Committed to connecting the world

Secretary-General's Corner: Speeches


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​   ↩ Back to Secretary-General's Corner 
   ​​↩​ Back to all speeches​​​​

ITU Council
Geneva, Switzerland  04 June 2024

State of the Union Address 2024
Doreen Bogdan-Martin
Secretary-General, International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

[As prepared for delivery]

Mr. Chairman,
Fellow Elected Officials,

Just over a week from now, Secretary-General António Guterres will be in Geneva to address our 2024 Session of the ITU Council.

This historic visit comes at a pivotal time for technology — an unprecedented moment of digital innovation.

When countries are racing to 5G and 6G.

When we're seeing breakthroughs in quantum computing.

And when artificial intelligence (AI) is pushing the boundaries of scientific progress for people and planet.

That's why people were lining up outside ITU last week for our AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva (co-hosted with the Swiss Confederation) — hundreds of people waiting to get in CICG [Geneva's international conference centre] to be part of the AI moment.

Inside, there was a palpable sense of both hopes and concerns.

The hopes of this young man from Portugal to communicate with his loved ones after ALS took away his ability to speak — but not his voice thanks to AI.  

The concerns of the Ministers from developing countries and others about being excluded from critical AI conversations.

Reconciling this tension between hopes and concerns — between the challenges and opportunities of digital technologies as they race ahead — is the test before us.

It's our greatest test yet! 

The two core goals of our Strategic Plan — universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation — are showing us the way forward.

Following the roadmap

Our support to the inclusive, responsible and sustainable digital transformation of the world must be matched by our own transformation to make sure ITU is fit for purpose.

Since we last met, we've ramped up our transformation in tangible ways.

It includes change cases from our ChangeMakers that resulted in six key areas of action — from implementing safe and responsible AI internally to enhancing recruitment processes.

Our transformation team has now developed a comprehensive roadmap that this Council will discuss. 

We've also set up key performance indicators to measure our progress and report back to you efficiently.

Reinforcing transparency and accountability

Key to ITU's transformation is reinforcing transparency, accountability, and compliance through a dedicated Oversight Unit.

We've also been working on an Oversight Charter that is before this Council.

This Charter aims to hold us to the highest integrity standards when it comes to internal auditing, investigations, and evaluation – so that misconduct or fraud are prevented, and effectiveness and the efficiency of our activities assured.

Getting our house in order

As you are aware, last year we faced challenges in delivering the timely audit of the 2022 accounts.

Our auditors identified a number of areas for improvement.

We have collaborated closely with the auditors and worked hard to live up to the requirements of this highly demanding process.

We are looking forward to this Council approving our 2022 accounts.

The Council will also review the financial operating report and auditor's report for 2023.

We are happy that our auditors are able to assure you that our budget implementation numbers for 2023 are accurate, as they continue to complete the audit procedures.

We are pleased that 2024 is the year where ITU will get back on track with the auditing cycle.

Delivering value for money

Financial transformation goes beyond the immediate upgrading of our financial management.

It is a major part of ITU's overall transformation plan.

We've strengthened our workforce and optimized processes in terms of managing accounts, disclosures and reporting.

Our updated Financial Rules and Regulations will also be tabled to this Council, enabling us to move forward with the right controls and standard operating procedures in place.

Our goal is to provide you with a crystal-clear view of how ITU allocates resources.

Ultimately, we are working towards fully result-based management, where strategic, operational and financial planning comprise a well-integrated management framework ensuring that resources are most effectively directed towards achieving the outcomes that you expect from ITU.

Reinvesting in our future

But first – the basics.

Which include ensuring that we live within our means.

As a result of prudently managing our 2023 budget, we've managed to make a small budgetary surplus.

We propose to use it for immediate priorities to help implement the decisions of WRC-23 (the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023); further strengthen transformation; upgrade our website (our window to the world); and support the organization of the next World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF). We have also managed to unlock additional funds for the ICT Development Fund

Building our new home

Among the more challenging aspects of ITU's transformation has been our headquarters.

We had fruitful discussions at yesterday's Council Working Group which set a strong foundation for achieving a decision at this Council.

Rejuvenating and diversifying our workforce

Let's remember that ITU staff — which represents 119 nationalities — is our greatest asset and the engine of our transformation.

