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There are many controversies among economists but one fact is undisputed: long-run productivity growth depends on the absorption and deployment of new technologies. Some estimates indicate that differences in technology diffusion account for a quarter of cross-country differences in per capita income. In the midst of a new Industrial Revolution driven by artificial intelligence, machine-to-machine communication, cloud computing and additive manufacturing, countries’ capacity to catch-up will likely depend on the speed with which they absorb these technologies. The implications for emerging economies are profound. New technologies may undermine the viability of labour-intensive development. Yet they may also open up new ways for developing countries to integrate in the global economy.

Are Industry 4.0 technologies already diffusing to lower-income economies? And, if so, what is driving their adoption? In a recent paper, we provide some answers by building on a UNIDO survey of manufacturing firms in Ghana, Thailand and Viet Nam and the whole range of production technologies they employ.

We find large differences across countries, reflecting differences in income levels, economic structure and international integration. The majority of Ghanaian firms in our sample, for instance, tend to employ technologies that would be characterized as analogic (Figure 1). This is in large part related to the country’s industrial structure. According to World Bank estimates, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises account for 80% of employment in Ghana. Informality is also rampant: 90% of firms are not registered. The vast majority of Ghana’s firms thus face significant financial, managerial and knowledge barriers to technology adoption. A weak innovation system compounds these issues.

On the other end of the spectrum, Thailand’s firms appear to be substantially more technologically advanced. Over 25% of Thailand’s firms in our sample use, on average, the latest technologies —those associated with “lean” and “smart” production. Viet Nam is somewhere in between, with a small group of technologically advanced firms coexisting with firms using technologies belonging to a “rigid” mode of production. These cross-country differences also relate to government policy. In recent years, both Vietnam and Thailand have revamped their science, technology and innovation systems to strengthen digital infrastructure and skills.

In all three countries, however, fewer than 4% of firms adopt technologies associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Figure 1). Even in Thailand, only 5% of firms adopt this type of technologies. To the extent that these countries are representative of other economies at similar levels of development, our findings show that Industry 4.0 technology is yet to undergo the process of diffusion in developing and emerging countries.

Figure 1 – Technology adoption rates in Ghana, Thailand, and Viet Nam
1
Source: Delera et al (2022)

Next, we investigate the firm-level drivers of technology adoption. Building on literature on international trade and technology diffusion, we find that being part of a global value chain is associated with a higher probability of adopting advanced digital production technologies of approximately 2.6 percentage points (Figure 2). Subsidiaries of multinational corporations may more readily gain access to new technologies developed abroad, while suppliers may be pressured by international buyers to upgrade their technology. Our analysis indicates that network effects—whereby firms learn from their suppliers and competitors within their industry and geographical area—contribute to stimulating the uptake of new technologies (but this is not reported in the figure).  Firm size and investment in R&D, training and new machinery are also associated with higher rates of digital technology adoption in our sample.

Figure 2 – The drivers of advanced digital technologies (generation IV) adoption
2
Source: Delera et al (2022)

Motivated by the extensive literature on the effects of the adoption of information, communications and technology (ICTs) on firm-level productivity, we also ask whether Industry 4.0 is positively associated with labour productivity in our sample. We find that the adoption of advanced digital technologies is associated with a large, although imprecisely estimated, labour productivity premium (Figure 3). While our findings are consistent across different specifications, including the use of instrumental variables and matching, the cross-sectional nature of our data does not allow us to establish a causal link between technology adoption, firms’ exposure to GVCs and productivity.

Figure 3 – The adoption of advanced digital technologies (generation IV) is linked with a productivity premium
3
Source: Delera et al (2022)

In light of these findings, it is clear that greater investment should go into firm-level research into technology adoption in developing and emerging economies —particularly at a time when technological upheaval and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic threaten to bring about a retrenchment of global trade and investment flows.

– This article was first published by the OECD Development Matters blog and is based on the paper “Does value chain participation facilitate the adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies in developing countries?”.

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) charts path to a connected and united digital future

 

A meeting of the highest decision-making body of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) closed today with Member States reaching consensus on actions to ensure that digital technology reaches and benefits people across the world.

The Plenipotentiary Conference of the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) concluded its work in Bucharest, Romania, with agreements on how to harness the advantages of some of the world’s most promising technologies.

The meeting also adopted ITU’s strategic and budget plans for 2024-2027. ITU’s four-year strategy highlights key priorities for radiocommunication, standardization and development work aimed at connecting the world, driving an inclusive global digital transformation, and helping achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.

“In the near future, digitalization has the capacity to offer solutions to the challenges that humanity is facing, for instance by creating workplaces, promoting education, or fighting climate change and facilitating the green transition,” Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă told delegates in a video message during the quadrennial conference. “Digital transformation and telecommunication development,” he said, “are anchors of the economy of the future.”

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, in his last conference at the helm of the organization, said he had “witnessed first-hand how ICT innovations have changed the world – and how important ITU has been in advancing this digital transformation.”

Reflecting on his 36 years at the organization, including nearly two-and-a-half decades as an elected official, Zhao said: “We need to seize this moment and build on the decisions taken at this global conference to accelerate digital transformation, including for the 2.7 billion people worldwide who are still unconnected.”

Digital networks and technologies have empowered billions of people worldwide. Yet after a surge due to COVID-19, Internet uptake has slowed over the past year, leaving one-third of the world’s population still unconnected.

The international guidance emerging from the conference “will help build a global economy and society that is more sustainable, more prosperous, and more connected,” added Zhao.

Sabin Sărmaș, conference chair and head of host country Romania’s parliamentary Information Technology and Communications Commission, said: “The consensus-based resolutions, built through negotiations and compromise, come as a rare example of accord these days among countries worldwide on issues of mutual concern for the future of humanity and the planet.”

Consensus on our global future

The conference between 26 September and 14 October brought together over 3,000 delegates, including government ministers or officials from 183 of ITU’s 193 Member States, as well as international and regional organizations, academia, and private-sector representatives.

The Final Act bringing together all the resolutions adopted at the Plenipotentiary, was signed by 157 Member States.

Key decisions agreed at the conference included resolutions on:

  • Applying artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for good
  • Confidence-building and sustainable development in outer space
  • Empowering women and girls through digital transformation
  • Frequency assignments by military radio installations for national defence services
  • How new technologies can mitigate, rather than exacerbate, the climate crisis
  • How technologies can protect against global pandemics
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) for smart and sustainable cities and communities

Election results and landmarks

In addition to setting ITU’s priorities, Member States elected the organization’s five top officials.

Delegates made history with the election of Doreen Bogdan-Martin (U.S.) as ITU’s next Secretary-General. Bogdan-Martin will become the first woman to lead the 157-year-old organization, which became a UN specialized agency in 1947.

Zhao, who has championed gender equality both at the UN and in the tech industry, congratulated Bogdan-Martin, adding: “The election of the next ITU leadership team signals the beginning of a new era.”

