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High Level Forum on South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development

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


High Level Forum on South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Developmen

Keynote Speech


13 April 2014, Hong Kong, China

Excellencies,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a tremendous pleasure and a great honour to be able to join you today for the third High Level Forum on South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development.

This forum serves as an excellent opportunity to follow up on the previous meetings held here in Hong Kong in 2012 and 2013, as well as the events held in New York during the 67th and 68th sessions of the UN General Assembly, and will act as an important contribution to the current debate on the post-2015 development agenda.

Let me congratulate the International Organization for South-South Cooperation for its successes to date, and let me take the time to note the special efforts of Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, the president of IOSSC.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s forum has a specific focus on financing, and this is clearly a topic of great interest around the world at this pivotal time.

Indeed I had the honour to speak about ICT financing and investment at the Annual Investment Meeting in Dubai on Tuesday this week, and it was one of the main focuses of the ninth meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in Dublin last month.

The reason this is important, and timely, of course, is not because ICT finance and investment is an interesting subject in itself, but because it is key to sustainable development – and to our sustainable future.

Because in the second decade of the 21st century, ICTs not only underpin every sector of human activity; they are also a critical part of the solution to every issue humanity faces.

ICTs offer us a vision – a vision of a world where everyone is able to fully participate in the interconnected knowledge-driven economy and society.

ICTs offer us a vision of a fully-inclusive world, where everyone can exchange ideas, access healthcare and education, innovate and sell products and services, and stay in touch with family and friends.

So let’s make sure that the importance of ICTs are properly recognized in the post-2015 development agenda, moving forward!

Distinguished colleagues,

As the Secretary-General of the ITU, the UN specialized agency for ICTs, I have a unique perspective on the importance of public-private cooperation – because ours is a unique organization, with 193 Member States and over 700 private sector and academic members.

Over the past twenty years, we have seen the vital importance of the public and private sectors working together – especially in the Southern hemisphere, where the needs may be the most pressing, but the opportunities for return on investment are also the greatest.

There is enormous untapped potential – with more than two thirds of people in the developing world still unconnected to the internet, and unable to benefit from the transformative power of connectivity.

This is why we chose the theme of ‘Broadband for Sustainable Development’ for ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference, which took place in Dubai, and finished just two days ago.

WTDC-14 set the agenda for the next four years of ITU’s development work, and I would encourage all of you to have a good look at the outcome documents from that conference, which address many of the same issues under discussion here today, and across the work of your organization.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I mentioned the Broadband Commission’s recent meeting, and would like to share with you some of the discussions we had in Dublin last month.

The Broadband Commission shares many of the same goals as this organization – indeed, it was set up by ITU and our sister agency UNESCO, back in 2010, to help world leaders understand the ways that broadband could accelerate the achievement of the MDGs.

One of the main focus areas within the Commission has been a series of Working Groups, with the most recent one – on Finance and Investment – being created in New York last September.

In Dublin, we held a really stimulating meeting of this working group, and I was very impressed with the range of innovative and practical suggestions for financing and investment.

Several speakers reminded us that just twenty years ago, investments in telecom networks were the concern of governments alone – but that the changing nature of the sector – and in particular liberalization, privatization and competition – has increasingly shifted the responsibility towards industry.

There was general agreement in Dublin that the public and private sectors will clearly have to continue working hand-in-hand together.

This is partly due to sheer scale – broadband needs to become ubiquitous and affordable to all – and partly because today’s networks are already being used for so much more than merely commercial ends: they are also being used as platforms to deliver fundamental services such as education and healthcare.

The Working Group addressed questions such as:

    • What are – and what should be – the core investment priorities, and how should they be financed?
    • How can we match the long-term needs of network planning with the short-term horizons of most investments?
    • And who should pay? What incentives can be created to encourage the industry to shoulder the burden of investing the billions of dollars a year which are needed?

The Broadband Commission brings together – like ITU itself – a positive mixture of expertise from the public and private sectors, with the heads of some very well-known industry players, as well as government ministers and the heads of UN agencies.

It was therefore fascinating to hear the Commission get to grips with the real issues – which include taxation and tariffs, universal service obligations, and harmonizing policies to attract investment.

Several times we heard – from both the private and public sectors – that sound and effective regulatory frameworks were key to encouraging potential investors and investments.

We also heard from a number of speakers that governments need to encourage rather than discourage corporate investment – and that they need to see ICTs as a driver of sustainable development rather than as a short-term cash cow.

Distinguished colleagues,

There is another incredibly powerful lever which we can bring to bear when it comes to sustainable development – and that lever is innovation.

And as the great Greek engineer and mathematician Archimedes said, well over 2,000 years ago: “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”

Innovation is the lever we shall use to move the world – and I am constantly encouraged by the fact the one global resource we have in unlimited quantities, especially in the South, is human brainpower; the very stuff of innovation!

Ladies and gentlemen,

During this forum we will review the challenges and opportunities offered by ICTs, and exchange ideas and experiences.

The results of our discussions will be outlined in a Chairman’s Summary.

This Summary will act as a substantive input to the forthcoming UN General Assembly High-level event next month at the United Nations on the contributions of South-South, triangular cooperation, and ICT for development to the preparation of the post-2015 development agenda.

Let me therefore close these remarks by encouraging you all to dream, and to dream big – and let me thank you for your attention.

Thank you.