su Sonia Herring

Read more session reports and live updates from the WSIS Forum 2019

The concluding session gave the opportunity to all Action Line Facilitators to provide a brief outcome of their high-level policy sessions.  A publication entitled ’WSIS Forum 2019: Policy Statements and Executive Brief’ will be issued to encapsulate these outcomes.

Ms Sophie Peresson (Director for Innovation of Knowledge Solutions Department, International Chamber of Commerce, ICC), Session 10 on inclusiveness, access to information, and knowledge for all:

  • access to ICT is a prime accelerator of economic growth and social inclusion and development and is therefore pivotal in accelerating growth and acts as an enabler for poverty reduction and wealth creation
  • public and private sectors have identified access as a priority and are taking concrete steps to address hurdles to access
  • take care to leave no one behind in terms of opportunities that ICT can do in pooling other sectors
  • key challenges: addressing social and cultural bias and language sensitivities, need for more disaggregated data on access for all regions of the world, accessibility for youth, women, rural populations and areas

Ms Valeria Betancourt (Director of Communication and Information Policy Programme Association for Progressive Communication), Session 1 on WSIS Action Lines and the 2030 Agenda:

  • affordable connectivity and access to communication services are pre-conditions for inclusive digital societies.
  • expansion of infrastructure is still among the key priorities and that is an area in which policy intervention is needed.
  • use of ICTs cannot be dissociated from systemic training and capacity-building strategies to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
  • governments have established strategies to underpin the use of ICTs for development purposes and they offer an opportunity to advance development objectives through public/private partnerships and multistakeholder alliances
  • challenges: a significant percentage of the population is not connected; weak engagement of civil society in ICT-related policy processes

Prof. François Grey (Director Geneva Tsinghua Initiative/University of Geneva), Session 2 on bridging the digital divide:

  • discussed what exactly is digital transformation; statistical analysis of the state of the digital divide, and specific implementation programmes at the national and regional levels.
  • a joint study of Facebook and the Economist Intelligence Community on the readiness of ICT infrastructures in 100 countries
  • connectivity is a pre-condition to digital equality and overcoming the digital divide, but it is not a sufficient condition. Governments need to emphasise capacity building, institutional development, and regulatory effectiveness, as well as bringing prices down

Mr Greg Francis (Managing Director, Access Partnership), Session 3, also on bridging the digital divide:

  • re-think ICT regulation to make it more amenable to experimentation
  • Enabling more public-private partnerships and more support from national governments for testing innovative approaches to bridge the digital divide
  • creation of tax incentives for infrastructure providers and cybersecurity assurances for data services providers to underpin the digitalisation initiatives
  • equip citizens with levels of digital literacy that would be necessary to even begin to participate in the digital economy
  • recommend developing a scorecard system of the most effective projects for bridging the digital divide in key categories, that would enable governments to test, adopt them on the basis of proven effectiveness
  • recommended increasing the statistical evidence connected with digital divides between countries and organise resources around the implementation of the most successful solutions from the scorecards mentioned above

Ms Mei Lin Fung (Co-Founder of the People-Centered Internet, Vice Chair for Internet Inclusion Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers, IEEE), Session 4 on enabling environment:

  • enabling environment should be for industry providers, operators, consumers, and the governments so that all of them can come together to offer the best possible environment for citizens and businesses to flourish
  • successful examples from Zimbabwe, the UAE, Bangladesh and Romania in providing enabling environment from the government side
  • the fourth industrial revolution presents opportunities and big threats, and we must organise integrated regulatory frameworks for ICTs

Mr Morten Meyerhoff (Tallinn University of Technology), Session 5 on confidence and trust in technology:

  • the challenge has changed in the last 10 years from mainly looking at malware to practice of using the existing technology in malice purpose
  • regulation and international co-operation can help address trust and security
  • capacity building within the public sector, the tech industry, but in particular also in terms of skills development and training to ensure that the average user has an informed use of technology

Ms Valrie Grant (Chief Executive Officer, GeoTechVision), Session 6 on digital economy and trade/ financing for development and role of ICT:

  • discussed how to leapfrog innovation in some economies and finance that innovation
  • priorities for advancing the digital transformation includes leadership, policy, flexibility, and engagement.
  • emerging trends for the digital revolution are artificial intelligence, 5G, IoT and smart cities.

