Fighting the resilience fatigue featured image

Fighting the resilience fatigue

By Tomas Lamanauskas, Deputy Secretary-General, ITU

My friend and ex-colleague Jackson Miake, an Internet governance leader in Vanuatu, recently confessed on LinkedIn: “I have developed a phobia to the word resilience.”

He had gone through a pair of Category 4 cyclones and an earthquake in just two days and was intensely working to put his family’s life back on track. In the meantime, he kept hearing: “We are a resilient people. We will get through this.”

He cannot afford to get tired though.

Regrettably, this intense demand for resilience – and intense need to cope with shocking events, without the luxury for fatigue to settle – has become all too familiar all around the world.

The people of Ukraine know it. So do those reeling from earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria.

And it is increasingly familiar to many families facing rising costs of living.

Unfortunately, the need for resilience seems far from temporary. As United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has noted, we face “the gravest levels of geopolitical division and mistrust in generations.”

Combine that with a volatile economic and financial situation, social tensions, and the climate crisis – humanity’s existential threat.

The need for digital resilience

The concept of ‘digital resilience’ came to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic. It spawned an International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiative called Connect2Recover.

COVID-19 also taught us a few lessons for the future:

  • How quickly our lives can be disrupted – with lasting consequences. School closures affected 1.5 billion students and youth in the first year of pandemic. And the disruption exacerbated digital inequality, with only 40 percent of school-aged children having access to the Internet at home. Missing a year of schooling during the pandemic will deprive many children of up to three years’ worth-of education in long run, creating a USD 17 trillion loss in lifetime earnings.
  • How adaptable and resilient we are. Global Internet traffic surged by almost 40 percent in early 2020 as our work, studies and social life all moved online. Many sectors increased tech spend as businesses shifted to new solutions, payment systems, and operational methods.
  • The vital importance of digital. The COVID “bump” brought almost 800 million more people online in just 2 years. Countries with better broadband infrastructure could offset much of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

These lessons remain key as we seek to build the resilient digital future we need.

First, we need to ensure that the power of digital reaches everyone – including the 2.7 billion people currently still offline. This is central to our mission as ITU, including our work on coordinating radio spectrum and satellite orbits, developing digital standards, as well as facilitating digital development. I am also proud of Giga, the ITU-UNICEF initiative to connect every school to the Internet, which has already connected over 2 million students in nearly 6,000 schools around the world.

Second, we need to invest in preparedness. ITU helps countries employ tech in disaster risk reduction and management, and promotes the adoption of the Tampere Convention, promoting broad, continuous coordination to mitigate disaster impact.

See ITU’s Guidelines for national emergency telecommunications plans.

As part of the UN Early Warnings for All Initiative, ITU is leading warning dissemination efforts and highlighting the use of mobile networks for timely public alerts.

Similarly, we help countries counter rising numbers of cyberthreats with effective national cybersecurity strategies and action plans. ITU support enhances national cybersecurity capabilities and provides hands-on training and drills for cyber incident response teams.

See ITU’s Global Cybersecurity Index.

Finally, we need to address the root causes of our vulnerability – particularly in climate terms. Through green standards and e-waste policies, ITU is helping countries and companies become more sustainable, as well as tracking “green” commitments across our sector.

See the Global E-waste Monitor and Greening Digital Companies report.

Partnerships for impact

As COVID-19 so starkly demonstrated, countries and communities are getting harder to isolate from global risks. Cyberthreats leap national boundaries with ease. Climate knows no borders.

We are also learning that we need broad partnerships – involving governments, business, and citizens – to achieve real impact. We must act together to meet the challenges we face. We must invest our respective energies and resources decisively. Yet we often find ourselves divided.

ITU initiatives galvanize impactful partnerships among different stakeholders. The Partner2Connect Coalition, for example, provides the platform for mobilizing resources, commitments, and partnerships to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally, including in the hardest-to-connect communities.

To date, the coalition has mobilized some 600 pledges from over 280 entities around the world, totaling nearly USD 30 billion in value. The commitments address such areas as infrastructure, cybersecurity, digital skills, inclusion, and socio-economic transformation.

Through the highest tensions of the 20th Century, ITU remained a platform for the world to engage and work together, however difficult it got. This platform has never been more important than in today’s uncertain, tense and rapidly changing world.

We remain committed to building digital resilience for all, as well as bringing the power of digital to all. Let’s work together to make this a reality.

Based on remarks on 8 March by Tomas Lamanauskas to the leading European policy forum Masters of Digital 2023.

Header image credit: Adobe Stock/NASA

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