In other election results, Tomas Lamanauskas was elected as ITU’s Deputy Secretary-General; Mario Maniewicz was re-elected, for his second term, as Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau; Seizo Onoe was elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau; and Cosmas Zavazava was elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Each of the five elected officials will serve a four-year term starting on 1 January 2023.

In addition to the senior leadership, the conference elected 48 Member States to regionally allocated seats on the ITU Council, the governing body between sessions of the quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference.

The conference also selected 12 members to serve on the Radio Regulations Board, an independent authority that safeguards the assignment and use of radio frequencies worldwide.

Strengthening women’s presence 

Romanian organizers envisaged ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference – known as PP-22 – as a model for greener, more gender-responsive, more inclusive international meetings.

A total of 33% of the delegates to the conference in Bucharest were women, compared to 29% at ITU’s last Plenipotentiary, held in Dubai in 2018.

“Our objective was to go beyond the traditional approach and make sure that women would have an equal opportunity to engage on substantial matters for the future of ITU and for digital technology and policy evolution,” said Cristiana Flutur, International Affairs Director at Romania’s National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM), who helped coordinate the conference. “Bringing more female representatives into policy-making circles should encourage more women to take on leadership roles and voice their opinions.”

Parting insights

Two elected officials are set to step down at year-end after reaching the two-term limit in their respective posts.

Current Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson, recalling his 40 years of participation in ITU, first as a delegate and later as an elected official, encouraged ITU to maintain its tradition of working by consensus and to concentrate on its specific competencies, and wished ITU every success for the future.

Chaesub Lee, Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau since 2015, underlined the value of ITU’s diverse expertise, saying: “We have to consider the business aspect, market aspect, even the political aspect of our work as an organization, all based on that technological knowledge, with a technical sense.”

Preparing for the digital future

ITU’s next Plenipotentiary Conference will take place in Doha, Qatar, in 2026.

In December 2023, ITU members will meet at the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to update the Radio Regulations, the sole international treaty governing the use of the radio frequency spectrum, including for geostationary and non-geostationary satellite orbits.

More information:

Follow the discussion at #Plenipot

According to ERIA research, addressing digital divides, including gender digital divides, is key to transition towards a more inclusive post-pandemic recovery in ASEAN.

On 13 October 2022, ERIA participated in the 2022 ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs Conference, ‘Building a More Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Future: Unlocking Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN’, a side event of the 2nd ASEAN Women Leaders’ Summit. ERIA President, Hidetoshi Nishimura, opened the conference together with Her Excellency Dr Ing Khanta Phavi, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Cambodia who hosted the event.

‘Women entrepreneurship and leadership should be at the heart of our recovery. We have to remember that the majority of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in ASEAN are led by women. For instance, in Cambodia, almost 65% of MSMEs are owned by women. ERIA recently conducted a large survey on closing the digital divide in MSMEs and we have found several important findings: The survey suggested that there is (i) an infrastructure gap, (ii) a financial gap, (iii) an ICT skills gap, and (iv) a business knowledge gap’, President Nishimura highlighted during his welcoming speech.

During Session 1 with title ‘Women’s Entrepreneurship Development and the Inclusive COVID 19 Recovery in ASEAN’, Dr Ajmone Marsan, ERIA Director for Strategy and Partnership, presented findings from ERIA research. ‘The economic outlook for ASEAN is positive, with growth projected to be in the range of 5% by leading global financial institutions. However, the post-pandemic recovery is fragile, for example venture capital investment globally and in Asia is declining, and when capital is scarce, typically women entrepreneurs are the first to be worse off’ she mentioned. ‘Women-led MSMEs need to have access to the opportunities offered by the fast digital transformation in ASEAN, they not only need to be able to survive, but also to compete and thrive in the digital economy. This is a huge economic opportunity as the majority of MSMEs across ASEAN are managed by women’.

Other participants in the event included Dr Ahmad Zafarullah, Director of the ASEAN Integration and Monitoring Directorate and senior representatives from UN Women, UN ESCAP, the Canada Mission to ASEAN, and other regional and Cambodian organisations.

The event concluded with the award ceremony from Her Excellency Dr Ing Khanta Phavi, Minister for Women’s Affairs of  Cambodia to a number of women entrepreneurs from ASEAN countries.

  • Spain could become the latest country to offer work visas to digital nomads.
  • Working remotely from another country has, post-pandemic, become increasingly popular.
  • But there are concerns about the impact on local communities.

Spain is poised to become the latest country to open its doors to digital nomads – people who want to move to a new country to work remotely. Here’s what’s important to know about the new visa – and about the digital nomad trend.

Why is Spain considering offering digital nomad visas?

The plan to grant special visas to digital nomads is part of efforts to make Spain a more entrepreneurial nation and is open to anyone living outside the European Economic Area, which includes the 27 European Union nations. EU citizens don’t need a visa to work there.

As well as attracting foreign talent and money, the new law is also aimed at attracting back Spanish citizens who have chosen to live abroad, the government says.

Who is eligible for Spain’s potential digital nomad visa – and how will the visa work?
Under the Startup Act, which is currently passing through the Spanish parliament, any non-EU citizen can apply for a special visa to work in the country as a digital nomad for up to five years. They will need to have lived outside Spain for at least five years to qualify.

Provided no more than a fifth of their income comes from organizations based in Spain, the normal 25% rate of income tax will be reduced to 15% for the first four years they are based in Spain. Digital nomads will be allowed to bring close relatives to live with them.

Although details have yet to be finalized, the Spanish ‘digital nomad visa’ will also be open to executives, start-up employees and investors in a bid to attract talented people and investment while boosting the country’s attractiveness as a global business hub.

Barcelona in Spain is already popular with EU digital nomads. Image: Pixabay.


Who are digital nomads and where do they mostly visit?

Remote working exploded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a global survey, almost half of respondents said the ability to work remotely would influence their future employment decisions.

It’s been estimated that there are currently 35 million digital nomads working around the world with the United States the most popular destination – a study found there were already 10.9 million in 2020, an increase of 49% on the year before.

Almost half of all digital nomads are in their thirties, according to data site Statista. The same research said that most female digital nomads worked in creative industries while the majority of men were software developers.


How has the digital nomad trend grown?

Currently 47 nations worldwide offer visas allowing remote workers to base themselves in their countries, according to the Nomad Girl website which provides information for people who want to travel to and work from other countries.

Not all digital nomads will likely stay in Spain for the full five years. A survey conducted by Lonely Planet and freelance site Fiverr found that a third of digital nomads prefer to move on to another country every one to three months. However, 55%, the so-called “slomads”, said they liked to stay somewhere for at least three months at a time.

One digital nomad blogger recorded that he and his wife had lived at 97 different addresses, slept in 21 countries and flown 270,946 miles during just one year.


It’s been estimated that there are currently 35 million digital nomads working around the world with the United States the most popular destination Image: Statista.


Are digital nomads always welcomed into new countries?

Though the pandemic has popularized remote work, an investigation by the BBC found digital nomads are not always welcome. The BBC reported that digital nomads, earning North European wages and living in the cheaper south, were driving out locals who could no longer afford to live in areas favoured by anywhere workers.

