[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]
The moderator, Mr Jaroslaw Ponder (Strategy and Policy Advisor and Coordinator for Europe Region at International Telecommunication Union (ITU)), opened the ceremony and welcomed representatives of all stakeholder groups to the WSIS Forum. Following these opening remarks, Ponder presented a video message from Mr Antonio Guterres (Secretary-General, United Nations (UN)). Guterres talked about the importance of ICTs in advancing human rights, sustainable development, and peace; three key pillars of all UN activities. He noted that the Forum is a powerful platform to forge partnerships across all sectors and work together towards the 2030 Agenda.
Mr Houlin Zhao (Secretary-General, ITU) also observed the potential of information and knowledge societies to advance the sustainable development goals (SDGs). He highlighted that this year’s Forum brings together more than 2000 stakeholders from 150 countries and the increased participation shows the commitment of existing stakeholders and new partners to WSIS goals. Zhao also brought attention to the open consultation process, a feature of the Forum that has resulted in a rich agenda of more than 150 sessions and some new elements, like a hackaton on e-health, a virtual reality track, an innovation track, a photo contest, and TEDx talks. Finally, he mentioned the central role of ICT statistics and the key contribution of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development in pursuing both the WSIS and the SDG agenda.
Mr Akif Gilalov (Chairman, World’s Global Telecom (WGT)) announced the launch of Beep, a project that will serve as a platform for people with disabilities all over the world. The initiative seeks to reach more than 200 million people to provide them with maximum accessibility to the digital world. Gilalov was accompanied by Ms Katerina J. Walker (Product Coordinator, WGT) who reminded the audience that technology has become a great ally for people with disabilities, but there is still a big divide between those who can communicate online and those who do not have access to connectivity or to the tools to make better use of online devices. The Beep initiative seeks to address this shortfall by offering a diverse range of online services to disabled people.
Mr Mukhisa Kituyi (Secretary General, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)) underscore the transformative power of ICTs and innovation to contribute to the SDGs and discussed pending challenges related to lack of connectivity for a big section of the population. Kituyi mentioned a recent report by UNCTAD where results pointed towards a global investment shortfall in ICT for development services and infrastructure. Some initiatives, like UNCTAD’s E-trade for All, seek to address these gaps by mobilising technical and financial support for digital inclusion.
Mr Frank La Rue (Assistant Director General, Knowledge Societies Division, Communication and Information Sector, (UNESCO)) talked about UNESCO’s fundamental mandate to build peace through the sharing of communications and knowledge across societies. He emphasised that although when it comes to connectivity infrastructure is crucial, so is content. The international community has to work to guarantee public access to the knowledge society, but that access has to be coupled with relevant content. La Rue referred to many challenges that are still pressing in relation with the digital transformation of our societies: the employment loss that needs to be dealt with by developing social policies; the eradication of poverty that, in turn, requires the eradication of corruption and the strengthening of transparency and citizen participation; the need to revamp our current education systems, and the widening gaps in terms of gender equality and cultural diversity in the digital world.
Ms Deborah Greenfield, (Deputy Director General, International Labour Organization (ILO)) started by highlighting that according to current figures, 70 million young people are unemployed, and more than 150 million are in work, but still live in poverty due to underemployment or informal employment. For Greenfield, this reality should be at the backdrop of the discussion on how development-oriented information societies can create decent jobs for youth. With this scenario in mind, in February 2016 the ILO launched The Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth as a comprehensive effort to promote youth employment and meet a crucial goal of the 2030 agenda. Under this framework, the ILO and the ITU launched a joint campaign –Digital Skills for Decent Jobs for Youth – to equip young people with digital skills that can be conducive to decent jobs.
Mr Bishar A. Hussein (Secretary General, Universal Postal Union (UPU)) recalled that a few years ago technology seemed like a death sentence for the traditional postal service. However, it has since become a solution to its sustainability. The global postal network provides physical connectivity which is important for delivering ICTs, and fostering electronic commercial and financial inclusion. Hussein noted the key role of technology in transforming our lives and creating a ‘small global village’, and emphasised that the UPU, as the only international organisation that actually knocks on the door of every citizen, can contribute greatly to WSIS goals by delivering a large range of financial and economic services to the most remote places on the planet.
Ms Arancha González (Executive Director, International Trade Center (ITC)) presented the work that the ITC does with entrepreneurs around the world and how they are using technology to bring their goods and services closer to bigger markets. She observed that e-commerce accounts for more than 12% of international trade and is working as an enabler of job growth and poverty reduction everywhere. However, we must remember than more than 4 billion people remain unconnected, and, at the private sector level, there are also inequalities: small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are ten times less likely to use e-mail to communicate than large firms, and in developing countries they are often absent from e-commerce channels. E-commerce has to grow in an inclusive manner to make sure that no one is left behind and that the goals of local development are met.
Dr Elena Manaenkova (Deputy Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization (WMO)) spoke about the importance of dealing with climate issues to advance the 2030 Agenda. Weather extremes and natural hazards are some of the highest risks for economic and human loss, and that risk is going to grow because of climate change impact. There is a need for more climate-related infrastructure and services that are ICT-intensive. For Manaenkova, it is crucial that ICTs continue to act as enablers to make sure critical information and climate warnings reach people all over the world.
Mr Peter Major (Vice-Chair, United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD)) provided insight on the work of the CSTD in general and in relation to WSIS in particular. He observed that there are many challenges ahead in terms of advancing ICTs for development. The CSTD has a clear mandate to collaborate providing advice, assessing programmes, sharing best practices, and promoting dialogue and partnership to achieve this goal. Major highlighted the value of multistakeholder cooperation and the critical role of science, technology, and innovation in achieving the SDGs.
Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Director of Global Advocacy and Policy Strategy, Association for Progressive Communication (APC)) represented civil society and reminded the public that the first WSIS phase in 2003 discussed the importance of developing information societies that are inclusive, and that have democracy, sustainability, and gender equality at their core. These principles have to be upheld, not just in Geneva during the WSIS meeting, but all the time and everywhere. With this in mind, Esterhuysen called for every government in the room to ask themselves if they are applying the principles of inclusive and open participation in their current policies and programmes.
Dr Carolyn Nguyen (Vice-Chair of the ICC Commission on the Digital Economy and Director, Technology Policy, Microsoft) affirmed that technology is indeed a key foundation to advancing SDGs, but not a sufficient one. There is a need to partner with other stakeholder to enable changes that are impactful and sustainable for communities around the world. The speaker talked about some of Microsoft’s initiatives like the Microsoft affordable access initiative, a Cloud for Global Good, or the recent partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to develop a data-driven dashboard that can help to better understand critical human rights issues around the world. For Nguyen, these examples highlight how technology can be used to realise global goods to empower every person in the world.
by Tamar Colodenco