Becoming fit for the future also means encouraging more young people to join ITU, as well as achieving gender equality in our workforce.

Right now, just 8 per cent of ITU staff on regular posts are age 35 and under — and 1.5 per cent are age 30 and under.

That's why we're looking to expand our Young Professionals Programme - and we need your help to get the last positions funded. It is also why I created a youth advisory body, in addition to our youth task force, to ensure that our work takes into account the needs and voices of current and future generations.

I am also pleased to share that a new Gender and Youth Office has also been established as part of our transformation.

Moving forward as one

If we want to go faster and further in our transformation, we must go together as One ITU.

We heard you — and we are improving intersectoral coordination accordingly including by strengthening the Intersectoral Task Force.

One ITU also means coming together with staff (including staff council. Thank you for your great collaboration) and management at our monthly townhalls — to dialogue, and to update each other on our work and find synergies to move forward.

It's about promoting skilling and upskilling through our Learning Lab series.

And it's about management engagement through our last annual senior management retreat where we addressed key topics like empowering staff and improving staff wellbeing.


This is how we see ourselves.

For the world, there's only one ITU — and this past year, our Union has been active in the UN (United Nations) family and has made a positive impact on communities and people's lives around the world that will resonate for years to come.

Harnessing the potential of radiocommunications to the fullest

Let's start with our Radiocommunication Sector and last year's Radiocommunication Assembly (RA) and World Radiocommunication Conference.

From enabling many countries from the developing world to acquire new spectrum resources for satellite broadcasting, to defining ITU's role in space sustainability, the agreements reached in Dubai demonstrate our unrivalled ability to facilitate cooperation and compromise — while harnessing the potential of radiocommunications to the fullest.

I want to thank and congratulate the UAE for bringing the entire world together as they did for RA-23 and WRC-23 — not to forget COP28.

The work into the next four-year study cycle in the run-up to WRC-27 is well underway — with visionary agenda items that will pave the way for the direct-to-device satellite communications, and help establish the first generation of lunar communications.

About 80 per cent of the WRC-27 agenda is space-related — at a crucial time for the growing space economy and the role of space in achieving the SDGs. 

Realizing the true value of standards

Turning now to our Telecommunication Standardization Sector which has been hard at work continuing- with industry, governments, and academia- to develop international standards and numbering resources that connect the world and bridge the standards gap.

Standards were front and cente at the AI for Good Global Summit and our first AI Governance Day last week.

Key actions were taken to build AI capacity around the world and to strengthen standards cooperation (including with ISO and IEC), most notably to stop the spread of AI-driven misinformation and deepfakes and to employ AI to help manage natural disasters.

This prepares us well for WTSA-24 (the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly).

I want to thank India — a world-class hub for technological innovation — for hosting this key conference at a time when realizing the true value of standards is more important than ever to foster inclusion, trust, and confidence in digital technologies.

Let me also mention that next week, on June 14, we will host UN Virtual Worlds Day — another first for the UN.

Putting development first

And finally, an update from our Telecommunication Development Sector.

Whether we help national Computer Incident Response Teams respond to cyberthreats that continue to escalate at unprecedented rates, lead the work on warning dissemination and communication of the UN Early Warnings for All Initiative especially in places like Small Island Developing States bearing the brunt of climate change (that was certainly showcased last week when the BDT Director led our delegation to the UN SIDS conference), or continue to expand our important work on digital skills development, our unwavering focus remains on making sure that everyone everywhere can benefit from the power of digital technologies. This expertise continues to gain international recognition — from our Global E-waste Monitor 2024, to GovStack, to the next edition of our Global Cybersecurity Index that will come out this summer.

Girls in ICT Day — with a global celebration in the Philippines this year — showed again how crucial it is to encourage girls to take on STEM careers.

Next up is the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) in Uganda during the first week of July — with AI and the space economy among the key topics on the agenda.

Delivering impact on the ground

As for me, I've made a point to better understand the needs and aspirations of you, our Members, as well as many partners worldwide, by meeting you where you are.

From our area office in Santiago de Chile to Singapore, from Silicon Valley, to Beijing to Kigali, I've prioritized listening as much as I can and to bring back ideas that can drive ITU's transformation forward.

