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ITU TELECOM WORLD 2009: Special report: Reflecting new needs and realities
The Youth Forum Declaration
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Houlin Zhao
ITU Deputy Secretary-General and Acting Executive Manager of ITU TELECOM, during the Youth Forum opening
 
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Robert Hensler
Geneva State Chancellor, during the Youth Forum opening
 
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Bosco Eduardo Fernandes
Chairman of the ITU TELECOM Forum Advisory Committee and Vice President of BU & IM Industry Relationship, Nokia Siemens Networks GmbH & Co. KG, Germany. Mr Fernandes speaking at the Joint Forum closing ceremony
 
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Young people from more than 145 countries took part in the Youth Forum
 

Educate people, unite countries and connect the world

Around 300 young people from 145 countries took part in the Youth Forum at ITU TELECOM WORLD 2009. Among the topics they considered were innovative technologies and services, policy and regulation, and how schools can be used as local hubs in the information society. The opening ceremony — with the theme “young voices, new visions” — featured speeches by ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré, Geneva State Chancellor Robert Hensler, and Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid. The Youth Forum was sponsored by ITU, the State of Geneva, Cisco, the Internet Society (ISOC) and Nokia Siemens.

With more than three billion people under the age of 25 around the world, all speakers reminded the youth fellows that they are tomorrow’s leaders of the ICT industry. “We are all aware that it is our youth who will shape the future of the information society,” said Dr Touré. Lu Zhao, a Youth Forum alumnus from the ITU TELECOM ASIA 2002 event in Hong Kong, China, is an example of how young people are embracing the ICT world. Ms Zhao described how the Youth Forum had changed her life: from living in a city in southwestern China, she has become a programme manager for Microsoft in the United States. “The future is in my hands,” she said.

The colourful ceremony, with many young participants wearing their national costumes, was followed by an intense week of discussion and interaction with senior figures in the field of ICT, as well as with world leaders including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. ITU is encouraging Member States to adopt school-based community broadband plans in order to give disadvantaged groups access to ICT. Mr Ban endorsed this effort, stating that “connected schools can become connected community ICT centres. They can provide a vital link to marginalized and vulnerable groups. They can become an information lifeline for women, indigenous people, people with disabilities and those living in rural, remote and underserved areas.” Mr Ban urged world leaders to support the ITU initiative and take the necessary steps to meet the target agreed at the World Summit on the Information Society to connect all schools by 2015.

 
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From left to right at the Joint Forum closing: Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau Malcolm Johnson; Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau Sami Al Basheer Al Morshid; ITU Deputy Secretary-General and Acting Executive Manager of ITU TELECOM Houlin Zhao; youth fellows Ahmed Rashad Riad from Egypt and Maria Casey from Ireland, who presented the Youth Forum Declaration; ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré; and Director of the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau Valery Timofeev
 

Highlights from the Declaration

Participants in the Youth Forum “truly want to make a difference in the future of ICT”. This is the vision laid out in a Declaration they issued on 9 October 2009. It covers five main areas, beginning with the need to give everyone access to ICT. “The world tends to emphasize innovation in ICT development, rather than the widespread distribution of ICT technologies and services,” it says, but instead, “innovation should strive to match resources available to local communities and their needs”. This includes the development of renewable energy sources and green ICT, as well as equipment and services that are accessible to people with disabilities.

Training and education are essential for progress and “the Youth Forum reminds world leaders that education and basic access to the world’s knowledge is a primary human right”. The Declaration adds that “a united world can identify the resources to meet Youth Forum Declaration this important demand and harness the power of ICT as a tool for education and social development”. It envisages a global network of universities that students can join online. And all countries should work together to train personnel in ICT skills who then go on to train others — leading to exponential growth in expertise.

As well as the benefits of widespread connectivity, its risks are also mentioned in the Declaration, which stresses the need for cybersecurity and safety online. Raising awareness is the task of civil society, according to the Youth Forum, while “Internet service providers should provide solid solutions for child online safety”. It also proposes that safe use of the Internet should be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum and that ICT companies should help parents to become “more involved in communicating safe Internet usage to their children and to keep up with their children’s ICT expertise”.

The Youth Forum called for sustainable ICT projects and initiatives. To achieve this, local people must be actively involved from the start, and be offered training in managing, financing and maintaining projects after external experts have left.

The Declaration recognizes that effective regulation of ICT is “crucial to development, both economic and social, especially in the light of the global financial crisis”. It stresses that “the needs of users should be the driving force for all regulations, to promote safe, affordable and widespread access to ICT”. Regulatory guidelines should be “based on common basic principles that can be followed by all countries of the world,” it adds. “We want to see open markets for telecommunications and ICT, in order to stimulate competition, and at the same time motivate local ICT companies in each country, to ensure affordability.”

Finally, the Youth Forum called for sustainable ICT projects and initiatives. To achieve this, local people must be actively involved from the start, and be offered training in “managing, financing and maintaining projects after external experts have left”. Echoing the principle behind ITU’s Connect a School, Connect a Community initiative, the Declaration says that schools should be at the centre of efforts because they bring communities together — “communities that have the knowledge and skills to manage and finance projects on their own, as well as initiate their own projects”.

A promise of continuing engagement

The Declaration ends with a promise to work towards achieving all these goals. “We are dynamic individuals, representing different nations, religions and cultures, yet united in our commitment: a commitment to global change and increased awareness,” the document states. “We, the Fellows of the Youth Forum, commit ourselves to continued engagement with governments and other stakeholders” in order to “educate people, unite countries, and connect the world.”

 

*All photos are by P. Christin/ITU, D. Keller/ITU, V. Martin/ITU, and F. Rouzioux/ITU unless indicated otherwise

 

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