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ITU leads first World Information Society Day celebrations
ITU World Information Society Award presented to Mr Abdoulaye Wade, President of Senegal and Professor Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh

Geneva, 17 May 2006 — The President of Senegal, Mr Abdoulaye Wade, and Professor Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director of Grameen Bank, Bangladesh, were honoured with the 2006 ITU World Information Society Award at a ceremony held in Geneva today to mark the celebration of the first World Information Society Day.

At the ceremony, Mr Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of ITU and Secretary-General of the World Summit on the Information Society said that the ITU World Information Society Award pays tribute to those who have made a significant contribution towards building and strengthening the Information Society. "It is to accord the highest recognition to those who have used their creativity and resources to harness the enormous potential of ICTs, so that millions of people can achieve their development goals", Mr Utsumi said. "Today we have the honour of the presence of two living legends, whose lifelong mission has been to give a voice to the deprived."

In his message, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated, "On this first World Information Society Day, I am pleased to congratulate President Wade of Senegal, and Professor Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh’s renowned Grameen Bank, on receiving the first ITU World Information Society Award for their leadership. Let us all, on this occasion, be inspired by their example and reiterate our pledge to connect the unconnected, build a free and safe Information Society, and thereby spur development for all the world’s people."

Receiving the ITU Award, President Wade said "a better balanced, more harmonious information society should be founded on widespread access to computer tools, to ensure that those countries which now lag behind in this area will not be permanently marginalized. The aim of the Digital Solidarity Fund is to make it possible for everyone to be connected, listen in, make their voices heard and keep pace with our ever-changing world". He added, "For our peoples, the mass dissemination of information and communication technologies represents an appointment with history that we cannot fail to keep". He highlighted two initiatives carried out in Senegal to bring access to ICT at all level of the educational curriculum: the “Case des Tout Petits” programme where young children aged 2 to 6 years familiarize themselves with the use of ICT through educational games and the “UniversitÚ du Futur Africain” which will be connected to several partner universities through a robust and sophisticated ICT infrastructure. This networked university will enable any African who meets the required educational standards to have access to live courses by satellite and graduate with the same honours and degrees as those received in the partenering universities.

Also presented with the ITU Award, Professor Yunus, who pioneered microcredit for the rural poor and empowered a new class of women entrepreneur by providing mobile payphone service in the remote areas of Bangladesh said that today that the poor women in the Grameen network are now considered so reliable as business partners that they are being inducted not only to sell airtime but also to sell telephone connections for new subscribers. "ICT can change the face of the poor dramatically," he said. "ICT can be visualized as Aladdin’s Lamp in the hands of a poor woman. A digital genie can leverage her energy and creativity to lift her out of poverty at the fastest speed." Outlining the various ICT initiatives that spun off from the Grameen Bank concept such as Grameen Software, the Grameen ICT training company, and others, he called for a "social stock market" to bring entrepreneurs and social investors into contact to solve the problem of availability of investment funds. He also challenged ICT equipment designers to develop devices that can solve the problems of the poor along with the people for whom these would be made. "To pool the energy and talents of the poor who would like to devote themselves to bring ICT to the poor in the form and shape that they can benefit the best, I have been proposing to create an international centre for ICT to help overcome global poverty", he said. It could start as a virtual centre, a global network of committed people and "social" business entrepreneurs and later have its own physical location with full time personnel, design centres, research programmes etc. "If we are serious about ending global poverty, this is to be a strategic institution to build", he said.

Mr Benny Ginman, Director, Government Affairs, Europe, Middle East and Africa of INTEL Corporation, a sponsor of the event, immediately picked up the gauntlet and invited Professor Yunus to meet with INTEL engineers and experts to discuss how to bring concrete shape to his vision.

Focusing on ICT for development

The World Summit on the Information Society proposed that 17 May, which marks the inception of ITU in 1865, should be declared as World Information Society Day to help raise awareness, on an annual basis, on the enormous possibilities that ICTs can bring to all economies and societies and explore ways to bridge the digital divide. A resolution to this effect was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 27 March 2006.

"The digital revolution in ICT has opened new opportunities to attain higher levels of development. These new technologies are powerful instruments in increasing productivity, generating economic growth and employment, and improving the living standards for all. World Information Society Day will be a reminder to us, every year, to re-dedicate ourselves to building a more equitable, inclusive, people-centred and development-oriented Information Society," stated ITU Secretary-General Utsumi, adding "It becomes our duty to ensure that everyone, even in the remotest and poorest corners of the world, has access to the benefits of ICT. We have the means, the technology and the resources to make a lasting impression on our civilization."

In order to take the process forward towards building the Information Society, a cluster of events have been taking place over a ten-day period, 9-19 May in Geneva aimed at implementing on the Plan of Action of the recently concluded World Summit on the Information Society.

Expressing his appreciation to the organizers of these events, Mr Moritz Leuenberger, President of Switzerland, stated, "These meetings and debates gather experts from all domains relating to the Information Society and from all stakeholders where they can share their knowledge and, as a result, contribute to implementing the decisions made in Geneva and in Tunis."

In his message, Mr Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia, called upon the international community to step up efforts "to help all people, particularly the least developed ones, to benefit from the digital revolution, as part of an international partnership based on cooperation, solidarity and complementarity."

Switzerland and Tunisia were host countries for the World Summit on the Information Society that was held in two phases, Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005.

Attending the first World Information Society Day were representatives of government, the private sector, civil society and international organizations. During the ceremony, the quartet of the Orchestre Suisse Romande paid tribute to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose 250th birth anniversary is celebrated this year.

The full webcast of the ceremony is available here.  Written statements are available here.

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Updated : 2006-05-19