On 11 June 2020, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres presented the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Building upon the recommendations outlined in the report of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, the Roadmap indicates the main signposts ahead of us, and proposes practical policy actions.
The following video summarises the main conceptual elements of the Roadmap document.
Reading the Roadmap together
In the video below, Executive Director of DiploFoundation and Head of the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) Dr Jovan Kurbalija provides a detailed analysis of the Roadmap.
You can also read the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation with our experts by viewing the annotations and by making your own.
Launch of the Roadmap
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation during a high-level virtual event on June 11. He opened the session byemphasising that the UN aims to become a multilateral, multistakeholder platform and the Road Map represents an important milestone in this process. He introduced eight areas of focus: connectivity, digital public goods, digital inclusion, digital capacity building, digital human rights, digital trust and security, critical infrastructure, and global digital co-operation. He warned that we should not let technological developments get ahead of our capacity to manage them. He also warned of the dangers of digital inequality and the ‘danger of digital divides becoming the new face of insecurity’.
President of the Swiss Confederation, Simonetta Sommaruga reminded everyone that technology itself is neutral and that its effects depend on how we use it. She stressed the importance of an open, free, and constructive public sphere and the ‘need to preserve a free and secure digital space for our children’. In this regard, she raised concerns about governments or large technological companies controlling and collecting information and negative influences on democracy. In terms of governance models, she stressed the importance of building on existing structures and highlighted the so-called IGF+ model suggested by the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation. Concluding, she stressed that ‘we need a space where we can define shared rules’.
President of Sierra Leone, Julius Maada Bio began by describing recent achievements in digital infrastructure and connectivity in his country. He argued that technology is an accelerator of development but that progress towards sustainable development goal (SDG) nine on ’build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation’ was unequal and more effort was needed. Sierra Leone’s recently launched national innovation and digitisation strategy, which focuses on three areas: digital governance, digital identity, digital economy. Supporting this process, the position of a director of science, technology and innovation was established under the office of the president. Describing the situation in his country with regard to further digitalisation, he focused on four areas in particular: digital government, digital economy, the fourth industrial revolution, and digital identities (supported by blockchain applications). Bioalso stressed the importance of partnerships, which are crucial for progress. The president mentioned partnerships with other states (Estonia and South Africa), the private sector (Microsoft), and philanthropic organisations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, stressed that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is committed to collaboration. He described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of ‘tremendous challenges and vast progress’. However, he remarked that many policies are not agile enough to ensure preparedness for the crisis and highlighted the importance of investing in the future. Dubai’s model of thinking which focuses on ‘shaping the future today’ offers useful orientation.
Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Klaus Schwab, stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world irrevocably, many economic and social activities have moved online and yet only 53% of the world population has Internet access. He shared five thoughts to guide collective efforts: (a) ambition instead of incremental change, (b) investment in digital inclusion (with innovative financing models), (c) holistic thinking about digital infrastructure and connectivity, (d) private-public partnerships, (e) corporate responsibility for the digital future. He further argued that we need to close the digital divide, close the gender gap, become serious about SDG 9 and work towards it with enhanced co-operation, raise the bar beyond basic access and work towards meaningful access, and make sure that the Internet becomes a safe space that empowers people.
Founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, Tim Berners-Lee, emphasised that technology needs to be oriented towards positive change. In this regard, he highlighted the Contract for the Web, its global action plan and the UN Secretary General’s Road Map as important multistakeholder efforts. For the future, he envisioned a ‘race to the top together with governments’ and tech platforms that empower human beings. To make this transition, he urged everyone to reimagine distributive collaboration and practice compassion.
CEO of Mastercard and Vice-Chair for the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Ajay Banga, argued that although it is not clear how the post-COVID-19 world will look like, access is key. The digital divide needs to be closed and meaningful digital inclusion has to be fostered as ‘we cannot have an Internet of everything without the inclusion of everyone’. Banga also picked up on an early theme introduced by the president of Sierra Leone on universal digital identification schemes and argued that this will ‘change the way people establish their identity’ and thereby provide crucial access to digital infrastructure. He also touched on the need to redefine the rules of cybersecurity and complete the new e-commerce rules under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
CEO of Vodafone, Nick Read argued for connectivity for a better future and a sustainable and inclusive digital society. In his view, the response to COVID-19 illustrated the vital role played by telecoms, digital applications, and their key role in keeping the society going. In this ‘shift to digital’ it is important to not leave certain groups, such as small business, the elderly, and children behind. In his opinion, investing in digital infrastructure and increasing coverage of reliable and affordable connectivity are key areas to focus on. Like Schwab, he stressed the importance of public-private partnerships. In conclusion, he suggested three key areas of focus: (a) digital skills, (b) digitised public services at scale (in particular health and education), (c) closing the digital gap for small enterprises.