Dr Jabu Mtsweni (Research Group Leader, Cyber Defense, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR), Session 7 on ethical dimensions of information and knowledge societies:

  • technology needs to advance humanity and ethical dimensions are central in creating trusted, inclusive, and credible information and knowledge societies
  • ICTs must be explainable to people
  • technology needs to be human-centric, it must be gender conscious
  • technology is for human beings and not vice versa

Mr Carl Gahnberg (Policy Advisor, Internet Society), Session 8 on inclusiveness, access to information and knowledge for all:

  • a challenge to upgrade the existing networks and ensure the quality and speed of services, and that both the devices and the price of the access are affordable
  • trust in digital services becomes essential and an important element of inclusiveness
  • the importance of articulating clear goals and measurable targets  for inclusivity and access, clear roadmaps and policies to progress that goals and targets; engaging those communities at risk for being left behind in collaboration

Dr Suay Ozkula (Research Associate & University Teacher, University of Sheffield), Session 9 on ICT applications and climate change:

  • establishment of digital infrastructures, particularly in geographically less connected areas, to address the existing digital inequality 
  • making digital healthcare, governance, and green procurement available for everyone
  • drone technology for documenting environmental change and smart applications in urban areas
  • address the challenges in a citizen-centric planning, piloting, and prototyping way

Mr Ted Chen (Co-Founder, Chief Product Architect, EverComm Singapore), Session 11 on digital trade and economy:

  • global e-commerce reached $29 trillion in 2017 and that is 13 per cent up over the year before
  • as the use of digital services has now influenced all layers of society, the regulatory framework is constantly being reviewed and revised for the protection of consumer and also for national interests
  • managing the data flow within the country and also across the borders will have a significant impact on digital trade

Prof. Tim Unwin (University of London / Lanzhou University in China), Session 12 on gender mainstreaming:

  • showed that gender mainstreaming has been embedded in WSIS since its very beginning by turning the WSIS letters on the stage into ’MISS’
  • there are still some countries where gender digital equality is twice as bad as it was 25 years ago
  • we can have some generally good practices, but they need to be applied in particular contexts; however,  actually gender digital equality is probably worse in many of the richer countries in the world than it is in some of the poorer countries in the world
  • men should put more efforts to empower women and girls in using technology

Ms Sabrina Cohen Dumani (Executive Director, Nomads Foundation), Session 13 on ICT application and services:

  • by the end of 2018, only 50% of the world population was connected to the Internet. While 95% of the infrastructure is there people are not connected themselves
  • we need to show the poor people the beauty of the Internet and how the Internet can solve their own problems
  • the case of Kenya in providing banking services through mobile payments and 2G
  • the private-public partnership should be added with another P, which stands for people, to be sure the applications serve the civil society needs.

Dr Naila Siddiqui Kamal (Senior Lecturer, Imperial College School of Medicine London), Session 14 on knowledge societies, capacity building and e-learning/ media:

  • discussed the potential of emerging technologies and solutions to answer both population-based and individual-based needs; priority was given to engagement, education, enablement, empowerment, employment, and equality
  • provided examples from Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, India, Central America

Finally, the Chairman of the WSIS Forum 2019 Mr Mustafa Jabbar (Minister, Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, Bangladesh) thanked all the moderators and panellists of the high-level policy sessions for their great input. He briefly summarised once again the main takeaways from all the sessions and expressed confidence that WSIS will continue to play its role in assessing the impact of the new technologies on our civilization.

Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union) closed the session with the certificate ceremony for the high-level track facilitators.

By Ilona Stadnik