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Author:
Pedro Vilela

The success of this year’s WSIS sessions was in ensuring that its key messages of equality, inclusion, and building resilient and safe information and knowledge societies were conveyed to the entire world. The moderator, Ms Gitanjali Sah (WSIS Coordinator, ITU), gave a brief retrospective of this year's WSIS process, presenting statistics and highlights of the edition.

Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, ITU) made remarks about this year’s WSIS Forum. He noted how it has almost achieved gender parity, increased participation from small island developing states, and from developing countries and regions such as the Caribbean and Latin America. The forum initiated new special tracks in areas like emerging technologies for sustainable development, ICT for well-being and happiness, and cybersecurity. The edition had the first mayors meeting at the forum on the topic of inclusive and responsible digitalisation in the city. Finally, he considered this the most inclusive, accessible, and innovative WSIS Forum to date.

UNESCO is committed to the WSIS process. It has been responsible for implementing six WSIS Action Lines and strives to do that by creating synergies between them. This gives a holistic viewpoint and appreciation for the WSIS community, explained Dr Marielza Oliveira (Director of Partnerships and Operational Programme Monitoring, Communication, and Information Sector, UNESCO). UNESCO is preparing the first global recommendations on the ethics of artificial intelligence (AI). Along with the UN and WSIS, it will help launch the international decade of indigenous languages, in the hopes that the UN system and the stakeholders will work together to highlight the extreme vulnerability of nearly 7,000 indigenous languages and draw further attention to the existing disabilities and marginalisation of indigenous peoples that are further harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extraordinary circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have also demonstrated the strong link between digitalisation and development. Both show the potential of digital solutions and reveal the significant digital divide that still exists. Ms Scarlett Fondeur (Economic Affairs Officer, UNCTAD) reported that UNCTAD held a virtual dialogue on the role of digitalisation in the UN’s Decade of Action where it invited all the heads of agency of the UN system to provide their views on where they see digitalisation and ICTs being of relevance to sustainable development in general. The meeting coincided with the beginning of the UN's Decade of Action, where it recognised that the world only has ten years left until 2030 to achieve the SDGs, according to the goals set by the Agenda 2030.

The challenges for cooperation in the digital sphere are immense and have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, where digital inequality has posed many difficulties for governments and communities that are lagging behind in digital development. Making sure that normal operations continue, making these services available to all, and ensuring that efforts are integrated is vital, as no one can achieve the SDG goals and targets single-handedly, believes Ms Minerva Novero-Belec (Policy Specialist for the UNDP).

There is an urgent need for regular communication and exchange of views as a means of cooperation to achieve the SDGs. The world is facing a fundamentally new era with new challenges, threats, and opportunities, stated Ms Babekina Natalia (Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media, Russian Federation). During a pandemic, information technologies are a beacon of hope allowing millions to maintain communication in times of forced isolation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, connections with loved ones, educational institutions, workplaces, and health workers are more important than ever. The introduction of any new technology, the development of ICTs by itself cannot equalise the opportunities of developed and developing countries. Sometimes it even increases inequality. Therefore, the most important elements for bridging the digital divide are international cooperation at the global and regional levels, increased investment, and expansion of appropriate funding.

Ms Mashael Al Hammadi (Assistant Undersecretary at Ministry of Transport and Communications, Qatar) declared her confidence that the SDGs can be reached by its committed target of 2030. COVID-19 might prove a hardship, but the state of Qatar is confident in its leadership and strong role model that it will provide a positive impact regionally and internationally.

Mr Dipendra Manocha (Developing Countries Coordinator and Lead of Training and Tech Support, DAISY Consortium) spoke about the issues involving persons with disabilities. He thanked the WSIS Forum for doing the accessibility track, as it brought together many good practices, standards,and validation tools. He believes that the digital divide or lack of digital literacy amongst persons with disabilities, especially, has a serious negative impact, which needs to be addressed.

Over the past three years there has been significant growth of the ICT and Youth Special Track at the WSIS Forum. This year, youths continue to gather in even greater numbers, especially due to the more inclusive virtual nature of the event. The session presented a video with youths from all over the world speaking about their experiences with the WSIS process and the Youth Special Track.