Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG
June 10, 2019

As ITU Council 2019 kicks off, what is the State of the Union?

By ITU News

At the start of the annual ITU Council in Geneva, Switzerland today, Fabio Bigi of Italy was confirmed as Council Chair to take the reins of the member-led governing body that ensures that ITU’s activities, policies and strategies fully respond to today’s rapidly changing telecommunications environment.

Mr. Bigi wasted no time in running through some of the important work items on the agenda for the next two weeks of Council 2019 and urged delegates from around the world to work together in a spirit of compromise.

“I count on your spirit of international cooperation to reach commonly agreed solutions for continuous progress in worldwide solutions,” said Mr Bigi.

At the opening of Council 2019, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presented a State of the Union address, during which he outlined some of the key roles ITU plays — and the increasing importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in today’s digital economy.

“What’s at stake is our ability to leverage technology to tackle some of the most important issues of our time,” said Mr Zhao. “In turn, this requires that our Union be efficient, transparent, open and accountable. And that starts with using ITU’s resources efficiently.”

State of the Union

The Secretary-General outlined some of the results of the recent ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 (PP-18) — ITU’s supreme decision-making meeting where its 193 Member States agree on the Union’s overall strategic and financial plans, leadership and direction for the next 4 years.

“Across ITU, we are modernizing how we work to better serve the needs of our Members.” — ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao

“PP-18 also gave us a new Strategic Plan that asserts ITU’s role in facilitating progress towards the implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sets bold and ambitious targets of the Union for the next four years based on five strategic goals – growth, inclusiveness, sustainability, innovation, and partnership – as well as a vision and mission,” said Mr Zhao. “These goals are at the centre of our work.”

A modern ITU

“Across ITU, we are modernizing how we work to better serve the needs of our Members,” said Mr Zhao. “Efforts are being made to streamline and digitize internal processes. We’ve already centralized finance and administrative tasks. And we will continue to do more. We will do our best to meet your expectations and more – and make ITU a model among UN agencies.”

Mr Zhao highlighted ITU’s expanding membership, which comprises 193 governments as well as some 900 private sector companies, universities, and other international and regional organizations – a unique and distinctive feature of ITU as a specialized UN agency.

“A modern ITU is an ITU that attracts members who reflect the rapidly changing nature of today’s digital economy,” he said. “I’m pleased that the ITU family is growing and becoming ever more diverse, with both large and small companies active in all sectors of the economy − from energy and cybersecurity to automotive and shipping and logistics.”

“May we continue to work together to build a stronger, more open, more transparent and more efficient ITU.” — ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao

He mentioned that these efforts to modernize have also led ITU to accelerate work on cutting-edge, transformative technologies.

“A modern ITU is also an ITU that serves as a leading global platform for transformative technologies ranging from the Internet of Things and smart cities to AI and 5G, and looks to the future with confidence.”

Focusing more on development

Mr Zhao also highlighted ITU’s role in leveraging ICTs to speed progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Although the role of ITU as the lead UN specialized agency for ICTs has been widely recognized, our role and potential as an ICT development agency is still overlooked,” said Zhao. “We have to change the perception of our Union as being more than just a technical agency. We have to show what ITU can do for development, and to strengthen our role in this area. With ICTs being so critically important for development and the implementation of the SDGs, I count on your support and cooperation in this effort.”

For instance, Mr Zhao highlighted recent efforts to bring together ICT Ministers from across Africa to ITU to develop a common strategic framework for Africa-wide digital priorities and initiatives — a framework that “could help overcome the hurdles to investment that can often stifle progress.”

Welcoming new elected officials

Mr Zhao also took a moment to recognize Doreen Bogdan-Martin’s historic election as Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau.

“For the first time in our Union’s history, a woman sits on the ITU Management team,” said Mr Zhao. “It was long overdue and more progress needs to be made on the gender issue in ITU. I take this opportunity to encourage you to nominate more women in your delegations to ITU meetings and to leadership positions. I will continue to track gender balance in delegations and report on our progress in strengthening gender equality both in ITU and in our industry.”

He also recognized Mario Maniewicz as the new Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau in an important year as the quadrennial World Radiocommunication Conference approaches this autumn.

‘A new cycle begins’

“A new cycle begins: a four-year period that will drive the growth of our Union and technology into the third decade of this century. … As the new decade opens, information and communication technologies are transforming the world we live in. And our Union is at the forefront of this digital revolution,” said Zhao. “May we continue to work together to build a stronger, more open, more transparent and more efficient ITU – a people-centred, service-oriented and results-based organization that will increasingly have a profound and positive impact on the lives of people across the world.”

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As ITU Council 2019 kicks off, what is the State of the Union?

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