» Stepping Up Leadership for Internet Connectivity in Davos
18.01.2017 - ODG

Stepping Up Leadership for Internet Connectivity in Davos

Connecting the 3.9 billion people who are unconnected to the Internet is a matter of strong leadership from governments, private sector, civil society and academia, asserted UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova at a special session of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, organized jointly with the International Telecommunications Union as part of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos on 17 January 2017.

She stated that the Broadband Commission launched in 2010 pointed to an example of joint leadership that set the ground for shaping and influencing the global policy agenda. She stressed the importance of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes clear targets to increase access to information and communication technologies, including universal and affordable access to the Internet in developing countries.

"Taking the lead to bridge the divide is not only about technology and infrastructure. It is about investing in ecosystems, in quality education, in media literacy, in actions for inclusion,” she said, pointing to examples of national leadership and good practice – such as in Rwanda.

The country’s President Paul Kagame, co-chair of the Commission, stated that without fast and affordable internet access, there are few pathways from poverty to prosperity in the 21st century: “By 2020 we aim to have universal access to Broadband," he said, recognizing that despite progress, two-thirds of the Rwandan population remain unconnected. He said that progress in Rwanda was driven by public-private partnerships and cited initiatives such as connecting schools and health centres in real time

The Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, Mr Zhao Houlin reiterated the importance of public-private partnership and the need to counter the misperception that the ICT does not require support to be sustainable. Much more effort, he said, is required to bring investment into poor areas.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark stressed the need to put connectivity at the centre of national development strategies. Strong emphasis was placed in the discussion on the digital gender divide. UN Women’s Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka expressed concern that women are losing ground and are 40% less likely to be connected than men. She warned against technology increasing inequality rather than being a development enabler.

Ms Bokova stated that these facts “should double our resolve to move forward, to build on great examples, to connect the dots between technology, education, poverty reduction and empowerment,” reminding that UNESCO co-chairs the Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide with Mats Granryd, Director-General of GSMA who highlighted the urgency of changing mentalities and norms, collecting and scaling up good practices and developing new financing models.

The discussion was moderated by Lauren Woodman, Chief Executive Officer of NetHope. The Commission brings together top CEO and industry leaders, senior policy-makers and government representatives, international agencies, academia and development organizations.

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