Official opening segment – opening ceremony – WSIS project prize ceremony

20 Mar 2018 09:00h - 13:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

The opening ceremony began with a video message from Mr António Guterres, UN secretary-general, who invited the stakeholders to help connect the unconnected, because it is critical for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Ms Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary-general, reflected on the power of information and communications technology (ICTs) in bridging the global digital divide, and Mr Houlin Zhao, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), expressed his gratitude to the co-organisers and sponsors of the WSIS Forum. Zhao said that there are 2500 new stakeholders from over 150 countries involved in the Forum. Mr Majed Sultan Al Mesmar, deputy director-general, Telecommunication Sector, Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), United Arab Emirates (UAE), presented the UAE’s strategy for the 4th industrial revolution and their determination to depend less on oil, and more on ICTs.

Ms Isabelle Durant, deputy secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said that developing countries should not only be consumers, but also the producers of e-commerce and ICTs. Mr Getachew Engida, deputy director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), invited those present to their session on Internet Universality Indicators for SDGs. Mr Abdulaziz Bin Salem Al-Ruwais, governor at the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) in Saudi Arabia spoke about the country’s strategy to promote growth of the digital economy. Mr Yi Xiaozhun, deputy director-general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said that the business and government sectors have to work together. Mr Mahmoud Mohieldin, senior vice president of World Bank, said that they aim to expand digital connectivity, digital public services, invest in human capital, and upgrade ICTs.

Mr Peter Major, vice-chair of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), explained the work of the commission in enhancing co-operation and producing recommendations. Representing the private sector, Mr Huidi Li, executive vice president of China Mobile, said that ‘connection is the key contribution’ that helps alleviate poverty. From the civil society, Mr Cyril Ritchie, first vice president of the Conference of NGOs (CoNGO), emphasised what he described as a lack of inter-generational solidarity for a more successful WSIS process.

After the opening remarks, Zhao appointed Al Mesmar chairman of the WSIS 2018 Forum. Al Mesmar congratulated the ITU for coordinating the process and introduced the moderator of the first session: Multistakeholder Partnership for WSIS Implementation, Mr Malcolm Johnson, deputy secretary-general of the ITU. Ms Olga Algayerova, executive secretary at United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), spoke about the need for interventions at local levels and more public-private-partnerships to promote smart cities. Mr Mohamed Ali Alhakim, under-secretary-general and executive secretary at United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UNESCWA), said that in his region ‘there is a lot of conflict’ and that it ‘requires assistance in creating an environment for the private sector to operate’ in.

Mr Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, minister of information, technology and communications, Rwanda, talked about the advancement of Rwanda in creating their five year ICT plan, setting a legal and regulatory framework, and  invited those present to attend the ‘Transform Africa Summit’. From Japan, Mr Masahiko Tominaga, vice-minister for policy coordination (International Affairs), Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, highlighted cost effectiveness, competition, investment, and free flow of information as priorities. Mr Salim Al Ruzaiqi, CEO of the Information Technology Authority, Oman, presented their comprehensive digital strategy and its seven pillars.

Mr Marcin Cichy, president of the Office for Electronic Communications, Poland, said that deploying infrastructure and knowledge-sharing are key to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) through ICTs. Mr Thomas Schneider, ambassador and director of international affairs, Swiss Federal Office of Communication, noted that progress works on ‘the large scale if solid on the smaller one’. Schneider invited governments to lead by example.

Ms Karen Bartleson, former-president and CEO at Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), stressed the challenges of ethics, design, social responsibility and accountability. ‘It is imperative that people throughout the world are considered in the development and application of AI’, Bartleson remarked. For the perspective of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the main challenges in the digital world are related to connecting the unconnected and maintaining a resilient Internet, said Mr Tarek Kamel, senior vice-president for government and IGO engagement, ICANN. Ms Constance Bommelaer, senior director of global Internet policy, Internet Society, reflected on the importance of the technical community and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which needs to remain open and inclusive.

The second session: ICTs Advancing the Implementation of SDGs – Celebrating 15 Years of Geneva Plan of Implementation, was moderated by Mr Brahima Sanou, director of ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT). Sanou welcomed Mr Ridha Guellouz, president of the Tunisian ICT Association, involved with the ITU since its Plenipotentiary Conference in 1998. Guellouz stressed that the WSIS Forum is constantly changing. It is useful to go back to the beginning and re-engineer. ‘In 1998 ITU was more technical’, agreed Mr Marc Furrer, former director of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications. Furrer added that WSIS was the first to include the civil society in a high-level discussion. Mr Janis Karklins, president of the WSIS 2005 Preparatory Committee for the Tunis Phase, invited the community to reflect on the lessons learned over the last 15 years.

Ms Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, minister of communications of Ghana, presented the lessons learned from the process. They began the implementation of several projects and will continue to be more than a mere spectator in the global digitalisation. Mr Andre Borges, secretary of telecommunications in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communication, Brazil, said that connectivity in cities is their main concern. To that end, Brazil launched a satellite to connect 30 000 remote locations that will not be reached by any network or fiber cable any time soon. Ms Aruna Sundararajan, vice-minister at the Ministry of Communications, India, reflected that it is critical to focus on alternative forms of energy.

In Mexico, access to the Internet is recognised as a constitutional right, said Ms Yolanda Martinez Mancilla, chief of national digital strategy at the Government of Mexico – Office of the Presidency. ‘We want to have a digital identity, policy and digitalise the most demanded government services’, Martinez Mancilla noted. Mr Vladimir Minkin, chairman of the multistakeholder preparatory process, WSIS+10 High-Level Event, talked about the multistakeholder preparatory process, highlighting its complexity and value. Ms Maria Luisa Silva, director of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Geneva, noted that WSIS helped introduce the concepts of information, communication and connectivity to the field of humanitarian and development work. Ms Elizabeth Thomas-Raynaud, senior policy executive at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), shared that they take their role in advancing the global 2030 Agenda very seriously. The ICC published a document on digital economy which includes four key dimensions: sustainable investment, digital literacy skills, technical considerations and governments. 

Between the opening remarks and plenaries, Zhao gave the WSIS 2018 Prizes to the winners of the hackaton, photo contest, and 18 projects.

The importance of multilingualism for WSIS was stressed, as several speakers addressed the community in French, Arabic, Russian and Spanish.


By Jana Mišić