Leaders TalkX: Gateway to Knowledge: Empowering Global Access Through Digital

27 May 2024 15:30h - 16:00h

Table of contents

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Full session report

Experts Discuss Strategies to Bridge Digital Divide and Foster Trust in Digital Sphere at Leader Talks Session

In a comprehensive panel discussion during the Leader Talks session, experts from various countries and organizations shared their insights on bridging the digital divide and enhancing trust in the digital realm. Dr. Tawfiq Jalassi, representing UNESCO, highlighted three primary aspects of the digital divide: the gender digital divide, the urban-rural digital divide, and the linguistic digital divide. He stressed the importance of trust in information as a cornerstone for a shared reality, particularly in the face of rampant misinformation and disinformation.

Minister Mayra Arevich Marán from Cuba discussed her country’s commitment to improving ICT accessibility and fostering digital competencies. Despite facing economic sanctions, Cuba has made significant progress in digital transformation, emphasizing the importance of digital inclusion for all citizens.

Dr. Hayam Al-Yassiri of Iraq detailed her country’s strides in bridging the digital gap, including the development of fibre optic networks and submarine cables. She highlighted the importance of digital transformation in government services and called for greater focus on the content available on the internet.

Representing Brunei, Ir Haji Jailani bin Haji Buntar spoke about the forthcoming introduction of personal data protection laws. He emphasized the need for data protection to build trust and confidence among ICT users and outlined efforts to raise awareness and build competency in data protection.

Nele Leosk from Estonia shared insights into her country’s journey in digitalisation, noting the early adoption of an access to information law and the shift towards using AI and chatbots to proactively deliver government services and information to the public. She also mentioned the challenges of ensuring the veracity of information in the digital age.

AHM Bazlur Rahman of Bangladesh reflected on the role of WSIS Action Lines in establishing a digital society and economy, while also addressing the monopolisation of social media platforms and the privatisation of knowledge. He called for a more equitable access to information and the strengthening of the public domain.

Cinthya Arias Leitón from Costa Rica discussed her country’s regulatory measures to ensure that the benefits of 5G technology reach all users, with a particular focus on reducing the digital divide. She highlighted the importance of prioritizing infrastructure deployment over revenue collection to improve coverage and service quality in high-priority districts.

The panel concluded with a consensus on the need for collaborative strategies that address the digital divide, ensuring that all individuals have equitable access to information and the benefits of a digital society.

Session transcript

Lori Schulman:
Last but not the least today in the Leader Talks panel, I want to welcome you all. Thank you for being here. I will keep pace brisk and hopefully on time as you’ve all been very patient today. My name is Lori Schulman and I’m here from the International Trademark Association. I want to present our first speaker, which is our UN representative, Dr. Tawfiq Jalassi. He is the Associate Director General for Communication and Information from UNESCO.

Tawfik Jelassi :
Thank you very much, Madam Chair, Excellencies, esteemed delegates, honorable guests. Let me try to make three quick points. I know that the focus of this session is on how can digital technologies promote access to information worldwide, how to strengthen transparency, public participation, and trust in government. I think trust is a fundamental point. And let me here quote the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Maria Ressa, who said, without facts, there is no truth. And without truth, there is no trust. And without trust, there is no shared reality. So I think the trust is not only in government, it’s the trust in the information for which you are helping giving access to. And here are my three quick points. The first one is about the gender digital divide. There is one statistic that I would like to share regarding women outnumbering male non-users of the internet by 17%. This is the first divide, the gender digital divide. The second one is the urban-rural digital divide. 81% of urban residents have access to the internet that is 1.6 times higher than rural internet users. And the third and final statistic from my side is about languages used online. Just 10 languages account for 90% of the world’s users. The top 10 million websites, just 10 languages. When we know that in the world there are over 7,000 languages, obviously they are not present online. And here UNESCO has been promoting linguistic diversity and multilingualism. We are including online. We are the UN agency in charge of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022, 2032. And UNESCO has also developed recently the World Atlas of Languages. So the issue of multilingualism online is a major topic also of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Program Information for All, or IFA. Let me say that it’s not only access to information online, but what is the quality of the information which we can find online? This morning I mentioned the global risk number one being disinformation, misinformation. And here I would like to mention an attempt of UNESCO to address this issue by having worked the last two years on coming up with the UNESCO guidelines for the governance of digital platforms, which we published this past November, but also our work on media and information literacy in the digital age. Not only working on the supply of information through the governance and the regulation of the digital platforms, which are today the main suppliers of information worldwide, but also working on the users and the consumption of information by making internet users become more media and information literate. Thank you.

