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WTISD 2024: Digital innovation for sustainable development

Projects and initiatives by ITU and partners worldwide are helping create and scale up digital technology and policy solutions for a better global future

Each year on 17 May, ITU dedicates World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) to a specific topic. This year the spotlight is on “digital innovation” to shape a more inclusive and sustainable future.

Digital innovation is a key driving force behind economic progress and global development. In today’s rapidly evolving digital landscape, innovation has become synonymous with opportunities for growth and solutions to pressing societal challenges.

WTISD also raises awareness about the global digital divide. Progress, unfortunately, is unevenly distributed, leading to what is known as the digital innovation divide. Bridging this gap is crucial to ensure that everyone, regardless of location or background, can benefit from the transformative power of technology.

At the forefront of this global mission for enhanced digital development through digital innovation − is the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) − the United Nations agency for digital technologies. With a focus on empowering communities and fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange, ITU is leading efforts to bridge the digital innovation gap and create a level playing field for all.

Innovation for development

ITU spearheads several initiatives aimed at promoting innovation for development. Through its Digital Innovation Ecosystems portfolio, ITU empowers members to unlock their digital potential. Services and assistance offered include digital innovation policy assessments, networking platforms, country-level projects, innovation challenges, ecosystem good practices sharing, diverse learning curricula and knowledge programmes to close digital innovation gaps.

ITU’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance for Digital Development supports stakeholders with new, more resilient, and forward-thinking approaches to safely navigate a digital world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The alliance is advised, guided, and supported by a board of experts comprising government ministers, heads of regulatory agencies, academics, chiefs of industry, and leaders from financial institutions and UN organizations.

Leveraging standards for digital transformation

ITU’s international technical standards support innovation on a global scale, as cost-effectively as possible. They enable global access to technological capabilities in service of closing digital divides. Capturing innovation to create a basis for continued iterative innovation, standards provide essential technical foundations for new industries to grow and established industries to keep moving forward.

Today, ITU standards need to meet the requirements of a diverse and expanding range of industries.

ITU standards now support digital transformation in areas from energy and transportation to healthcare, financial services, and agriculture, as well as the drive towards smart, sustainable cities and communities. They are also helping everyone to capitalize on advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

Digital transformation creates convergence in the business of different industries and the responsibilities of different regulators, highlighting why ITU is so invested in bridging different areas of expertise with the support of partner UN agencies. These include the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Open platforms such as ITU Focus Groups help determine the way forward, while membership-driven ITU Study Groups develop the international standards that give everyone the opportunity to move forward together. New partnerships also receive key support from collaborative frameworks like AI for Good and United for Smart Sustainable Cities. ITU’s Bridging the Standardization Gap programme offers key support to developing countries in maximizing the value they draw from ITU standards.

Additionally, ITU’s Digital Transformation Dialogues provide a platform for exchanging knowledge and expanding understanding about emerging technologies and technical standardization. From Internet of Things (IoT) to AI and the metaverse, these dialogues delve into how digital technologies can drive positive change and deliver sustainable value.

Convening innovators worldwide

ITU serves as a key convener, bringing together experts, leaders, and inventors worldwide to drive innovation. At the recent World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23), delegates from over 160 Member States came together to revise a global treaty governing radio frequency spectrum use. The decisions taken at the conference lay the groundwork for the continued development and implementation of innovative solutions that will shape the future of global communications. 

Another flagship initiative is AI for Good, led by ITU in partnership with 40 UN sister agencies and co-convened with Switzerland. This year’s digital platform brings together AI innovators and problem owners to learn, build and connect to identify practical AI solutions to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The annual AI for Good Global Summit, held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 30 to 31 May, is the world’s leading action-oriented UN platform promoting AI to advance health, climate, gender, inclusive prosperity, sustainable infrastructure, and other global development priorities.

Lastly, UN Virtual Worlds Day is co-organized by ITU and 18 UN entities to explore how the metaverse can serve as a powerful tool for global advancement. The programme offers participants the opportunity to witness firsthand how emerging technologies can catalyse a new era of sustainable development and international cooperation.

Nurturing innovation for global development

Innovation is key to unlocking the potential of technology and driving sustainable development. ITU’s efforts in bridging the digital divide and fostering innovation are instrumental in creating a more inclusive and sustainable future for all. As we continue to harness the power of technology for good, collaboration and investment in innovation are essential to address the world’s most pressing challenges.

Together, we can build a brighter, more connected, future for generations to come.

World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), celebrated every 17 May to mark ITU’s founding in 1865, highlights the benefits of digital technologies and raises awareness about the global digital divide.

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