With the right broadband connection, digital nomads can work from anywhere. Image: Unsplash/PeggyAnke


What does the digital nomad trend tell us about changing work habits?

It’s all part of a post-pandemic pattern of changing work habits. A 2022 study by Growmotely found 74% of professionals and 76% of entrepreneurs expect remote work to become the new normal.

After Spotify introduced its Work From Anywhere policy, 2% of its employees – 150 people – moved to live and work from a new country. The company also reported that remote working had boosted the diversity of its workforce.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, had a similar experience after embracing remote working. Its 2022 Diversity Report said it doubled the number of women in its global workforce and the number of Black and Hispanic employees in the US.

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year was told the switch to digital, which was accelerated by the pandemic, had increased demand for employees with digital skills which in turn boosts the options of people with those skills to work remotely.

The Forum’s 2020 report on the Future of Jobs also forecast a rapid expansion of remote working driven by digital technologies based on a survey which found that 44% of businesses planned to move all or part of their workforce to remote working.

We asked the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, Amandeep Singh Gill, about his experience at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) in Bucharest, Romania, and the mounting push for a Global Digital Compact.

What has your experience been like here at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference?

The experience has been fantastic. Firstly, the hosts have been very generous in their meticulous preparations. This allows us to get on with our work fruitfully.

Here is a big shoutout to Romania as the hosts of this meeting.

My experience of meeting with the heads of delegations from countries across different regions has been excellent. I see a lot of enthusiasm for the important items on the agenda of ITU – connectivity, addressing the digital divide, and building the infrastructure for the digital economy of tomorrow.

Obviously, there has also been a lot of interest in the elections for ITU’s next leadership team and governing/custodial bodies in 2023-2026.

Let us talk about the Global Digital Compact. It is something which I know is near and dear to your heart. For those uninitiated, tell us what the Global Digital Compact is, how ITU and our member states can contribute to it, and how it is connected to the new Summit of the Future, which is going to be held in September 2024.

The Summit of the Future in 2024 is an opportunity for the international community to reboot multilateralism and prepare ourselves better for the challenges of tomorrow.

The summit has been decided by the UN General Assembly on the basis of a report that the UN Secretary General was asked to present. This report is called Our Common Agenda – and the Global Digital Compact is one of the proposals in this report. It is to be adopted at the Summit of the Future.

Let me describe our idea of the Global Digital Compact broadly, as its details and contours would be determined by UN member states:

We hope for the Global Digital Compact to be the highest-level-capturing of political will so far, in terms of a comprehensive view of the digital world. It would ideally touch upon the challenges and the risks that digital technologies may pose to human rights, fundamental freedoms, and human agency.

Another focus might be set on the difficulties around data governance and artificial intelligence (AI) governance and on the opportunity to drive progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to connect the unconnected, and to bring technology to the masses so that they can lead better lives.

We want to generate a 360-degree look at the digital world with all its implications, the opportunities. Ultimately, the Global Digital Compact will enable us, as the international community, to better organize ourselves and build a digital future that is open, free, secure, and inclusive.

This is not just something that is for governments alone, because the private sector is a huge player in the digital world. So are civil society, academic networks, and citizens at large. This needs to be a truly multi-stakeholder effort. It can’t only be an intergovernmental effort, and we have to bring all these strands together in an innovative way.

All the diverse voices need to be heard loudly and clearly at the United Nations in New York, so the government representatives are better informed when they work towards the Global Digital Compact.

And how can ITU as a whole organization, as well as its member states individually, contribute to this?

ITU is a premier partner in the build-up of the Global Digital Compact. My office already works very closely with ITU on issues such as connectivity. We are partners in the project Giga that aims to connect every school on Planet Earth to the Internet.

ITU is one of the oldest organizations in the UN system, which gives it tremendous experience in building standards and regulating the allocation of spectrum.

The whole project around the Global Digital Compact starts with the spectrum, as the ultimate source of value in the digital world. Therefore, we are very excited about the input that will come from ITU. Also, the work we will be doing together is in many cases going to be led by ITU.

I know that you are inviting all participants to a consultation on the Global Digital Compact during PP-22. What will be the objective for you there, what are your expectations, and how will the outcome of this be used to build the Global Digital Compact?

We are at the start of a very important conversation that will take place over the next year and plan to have a number of consultations. We will present the overall vision of the Global Digital Compact, which consists of several areas – connectivity, digital divides, digital public infrastructure, digital public goods, data protection, data empowerment, international cooperation around AI, misinformation or disinformation, and protecting human rights online.

We hope to receive input and guidance from the ITU community on the areas that the ITU is currently focused on – Internet connectivity, Internet governance, AI, other emerging technologies, and the build-up of standards for some of these emerging technologies.

These are very valuable insights. No other gathering has that kind of deep expertise and the multiplicity of years of experience. The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference is a must-have stop on our calendar of consultations.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

On 4 October 2022, the WCO Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Ricardo Treviño Chapa, spoke at the third edition of the Barcelona New Economy Week (BNEW) 2022. The BNEW is a unique physical and digital business to business (B2B) event that brings together actors from the real estate, digital industry, mobility, sustainability, talent, investment and experience sectors which all share a common denominator, namely the “New Economy”.

During the BNEW, Mr. Treviño Chapa took part in an international panel discussion on “Safety and Compliance in the International e-Trade” together with Mr. Marcelo Martínez, Project Manager, Organization of American States. The discussion was moderated by Mr. Lisandro Ganuza, Director of the Board of the World Free Zones Organization. Mr. Treviño Chapa began by introducing relevant WCO tools of relevance to business such as the E-Commerce Package comprising the WCO Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce as well as the SAFE Framework of Standards and the WCO Practical Guidance on Free Zones. He explained that these tools had been developed to raise awareness and assist Customs administrations in the implementation of solutions and best practices to ensure the security of supply chains, cross border e-commerce and free zones.

He then turned to the need to work closely with external stakeholders, particularly the private sector, highlighting the importance of the WCO Private Sector Consultative Group and its significant contributions to past and ongoing discussions within different WCO working bodies. He concluded by underscoring the need to foster and increase collaboration and trust between Customs administrations and private sector, free zone and e-commerce actors.

Every day, ITU works together with a large community of partners from around the world with one common goal: to connect the unconnected and make sure that everyone, regardless of gender, has the chance to enjoy the benefits of being online.

ICTs have the power to build stronger communities and to give individuals the chance to work toward their dreams. That’s particularly true for marginalized groups like women and girls, who are often left behind in the digital revolution.

That’s why, today, on International Day of the Girl Child, I’m excited to be able to share two pieces of inspiring news:

First, the theme for Girls in ICT Day 2023 is ‘Digital Skills for Life’, a vital component to helping us achieve universal and meaningful connectivity.

And the finalists of the 2022 EQUALS in Tech Awards!

Back in 2014, ITU and its partners began an annual tradition of recognizing outstanding work in gender digital equality around the world, and shining a light on initiatives, organizations and individuals working hard to make a difference. That initiative grew into our EQUALS in Tech Awards, which celebrate innovation and impact in bridging the digital gender divide.

