WSIS Forum 2021 highlights and key achievements

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Ana Maria Correa

The opening session of the WSIS final week started with an overview of the key highlights and outcomes of several workshops held during the forum, since January.

Mr Malcolm Johnson (Deputy Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)), while opening, noted that WSIS brought together more than 11,000 participants from more than 180 countries through more than 200 sessions to discuss the best practices of ICTs implementation, as well as the crucial role of the WSIS Action Lines in achieving the SDGs.

He highlighted three new special tracks this year: ICTs for well-being and happiness, new emerging technologies for sustainable development start-ups, cybersecurity.

The workshop organizers then briefly shared the outcomes of their sessions, emphasising the emerging trends, concrete actionable items, and challenges in their fields.

Ms Karen McCabe (Senior Director, Public Affairs & Marketing, IEEE Standards Association) spoke about the ICTs and Smart energy: Sustainable energy systems will enable inclusive access to ICTS, so there exists a need for exploring energy conservation potential of clean and renewable energy sources. The main challenges are affordability of renewable sources, mushrooming data storage needs, and e-waste recycling.

Mr Martin Labbé (Tech Sector Development Coordinator, International Trade Centre Switzerland) explained policies for the accelerated digitalisation in Africa: the trends on rapid adoption of mobile money, teleworking to boost digital economy and viability of businesses; the necessity for enabling frontline players in terms of infrastructure and skills and enhancing regulation of the digital space in supporting data security and e-commerce.

Ms Moira de Roche (International Federation for Information Processing) expounded on cyber resilience with a professional workforce: the focus on cybersecurity requires the establishment of global standard for skills and competencies. Cybersecurity must be observed from the enterprise architecture point of view in order to secure assets, as well as to make online learning available to end users and consumers of digital goods, making them cyber resilient. What presents the challenge is that action line C7 e-learning has been driven mostly by the educational sector, while it should be a focus for all.

Mr Joe Hironika (Programme Specialist Digital Innovation and Transformation Communication and Information Sector, UNESCO) shared the outcomes of several sessions UNESCO contributed to:

  • combating disinformation through measures that strengthen universal access to information on health and human rights and democratic processes - a trend for the public to become active consumers of fact-checking services.
  • a session to highlight young professional voices on artificial intelligence (AI) ethics, and the world's first global normative instrument on the ethics of AI, which will be considered for adoption by UNESCO's General Conference, in form of the UNESCO recommendation and following a two-year process.
  • A session on open sciences which will be a key SDG driver for south-south and north-south collaboration to democratize knowledge.
  • A session on the UNESCO global education commission – the global skills academy, which helped 142 young people since March, 2020, and aided building skills for employability and resilience, while the global teacher campus reached 35,000 teachers with ICT skills in ensuring inclusive, quality, remote, hybrid, and in-presence teaching models.
  • the session on UNESCO's ROAM Internet universal principles (rights, openness, accessibility, and multistakeholder participation).

Ms Yolanda Rueda (Founder and President, Fundación Cibervoluntarios) noted the role of technology in involving civil society in the Agenda 2030 achievement: involving local communities in technological volunteering in order to increase rights, opportunities and capacities, for digitally vulnerable population through the collective intelligence platform empodera.org. The challenge presented is working together on making the internet access and tech appropriation a universal right.

Mr NK Goyal (President CMAI & Cyber Security Association of India) gave details about plans for forming several working groups for ITU/WSIS which would continue working, round the year, on connectivity for marginalised areas; the strategy to implement 2G and 3G for unconnected, instead of rushing for 5G; the balance between social media and physical education, and virtual platforms ensuring their cybersecurity.

Mr Jaroslaw Ponder (Head of ITU Office for Europe) explained implementation of WSIS Action Lines on a regional level: COVID-19 induced an increase of demand for connectivity, skills, digital services; the white spaces required mapping for broadband infrastructure and services, and there was also the need for accelerating digitalisation of governmental services.

