Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you today – and it is a tremendous honour for me to receive an Honorary Degree from this fine institution.
Twelve years ago, in 1999, David Mellor and I set up the first Masters in Communications programme under the auspices of the United Kingdom Telecommunications Academy, UKTA and to be here with you all today feels very much like we have come full circle.
The joint efforts of Buckinghamshire New University, BNU, and the International Telecommunication Union, ITU, have allowed us to help spread knowledge and expertise to where it is needed most.
Our partnership with UKTA of which BNU is a key player has enabled ITU to provide access for its members coming from the Least Developed Countries to UK University Education at an acceptable cost – and I think this is something we can genuinely be proud of.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is always a special pleasure to be present amongst people who, like myself, recognize the fundamental importance of learning.
The greatest, most valuable, and most sustainable natural resource available in the world is human brainpower !
I grew up in Mali, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the 1950s and 1960s, and I was tremendously lucky to have the benefits of a good education there – delivered by fine teachers in sound academic institutions.
I went on to study in what was then the Soviet Union, in both Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg), and I have always been profoundly grateful not just for the knowledge that I acquired there, but for the life skills and business skills which have helped drive my career forward.
I have been very fortunate in having had the opportunity to work in Africa, the Americas and Europe, and to have travelled the world – particularly over the past 12 years at ITU, first as Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau and then as Secretary-General.
And what I have seen – on every continent, in every country I have visited – is that education makes a crucial difference.
We all know this, of course. Every parent I have ever met wants to ensure their children have the best education possible, and every smart student knows that education is the cornerstone of success.
This is more true in the 21st century than it has ever been in human history.
Because today, we are rapidly creating a global knowledge society – where everyone will need to know how to use technology and profit from technological advances.
This is why ITU set up the ITU Academy, including Centres of Excellence which streamlines our numerous capacity-building efforts in the area of information and communication technologies, ICTs.
Today there are more than 60 ITU Centres of Excellence distributed around the world, and last year more than 2,000 individuals were directly trained through their programmes.
ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau has also so far helped to establish some 77 Internet Training Centres in 62 nations, and together they have trained over 8,000 graduates, with a further 2,000 students currently enrolled.
The past two decades have seen ICTs spread into every part of our lives, and we now live in a world where there will quite soon be six billion mobile cellular subscriptions, and where more than two billion people have access to the Internet.
Having fulfilled the ITU mandate, to Connect the World, we must now do for broadband Internet access what we have already done for mobile telephony.
Because broadband is the greatest tool we have for advancing social and economic progress around the world, in countries rich and poor. Indeed, in the 21st century, it is my firm belief that broadband networks will be as important as roads, railways and power networks were in the 20th century.
Let me therefore urge you all – and especially the new graduates here today – to set boldly forth from here and to do everything you can to help make a difference. To help others benefit from the education you have received, and to help disseminate the knowledge you have gained.
I am sure that you will each and every one of you be successful in the path you choose, and that your efforts will help to make the world a better place – a fairer and more equitable place, where the benefits of the information society are available to all, whatever their circumstances and wherever they live.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, let me once again reiterate the importance of ICTs – and especially broadband – in today’s world.
Imagine trying to do any skilled work or apply for any skilled job in the modern world today without a broadband connection. Imagine how difficult things would be for any of us in the room here today, without email or web access. Without online shopping, banking, and access to academic resources.
And yet this is just the very beginning.
We cannot predict exactly how the development of the information society will enrich the lives of everyone on the planet, but we can be absolutely certain that without ICTs we will not be able to address the serious issues and challenges which will face a world of over seven billion people over the coming years.
ICTs will be absolutely instrumental in addressing climate change, for example – in helping us monitor climate, and mitigate the effects and adapt to changes, as well as in helping us to respond effectively to catastrophes and disasters when they occur.
Add in other challenges, such as healthcare, water management, education, research and good governance, and you can see why ITU, in conjunction with UNESCO, set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development last year – to help ensure that all the world’s people have affordable and equitable access to broadband.
The Broadband Commission is chaired by President Kagame of Rwanda and Carlos Slim Helú, Honorary Lifetime Chairman of Grupo Carso, with myself and Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, serving as co-Vice-Chairs.
Finally, let me encourage you to come to Geneva next month for the 40th anniversary edition of ITU Telecom World, which will be held in conjunction with a Broadband Leadership Summit. This will be a uniquely important event, with the world ever more dependent on ICTs to address global challenges.
Together – and I hope with your help – delegates will come to Geneva to help shape the future of the ICT sector – which is, of course, the future of the world we live in!