From microfinance for women entrepreneurs in Latin America, to coding camps and employment fairs for girls in Burundi, to small tech business training for women in Tunisia, and research around the world that promotes evidence-based policymaking, EQUALS in Tech Award winners are transforming communities all around the world.

The 2022 Finalists

Our EQUALS in Tech Awards reflect the focus of our core EQUALS Coalitions in promoting equal internet access, digital skills, and opportunities for leadership in the tech industry.

This year, the EQUALS in Tech Awards committee received 160 nominations from 54 countries across seven regions.

The judges selected three finalists across five categories: Access, Skills, Leadership in SME, Leadership in tech, and Research. And this year, the partnership has also launched a new category – the EQUALS Special Recognition Partner Award – to celebrate an outstanding EQUALS partner whose activities and impact have been a model to gender advocates around the world.

The five winning initiatives and one outstanding EQUALS partner will be selected for their vision, significant impact, and regional importance.

These initiatives are building a brighter digital future for everyone, and I look forward to the wide support of our ITU members and partners.

2022 EQUALS in Tech Award Finalists
ACCESS

App Morada (Mexico) – Designed and evaluated by women with disabilities, this app offers resources to help prevent violence against women, and to help women who experience violence, especially those with disabilities.

Proyecto Digitalización (Mexico) – A scalable digital platform aiming to provide access to education, training, work opportunities and a supportive community for women from all walks of life.

VCEELA (Pakistan) –An ecosystem connecting unconnected and digitally untrained artisans directly to local and international markets.

SKILLS

Mujeres en Tecnología (Argentina) – Through training, research and promotion of cultural change, MeT promotes greater participation of women and gender minorities in technology, for a more a diverse and inclusive digital ecosystem.

EY STEM App (Global) – The EY STEM App is a mobile application that inspires and empowers girls aged 13 to 18 to take up STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.

Czechitas (Czech Republic) – A social impact platform dedicated to creating and growing tech opportunities for women and girls in the Czech Republic, offering practical experiences, hands-on exercises, and real-world applicability.

LEADERSHIP IN SME

Tech Driven Entrepreneur programme (Zimbabwe) – An initiative that aims to bring more women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises into the digital economy and help them grow their business and trade internationally.

Premier Credit (Zambia) – A financial technology company supporting local entrepreneurs and small-scale traders (most of whom are women) with online microlending and investment.

SE 360 and EstroLab (Nigeria) – Complementary initiatives for women’s empowerment, designing tech innovations for women’s safety, economic empowerment and political engagement.

LEADERSHIP IN TECH

Women Technopreneurs (WTECH) (Sri Lanka) – The WTECH Forum seeks to support, promote and nurture women technopreneurs and to increase women’s involvement in the IT industry.

Women Techmakers (Nigeria) – A platform that provides visibility, community, and resources for women in technology through events, leadership programmes and scholarly support.

SheLeadsTech (United States) – An initiative offering resources to identify and provide pathways to educational, professional, and career-building opportunities, so that under-represented populations can access and thrive in leadership roles.

RESEARCH

AfricanWITS Female Ecosystem Mapping (Cameroon) – An initiative that produces annual data in the form of a ‘digital gender’ map spanning several African countries, with the goal of creating an ecosystem of women-led startups and businesses.

MetLife Triangle Tech X (United States) – The MetLife Triangle Tech X summit aims to bridge the gap and future-proof roles for women in STEM. In 2021, MetLife’s Women in STEM Study surveyed diversity issues within STEM.

Educational Digital Equity Initiative (EDEI) (Nigeria) – EDEI seeks to understand the barriers children, particularly girls, face in leveraging the power of technology for learning and other socioeconomic advantages.

2022 EQUALS Special Recognition Partner Award finalists, selected by fellow EQUALS partners:

EY STEM App (also nominated by the public in the Skills Award category) – The EY STEM app targets ages 13-18 with the aim of fostering girls’ and women’s interest in STEM and STEM skills development.

Women’s Worldwide Web (W4) – International, non-profit organization & crowdfunding platform dedicated to girls’ and women’s empowerment.

The 2022 EQUALS in Tech Awards ceremony

In the past two years, the constraints imposed by the pandemic mean we’ve celebrated the annual EQUALS in Tech Awards online, meeting virtually to recognize and cheer-on the incredible work in gender digital equality.

This year, we’re excited to return to an in-person ceremony, as part of the December Partner2Connect (P2C) Annual Meeting at ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

For me, the two events have a natural synergy: EQUALS is a multisectoral partnership addressing the many complex underlying causes of the gender digital divide, and the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition is a multistakeholder alliance to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally. Since universal meaningful connectivity will never be achieved without digital gender equality, bringing together P2C and EQUALS makes for the perfect double-act!

I’m looking forward to seeing a great many of you in Geneva in December, and to joining with all our partners in raising a loud cheer for this year’s winners. We’ll also be making this year’s EQUALS in Tech awards open to the public online, so mark your calendars and watch for more details at equalsintech.org.

WHAT: EQUALS in Tech Awards 2022

WHERE: ITU Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland, during the Partner2Connect Annual Meeting

WHEN: 8 December 2022

I can’t wait to find out which of our finalists will win an EQUALS in Tech Award on 8 December. But no matter who ends up taking the trophies, this year’s incredible finalists are an inspiration to us all in showing what we can achieve when we harness the power of innovation, collaboration and motivation to advancing gender equality in the digital world.

Resources and background information:

History of International Day of the Girl Child

More about International Girls in ICT Day

Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #GirlsinICT and #EQUALSinTech

Learn more about the EQUALS in Tech Awards

In the first part of this commentary, I noted that boosting financial inclusion ranks high across emerging market and developing economies as a motivation for issuing retail central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). The question is, can CBDCs effectively support financial inclusion?

The change in paradigm

Auer et al. (2022) notice that many of the features that characterize CBDC design, as it is evolving from central bank research and practice, can be equally offered by other payment innovations. In addition, combining different payment innovations (open application programming interfaces, fast payment services, contactless chips, and QR codes) could achieve many of the same goals envisaged for CBDC, especially when accompanied by regulatory and oversight arrangements that public authorities can use to catalyze private sector players, enforce sound governance, and foster coordination and collaboration.

It appears that CBDC does not have a unique proposition with respect to financial inclusion. Why, then, do so many central banks place such high expectations on CBDC as a means to promote greater financial inclusion?

The point emphasized here is not that CBDC would improve financial inclusion. Quite the contrary, issuing CBDC — while not a silver bullet to address financial inclusion — would put the central bank under extreme pressure to ensure that CBDC access would be guaranteed everywhere, always, and to everybody across the national jurisdiction. Hence, it would raise the profile of financial inclusion as a national policy priority and put it squarely on the shoulders of the CBDC issuing central bank, at least to the extent that providing digital currency services is concerned.

Not doing so would make the central bank responsible for issuing a national currency that would de facto discriminate between citizens who can access digital instruments, on the one hand, and those who cannot, on the other. Although this is acceptable for money instruments that originate from the private sector, it would not be acceptable for any money originating from the state.