High Representative for LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries, and SIDS, Fekitamoeloa Katoa 'Utolkamanu began by stating that in least developed countries (LDCs), only 19% of the population has Internet access while this number is less than 50% in small island developing states (SIDS). In order to provide a more equal playing field, effective inclusion and participation needs to be ensured. She described connectivity as a precondition for sustainable development. Overall, she argued that in order to make progress, we need to get the basics right. This includes; (a) investment in infrastructure, (b) increasing the amount of overseas development assistance that is dedicated to digitisation, (c) increasing the funds available from development banks, (d) not forgetting about rural areas, (e) ensuring digital inclusion.
CEO of Benevolent AI and Founder of We Protect, Baroness Joanna Shields focused on the need to protect children from online abuse and sexual exploitation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, incidences have been rising and our response to COVID-19 also needs to include responses on these issues. In particular, Shields pointed to the responsibility of online platforms. She argued that the planned implementation of end-to-end encryption on Facebook will make reporting child abuse harder, and that it is estimed that 12 million instances might be missed each year. In conclusion, she argued that technology, if employed in the right way, can be a powerful tool to combat sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
President and CEO of the Internet Society (ISOC), Andrew Sullivan argued that the benefits of the Internet have become obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, lack of access still represents an obstacle and as such the emphasis of the UN Secretary-General’s Road Map on connectivity is very important. Internet infrastructure is a key element towards greater connectivity. Sullivan stressed that the distributive and decentralised design has proven itself as a structure that is fit for purpose, even in times of crisis. He argued that ‘when the pandemic came the Internet was ready, many governments were not’. In this regard, he argued against attempts at centralisation and the fact that seemingly simple solutions to address one issue might have unintended consequences in other places within the complex system of the Internet.
The following discussion allowed more speakers to take the floor. The Minister for Innovation of Kazakhstan stressed the importance of the Internet for education and health; in particular during the present pandemic. Speaking on behalf of LDCs, the Ambassador of Malawi stressed that digital inclusiveness must incorporate the needs of LDCs. Incentives for Internet companies are needed to invest in LDCs as well as additional international support. The Head of Delegation of the EU to the UN stressed the importance of freedom of expression. The Ambassador of Singapore stressed open source solutions to allow for faster and cheaper development, especially in developing countries and he emphasised the role of the UN to work with the private sector to establish open source programmes for developing countries. The Ambassador of Mexico reminded everyone of the importance of including migrants in the groups that are to be reached by the Road Map.The Ambassador of the Netherlands suggested that the rule based international order should be translated to the online world and that the Road Map represents a good opportunity to connect the public and the private sector. The Ambassador of the UK highlighted the IGF+ model of digital governance and the importance of safeguarding human rights. The Kenyan Minister of ICT stressed the development of new business models and the need for global digital co-operation. Denmark's Tech Ambassador stressed human rights and a human centred approach to technology. He also alluded to the challenges in engaging the tech industry on these and other issues. A Chinese representatives urged for development to be prioritised in digital co-operation. He also argued that developing countries should receive more capacity development assistance according to their needs.
In conclusion of the session, Undersecretary-General Fabrizio Hochschild-Drummond stressed that universal connectivity should be an absolute priority. But connectivity also needs to be affordable, meaningful, and safe. In order to achieve this, a comprehensive perspective and tailor-made solutions are needed. States and other actors need to find unity of purpose. While states might disagree on defining the limits of freedom of speech or surveillance, agreement on the importance of universal access and connectivity - as well as other issues such as racism, harassment, discrimination, child abuse - is already there. The process however will be a marathon, not a sprint.
Watch the session on YouTube.
The official webpage of the UN Secretary General's Roadmap on Digital Cooperation