Lori Schulman:
Thank you very much. Thank you for staying at three minutes. We are so appreciative. I’m going to look down on this end and welcome our colleagues in Cuba. Her Excellency, Ms. Mayra Alvarez Maran, who is the Minister of the Ministry of Communications. I will be reading her question in Spanish. So, Ms. Maran, ¿Qué acciones se implementan en Cuba What actions are implemented in Cuba to improve the accessibility of ICTs?

Mayra Arevich Marín:
Very good afternoon and thank you very much for giving us the honor to participate in this event and to put that question to us. ICTs are a catalyst for socioeconomic and political development. Thus, they are a cross-cutting access that drives forward multiple processes across society, guaranteeing universal and safe access. And thus, this must be a priority for our governments. In Cuba, we have identified three priority actions to achieve access to ICTs, fostering digital competencies and skills, fostering right to inclusive access to technologies towards professional and personal development. Moreover, develop, despite the difficulties that we’re faced with, develop telecommunication infrastructures to ensure security and quality of services for those that use our services. Despite its current limitations, Cuba is making headway in the process of digital transformation and works with all stakeholders to craft a digital future where science and innovation, social communication, digital transformation are bedrock to achieve these objectives. For Cuba, digital inclusion is more than just a necessity, a need. It is a duty and commitment for all men, women, boys, and girls. The humanist essence of the revolution is not limited to the physical. It transcends also virtual, where passion, resistance, and solidarity embody a unique and altruistic expression. Our Magna Carta embodies equality of all people without discrimination based on reasons of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity, color of someone’s skin, religious beliefs, disabilities, national origin, or any other type of distinction which might be detrimental to human dignity. Thus, bolstering digital inclusion of society is absolutely paramount for Cuba. We could name many actions here that we’ve undertaken. For example, the Telecommunications Operator of Cuba has undertaken workshops where people, persons with some types of disabilities have participated and from this have borne the following initiatives. A center for intermediation for persons with disabilities or hearing impairments, setting up different tariffs for persons with disabilities and those with low incomes, enabling the functioning of accessibility from mobile devices. Moreover, the Computer Scientist Union of Cuba has also put together projects which put people at the very center of digital transformation training and by using sign language and teaching history and preservation of our cultural heritage. These achievements have been achieved despite the economic, commercial, financial blockade which has been imposed by the government of the United States against Cuba, which restricts our access to digital platforms on a worldwide scale to technological equipment which has more than 10% of components which are of US origin as well as funding sources. And also, the inclusion of Cuba on this so-called spurious list of so-called countries which are sponsoring terrorism. As acknowledgement of these endeavors, the ITU granted Cuba in 2021 and 2023 the headquarters and hosting of the 8th and the 10th edition of Accessible America, an event which strengthened the knowledge and policies and digital inclusion strategies and best practices to guarantee and uphold universal accessibility to ICT services. And to ensure accessibility to the digital space is a requirement for Cuba and the world. And divisions between nations and within these nations are getting ever bigger. ICTs go hand in hand with development. A fit-for-purpose use of the digital space, bolstering universal and safe access not only will allow for a more prosperous future, but also a more egalitarian, humane, and fair access for men, women, boys, and girls everywhere. Thank you very much.

Lori Schulman:
Thank you. I am going to quickly go on and look to the colleague to my right, Her Excellency, Dr. Hayam Al-Yassiri. She is the minister of the Ministry of Communications of the government of Iraq. And the question I have for you today is what are the major steps that are taken by the Iraqi government to bridge the digital gap in Iraq?

