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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

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

Global Digital Innovation and Investment Summit

23 September 2013, New York, USA

Distinguished guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today, to discuss a topic that seems to be high on the agenda at a number of the side events to the 68th General Assembly here in New York – namely digital innovation and investment.

The two subjects very much go hand in hand – we will not see innovation without investment and we will not see investment without innovation.

And we will certainly need to see both innovation and investment if we are to achieve the same success story with the Internet that we have seen with mobile cellular over the past twenty years.

Because there is still a huge amount of work to be done in terms of bringing the world online – especially in the developing world, and most importantly in the world’s least developed countries.

By the end of this year, according to ITU estimates, global Internet penetration will be approaching 40%.

But two thirds of people in the developing world will still be offline; and over 90% of people in the world’s least developed countries will still have no access to the Internet.

This is important, because in the 21st century, broadband has become essential infrastructure, just like roads, railways and power networks.

It is our duty to ensure that we bring the benefits of broadband to all the world’s people – wherever they live and whatever their means.

This is not about technology for technology’s sake; it’s about technology for educating people; it’s about technology for better health care; it’s about technology for gender empowerment; it’s about technology as a means to reinforce environmental protection; it’s about technology as a means of protecting and propagating scientific and cultural endeavours.

In short it’s about technology as the most incredible lever imaginable in terms of spurring on sustainable social and economic development.

This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime: an incredible opportunity to improve healthcare; to improve communities; and to improve schools.

In 2010, ITU and UNESCO set up the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to help accelerate progress towards meeting the MDGs, and over the past three years the Commission has played a major role in advocating for broadband development and especially investment.

The Commission met on Saturday here in New York for the launch of our latest report, ‘The State of Broadband 2013’, and the meeting had a special industry focus, looking at investment opportunities and innovative strategies that will help to close the access gap.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As many of you will know, we are just back from the BYND 2015 Global Youth Summit, which was held in Costa Rica; this was a completely amazing event.

The Youth Declaration resulting from the Summit is a powerful statement from young people, and it is being taken by President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica to the General Assembly this week.

The Broadband Commission is proud of its role in making the Global Youth Summit happen: the Summit was inspired by the Broadband Commission Working Group on Youth and Broadband, which was proposed by Muhammad Yunus, and which I had the honour to chair.

The Summit demonstrated a new way of working, with a special role being played by connected youth around the world at over 40 networked hubs, and also reinforced the incredible power of social media in charting the way forward.

It is ironical, then, that this year was also notable for the publication of the Report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons.

It was ironical, because an event as vibrant, powerful, innovative and influential as the Global Youth Summit could never have taken place without the power of broadband.

So I was personally somewhat disappointed by the UN report. The Broadband Commission had published an Open Letter, emphasizing the importance of broadband, but in the end the report itself did not contain a single mention of the word ‘broadband’.

I feel this is a grave mistake – the equivalent would perhaps be publishing a report at the end of the nineteenth century without mentioning trade in manufactures or exports, or without mentioning the power of vital transport networks including roads, waterways and railways.

Broadband networks, the veins and arteries of our digital economy, are today vital and indispensable to nations’ economic competitiveness. So we hope that the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons can take this message onboard.

The Broadband Commission’s Task Force on Sustainable Development continues to work actively in this regard, and also has a report that has been published to coincide with the 68th Session of the GA, calling for ICTs to be a clear and important part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Distinguished guests,

How do we close the innovation and investment gap?

Efforts such as the Broadband Commission have made an important difference, but much more still needs to be done.

What we need is innovation and investment on the ground. And not just any innovation and investment but smart, targeted, impact innovation and investments, where innovation and investment are leveraged to deliver far greater benefits than traditional models.

So let me close on a positive note:

We are living in an era of incredible progress, and we stand, as a global community, to reap incredible benefits from new technologies – new technologies such as mobile broadband, for example, which is the fastest growing technology in human history, and which quite possibly has the power to help us bridge the digital divide once and for all.

If we add in the dramatic power of impact investing and smart innovation, I am certain that we are going to find ways of closing the gap – and that will help us to bring the full benefits of social and economic development to all the world’s people.

Thank you.