ITU

Committed to connecting the world

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

International Youth Congress on Digital Citizenship

31 May 2011, London, United Kingdom


Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends and colleagues,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today in London for the International Youth Congress on Digital Citizenship.

I would like to say a special thank you to Deborah Taylor Tate, who not only encouraged me to participate in this event today, but who is also a Special Envoy for the ITU’s Child Online Protection initiative, COP, and was one of the World Telecommunication and Information Society laureates in 2009.

COP Special Envoys are prominent individuals who do their utmost to support children’s safety online and are willing to contribute to ITU’s efforts to raise awareness around protecting children online.

Anyone who knows Deborah – through her work at the FCC as the ‘Children’s Commissioner’ or her ongoing passionate involvement in this area, or indeed her work with the East-West Institute – would surely agree that ITU could not have a better representative in the public sphere.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to say a few words about the importance of broadband.

I’m sure that many people here today – especially young people from developed countries – already take broadband for granted as part of everyday life.

Raise your hand if you’re still using dial-up to access the Internet…

Raise your hand if you don’t have access to the Internet at all…

I think that’s pretty conclusive!

Yet in Africa, at the end of last year, only one in ten people had access to the Internet at all, and fixed broadband penetration was only around one per cent.

So it is clear that we now need to bring the benefits of the broadband revolution to everyone – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. Broadband is the most powerful tool we have to accelerate progress towards meeting the MDGs, and to drive social and economic progress on a global scale.

But if broadband access is to become ubiquitous, and deliver tangible benefits to all, it will first need to be accorded top priority on the development agenda of all governments. And it will need to become much more affordable.

This is especially true in the developing world, where broadband access still costs more than 50% of average monthly income in some 32 countries worldwide, according to the latest ITU data, released at the 2011 WSIS Forum in Geneva earlier this month.

This is why ITU launched the Broadband Commission for Digital Development with UNESCO last year – to help stimulate broadband infrastructure roll-out across the whole world, and to bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people.

The Commission is co-chaired by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso. The co-vice-chairs are myself and the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, and we have over 50 Commissioners from the highest walks of life across the public and private sectors.

We have already been very successful in raising broadband as a vital issue of global concern at the highest political levels – including at the 2010 MDG Summit, which was held in New York last September. We are now focusing on specific areas such as health, education, science, multi-lingualism etc, through working groups that will report to the Broadband Commission later this year.

These Broadband Commission thematic Working Groups offer a valuable opportunity to focus on specific issues and concrete outputs within the greater broadband theme.

One of the most important Working Groups – and it is my great pleasure to chair this group – is the Working Group on Youth.

We held our inaugural meeting earlier this month, and we were honoured by the presence not just of Deborah Taylor Tate, here with us today, but also by all three of this year’s winners of the World Telecommunication and Information Society Award, as well as other high-level panellists.

My friends and colleagues,

As I am sure you are aware, 2011 is the United Nations’ Year of Youth, which makes the work of this particular group even more relevant and timely. There are a number of youth events scheduled in the UN calendar during the year, and we will attempt to dovetail our work with these special occasions.

As any parent knows, education represents the best way for their children to get ahead and create a better life for themselves.

But in the modern world, education doesn’t amount to much if it doesn’t include access to and expertise with ICTs.

Access to broadband networks implies access to information, which is a crucial factor in any young person’s development.

But while young people stand to benefit enormously from ubiquitous broadband, the world also stands to benefit hugely from young people’s ideas, inspirations and innovations.

Already, at work and at home, young digital natives coach their elder digital immigrants and show them how to get the best from ICTs, and I am convinced that it is youth who will be deciding the future of broadband applications and services.

Young Internet giants like Facebook, Google, Skype and Yahoo were not created by old people, but by young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs – as indeed were slightly older technology giants like Apple and Microsoft.

I am therefore very excited about the potential which will be unleashed in Geneva in October at the 40th anniversary ITU Telecom event, and which will feature youth as a key component.

This year we launch an exciting new competition that will invite talented young people to design ideas using connected technologies in innovative ways to address real world challenges.

The competition will be launched in June through the ITU Telecom World 2011 website, and the winners – the most talented young people – will be invited to develop their ideas with industry mentors, and share them with delegates at the event in October.

Youth at ITU Telecom 2011 will therefore give a clear and concrete demonstration of the power of collaboration between young people, and will show us entirely new ways of looking at the world, and especially of looking at education, learning and the dissemination of information and knowledge in the 21st century.

I would also hope that we will see young people playing an increasing role in shaping policy.

Young people have enormous power in their hands. They make billions of purchases every year and influence even more. With their enormous consumer power they can influence the whole sector – governments, corporations, service providers and all the rest – in terms of the kinds of decisions which are made about privacy, data protection, and safety and security online.

I would also encourage young people – and especially young girls and young women – to actively pursue careers in ICT. Because every job in the future will have an ICT component, and will require ICT skills, and why not be ahead of the competition?

ICT jobs pay well, and they play a vital role in the modern world. It’s not a question of sitting in a cubicle writing code, but in being the young person who makes telemedicine applications possible; who brings distance learning to life; who helps create fair and democratic societies.

Don’t forget that computer and information systems managers are consistently placed in the top 20 best-paying jobs in many countries – right up there with surgeons, orthodontists, airline pilots and lawyers.

And there is already a huge shortage of ICT professionals in the pipeline – estimated at over 300,000 people in the European Union alone, and over 1.2 million worldwide.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With power, of course, comes duties and obligations, and young people will be expected to help shoulder the responsibility for transforming the wild, wild west of the online world into a civil society.

This is not about hampering the freedom and phenomenal creativity of the Internet, but about creating a better and safer world.

This is why ITU launched the Child Online Protection initiative, in 2008.

In an online, borderless world, children and young people are the most digital of all our digital citizens, and are gaining a wealth of experience and knowledge in cyberspace. Yet, at the same time, they do need to be aware of some of the potentially negative aspects of the technologies.

We therefore wanted to raise awareness about the importance of protecting children online; educate the general public; and develop guidelines – including guidelines for children themselves – to make the online world a safer place for young people.

The COP Initiative is also creating interoperable technical standards to protect children online, helping to establish national hotlines and developing national strategy and legislative toolkits.

Personally, I am optimistic that the younger generation will be more than capable of creating a set of codes to live and govern by in the digital world. And I would like to invite you all to be part of our COP initiative and to cultivate relationships with different stakeholders to enhance child online protection globally.

Once again, collaboration will be key, using the power of networks – and online social networks – to work together, across borders and barriers, to build a better world. Opportunities need to be balanced against risks. Freedom needs to be balanced against responsibilities.

We must not choke off the incredible power of the Internet to inform, educate and improve lives; and yet we must also protect those who need it most.

My colleagues and friends,

Very often, you will hear that youth are the future. But that’s only part of the picture – because youth are also the present. It’s young people today, right now, right here and around the globe, who are shaping the world – and especially the online world.

I always say at ITU that we are incredibly fortunate to be working in a sector which has so much importance and meaning in the modern world.

And I urge each and every one of you to ‘make a difference’ in your life and in the lives of those around you, as we strive to bridge the digital divide and bring the unrivalled benefits of ICTs to all the world’s people. So that we can all be good Digital Citizens in the 21st century.

Thank you.