Hayam Al-yasiri:
In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful. With the Minister, the Ministers, the ladies and gentlemen, the ladies and gentlemen, the ladies and gentlemen, Excellencies, Good evening. Good evening. At the outset, I would like to welcome you all to Iraq. Rather, in Iraq, we have been able to reach the digital divide, and currently we have a high number of Wi-Fi users. We have created a fiber chain, optic fiber chains over thousands of kilometers. We also have submarine cables that have been set up, and we have, in our country, invested towards connectivity among the countries of the region and towards Europe, from those countries through Iraq. We also have fiber-to-the-home technology, and we have 3.5 million units of this type of technology. We have approximately 4 million users of fiber-to-the-home technology, and we have approximately 4 million users of these cables, and we see a high use of 4G. We would like to have a fourth license, so the use of 5G. In the future, the penetration rate is of 103% in Iraq. In addition to this, we have adopted measures in the field of digital transformation, and today we have a national identity that is tied to the electronic visa, and this is accessible to all. We have a platform for these services. This platform offers hundreds, thousands of e-services to all users without exception. All of our ministries have implemented measures towards digital transformation. We also are trying to implement free Internet access for certain schools. We have also been able to ensure connectivity for 600 government websites to have a government network that allows for digital transformation. Iraq is currently facing a difficult context. We have been affected by terrorism in the past few years. However, we have implemented numerous measures, including to build infrastructure with the participation of the government and the private sector. To conclude, I would like to call upon the ITU to work more. I have noticed that conversations have focused on accessibility, connectivity, and user numbers, but I would like the ITU to also focus on content on the Internet. This is one of the major challenges we are faced with in Iraq, Internet content. What can be found on the Internet? We need to work with social networks for this, and we know that content has an impact on ethics and morals in our societies. They have an impact, and we need to take into account cultures and religions in this context. Thank you.

Lori Schulman:
We will move right along to a different part of the world, Brunei, Dar es Salaam. We have here Mr. Ir Haji Jailani Bin Haji Buntar, who is a chief executive, so non-governmental. That will add, I think, a little private sector perspective here. He is the chief executive of AITI. Yes, please start.

Ir Haji Jailani bin Haji Buntar:
Thank you very much, Ms. Laurie, and thank you very much to ITU for giving us the opportunity to be part of this high-level event. With the exponential growth in data and computing power, fueling the advancement of data-driven technologies, data protection remains a crucial role in building trust within an accessible information society. As we envision a smart, connected nation where a large volume of personal data may generally be shared, these activities open a door to potential risks in the securities and protection of data. It thereby highlights the importance of having laws put in place to regulate the processing of personal data. So Brunei, Dar es Salaam is looking into closely and also looking into the best practices being implemented regionally and internationally. Having said that, the Authority for Info-Communication Technology Industry of Brunei, Dar es Salaam, together with the Attorney General’s Chambers of Brunei, Dar es Salaam, have been developing and will be introducing personal data protection law for Brunei, Dar es Salaam. They will set up the General Data Protection Framework, which will apply to private sector organizations. The rationale is to provide the protection of individuals such as users of ICT personal data that are collected, used, disclosed, and processed by private sector organizations. In addition, it will aim to recognize data protection. In this context, we are working to develop an organized mechanism which aims to facilitate the self-use of personal data and transfer of personal data across borders. ATI has already begun its efforts in conducting awareness to private sector organization and the public in the topics relating to the basic principle of personal data protection, the upcoming laws as well as the implementation of the data protection process and this year ATI plans to build competency of data protection offices of private sector organization and our hope is to instill the culture of accountability for managing personal data among such organization. With the upcoming laws, we envision that private sector organization connecting, managing and managing personal data is the key to build confidence among ICT users. We have already set up requirements on implementing data protection policies and practices and in turn build confidence among its users. As part of safeguarding in the digital space, the citizen of Brunei Darussalam, there are also efforts by other organization in Brunei Darussalam to build confidence among citizens of Brunei Darussalam. We are also planning to build a national organization for monitoring and coordinating national efforts in addressing cyber security threats and cyber crimes. Thank you.

Lori Schulman:
≫ Thank you very, very much. I’m going to switch this way now, go a little further north and west to Estonia. Estonia is a global leader in digitalization and I would like to ask Estonia to join globally to guarantee that everyone has equal access to public information online. What have been the main challenges to that?

