Emerging Trends | ICT4SDG | Infrastructure | SDG17
July 18, 2019

Let’s align to make the digital revolution a development revolution

By Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

*The following is adapted from remarks delivered at a side event this week on “Fostering digital transformation and global partnerships for SDG achievement” during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2019 in New York.

We are in the midst of a digital revolution, driven by major new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, 5G – and many more.

These technologies are at the centre of ITU’s work and hold great potential for accelerating progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and delivering on the promise of the digital economy.

However, we need to do more to fully leverage the power of these technologies to advance sustainable development through the digital transformation of societies and economies.

This is particularly pressing as the digital revolution moves forward at an uneven pace around the world, increasing the digital divide.

One of the main challenges is the growing disparity in both the ‘hard’ components, such as ICT infrastructure, as well as the ‘soft’ components, such as policy, content and capacity development – including digital access and digital literacy.

As more advanced economies develop and deploy these game-changing technologies, many Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) still do not have the necessary investment in capacities and access, including content in local languages on the Internet, infrastructure and use, especially in rural areas.

This is a challenge that needs to be addressed to achieve the inclusive, more equal world envisioned in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, and requires increased cooperation called for by the UN Secretary-General.

ITU is the co-chair of the United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) that consists of 31 UN agencies and, together, UNGIS stands ready to ensure that efforts across the UN system are coherent, connected and coordinated to achieve maximum, sustainable impact.

Participants gathered at this week’s side event on “Fostering digital transformation and global partnerships for SDG achievement” during the United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2019 in New York. More photos here.

UNGIS offers a valuable knowledge and resource base that has been developed in the past decade on a multi-stakeholder basis, focusing on innovative tools and approaches to tackle multiple development challenges. (Read the UNGIS joint statement to the HLPF 2019.)

Aligning for progress

In this context, I would like to reiterate the need to more closely align the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process with the 2030 Agenda, using the WSIS Action Lines for achieving the SDGs (www.wsis.org/sdgs). It was brought to my attention that Asia Pacific will not achieve any of the SDGs by the deadline, however the use of ICTs is crucial to help accelerate the achievements.

This year, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the WSIS Forum. There were many firsts during the weeklong forum. For example, we launched an SDG Digital Investment Framework.

We hope it will start a different kind of dialogue with the investment community – a dialogue that encourages a whole-of-government approach and helps governments choose effective and scalable technology-based solutions with maximum return on investment.

Over the last ten years the WSIS Forum has developed as the leading multistakeholder ICT for development event in the world. More than 3,000 participants from over 150 countries came to Geneva with one goal in mind: leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs) to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.

As the UN specialized agency for ICTs, it is right that ITU plays an important role in the facilitation and implementation of the WSIS outcomes and the 2030 Agenda. But we cannot do it alone.

We take pride in seeing increasing numbers of the UN family and the WSIS community working side-by-side to continue exploring how to build more open and inclusive information and knowledge societies.

Finding synergies

We all need to bring our own specific competencies to the table, pool our resources and avoid duplication of effort.

To this end, ITU submitted the outcomes of the WSIS Forum 2019 to the High-Level Political Forum in New York. The UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) has also submitted a joint statement to this important event and we held a side event there this week to illustrate progress and what more needs to be done.

All these efforts will strengthen the alignment and linkages between the WSIS Process and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The WSIS Action Lines have withstood the test of time. Let us move forward together in our efforts to align the WSIS process with the SDGs, both inside and outside the UN family, so that the expectations envisaged at the Summit in 2003 and 2005 are finally realised.

The WSIS Action Lines have withstood the test of time. Let us move forward together in our efforts to align the WSIS process with the 2030 Agenda, both inside and outside the UN family, so that the expectations envisaged at the Summit in 2003 and 2005 are finally realised. There is a sense of urgency to take action, operationalize and to implement plans and proposals and the WSIS multistakeholder community stands committed towards digital cooperation to achieve the SDGs.

Image: Getty Images
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Let’s align to make the digital revolution a development revolution

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