Committed to connecting the world

ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA)

'Development Matters' Lecture Series

ICTs for Development : The Roadmap Towards Sustainable Social and Ecomomic Progress for All
21st May 2013, Dublin, Ireland
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you in Dublin today, and to have this opportunity to take part in the IIEA’s ‘Development Matters’ lecture series.

The subject I would like to address today is ‘ICTs for development – the roadmap towards sustainable social and economic progress for all’.

This lecture series is of particular relevance in the context of Ireland’s EU Presidency, during which development has been signalled as an important priority.

It is also fitting that this particular lecture should be taking place in the middle of a week during which events are taking place across Ireland to mark the 50th anniversary of Africa Day and African unity, which we will be celebrating this Saturday on 25 May.

As Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN specialized agency responsible for information and communication technologies, ICTs, I am of course passionate about the subject of ICTs for development.

ITU’s work has a direct affect on many of the things that most of us now take for granted in the 21st century, from phone calls to television to the Internet:

  • We allocate the radiofrequency spectrum and create the standards which make mobile phones work.
  • We enable the Internet – through standards, spectrum, fibre optic networks, satellites and much more.
  • We create the standards which make video compression possible and which power most of the world’s tablets and handheld computers.
  • And we allocate the satellite slots which mean we can use GPS devices or watch television programmes from around the world – as well as providing vital safety and security in the areas of aviation and shipping.

Ladies and gentlemen

We have been incredibly successful over the past decade or so in connecting the world and bringing almost everyone within reach of the benefits of ICTs, and particularly mobile – and indeed by the end of this year there will be almost as many active mobile subscriptions globally as there are people.

But we live in a world – this may be hard to believe in a hyperconnected city like Dublin – where two thirds of the world’s people still have no access to the Internet.

This means that two thirds of the world’s people still have no access to the world’s greatest library; no access to the world’s most active marketplace; and no access to the world’s greatest social gatherings.

This is something we must work hard to change.

Today, we stand at a ‘tipping point’ – between the Internet as a vital enabler of social and economic progress in the industrialized world, and the Internet as a valuable global resource and a basic commodity of human life everywhere.

As the planet comes online, broadband will change the world in a million ways – and as it does so, it will help us accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, now only just two years away.

In a more populous, ageing world, broadband will be vital in helping to deliver essential services such as education, health, and good government.

Broadband will also play a crucial role in ensuring the world’s seven billion people have affordable and equitable access to adequate food supplies, at every step of the process: from delivering the right information to farmers; to helping them improve yields and prices; to improving supply chain efficiencies; to ensuring that consumers understand nutritional needs, both for themselves and for their children.

Similar principles apply to smart water management and distribution, and here too, broadband will play a vital role in the 21st century, as water resources become more scarce, and much more valuable.

We will also see broadband helping drive the transition to a low carbon economy, and helping us better adapt to the effects of climate change, through smart grids; environmental sensors; intelligent transport systems; the dematerialization and digitalization of goods and services; and new ways of improving energy efficiency.

Broadband will not just help us address the biggest issues of our time, such as climate change and environmental sustainability; it will also revolutionize the way goods and services are created, delivered and used.

We are already seeing this with the extraordinary wealth of apps – increasing by tens of thousands every day – which are available for mobile devices.

This is why ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010 – to advocate for increased broadband access and rollout globally; not just for its own sake, but to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

We now have close to 60 Broadband Commissioners – all leaders in their field – representing governments, industry, academia and international agencies, and they are doing great work in advocating the importance of policy leadership.

In 2011, the Broadband Commission set four ambitious but achievable targets, and the most important of these, in my opinion, is the one concerning affordability.

The Commission wants to see entry-level broadband services cost under 5% of monthly income in every country in the world by 2015.

And I believe that we shall succeed – with the help of enlightened regulation, increased user demand, and new technologies such as mobile broadband.

Distinguished guests,

What needs to happen, in order to bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people?

I can tell you in one word what doesn’t need to happen – and that word is ‘aid’.

Speaking as an African, from one of the world’s poorest regions, I can assure you that half a century of aid simply hasn’t worked.

What does work – and we should not be shy about admitting this – is trade, and in particular partnerships which demonstrate a clear return on investment.

I am a firm believer in a future in which trade replaces aid as the primary development paradigm, and where competition and local enterprise work together to bring affordable services to customers while still providing sensible returns for businesses.

This is why I launched the series of ITU Connect Summits, six years ago, to focus in each region of the world on the tremendous power of partnership between the public and private sectors, and demonstrate the value of bringing together the right people in the right place at the right time.

Let me give you two specific examples of how successful this approach has been: the ITU Connect Africa Summit in 2007, and the ITU Connect Arab States Summit in 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The very first ITU Connect Summit, ITU Connect Africa, was held in Kigali, Rwanda, in October 2007.

The Summit welcomed over 1,000 top-level delegates, and resulted in an unprecedented 55 billion US dollars in ICT development pledges over a seven-year period.

This was an extraordinary outcome – and one which demonstrated the true power of partnership and business-friendly initiatives which serve real people in developing countries.

And indeed since the Summit was held, ICT infrastructure investment in Africa has continued to accelerate, and we now confidently expect the final total for the seven years to exceed 70 billion US dollars.

This success set a tremendous precedent for the ITU Connect Summits which have followed over the past six years – with the present cycle reaching its conclusion in November, with the ITU Connect Asia-Pacific Summit, which is taking place in Bangkok, just ahead of ITU Telecom World 2013.

Meanwhile, marking the sixth anniversary of ITU Connect Africa, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has convened the ‘Transform Africa’ Summit in Kigali at the end of October.

And I am sure that investment opportunities will again be high on the agenda – given President Kagame’s firm commitment and unshakeable belief in the power of leveraging ICTs to deliver sustainable social and economic benefits across Rwanda and across Africa.

I should note here that Rwanda’s own ambitious but achievable national plan for ICT development is aiming to further leverage the power of ICTs in important areas such as health, education and the empowerment of women, and demonstrates what can be done even within a relatively small and far-from wealthy land-locked country in Africa. It’s a great example to us all.

Distinguished guests,

In March 2012, we held the ITU Connect Arab States Summit in Doha, Qatar.

This summit was notable for the high level of participation, including: seven Heads of State or Government from the Arab world; 26 government ministers; and over 500 leaders, delegates and participants representing the public and private sectors as well as international and regional organizations, along with civil society.

The summit included a series of thematic sessions, including:

  • ‘Educate, Create, Employ’ – looking at the relationship between education and employment;
  • ‘Harmonize, Build, Access’ – focusing on harmonizing policies to attract investment;
  • ‘Cooperate, Secure, Protect’ – addressing the growing issues related to cybersecurity in the region;
  • ‘Imagine, Digital, Culture’ – discussing the importance of content in the digital future; and
  • ‘Youth, Innovation, Entrepreneurship’ – looking at the power and importance of ICT innovation.

Overall the summit showed a strong sense of purpose, and a clear vision of what needs to be done to connect the unconnected in the Arab region.

Most importantly, the participants in Doha have seized on over 47 billion US dollars in market opportunities in ICT projects to meet the needs of the region, and in particular new broadband networks and new applications and services in Arabic.

And again, this demonstrates the true power of partnership, and of creating spaces where people can come together to meet and do the deals that will help bring all the world’s people together – online.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In closing let me thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you – and let me encourage you all to take these examples away with you as possible models for your own development work.

For my part, I am happy that we are making progress, step by step, in transforming the information society into the global knowledge society, where all the peoples of the world will be able to access, use, create and share information – in an affordable and secure manner.

Thank you.