Nele Leosk:
≫ Thank you and nice to be here. Hello, everybody. I have to go back in time, 25 years ago when Estonia started to step into digitalization and digitalization, there was a need to build a digital state because everybody needs to know what is happening in the government, how to get services, how to be involved in what government does. So at the end of 1990s, we started to work on access to information law and it was adopted in 2000 and it also made a requirement for every public institution, not just government institutions but also kindergarten, schools, to have access to information on their website and at least a certain type of information on these websites, so the law did not remain an abstract instrument that would just lay down some principles that we should follow but was very concrete in terms of which information is to be provided and in case it’s not provided, how people can ask for that information and what are the conditions for getting back to people. So this was 5 years ago, right, so people do not look for information the same way anymore. I’m sure nobody in this room is going to open a browser of a certain institution to look for information they might be needing. So what is here definitely, of course, is a challenge for government, how they manage, let’s say, data, how they manage information. It’s no longer just in documents and websites. So what we are doing currently in Estonia, we are working, of course, on the personal estate where the presumption is that people do not know which institution is dealing with which subject matter or they don’t have to know which websites they would need to open, so that in a way the state comes and collects that information with the help of artificial intelligence itself. So this, for example, is the work that we do around all governmental chatbots, all governmental service provisioning, and so forth. But of course, I would say increasingly bigger challenge is what was also touched upon by my co-panellists, and this really comes to the understanding of the information as a true information. So increasingly we are putting our, I would say, our efforts on public awareness campaigns on this information, and we are also putting a lot of effort on the media freedom coalition, and this is a work that we do increasingly, also globally, because technologies do not recognise borders and the information flows all over the globe. So we are currently co-chairs of the media freedom coalition, we will be the chair of the freedom of online coalition next year. We have quite many similar activities embedded in our digital development programmes. And many other initiatives. So look out for those, and I hope to catch up with you later.

Lori Schulman:
Thank you so much. We know Estonia has been leading the way in so many sectors, ICTs. So thank you. And we come now to a dear friend of Felicis. I know people always like to hear him speak. He is the Executive Director, Chief Executive Officer, Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication. Many of you know it as BNNRC. Mr. Achim Bazlor Rampa. Mr. Achman, what is progress, the challenges, and the way forward for sharing and strengthening knowledge? I would like, if you could address it in Bangladesh and perhaps broadly in the region. Thank you.

AHM Bazlur Rahman:
Thank you, Madam Moderator. I am honoured to deliver the remark on behalf of Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication, Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum, and Bangladesh Initiative for Global Digital Compact and UN Summit of the Future. We have been involved with the WSIS process since the year of 2002. Beginning of the WSIS process. Implementing WSIS Action Line C1 to C11 in 2006. Madam Moderator, since 2006, WSIS Action Line C1 to C11 has contributed to asserting digital society, digital economy, and digital infrastructure in line with communicating in public sphere, communicating knowledge, civil rights in communication, and cultural rights in communication. We have been involved with the WSIS Action Line since 2006. We have been involved with the WSIS Action Line since 2006. Under the leadership of Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Government of Bangladesh, Bangladesh has already contributed to asserting WSIS Action Line C1 to C11 through Digital Bangladesh. It will continue to contribute through Smart Bangladesh. Madam Moderator, global dynamics have created a roadblock to the gateway of the knowledge democracy. A few global corporations dominated most social media platforms. Social media plays a growing role in identity, formation, and cultural process. Still, these are shifting towards an unsustainable and individualist and consumerist ethos, like me, me, me society. Access to ICT and their use of tackle poverty is a major challenge. Access to ICT and their use of tackle poverty and exclusion has almost ground to a halt under neoliberal policy. Under the pretext of war of terrorism, civil rights in the digital environment are being severely eroded in the name of misinformation, disinformation, mal-information, fact-speech, and as well as so-called fact-news. The fruits of human creativity, from academia to media, from indigenous medicine to music, are privatized. Ownership concentrates into the hands of a few, and access restricted to those who can pay. Madam Moderator, in conclusion, improving knowledge and capacity about empowering global access through digital is very important. One, diversity of language and cultures. Freedom of restriction of access to knowledge by licensing and copyright. Ten seconds, Madam. Three, open source software and open standard. Equality of access is very important. Strengthening the public domain, ensuring the information and knowledge are reality, readily available human development, and not locked up in the private hands. Ensuring affordable access to and effective use of electronic network like digital public infrastructure in a development context for instance by innovative and persuasive robust regulation and public investment. With your permission, I would like to conclude here.

