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BDT Director's Speeches

Girls in ICT day 2019
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  25 April 2019

Girls in ICT Day 2019

African Union Conference Centre, Addis Ababa

25 April 2019

Opening Remarks

Doreen Bogdan-Martin

Director, Telecommunication Development Bureau

International Telecommunication Union

Excellencies,

Ambassadors,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen, and − most importantly, girls!

  • A very warm welcome to you and thank you all for joining us today and being part of ITU's Girls in ICT Day celebration.

  • This is my first Girls in ICT Day since taking office as Director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau in January, and also the first time I have personally celebrated the event on the African continent.

  • On the UN official calendar, Girls in ICT Day always falls on the fourth Thursday in April. And I can't imagine a better place to be on that fourth Thursday in April than here in Africa. What energy! What enthusiasm! What entrepreneurial spirit!

  • This continent stands poised on the brink of new wave of social and economic development, and information and communication technologies - ICTs - are going to be the engine of that growth.

  • Thanks to ICTs, for the first time ever we truly have new ways to tackle old problems. ICTs have the power to overcome the challenge of distance and bring services to communities that have too long remained marginalized.

  • Marginalized from:

    • higher education,

    • from routine health care,

    • from access to libraries

    • and other sources of information,

    • from financial services,

    • and from commercial opportunities.

    • Marginalized, in short, from the basic foundations for economic growth that other parts of the world have long enjoyed and take for granted.

  • I believe we've reached one of those inflection points that will overturn our old ideas of what might be possible.

  • Of what might be achievable.

  • The Internet of Things, AI, big data and innovative new online platforms have changed the game. And what we've seen to date is just the very tip of the iceberg.

  • Africa's digital transformation will open up vast new opportunities for a continent that has so many untapped assets. And Africa's young people stand to be the major beneficiaries. Here in Ethiopia, 60% of the population is aged under 25. 50% is under 18. That huge youth demographic is something African nations can harness, because we all know that young people are the natural users of new technology.

  • My 17-year old daughter Ana is here in the audience today.

  • Now, as an ICT professional for nearly 30 years, I like to think I'm pretty tech savvy. But Ana can do things with tech that astonish me. And the ordinary stuff I can do, Ana can do five times faster.

  • Ana hasn't had any special ICT training. It's just that ICTs come naturally to young people. They understand technology. They 'get it' in a way that us older folk never will. And that's why Girls in ICT Day is so important.

  • To the 250 girls in the audience today, I would like to say this: technology will give you the chance to realize your dreams. ICTs are a tool that you can use to go just about anywhere you want.

  • Girls in ICT Day isn't about convincing you that you want to be a computer programmer. It's about showing you that studying technology will be a huge asset to you, whatever field you choose to work in.

  • It's hard these days to think of an area where ICTs are not having a major impact. Journalists are using ICTs to instantly amass global news sources to write their stories.

  • Art historians are using ICTs to analyse lost painting techniques, identify unknown artists, and date ancient works of art.

  • Lawyers are using ICTs to trawl through decades of legal precedents.

  • Archaeologists are leveraging ICTs to find new treasures.

  • Doctors are using advanced ICT technologies for diagnosis and care of previously untreatable conditions. Physicists are even pushing the boundaries of human knowledge by using ICTs to photograph unexplored phenomena.

  • I don't know how many of you girls saw this photo, which made VERY big news in the scientific community about 3 weeks ago. It is the first EVER image of a black hole in outer space. Until now, nobody had ever seen a black hole. They existed only as a scientific theory. So this photo has made history as one of the great astronomical breakthroughs of the 21st century.

  • Here's the scientist who wrote the algorithm that enabled this photo to be taken.

  • Are you surprised? Well, perhaps you shouldn't be.

  • Women have actually been instrumental in many of the great scientific breakthroughs of our day. Women were the first programmers of the very first IBM computer. Margaret Hamilton wrote the code that guided the Apollo 11 moon rocket. Nicola Pellow wrote the code that helped turn the internet into the World Wide Web.

  • Today's Girls in ICT Day programme is about showing you that tech can be fun, and it can be incredibly creative. It can be pretty much anything you want it to be, because you understand it so much better than we do. And that means you can use your imaginations to harness it to do whatever you want.

  • Tech can solve chronic development problems. Later on today you're going to hear from a few Ethiopian graduates who are using technology to help advance progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

  • Ladies and gentlemen, girls,

  • I would like to leave you with this thought: right now, in Africa, only around 18% of women have access to the Internet.

  • Just imagine the development potential if those millions of unconnected women were online. Just imagine the transformational impact on the education of Africa's youth, on family health care, on the economic opportunities that a new generation of female digital entrepreneurs could tap into.

  • We don't have to imagine it. We can make it happen. YOU can make it happen.

  • I believe technology will be at the very heart of the African renaissance.

  • So I encourage all the girls here today to play their part in building the networks and services that will transform Africa. The future is yours…