This would set a major change in the financial inclusion paradigm. Being in the lead of the design and implementation of a national financial inclusion strategy would no longer be a matter of central bank preference but a real obligation for the central bank to fulfill.

By implication, a CBDC issuing central bank should stand ready to take any measures necessary to achieve the objective, much as central banks have done historically (and much as they continue to do to this day) to ensure every citizen’s access to physical cash, everywhere and always. These measures could even include extreme ones, ranging, inter alia, from building nationwide agent networks for dealing with CBDC end-users; to supporting costly CBDC development and setup costs as well as migration, marketing, and awareness-building programs, even without private sector participation; and to subsidizing private sector service providers that would otherwise see no business case for supplying services to certain groups of people or for servicing certain country areas.

More broadly, a central bank issuing CBDC would have to bear any share of the bill that delivering CBDC to the whole country would entail, including in circumstances in which the private sector was not willing to take any part in it.  The risk could be for the central bank eventually to find itself entrapped in unsustainable, open-ended commitments.

Conclusion

Such risk would not necessarily materialize. Yet, central banks deciding to move forward with CBDC issuance and recognizing the financial inclusion responsibility that would fall upon them should give serious consideration to critical scenarios such as the one described here.

Central banks should therefore plan well ahead for engaging relevant stakeholders appropriately, to achieve broad national consensus on the CBDC program. They should aim to establish a sound, effective infrastructure for distributing and using CBDC effectively across the whole country, and the stakeholders should agree on a sustainable burden-sharing arrangement that would make the program financially and operationally sustainable.

Similarly, central banks should not shy away from instituting (and, if necessary, even forcing) all the required changes in the governance and access policies of payment systems, or from demanding higher levels of commitment to safety, reliability, and efficiency from stakeholders, with a view to ensuring the success of a truly inclusive CBDC.

References

Auer, R, N Boakye-Adjei, H Banka, A Faragallah, J Frost, H Natarajan, and J Prenio (2022), “Central bank digital currencies: A new tool in the financial inclusion toolkit?” FSI Insights Paper, no. 41, April.

CPMI-World Bank (2020), Payment Aspects of Financial Inclusion in the Fintech Era, report by the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures and World Bank Group, April 2020.

Almost noone!

Or, more accurately, there is no single emergency telephone number where we can call for effective help during or after cyberattacks as we have with physical security. In cyber emergencies, corporate and government help desks and call centers are not of much help.

Still, on a more optimistic note, cybersecurity response spaces are emerging everywhere in tech companies, governments, the insurance industry, and more.

As illustrated below, calls for cybersecurity support will start to be increasingly connected.

The search for the right number and connection for cyber help was in the focus of the lively debate organised by Swiss innovation incubator FONGIT and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP). The event aimed to link vibrant start-up communities based on the left bank of river Rhone in Geneva with the cybersecurity diplomacy and negotiations happening on the right side of the river.

FONGIT’s start-up companies, like all of us, from citizens, companies, and countries, are searching for the answer to the question: Who do you call when you are cyberattacked?

The need for cybersecurity help desks intensifies with our increasing dependence on digital networks. It took human society centuries to develop laws, law enforcement agencies, and courts to protect our lives, rights, and properties. It remains to be seen how long it will take for us to ensure cyber-safety mechanisms and procedures.

Currently, governments cannot ensure reasonable digital security as they can in physical space by protecting our lives, rights and property.

Governments worldwide can’t fulfil the social contract with their citizens! Do we need a new social contract for the digital age, as the UN Secretary-General suggests in his report “Our Common Agenda”?

This is image about Digital Social Contract.

There are many unanswered questions and large open issues ahead. Yet, we need to address the immediate cybersecurity challenges.

Thus, as it was discussed at the FONGIT/GIP panel meeting, the next steps are to evaluate what has been done so far and what can be done to speed up the creation of a safe digital environment.

What has been done?

Various actors are searching for solutions for digital risks. Here’s a summary of the emerging cybersecurity landscape.

Businesses are responding to rapidly-growing cybersecurity demands.Today, most cyberattack victims will go to specialised companies who can help stop attacks and restore activities. Big tech giants are investing heavily in cybersecurity. Also, there are many small companies and start-ups that provide customised and trusted cybersecurity services.

Tech communities have been developing bottom-up resilience via CERTs (computer emergency response teams) networks worldwide.

Insurance, in the face of cyberattacks, is one of the current solutions available with companies offering cyber insurance packages. But, the field is nascent with many open issues on policies, premiums, and risks.

Governments have also intensified their cybersecurity work, especially in 2022 as geopolitical security risks increased with the Ukraine war and other international crises. On a national level, there is a growing number of legislation, critical response centres, and new cybersecurity initiatives.

On the international level, cybersecurity negotiations happen in different global, regional, and new types of fora. At the UN, diplomats negotiate cybersecurity approaches in the UN Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) working on a cybercrime convention in OEWG dealing with lethal autonomous weapons (LAWS).

New multistakeholder approaches that bring together governments, businesses, and academia include: the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace initiated by Microsoft and France, the Christchurch Call to stop terrorist and violent extremist content online after the terrorist attack in New Zealand, and Microsoft proposed the Digital Geneva Convention as a solution for cybersecurity challenges.

Organisational cultures and procedures are the main challenges. With businesses, governments, and other organisations, there are many gaps in ensuring a cybersecurity culture. Even if there are available policies, they are often unobserved.

Individual users are often the weakest link in cybersecurity protection. More simple ‘cyber hygiene’ measures are needed to avoid trivial mistakes such as writing passwords next to the computer, not updating anti-virus software, and being careless while using online resources. Cybersecurity awareness building and education are needed on all levels of society from local communities to schools and companies.

What can be done?

All actors from citizens to companies and countries play essential roles in effective cybersecurity solutions. However, the cybersecurity landscape will take time to develop while calls for help will become increasingly urgent. As these calls need to be answered immediately, we need a lot of wisdom in developing fast solutions while having a strategic cybersecurity direction. In a way, we have to be ready to sprint, by answering immediate problems, and run a marathon, as we develop a cybersecurity landscape.

In International Geneva, around the two banks of the river Rhone, businesses, diplomats, and academics can run this cybersecurity marathon/sprint race.

fongit gip
Map of Geneva Digital Landscape

Important steps were taken during the GIP/FONGIT panel on 5th October 2022. We invite you to join us in the next steps of this complex journey which should answer this rather simple question: Who do you call when you are cyberattacked?

Keep up with the latest cybersecurity updates, 2022 cybersecurity trends, and analysis on the GIP Digital Watch dedicated page!

It is Diplo’s 20th anniversary! Celebrate with us and visit our dedicated page.

Stay updated with the Plenipotentiary Conference, the supreme decision-making body of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). At this highest-level meeting, 193 Member States will agree on ITU’s strategic and financial plans, leadership, and direction for the next four years.

Learn more about PP-22 here, or scroll down for regular updates from the conference.


14 October

The final day of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) saw the signing of the Final Acts by 157 Member States.