Lori Schulman:
Thank you so much. You took 50 seconds, but it was worth it. Last, but not least, we have a remote participant from Costa Rica. Is she on the screen yet? Meanwhile, I will introduce her. Her name is Ms. Cynthia Arias-Leton. She is President of the Board of Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, SUTEL. I am going to start with the question now. Thank you for participating remotely. You are not missing very much. The new technologies appear in the world to change our life frequently. Frequently and quickly. For example, fifth-generation networks emerge to improve the quality of service for telecommunication users and promote that population that can have access to the benefits of the information and knowledge society without any discrimination. We are working to reduce the digital divide and contribute to the digital development of your country through 5G networks and sectorial alliances.

Cinthya Arias Leitón:
Thank you very much. Good afternoon to everyone. It is an honor to participate with all of you in this important ITU event, particularly to analyze the outcomes of 20 years of extraordinary work by the Information Society. The Superintendency of Telecommunications of Costa Rica is highly committed with this topic and has been taking the necessary measures to promote inclusiveness, the right to access information, and the knowledge required to reduce inequality. The regulatory body has promoted the benefits of emerging technology reach all users and everywhere in our country and the framework of a collaborative regulation. During the process of implementing 5G in Costa Rica, SUDEL has been taking measures to bridge the digital divide in the country, thereby ensuring that the populations living in rural areas have access to a wider variety and a better quality of telecommunication services. That is why a first draft of a document of the public inquiry process includes a particular note regarding the 700 MHz band that includes obligations to the winning biders. This includes the need to focus on the development of IMT networks in the high-priority districts identified in the National Telecommunication Development Plan, which cover areas that have little to no coverage and no connectivity across the country. Through this, we also hope to take advantage of development technologies infrastructure at a lower cost and, at the same time, shorten the time it takes to properly deploy a network. Also, by adopting these measures, the regulatory body seeks to prioritize the deployment of the infrastructure over revenue collection, so that the inhabitants of the 134 high-priority districts perceive an improvement in the coverage and the number of available services. That means a reduction of the digital divide as a result of 5G network deployment and allows those populations to enjoy the same benefits and technological advances available to end-users of the digital divide and, of course, within the framework of information and knowledge society that we all aspire to. Thank you very much.

Lori Schulman:
Thank you. Bravo! You get the prize. I want to thank everybody for sticking it out until the end of the day. We ran a little over, but the message is powerful. I want to thank everybody and wish you a very pleasant evening. Recording stopped. Recording in progress. Thank you very much to all the panelists. That concludes our leaders’ talk session for today. I would like to begin our high-level panel session organized by ITU Germany and Estonia. It’s a pleasure for me to invite our moderator for today, Amanda Martinez, to the stage and take over the session. Thank you.


AHM Bazlur Rahman

Speech speed

196 words per minute

Speech length

499 words

Speech time

153 secs


Cinthya Arias Leitón

Speech speed

193 words per minute

Speech length

396 words

Speech time

123 secs


Hayam Al-yasiri

Speech speed

134 words per minute

Speech length

477 words

Speech time

214 secs


Ir Haji Jailani bin Haji Buntar

Speech speed

176 words per minute

Speech length

483 words

Speech time

165 secs


Lori Schulman

Speech speed

189 words per minute

Speech length

783 words

Speech time

249 secs


Mayra Arevich Marín

Speech speed

140 words per minute

Speech length

657 words

Speech time

281 secs


Nele Leosk

Speech speed

255 words per minute

Speech length

539 words

Speech time

127 secs


Tawfik Jelassi

Speech speed

150 words per minute

Speech length

505 words

Speech time

202 secs