The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum is the world’s largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community.
Fifteen years since its inception, WSIS has constantly evolved to meet the challenges of sustainable development, and now takes a key role in implementing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Marc Furrer, former President of the Swiss Federal Communications Commission, was present at the inaugural 2003 WSIS meeting in his role as Chairman for preparing the Action Plan of the WSIS. Below is a recent interview ITU News conducted with Mr. Furrer in which he reflects on the spirit of the Summit and its accomplishments over the past 15 years.
1) Why is the WSIS Forum important?
Fifteen years ago, it was one of our main matters of concern, that the Action Plan of the WSIS would be followed on by concrete activities and by further discussions and exchanges of views. We wanted to ensure that that it would not be a one-off-event.
So it is very satisfying that the WSIS Forum – together with the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF) – engages in follow-up to regularly discuss the process, the achievements and also emerging issues related to the Information Society.
It is an important platform for experts from all stakeholders to meet and exchange their experiences, identify challenges and solutions with regard to implementing the vision of an inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented information society as formulated by the global community at the WSIS in 2003 and 2005. The WSIS Forum is the annual event where experts from all around the world meet in Geneva to discuss where progress has been made in the implementation of this vision and in what areas further efforts are needed.
2) What has been accomplished in the past 15 years? What are the highlights in your experience?
If I look back, WSIS was the first UN-Conference which included a formal way to include civil-society – other Conferences have followed this example, and today the inclusion of civil-society is quite normal in UN processes.
The organizers of the WSIS Forum have understood that governments cannot implement the WSIS results alone, but they have to include all relevant stakeholders in the activities and debates in this regard. In terms of the openness of the format of the sessions at the WSIS Forum, the organizers have learnt a lot from the format of the UN IGF and have opened up many sessions to multi-stakeholder participation.
The necessary debate about how to reach an information and knowledge society has been started with WSIS and is ongoing. That is an important accomplishment.
But many challenges remain. Many of goals of the action-plan are not yet achieved – still many people on this planet have no access to Internet, freedom of expression is still not a fact in many countries and the potential of the Internet in all its social and cultural dimensions is still not used enough, just to mention a few goals of the WSIS.
3) Looking forward, what are the challenges and opportunities around ICTs and development?
ICTs and digital transformation have an impact on Sustainable Development Goals and impact all of the 17 SDGs.
ICTs and digital technologies can and should be used to improve all aspects of our lives, from food production, to monitoring climate and weather to allocating resources and energy, developing smart cities and traffic, but also improving health care and other issues relevant in our daily lives.
ICTs are also essential tools to modernize education and digital skills so it should be part of capacity building and education in itself. As technology is not per se good or bad, but the effect of the use of technology depends on the intentions with which and the circumstances under which it is used. So also the effects of the digital transformation of our economies and societies can be positive or negative.
4) In your view, what is needed to leverage ICTs to Build Information and Knowledge Societies for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
It needs two things: openness and innovation.
An open mind is needed in the sense that the rules of the access to the Internet and to the ICT technologies are free and open. And it needs innovation – only with innovative ideas and disruptive initiatives this potential of ICT can be used fully to improve the situation of the people in this world.
So we need to have an open and inclusive dialogue with all affected stakeholders about the impacts of ICTs and the digital transformation on our economies as well as on our citizens’ lives and perspectives including their economic, social and political perspectives and how they can exercise their fundamental freedoms in our digital societies.
Only if we have such an open and transparent dialogue, we can identify and agree to a number of rules and principles for the behavior of governments, companies and citizens with a view to create an inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented Information and Knowledge Society for all. And only if we don’t “regulate” the innovation, but let the spirit fly free for new ways to use the potential and the possibilities of ICT, we can make the step forward for a good information and knowledge society.
Registration is now open for the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2018, March 19-23 in Geneva, Switzerland. Register and learn more here.
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