Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Director-General for the kind invitation to address
you here today, in what is UPU’s 24th Congress. It is an honour and a privilege.
ITU and UPU have remarkable histories and share many similarities. UPU was
established in 1874, less than a decade after the founding of ITU. Both
organizations were responsible for the internationalization of the leading
communication technologies at the time. UPU and ITU have enjoyed a long-standing
relationship and our collaboration over the years has truly helped to connect
the world. Without our two organizations, the global village – as we know it –
would not exist.
ITU and UPU have long worked towards the ideal of universal access. Now, at a
time when the digitalization of our industries is rapidly changing the
communication landscape, we are still working towards this ideal.
The goal of universal access was the reason for ITU’s Connect Africa initiative,
launched at a high-level Summit in Kigali last October. While great gains have
been made in the African continent in recent years, there remains much to do if
we want to eliminate the digital divide. Bringing connectivity to every region
in Africa requires mobilizing all possible human, technical and financial
resources – both public and private. At the same time, Connect Africa has
demonstrated that such mobilization of resources can create exciting business
and investment opportunities.
UPU, of course, has had its own role to play in this process. As has been so
often the case in the history of our two organizations, we again find ourselves
not only standing side-by-side, but working actively together. Let me give you 3
Post offices – probably more than any other institution – play a central
role in people’s lives. In rural areas, especially in developing countries,
post offices often also serve as the de factor governmental presence. This
is true even in the remote corners of Bhutan and it was the reason behind
the creation of a project to turn Bhutanese post offices into windows to the
Working together, ITU, UPU and India initiated a pilot project in which 38
Bhutan post offices were selected to become region ICT centers. Six of these
were provided with connectivity through assistance from India. These
revamped post offices provided most people with their first access to ICT.
Now complete, this project provides concrete evidence that providing rural
and remote areas with access to digital technology can have significant
benefits. In this case, both for the populace at large, as well as for
Bhutan Post. Perhaps most dramatically, this project has made it possible
for the democratic election results from remote locations to be announced in
real time, using the post office facilities, instead of waiting for any
where from 3 to 7 days, as was the case in the past. Furthermore, the
project has revolutionized governance in Bhutan, changed the work culture of
Bhutan Post as an organization, and encouraged innovation among the staff.
A second joint venture involving ITU, UPU and India is a project in
Afghanistan, in which post offices are providing communities with a wide
variety of electronic services: email, e-post, money transfers and salary
payments. Although still new, this project has already proved useful to the
A third collaborative project – and one of the reasons that I am here today
– involves South Africa, ITU and UPU. The project, funded by South Africa,
aims to promote universal access to ICTs through entrepreneurship. By
strengthening market forces, both at the level of infrastructure as well as
in the provision of services and content, this project hopes to extend ICT
services to rural areas. We are working together with financial institutions
– both major banks and micro financial institutions – to help unlock market
Here again, the postal system, with the central role it plays in peoples’
lives, has a major role: both in giving entrepreneurs a platform for
providing postal and ICT services, as well as providing services themselves.
We are living in exciting times. Technological developments, new
business practices and policies are making the task of providing ICT services to
rural and under-developed areas more feasible than ever. In many cases, digital
services are significantly cheaper and easier to employ than traditional access
The World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva and Tunis set out a clear
agenda for achieving the objectives of the global information society.
ITU and UPU – with their long legacy in the information and communication arenas
– will continue to work together towards these goals.
We will continue to harness the potential of ICTs to empower people and create a
more peaceful, just and prosperous world.
And we will continue to turn challenges into opportunities.
I have no doubt, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, that the goal of universal
access offers us an opportunity to strengthen the partnership that we have
enjoyed for more than a century.