*This article is adapted from remarks I made today at the opening of the Futurecasters Global Young Visionaries Summit.
This morning, as I delivered a few remarks to 700 young students coming from 23 countries across the world, I was filled with excitement and hope.
I was filled with excitement, because I know that young people “get it.” They understand technology and what it can do better than any of us older adults.
I am also filled with hope, because today’s world really needs some fresh new ideas. The young people gathered at the first in our new series of ITU Futurecasters global youth summits on ‘Technology for Development’ were bringing fresh ideas!
Of course, it is not up to the world’s young people alone to fix the planet or solve the problems created by previous generations. But as the first true generation of digital natives, their youthful perspective combined with their digital skills offer us a real chance to finally break through chronic development barriers and old paradigms to effect lasting, transformational change.
As the United Nations kicks off its 75th anniversary celebrations, the international community is no longer in any doubt that digital technologies lie at the very heart of our efforts to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs).
From ITU’s side, the commitment to connecting the world that we have steadfastly led for over 150 years has culminated in a uniquely powerful opportunity.
When the UN was founded back in 1945 (ITU celebrated its 80th Birthday), technology with the power and scale we know today barely existed. A mere 25 million analogue telephone lines served the entire planet.
Even as recently as the year 2000, when the first set of global goals – the Millennium Development Goals – were set, only 12% of the global population had mobile phones.
Only 6% of the world’s population was accessing the Internet. Instagram, Twitter and TikTok didn’t exist. Smartphones and tablets had not been invented.
Fast forward to the year 2020, and just imagine what a difference we could make in a world where mobile phones are near-ubiquitous, where more than half of the world is online, and where we stand on the brink of next-generation breakthroughs in areas like machine learning, robotics and neural networks.
For me, this summit represents the realization of a pledge I made when I took office one year ago.
That pledge was to ensure that my organization continues to push forward – further and faster – on efforts to be more inclusive.
Opening our debates to the voice of youth is a vital pillar of that inclusivity.
With that in mind, I encourage you all to think creatively and share your ideas on how we could use tech to accelerate positive development outcomes, especially in key areas like health, education, and environmental sustainability, but also in terms of gender equality, accessibility, and youth opportunities.
Right now, the only limit is our own imaginations. A brighter future for all can start right here at the Futurecasters Summit.