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The Contribution of International Telecommunications Organizations to Development and Social Progress (CDSP) 
Athens, Greece
6 May 2008

Address by ITU Secretary General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

First of all, let me thank the government of Greece and the Greek Permanent Mission to the UN for the kind invitation to speak at this event. If there is one thing dear to ITU’s heart it is the contribution that Information and Communication Technologies can bring to development and social progress – precisely the theme of this conference.

 

In a few days, on May 17, we will celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, marking the official founding of ITU and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865. Since that time, ITU and its members have worked tirelessly to improve access to information and communication technologies around the world. And while we can be justifiably proud of our achievements, as this year’s WTISD will make clear, there is still plenty of work to be done.

 

While some people have suggested that the WTISD could have a more user-friendly title, this year’s special theme is all about accessibility. With the theme Connecting Persons with Disabilities – ICT Opportunities for All, we want to raise the inclusion banner high and encourage the world to take a step closer to our shared vision of universal access. Because talking about universal access is not enough; we must do everything we can to actually realize it. We must ensure that no one is left out, for any reason: age, health, or physical ability. The concept of the “Digital Divide” between the Haves and the Have-nots, is not merely a question of rich vs. poor. There is still a large percentage of the global population that is barred access from enjoying the same kind of services and opportunities as the rest. We can change this through more inclusive standardization, smarter design and more enlightened policies. The ideas and information that will be shared this May 17 will form an important impulse for creating new standards and recommendations for governments and industry around the world.

 

We know the positive effective that ICTs can have on job creation, enterprise development, income sustainability, innovation and even cultural identity. Without a doubt, ICTs have become a vital source of social development and economic growth. Today, being connected to the world means having an effective ICT infrastructure. At ITU, we’re committed to helping make this a reality everywhere in the world. That is why we took the leading role in organizing the WSIS – the World Summit on the Information Society – held in two phases: in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. And it is why I am happy to be here today at your event, witnessing the sharing of ideas, the forming of a common vision and – hopefully – the creation of partnerships and projects that will help propel us forward.

 

At the two World Summit events, ICT leaders collectively charted a vision for the future development of a global information society, which was then laid down in the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Action Lines, followed by the Tunis Commitment and Tunis Agenda. Together, these documents set out a clear and ambitious set of targets for 2015. These include connecting all villages, towns and cities of the world, as well as recognizing the role of ICT in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals: goals such as cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring that all children receive a primary school education, improving literacy and health care, promoting gender equality and ensuring environmental sustainability.

 

It is now 2008 and while we have only 7 years left to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, ITU has bold plans to connect all those as yet unconnected by as early as 2012. However, we know that we cannot meet this challenge alone. That is why we launched the Connect the World initiative, a multi-stakeholder initiative to mobilize the necessary resources for realizing concrete projects in every region of the world. We were delighted with the success of the first regional initiative, Connect Africa, which was launched at the Connect Africa Summit in Kigali in 2007. At this summit, 55 billion dollars was pledged to develop ICT infrastructure on the African continent, a clear sign of investors’ belief in the potential of telecommunication markets. Connect Summits for other regions will definitely follow. ITU plans to use these summits and the momentum created to mobilize like-minded stakeholders in each region, matching up global players and creating dynamic partnerships which will work together to expand ICT networks, attract further investment, and foster broad social and economic development.

 

The Connect the World initiative is a good example of ITU’s response to the goal of greater global connectivity, a goal laid out in one of Action Lines defined at the Geneva phase of the WSIS. While ITU actively supports all Action Lines, we were given a special mandate to take the lead role in two of them, namely “Information and communication infrastructure” and “Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs”. These two WSIS Action Lines, for which ITU is sole Facilitator, are closely aligned with ITU’s own strategic goals of “Bridging the Digital Divide” and “Safeguarding Networks”.

 

However, the telecommunications road to increased development and improved social conditions is not always a smooth one. Cybercrime and privacy issues are real threats. Citizens must have faith in the infrastructures that are built and the services which are on offer. These issues were the stimulus behind the Global Cybersecurity Agenda, an ITU framework for international cooperation that I launched last year, whose mandate is to propose strategies for solutions to enhance confidence and security in the information society. Another area of concern is the sheer pace of evolution. Developments in the ICT field can be so rapid that it is difficult to keep up. That is why we are helping small countries band together to develop common strategies and turn what could be a liability into an advantage. Finally, every country has its own particular barriers to development, which is why we are doing everything we can to support Member States in meeting their WSIS commitments by 2015.

 

In short, ITU is doing everything it can to mobilize the technical, financial and human resources needed to make the global information society a reality. We ask all stakeholders – manufacturers, service providers, international organizations, NGO’s and policy makers – to join us in creating a more equitable, more peaceful and more connected world.

 

As sea merchants and creators of such institutions as the Oracle at Delphi, Greece has always understood the importance communication technologies play in society. Today, organizations like the EETT and OTE are carrying this tradition forward into the modern era. And by taking part in events like this conference, they – and others –demonstrate what kinds of projects are possible, what challenges can be overcome and how, and open the way for new ideas and partnerships.

 

Aesop, the ancient Greek storyteller, ended one of his famous stories with the credo “united we stand, divided we fall.” He could easily have been talking about the world of ICT. Our connectedness is only as strong as our weakest link. So let’s make sure that each of us do what we can to create the most advanced and robust infrastructures, the most user-friendly and inclusive services and – ultimately – the most sustainable societies.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

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