At the start of the annual ITU Council in Geneva, Switzerland today, outgoing Council Chair Julie Zoller welcomed incoming Chair Eva Spina of Italy 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.
“We shared the podium last year, the first time that both the chair and the vice-chair of Council were women, an historic occasion.” said Ms. Zoller. “I have the utmost confidence in her leadership and wish her a very productive and successful meeting.”
Ms. Spina began by thanking Ms. Zoller for her leadership, and thanking the 48 councilors who elected her and the Vice Chair, Mr. Rashid Ismailov from the Russian Federation. She also welcomed the rest of those attending Council 2017 from 15-25 May, and underscored the importance of their work at pivotal moment for ITU.
“We are at the eve of the 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference, in an important moment of transition, in which to make an assessment on the results achieved and to shape the activities for the coming years,” said Ms. Spina. “The great spirit of collaboration between ITU members is the tool [that] can allow us to meet all of our goals.”
At the opening of Council 2017, 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.
“I am pleased to see that the role of ICTs in helping to achieve the [United Nations’] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is gaining wide recognition,” said Mr. Zhao. “For example, ITU took part in the first-ever meeting of the Digital Ministers round-tables of G20 last month in Germany. We’ll join similar meetings of the BRIC countries and the G7 countries later this year.”
“The world needs the SDGs; the SDGs need ICTs,” said the Secretary-General, who also highlighted the transformative role of ICTs.
“The digital revolution can transform nations — entire continents. Look at what’s happening in Africa,” said Mr. Zhao. “The Transform Africa Summit that was held in Kigali last week is a great example of the transformation we’re seeing on the continent. I was there to appreciate this initiative launched by Africans, and presented to the Conference that ITU stands ready to work with all of them to build a Smart Africa. Africa is very dynamic, not only presenting a great opportunity for further developments but also showing leadership in some areas. For example, North Corridor Members of East Africa and members of ECOWAS in the West of Africa have successfully eliminated roaming charges. It’s an example for the rest of the world.”
In line with Council’s role to ensure that ITU’s activities fully respond to today’s rapidly changing telecommunications environment, Mr. Zhao also called for ITU leadership on the latest ICT trends.
“Together, we need to lead the development of new technologies. Our work on 5G, Big Data, cloud computing and the Internet of Things, are already on the agenda. But we need to catch up with the industry and address new frontier technologies like Artificial Intelligence,” he said.
Mr. Zhao also highlighted increased cooperation with a range of stakeholders, including several other UN bodies working to integrate ICT-based solutions to help achieve the SDGs.
In her opening remarks, Ms. Spina also highlighted the importance of cooperation: “The 2017 Council has much work to do. I count on your spirit of cooperation to obtain a productive discussion on the many important issues of this year and to achieve our desired goals.”