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ITU 150th Anniversary Ceremony

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao​

ITU 150th Anniversary Ceremony : Welcome Address

17 May  2015, Geneva, Switzerland 

Excellencies,
Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon and welcome to this celebration of ITU's 150th Anniversary!

On behalf of ITU Elected Officials and myself, l want to express my heartfelt appreciation to our Member States, represented here by Honorable Ministers, Ambassadors, Councilors or Head of Delegations of ITU Council, high-level Government Officials, private sector representatives, Heads of UN Agencies, Swiss Federal Authorities and Geneva Cantonal Authorities, and other dignitaries present here.  I also warmly recognize the presence of our current and former Elected Officials.

It has been quite a journey !

On the morning of 17 May 1865, after two and a half months of arduous negotiations, the first International Telegraph Convention was signed in Paris, bringing into existence the International Telegraph Union, the first incarnation of ITU.

In 1932, in Madrid, at the Fifth Conference of the Plenipotentiaries, ITU's Founding Charter was signed – changing the name from the International Telegraph Union to the International Telecommunication Union.

And on 15 November 1947 in recognition of the central role that ITU had played in the development of this vital resource over almost a 100 years, and its increasing importance to governments and industry, ITU became the specialised United Nations agency for telecommunications.

Dear Friends,

Telecommunication and information and communication technology (ICT) have evolved over these 150 years – from the telegraph to the telephone, from television to satellites, from mobile to the Internet and broadband, and with it the ITU has adapted itself, such that it has been recognised as one of the world's most resilient oganizations - according to Booze Allan – having continously reformed itself to best meet the needs of this continuous and rapidly evolving industry.

The increasing pace of change is illustrated by the fact that it took 125 years to reach the first billion fixed telephone lines, but it took only 11 years to reach the first billion mobile phone subscriptions. Today there are almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions worldwide as there are inhabitants on the planet, and more than three billion people are online.

In today's world where we talk about big data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Everything, and where we expect to be connected everywhere and at all times, it is incredible how much progress has been made.  Look further, we are proud of the huge contributions telecom/ICT have brought to our human society to change our economy, our culture and our life.  So today is not just a celebration of ITU's 150 anniversary but a celebration of today's telecommunication/ICT ecosystem, surely the greatest engineering feat in human history.

ITU has played its part through the coordination of global resources, including spectrum and satellite orbital resources; through its international standards; and the development of an enabling environment and encouragement of innovation.

One of ITU's successes has been driven by the diversity of its membership - particularly our private sector members.

Interestingly the importance of private sector members was recongised in ITU from the very start, to the extent that until ITU became a UN agency they could even accede to the ITU Convention. Today over 700 ICT companies drive the work of ITU together with our 193 governments and increasingly our new academia members.  ITU is also grateful to the generations of experts worldwide.

Today, ITU is very pleased to award Mr. Bill Gates for his unique and fantastic contribution to our Information Society, and we will also be awarding five distinguished experts for their extraordinary contribution to this ecosystem. 

We have achieved a lot but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We still have many goals to achieve, including:

In today's complex world these goals can no longer be achieved by any single organization. ITU will work with many different organisations and industry sectors that historically had no involvement in ITU. ICTs are pervasive and are fundamental to all sustainable socio-economic development. We can only succeed if we work together; all of us, all stakeholders. 

I have no doubt about ITU's continuing ability to evolve and adapt itself to meet future challenges.  I believe, ITU will have a brilliant future in the next 150 years!  And this confidence is shared across the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are not only celebrating this day here in Geneva. Over 100 national celebrations are being organized all over the world, including conferences, workshops and competitions. Postage stamps celebrating a century and a half of ITU are being issued in more than 25 countries.  I received many messages on the 150th Anniversary among which His Excellency Mr. John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States, published as a Press Statement.  I sincerely thank him.

I would like to thank our ITU 150 partners, whose support has been invaluable in bringing these celebrations to fruition, and everyone who is with us here today, especially our founding members, our long-standing industry members (one going back to 1871!).

I would like to thank and congratulate all ITU staff from those early days to our current staff for their dedication to the organisation.  We are proud of you!  And I know you are proud of ITU too! 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to invite you to join me in wishing

 "ITU, happy 150th birthday !!"