Speech from Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General

CSTD 12th Session: Joint CSTD-ITU-GAID Panel Discussion: Opening Remarks
26 May 2009

Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1. Introduction – WSIS Forum 2009 and Follow-up

It is a great pleasure to be here with you this morning. We are here to discuss follow-up to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a subject with which many of you are already familiar.

Last week, ITU hosted the new “WSIS Forum 2009” aimed at revitalizing the WSIS process and achieving greater inclusiveness, more action and greater focus on results in the implementation of the WSIS outcomes.

I am pleased to say that, in collaboration with its partners from all the UN agencies involved, we have successfully responded to calls for a more streamlined structure to WSIS follow-up. We hosted what proved to be a very strong and focused event, from which there was a lot of positive feedback.

This interactive Forum enjoyed the attendance of 600 delegates from some 100 countries, and benefited from their insights and contributions as to how best to realize the WSIS outcomes. It included a number of High-Level Panels, as well as the WSIS Action Line Facilitation Meetings and thematic workshops. More than 35 sessions enhanced our understanding of the needs for future action and the way forward. A number of WSIS stakeholders, who could not be present with us in Geneva, also followed the Forum through live web-casts.

As I noted in my opening statement yesterday, we must not be complacent, however. There is much still to be done in the six short years that remain until 2015 and serious challenges are emerging, including the global financial crisis.

2. The Financial Crisis & ITU’s Work

ICTs can play a vital role in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and we must devote all our efforts to prioritizing our development agenda in this time of economic turmoil, when some companies are trying to economize and some Governments are cutting budgets.

ITU has monitored the impact of the financial crisis and global economic slowdown, since it erupted. In February this year, we published our report, “Confronting the Crisis: Its Impact on the ICT Industry”. On 21 April 2009, we held a one-day Strategic Dialogue on the Financial Crisis, preceding the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF), which united a range of speakers from different backgrounds across the ICT industry to discuss how the financial crisis was affecting their business and prospects for the near future.

ITU will continue to monitor the evolving impact of the financial crisis and we are preparing the next edition of our report series in time for World TELECOM 2009, when we shall host a follow-up Summit and Strategic Dialogue on ICT investments for economic recovery. Our research has shown that astute operators are seizing the opportunity and taking this time to reposition and invest to emerge stronger, when the recovery happens.

The importance we give to the financial crisis, and how it may impact progress towards the achievement of the WSIS goals, derives from my personal conviction that this is a time of heightened risk and industry transition, but also a time of great opportunity for the ICT industry. This is a time when the ICT industry can really prove what a large and significant contribution it makes to fuelling economic growth and driving economic recovery.

Yes, there are significant economic challenges at the moment, but as a result, massive investments in infrastructure have been agreed in a number of countries. For those with the courage and conviction, there are fresh openings in the market and new technologies to be exploited. The present economic challenges will serve to speed up the transformation of the industry. But as long as our industry emerges fitter and better-placed to serve the people who really matter – citizens and consumers – we can emerge from this crisis stronger and more capable of meeting the WSIS goals.

3. Mobile Technology & Convergence & Social Networking Tools

Finally, to conclude, I should like to turn to the subject of today’s panel discussion, on the very important subject of mobile technology, convergence and social networking tools.

A mobile telephone is first and foremost a personal device. We use it to maintain our personal directory of contacts; we subscribe to news services or sports headlines related to our personal interests and we may use it to browse the Internet or download music and ringtones of our choice.

Imagine, then, how much more could be achieved in development work, if these personal devices are used to access community or social networking sites over mobile broadband access to the Internet. As Helen Keller once stated: “Alone we can do so little, but together we can achieve so much”.

Suddenly, the collective power of social networking sites such as LinkedIn could be brought to bear in facilitating development work. Our directories will no longer be personal and unique to ourselves, but people can benefit from the combined networking experience of an entire community of individuals, united by their common interests.

The collective power of communities of like-minded individuals, united by their common interest can be put to work. Communication tools such as Twitter and Jabber can help disseminate the latest news and quotes, according to people’s interest. Services such as FrontlineSMS can be used to disseminate agricultural information, send security alerts and help monitor elections.

Traders, farmers and fishermen will be able to work together much more closely to get the best prices for their products. People will no longer have to find out for themselves which purchaser will give them a good price for their produce, or who will rip them off, but can benefit from the collective wisdom of the community. Reputations will become all-important, and people will have to work harder to maintain their reputation. Rapid and far-reaching dissemination of information may even go someway towards solving the economic problem of asymmetric information about product quality and prices in niche markets.

For such a small device, a mobile can make a big difference and transform people’s lives not only by making people contactable, anywhere, anytime, but also by empowering them with access to improved flows of information.

4. Conclusions

And that is why I believe that we are only at the threshold of what can be achieved with our small, but immensely powerful companion, the mobile phone. And I am looking forward to what might be called Mobile 2.0, when the mobile is transformed from being a mainly personal device, to the gateway to a community and all that community’s shared knowledge and resources.

That is also why I am pleased that ITU, in conjunction with the CSTD and GAID, are hosting this panel discussion on such a vital subject. Because we are only at the start of what mobile telephony offers for development work – from more exciting applications in perspective to, indeed, a transformation of the way we work and interact – moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’.

Thank you.