The signing of the Final Acts precedes the PP-22 closing ceremony. Image credit: ITU/M. Jacobson-Gonzalez

The last plenary session proceeded with the closing ceremony, which began with Romania’s National Chamber Choir Madrigal–Marin Constantin performing a reprise of the official PP-22 hymn, ‘Connect and Unite.’

Romania’s National Chamber Choir Madrigal–Marin Constantin performs at the PP-22 closing ceremony.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Next,  Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae-Ionel Ciucă, addressed PP-22 delegates via video message.

“Digital transformation and telecommunication development are anchors of the economy of the future,” he said, expressing gratitude to delegates from across the world.

Romanian Prime Minister Nicolae-Ionel Ciucă addresses PP-22 delegates via video message. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, whose tenure ends this year, delivered his final Plenipotentiary address.

“Serving as TSB Director, Deputy Secretary-General, and Secretary-General was the pride and honour of my life,” he said in his farewell speech, reflecting on his storied 36-year career.

“Over three decades, I witnessed first-hand how ICT innovations have changed the world – and how important ITU has been in advancing this digital transformation,” he added.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao delivers his farewell speech during the PP-22 closing ceremony. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Zhao called on delegates to advocate for an ITU that is both a technical and a development agency, and to spread this message inside and outside the ITU family. “Like in all families, we have stood together in good and hard times,” he said, adding: “The future of ITU is in very capable hands.”

Outgoing ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson, whose tenure also ends this year, addressed the Plenipotentiary Conference for the last time.

“It’s 40 years this year since I first participated in ITU,” said Johnson during his farewell speech, “firstly as a delegate, as Director of TSB, and finally as DSG.” He expressed hopes for the organization’s future, bolstered by “ITU’s unique tradition of reaching decisions by consensus.”

ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson delivers his farewell speech during the PP-22 closing ceremony.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Citing the importance of collaboration, cooperation, and coordination, Johnson added:

“I look forward to a new era for an invigorated ITU that will face the challenges ahead.”

Also concluding his tenure in 2022, outgoing Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) Director Dr. Chaesub Lee, addressed the closing plenary:

“I am a lucky engineer, having had so many opportunities to contribute to the development of global networks – the essential infrastructure of today’s society,” he said, reflecting on his 35 years at ITU, including 8 as an elected official.

Dr. Chaesub Lee delivers his farewell speech during the PP-22 closing ceremony. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

“My responsibility is ending, but my journey within the ICT community will not stop,” Lee added, noting how his farewell speech was delivered on World Standards Day.

ITU Medals and Certificates of Recognition were presented to the salient elected officials for their service and contributions to the development of global telecommunications.

Salient elected officials received medals and certificates of recognition for their service and contributions
to the development of global telecommunications. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

“Historic achievements for the Union and its Member States gives us reason to be proud for the work we put in,” said PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș in his closing remarks.

“Together, we made this world a bit better. It’s up to each of us to continue what we started here in Bucharest.”

Extraordinary session of ITU Council 2023

Earlier on 14 October, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao welcomed and congratulated Member States newly elected to the ITU Council, whose role is to set the organization’s strategic direction and budget plans between Plenipotentiary Conferences.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao addresses the extraordinary session of ITU Council 2023. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

César Martinez of Paraguay was elected Chair of ITU Council 2023, after which he highlighted the success of PP-22 on the conference’s closing day after arduous weeks of work.

ITU Council Chair César Martinez presides over the extraordinary session. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

“Now we start a new phase,” he said, noting the new Council’s focus on ITU’s strategic plan for 2024-2027, set out in the updated Resolution 71.

“I will spare no efforts in respecting the objectives of ITU endorsed at PP-22 through Resolution 71,” he added.

Also, during the extraordinary session, Frédéric Sauvage of France was elected Vice Chair of ITU Council 2023.

ITU Council Vice-Chair Frederic Sauvage. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

The first session of ITU Council is set to take place from 11 to 21 July 2023.

13 October

The penultimate day of the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) saw Member States reach milestone agreements on a range of key topics, including the ITRs, Internet governance, cybersecurity, and ITU’s strategic plan for the next four years.

International Telecommunication Regulations review and revision

The revised Resolution 146, on the periodic review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), calls to continue consideration of issues relating to the ITRs, including their review.

It instructs the ITU Secretary General to reconvene the Expert Group on ITRs (EG-ITRs), open to ITU Member States and Sector Members, with terms of reference and working methods established by the ITU Council.

The Council is instructed to review and revise the terms of reference for the EG ITR at its 2023 session, review EG-ITR reports at its annual sessions, and submit the final report of the EG-ITR to the 2026 Plenipotentiary Conference with the Council’s comments. Finally, the revised resolution invites the 2026 Plenipotentiary Conference to consider the EG-ITR final report and take necessary action.

ITU’s role in Internet governance

The final days of PP-22 saw delegates reach consensus number of resolutions on Internet governance following a series of long and complex discussions.

Delegates agreed to update Resolution 102 on ITU’s role in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, which says that ITU may assist Member States to identify and access advice and support from other relevant entities and organizations, which include the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regional Internet registries (RIRs), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), among others.

Member States also resolved to strengthen the work of the ITU Council Working Group on Internet (CWG-Internet), so it can continue addressing international Internet-related public policy issues. CWG-Internet is tasked with contributing actively to implement the resolution and related international initiatives within the mandate of ITU.

In addition, revised Res. 102 instructs the ITU Secretary-General to participate in international discussions on the management of Internet domain names, addresses, and other Internet resources, the impact of new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs into account. The ITU SG is also tasked with the continued promotion of Internet connectivity for sustainable development, and to engage in other relevant UN activities on international Internet related public policy issues and to promote the work of ITU and its members.

When it comes to decisions affecting country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), Member States instruct ITU bureau directors to respect the sovereign and legitimate interests defined by each country in diverse ways, and to address them through flexible and improved frameworks and mechanisms.

Internet protocol-based networks

Recalling relevant Opinions of the Sixth World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Policy Forum (WTPF-21), Member States updated Resolution 101 to request the three ITU sectors (radiocommunication, standardization and development) to take the impact of new and emerging telecommunication/ICT services into account as they consider updates to their work programmes on IP-based networks.

Revised Res. 101 also invites Member States and Sector Members to participate in this work, and to increase awareness at national, regional, and international levels among all interested stakeholders.

Internationalized domain names

A multilingual Internet can help build digital skills and literacy, especially for people in developing countries who have yet to be connected. In this context, internationalized domain names (IDNs) promote greater Internet use by all, and can contribute to sustainable development by promoting Internet accessibility and use in local languages.

Recalling the need to continue the regional expansion of the Domain Name System (DNS) root server instances to increase its resilience, and to promote internationalized domain names (IDNs) to overcome linguistic barriers and increase Internet accessibility, delegates revised Resolution 133 on the role of Members States in managing internationalized (multilingual) domain names.

The revised resolution recognizes the importance of community engagement and information sharing to get a better understanding of existing challenges and to support solutions, particularly in developing countries.

