On 8–9 October 2009, ITU, which currently chairs
the United Nations Group on the Information Society
(UNGIS), hosted the group’s open consultations on financing mechanisms for promoting information and
communications technologies (ICT) to assist development.
The meeting was convened in response to a
resolution of the United Nations Economic and Social
Council (ECOSOC). This body oversees the United
Nations system-wide follow-up of the outcomes of
the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
One of the summit’s outcomes, the Tunis Agenda
for the Information Society, stresses that ways to finance ICT for development must take account of the
growing importance of these technologies as a tool
for achieving objectives such as the United Nations
Millennium Development Goals. The Tunis Agenda
also urges the international community to promote
the transfer of technology and other programmes to
assist developing countries.
The UNGIS meeting was open to all WSIS
stakeholders (governments, international organizations,
the private sector and civil society). It reviewed
progress and discussed the approaches being
taken at national, regional and international
levels to finance ICT for development. The meeting
was jointly organized by ITU, the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO), the United Nations Conference on Trade
and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations
Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). All
five organizations hold the chairmanship and vicechairmanship
of UNGIS on a rotational basis.
At the opening ceremony, ITU Secretary-General
Hamadoun I. Touré underlined that 2015 — the target
date for achieving the United Nations Millennium
Development Goals — is fast approaching, and he
urged all stakeholders to act quickly to ensure that the
goals are reached. UNCTAD’s Deputy Secretary-General Petko Draganov observed that there is still a long way
to go to achieve an all-inclusive information economy.
He emphasized the importance of evaluating how existing
(as well as new) financial mechanisms could support
greater deployment of, access to, and use of ICT
in developing countries.
Jordan’s Minister of Information and Communication
Technology Basem Rousan said that since
1993, the telecommunication sector in his country has
been opened to competition and this has resulted in a
marked improvement in the quality of services, as well
as a positive effect on the economy as a whole.
Egypt’s First Deputy Minister of Communications
and Information Technology Hoda Baraka described
the significant progress in her country, including in
rural areas. Financial mechanisms used in Egypt include
ICT stimulus packages, public-private partnerships,
a universal service fund, venture capital funds,
and debt-swap arrangements. For example, a debt-swap
arrangement with the Government of Italy
helped finance the development of two projects:
Smart Schools and ICT Mobile Units.
Montassar Ouali, the Chief Executive Officer of
Tunisie Telecom, noted that financing ICT remains a
challenge in many countries. The strengthening of local
businesses through ICT is particularly important,
he said. Tunisia has a relatively well-developed business
sector, but financial conditions still need to be
improved. Addressing this could allow developing
countries such as Tunisia to develop to their full potential
in the information society, Mr Ouali said.
Over the last decade Poland has performed a double
role — as a recipient and a donor of official aid,
said Andrzej Sados, Minister at the Permanent Mission
of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations Office
and other international organizations in Geneva.
He described how Poland is providing aid to other countries through development projects, humanitarian
assistance, education initiatives and volunteer services.
A session of the meeting on existing financial
mechanisms was moderated by the Director of ITU’s
Telecommunication Development Bureau Sami Al
Basheer Al Morshid. He underscored the importance
of involving many stakeholders in identifying and
implementing projects, since international organizations
do not have enough resources to do so by
themselves and the demand for development-oriented
initiatives is very high. He also highlighted the importance
of public-private partnerships.
Other sessions discussed the most appropriate financial mechanisms needed to continue the roll-out
of backbone national, regional and international infrastructure,
ensure universal access to ICT, develop
local content and provide capacity building.
Many participants agreed that financing of ICT for
development remains a significant challenge. There
have been positive trends in financing infrastructure
and access, especially in mobile communications, but
important gaps remain.
Areas in need of particular attention include the
development of local content and applications, as
well as raising funds to create the required human
resources in developing countries. Too often, these
are neglected after heavy investment in infrastructure
and hardware. They are areas where it has been
more difficult to generate funds from the private sector,
thus highlighting the importance of support from
governments and donor organizations.
Liberalization of markets has been important in
generating private-sector investment, as well as fi-
nancing solutions. At the same time, open markets
underline the importance of developing the capacity
of regulatory and other public authorities.
Rural and remote areas still lag in terms of communications
— especially Internet access. It is not
always possible to find sustainable business models
for the investments needed. To achieve sustainability
for projects it is important to involve local users, local
content, and applications that work on existing
infrastructure. The importance of infrastructure sharing
was also underlined by many speakers as a way
to reduce costs.
Universal access funds
Some participants highlighted the importance
of universal access funds in providing services to rural
areas, but others questioned their effectiveness.
Financial resources need to be supplemented by human
resources, and the important question remains
whether such funds should address mobile, Internet
and broadband access.
Finding new mechanisms
It is necessary to continuously explore new financing mechanisms. Micro-financing is one, and
the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships
was underlined by many speakers. Similarly, there is
a need to draw on large-scale international sources,
such as foreign direct investment or multilateral lending.
It was noted that investors normally seek lowrisk
projects, so financing higher-risk and long-term
projects is a challenge.
Alongside possible negative effects, the financial
crisis provides opportunities for creating new business
models and technologies. Debate on financial
mechanisms needs to take into account emerging issues
that are relevant for developing countries, such
The results of the open consultations are the basis
for a global, online repository of materials related to
financial mechanisms for meeting the challenges of
ICT for development. The repository is available at
www.ungis.org, where details of the group’s activities
can also be found.
The outcomes of the meeting were used as a
substantial contribution to discussions on financial
mechanisms at other events, including the Inter-
Sessional Panel of the United Nations Commission
on Science and Technology for Development, held
on 9–11 November 2009 in Geneva, and the ICT 4
All Forum — Tunis+4, held in Hammamet, Tunisia on