Mr Rakesh L (Founder Director & CTO Ada Lovelace Software Private Limited, INDI) spoke about assistive tech and software in empowering children with disabilities: the engagement of young learners through near psychological-pedagogical interventions. The challenge is providing access to quality learning experience in low-connectivity rural areas.

Ms Monique Epstein (Director, E-Seniors association France) spoke about e-inclusion of seniors to ensure social fairness and build resilience in reacting to crises, and shared several examples of existing inter-generational activities.

Ms Haiyun Zhang (Founder, Youchang Consulting, China) spoke about the development path for public welfare organisations driven by new tech. Youchang consulting providing NGOs with advice on strategy, branding, and fundraising. During the COVID-19 every organisation faces problems providing an offline experience to volunteers and the people they aim to assist.

Ms Esperanza Magpantay (Senior Statistician, International Telecommunication Union) spoke about the new big data sources for measuring information society, namely mobile phone big data and web scraping to measure e-commerce and digital economy. The need to partner with national stakeholders for big data use exists, as well as the need to provide help and expertise for international agencies. The challenge presented is the very limited access of the private sector stats and lack of skills in using big data in national statistics offices.

Ms Valensiya Dresvyannikova (Policy and Research Officer, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) spoke about public access for meaningful digital inclusion: tailoring solutions to the local context in supporting women, seniors, residents of remote areas, rapid digitalisation, and remote access during COVID-19. The challenge is to identify barriers underserved groups may face, while trying to get an access.

Mr Andy Quested (IRG-AVA co-chair in ITU; European Broadcasting Union (EBU)) expounded on accessible media: certain technology being developed for ICT and broadcasting is going towards bigger and better, rather than to inclusivity. We're moving into completely new digital systems, and have the potential to produce the easy use and accessible devices which would allow people to log into any media desired, on any device or platform they wish. The challenge is that nearly 25% of the aging population will need some form of assistance in using ICT and broadcast infrastructure in the future, while the commercial drivers rather tend to go toward the high-end targets, not toward inclusivity.

Mr István Bozsóki (Head, Network and Spectrum Management Division, ITU) addressed the global infrastructure data gaps in supporting evidence-based investment programs and policy-making in Africa. The challenge is that the evolution of the availability of the telecommunication industry and data services has affected the validity of the reasons companies are not inspired to share infrastructure data.

Ms Natalia Vicente (Director of Public Affairs & Communications, EMEA Satellite Operators Association) explained the myths and realities of current connectivity challenges: satellite connectivity is a key piece of puzzle for enabling future opportunities for disadvantaged communities, however, problems with affordability and deployment exist, as well as the fact that 5G is unlikely to ever reach many rural communities.

Ms Caroline Troein (Lead cybersecurity researcher, ITU) gave details on multi-dimensional cybersecurity indices: reliable and comparable data collection remains a challenge, especially in developing countries. Communicating the nuances in the local context and presence in these countries is also crucial for meaningful action. People can easily get lost in the numbers produced, and index creators and index users should be clear about what the data can indicate. The ITU will be releasing its global cybersecurity index in a month.

Ms Roxana Radu (Research Associate – International Law and Policy, CyberPeace Institute) expounded on cyberattacks on the healthcare sector: the ransomware attacks are on the rise during the pandemic. The states need to take action to better protect the health care sector and ultimately human lives. The increased costs for violating norms regarding critical infrastructure, adoption of human-centric approach, and cross-sector expertise to address the challenges, should be expected. The challenges to be addressed are: limited exchange of cyberthreat intelligence, lack of awareness on existing expertise, and capacity to prevent attacks.

Mr Alfredo M. Ronchi (Secretary General, MEDICI Framework of Cooperation - Italy) spoke about the impact of the digital transition on society and economy. There is a need for ensuring employment and economic sustainability, finding a balance between privacy and ubiquitous presence of technology, getting prepared for a possible future «cyberpandemic».