Member States and Sector Member are invited to exchange information on IDN development, work on the further deployment and implementation of IDNs; to promote capacity building, information sharing, and the exchange of best practices among all stakeholders in IDN implementation and deployment; and to consider how to further promote the adoption of universal acceptance in respect of IDNs and to collaborate and coordinate with relevant organisations and stakeholders in enabling the use of IDNs in the Internet.

Revised Res. 133 also notes the need for consistent and continuous reporting to ITU Council on IDNs given ITU’s membership in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). ITU leadership is instructed to report annually to ITU Council on activities and achievements, including related activities in the ICANN GAC.

Deploying IPv6

In revised Resolution 180 on promoting Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) deployment, Member States agreed to support other Member States who request capacity building assistance, including support from relevant organizations, which include ICANN, the RIRs, IETF, ISOC, and W3C, among others.

Member States and Sector Members are invited to encourage IP-based telecommunication/ICT services and infrastructure support IPv6; share best practices in IPv6 deployment; to encourage industry and academia to participate in IPv6 deployment and capacity building; and to encourage government agencies and private-sector organizations to ensure their websites and services support IPv6.

Strengthening ITU’s role in building confidence and security in the use of ICTs

Revisions of Resolution 130 invite ITU Member States to encourage their national computer incident response teams (CIRTs) to collaborate with other national and subnational governmental agencies and encourage the engagement of experts in ITU’s activities in the area of building confidence and security in the use of ICTs.

ITU Member States are also invited to identify the basic security measures that their public should take to protect themselves from cyber risks, and promote them, as well as encourage information sharing on cybersecurity issues and best practices, at national, regional and international levels. They are also invited to support and engage in efforts that lead to sustainable, secure and stable national telecommunication/ICT infrastructure.

The revised resolution invites ITU Member States, Sector Members and Associates to promote the development of educational and training programmes to enhance user awareness of risks in cyberspace, especially for women, children, persons with disabilities, persons with specific needs, and persons with age-related disabilities, and the steps that they can take to protect themselves.

They are also invited to promote initiatives to encourage more people to enter the cybersecurity profession and to provide training opportunities for them and to provide initiatives so that women and girls can have access to studies and careers in cybersecurity.

Furthermore, ITU Member States, Sector Members and Associates are invited to contribute to the ITU’s repository of best practices on measures that facilitate and encourage more people to choose a career in cybersecurity, and are also invited to engage in the improvement of the Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI) process, including the discussion on the methodology, structure, weightage and questions, using the GCI expert group and to share best practices and information about digital certificates.

ITU strategic plan for 2024-2027

Member States have approved new goals and targets, along with updated priorities for advancing towards universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation, with a newly revised Resolution 71 outlining the ITU strategic plan for 2024-2027.

This latest four-year plan enhances ITU’s universal connectivity goal with targets for ensuring Internet access for all. It also bolsters ITU’s environmental priorities as part of sustainable digital transformation.

The plan’s targets for inclusive and secure infrastructure aim to enhance fixed and broadband connectivity and access, radiocommunications use, and digital skills and literacy worldwide, as well as upgrading knowledge and capacities among ITU members. The plan also promotes technology-centric innovation and entrepreneurship, along with innovative regulation to help developing countries advance digital inclusion.

Noting the world’s persistent digital divide, the revised strategic plan reaffirms ITU’s role in expanding connectivity worldwide and promotes technologies as a key driver for sustainable post-COVID development.

Revised Res. 71 also suggests enhancing the role of ITU’s regional offices, incorporating the gender perspective and mainstreaming diversity across ITU’s work, and continuing to implement the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The latest plan clarifies key areas of ITU’s work, provides a clear focus for the next four years, encourages strong coordination among ITU’s radiocommunication, standardization, and development sectors, and strengthens the framework for results-based management. It also paves the way for strengthening international cooperation and partnerships; updating human capacity, processes, procedures, and tools; and ensuring integration and harmonization with other UN organizations.

WTPF to address challenges and opportunities of new technologies

PP-22 on Thursday approved an updated Resolution 2 on ITU’s World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF) with an emphasis on addressing the challenges and opportunities arising from new and emerging telecommunication/ICT services and technologies.

The sixth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-21), held in a virtual format in December 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, succeeded in producing consensus opinions for consideration by ITU’s Member States and Sector Members and other stakeholders. The revised resolution encourages with sharing of WTPF reports and opinions with relevant UN agencies and committees and international and regional organizations.

Future networks in developing countries

International mobile telecommunication (IMT) systems and other technologies can help bridge the digital divide and promote affordable broadband connectivity, especially in developing countries.

With the costly nature of deploying future networks in mind, PP-22 delegates revised Resolution 137 on the deployment of future networks in developing countries to instruct ITU leadership to invite relevant international organisations to share information on creating an enabling environment to develop and deploy future networks affordably.

ITU Member States and Sector Members are invited to consider future developments to accelerate the digital economy, and to enhance the affordability and availability of telecommunications and ICT equipment to deploy future networks.

Fostering ecosystems for innovation

Revised Resolution 205 on ITU’s role in fostering telecommunication/ICT-centric innovation to support the digital economy and society directs ITU to support institutional capacity building and foster sustainable technology development that encourages innovation, through cooperation with stakeholders including government, academia, the private sector, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), start-ups, incubation centres, and young entrepreneurs.

Connecting refugee settlements to the Internet

Delegates agreed on a recommendation that instructs the ITU Secretary-General to continue collaborating with UNHCR and other relevant UN bodies regarding connectivity in support of refugees, taking into account specific mandates of different agencies, and within ITU’s budget. The ITU Secretary-General is also tasked with reporting to ITU Council meetings over the next period, and to the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, on actions taken.

ITU Telecom

PP-22 agreed to suppress Resolution 11 (Rev. Dubai 2018) on ITU Telecom events.

Additional decisions

Thursday saw several other decisions and resolutions approved during two plenary sessions, including:

  • Decision 5: Revenue and expenses for the Union for the period 2024-2027
  • Res. 2: World telecommunication/information and communication technology policy forum
  • Res. 77: Scheduling and duration of conferences, forums, assemblies and Council sessions of the Union (2023-2027)
  • Res. 131: Measuring ICTs to build an integrating and inclusive information society
  • Res. 139: Use of telecommunications/information and communication technologies to bridge the digital divide and build an inclusive information society
  • Res. 167: Strengthening and developing ITU capabilities for electronic meetings and means to advance the work of the Union
  • Res. 203: Connectivity to broadband networks

#Plenipot highlights

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș opened the 16th Plenary by thanking all delegates for the commitment shown thus far.

“Over the past 3 weeks, you have helped break the glass ceiling by electing the first woman Secretary-General, and adopted historic resolutions that will take ITU forward,” Sărmaș said, inviting delegates to share their own highlights from the conference on their social media accounts using the hashtag #Plenipot.

Youth highlights

Two delegates took the floor to share highlights from the prior week’s “Youth at PP-22 initiative” during which Generation Connect Youth Envoys and young social media creators organized three side events.