Refusing the status quo

As you can see, it's been an action-packed year.

But our work is never done — not when one-third of humanity is still unconnected.

And especially not when too many still find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide because they don't feel safe online, lack the skills to take advantage of the latest tools, or because they just can't afford them.

The paradox — and the injustice — is that this is happening at an unprecedented moment of digital innovation. 

Digital innovation for sustainable development was the theme of WTISD (World Telecommunication and Information Society Day) this year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the moment to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals.

It's a moment to refuse the status quo … and show that we're committed to building a better future together.

Leading by our expertise

That's why our external transformation must be as ambitious as our internal one.

This ambition is reflected in the work of the Broadband Commission where ITU continues to rally partners around crucial issues like affordability and 21st-century financing.

Our dedication is also evident in global forums (from the G77+China) to the G7 and G20 — where ITU was a knowledge partner of the Japanese and Indian presidencies last year, and where we engaged in development- and space-related tracks.

We continue to lead by our expertise with the G7 and G20 this year in key topics ranging from digital inclusion, to digital government, to AI for sustainable development.

We're also collaborating with the G20 Brazilian presidency as well as six development banks on a digital infrastructure investment initiative.

Unleashing the power of partnerships

Unleashing the power of partnerships is at the heart of our external transformation and outward engagement.

ITU is engaged on many fronts, from early warnings, to digital gender equality, to refugee connectivity.

We've had important milestones during this cycle.

There is the recent UN System White Paper on AI Governance led by ITU and UNESCO — an important tool to guide the international community as it moves governance efforts from principles to implementation.

There's also our Green Digital Action, led by our Deputy Secretary-General.

Following a successful Digital Action track at COP28, it brings together partners around tangible actions — from reducing the digital industry's greenhouse gas emissions to implementing green standards.

The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition has built a lot of momentum in the last few months and weeks — with major new commitments announced at Mobile World Congress, the WSIS Forum and the AI for Good Global Summit.

With close to 51 billion US dollars and more than 900 pledges made, we've now passed the halfway mark of our 100 billion target by 2026.

These new commitments will help provide meaningful connectivity to millions of people in need.

Many of them are young people from all around the world and that's why Giga — our initiative with UNICEF to connect every school to the Internet — is getting more and more recognition including in the UN Global Digital Compact.

Strengthening engagement in UN processes and beyond

Which brings me to our ongoing efforts to strengthen our engagement in UN processes and beyond.

At the WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event 2024 in Geneva last week, we witnessed once again the strategic value of this multistakeholder community deeply rooted in grassroots digital development.

As we're approaching the 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society and as we set our sights on the Global Digital Compact and the Summit of the Future and beyond − we need to ensure that all processes are aligned — and complement each other.

We also need to leverage existing mechanisms and draw from the expertise and know-how of UN agencies.  

Delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

We have been on our journey to make the ITU fit for purpose and fit for the future for 17 months.

We've already come a long way — I'm grateful to my fellow Elected Officials and the Senior Management Leadership Team who have been committed to this since day one.

We still have a long way to go.

But the values we share and the vision that binds us together remain the same.

Connecting the world.

Using technology as a force for good.

A rich and diverse membership. 

Leaving no one behind.

These principles go all the way back to the creation of our Union — 160 years ago next year.

Earlier this year, we crossed a historic threshold with our ITU family now having over 1000 industry and academia members.

This collaboration among government, industry, and academia is in our DNA.

It's exactly what we need right now to steer our Union through this new era of technological transformation — the fastest one yet.

I'm reminded of President Nelson Mandela when he came to Geneva almost 30 years ago to address ITU Member States.

He said: “The information revolution sweeping the globe has the potential to open communications across all geographical and cultural divides."

His message was clear: Technology should unite us — not divide us.

Let's heed his call and continue to work together: to give every country an equal seat at the table; to align digital inclusion with the pace of digital transformation and bring digital development to every corner of this planet; to harness the potential of radiocommunications to the fullest; to realize the true value of standards; to strike the right balance between the benefits and risks of emerging technologies; to make sure that digital industry helps fight the climate crisis and does not contribute to the problem; and to rescue the SDGs.

This is the ITU the world needs — the ITU we all want.

Thank you. ​