Youth delegates address the plenary. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

They expressed gratitude to Australia and Romania for their efforts to support youth at PP-22, and thanked all delegates for their positive impact on young leaders “who have so much to give to ITU in return.”

“The biggest smiles I’ve seen on delegates’ faces were after your events,” said PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș, thanking youth representatives for their energetic presence during the second week of the conference.

PP-22 Chair addresses the plenary. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
Committee Chairs and Vice-Chairs recognized

During the 16th plenary session on the morning of 13 October, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presented the Chair of each PP-22 committee with a certificate of appreciation in recognition of their leadership.

PP-22 committee Chairs receive certificates of appreciation during the 17th plenary on 13 October. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

The Vice-Chairs of the conference were also thanked for their hard work and support.

PP-22 committee Vice-Chairs receive certificates of appreciation during the 17th plenary on 13 October. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

During the 17th plenary session on the afternoon of 13 October, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presented certificates of appreciation to Sebastian Burduja, Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digitization of Romania and Vlad Stoica, President of Romania’s Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM) for their efforts in organizing a successful Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presents a certificate of appreciation to Sebastian Burduja, Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digitization of Romania. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presents a certificate of appreciation to Vlad Stoica, President of Romania’s Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM). Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

12 October

Delegates reached consensus on a number of key decisions at Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) on Wednesday, on topics including space sustainability and the role of telecommunications/ICTs in mitigating global pandemics.

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș congratulated delegates on passing several new resolutions, saying: “we are doing better and better.”

PP-22 Chair presiding over the plenary session. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
Delegates reach consensus on space policy issues

During the 15th Plenary session, delegates agreed on several space policy issues, adopting two new resolutions.

new resolution on the sustainability of the radio-frequency spectrum and associated satellite orbit resources used by space services underscores the urgent need to review technologies used in satellite networks in the geostationary satellite orbit (GSO), as well as the increased numbers of satellites within non-GSO satellite systems, with a view to addressing them in the Radio Regulations, if necessary, and in the processing of frequency assignments by the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau (BR).

The resolution also notes the urgency of addressing issues associated with non-GSO satellite systems before they are launched and operational.

As such, Member States instructed the Radiocommunication Assembly (RA) to urgently perform the necessary studies through ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) study groups to address the increasing use of radio-frequency spectrum and associated orbit resources in non-GSO orbits and the long-term sustainability of these resources. The resolution also instructs the RA to have ITU-R study groups investigate equitable access to, and rational and compatible use of, GSO and non-GSO orbit and spectrum resources in line with Article 44 of the ITU Constitution.

Delegates jointly expressed their gratitude to the administrations that helped create the new resolution, saying:

“Our concerns are reflected in this high-level compromise of what administrations were willing to address. However, this is only a first step in the right direction to ensure the rational use of satellite orbits, and addressing equitable access to space by all nations as provided by Article 44.”

They noted additional concerns that fall outside the scope of ITU’s mandate, such as environmental impacts, space safety and debris, pollution, and other critical issues, should be studied where necessary.

Also today, Member States approved a new resolution on ITU’s role in implementing the Space2030 Agenda, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 October 2021, on space as a driver of sustainable development.

Space technology and applications, as well as data derived from space, contribute to a range of sustainable development activities, from environmental protection to disaster risk reduction and emergency response, energy infrastructure to agriculture and food security, and more.

According to this new resolution, ITU should support the implementation of the Space2030 Agenda, especially the parts related to space services, given the organization’s unique role in facilitating access to radio spectrum and associated satellite orbits per Article 44 of the ITU Constitution.

At the same time, the resolution notes how national frequency assignments and allotments, especially those of developing countries, have been severely degraded over time, making it difficult for those countries to use them.

The upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) and subsequent WRCs are therefore instructed to continue prioritizing equitable access to satellites orbits with the special needs of developing countries in mind.

Learn more about the Space2030 Agenda.

Finally, Resolution 186 was revised to strengthen ITU’s role in transparency and confidence-building measures in outer space activities by instructing the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) Director to make satellite monitoring facility information available to governments.

Newly re-elected Radiocommunication Bureau Director Mario Maniewicz addresses the plenary. Image credit; ITU/R. Farrell

“We are transiting through a new era of space development that poses a big challenge for ITU, and for the international community at large,” said newly re-elected ITU Radiocommunication Bureau Director Mario Maniewicz, adding:

“We are already receiving filings with thousands of satellites – something that never happened before in history. Dealing with all those using the same rules we used before is a real challenge – but we are ready to face it, with your support, when it comes to fulfilling new requirements to deliver. We are enthusiastic about these new developments that will bring more means of communication and a comprehensive way of using space for the benefit of humanity, and for the planet.”

New resolution on mitigating global pandemics

COVID-19 and its associated disruptions to public life have made affordable information and communication technologies (ICTs) and connectivity vital for countries worldwide. A new resolution adopted at PP-22 on Wednesday focuses on the role of telecommunications/ICTs in mitigating global pandemics.

UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/74/270 on global solidarity to fight COVID-19 urges UN agencies “to mobilize a coordinated global response to the pandemic and its adverse social, economic and financial impact on all societies.”

ITU’s new resolution calls for cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other UN organizations and stakeholders to promote existing, new, and emerging telecommunications/ICTs to address the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also asks Member States to consider how to reduce the severity and number of emergency situations caused by COVID.

The latest World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-21) noted how technologies could strengthen future pandemic and epidemic preparedness and response. As COVID-19 has demonstrated, access to relevant information is crucial for public safety. Providing connectivity and informing communities in local languages, for example, can help save lives. Along with expanding affordable technology access and connectivity, the new resolution underlines the need for digital inclusion and skills to mitigate the effects of both COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Noting the ongoing ITU-WHO-UNICEF initiative to provide updated COVID-19 information, the resolution encourages international cooperation to raise awareness, build capacity, and share best practices and lessons in using existing, new, and emerging telecommunications/ICTs to respond to pandemics. It also invites engagement with telecom/ICT providers and others to support jobs, especially among small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and to continue education in the face of a pandemic.

Combating counterfeit and tampered devices

An expanded Resolution 188 on combating counterfeit telecom and ICT devices now covers devices subjected to tampering, encouraging cooperation with telecommunication/ICT standards development organizations, regional and international organizations including agencies like the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), and the World Customs Organization, as well as with industry, to detect counterfeiting and tampering. ITU’s Bureau Directors should promote solutions to mitigate the challenges emerging from counterfeit and tampered telecom/ICT devices.

Additional decisions

Other decisions and resolutions passed at Wednesday’s plenary session include:

  • Decision 11: Creation and management of Council working groups
  • Res. 101: Internet protocol-based networks
  • Res. 133: Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names
  • Res. 191: Strategy for the coordination of efforts among the three Sectors of the Union
  • Res. 48: Human resources management and development
  • Res. 162: Independent management advisory committee
  • Res. 208: Appointment and maximum term of office for chairmen and vice-chairmen of Sector advisory groups, study groups and other groups
Participation of Sector Members from developing countries in radiocommunications and standardization

Companies and organizations from developing countries need support to engage in ITU radiocommunication and standardization work.

During a 10 October plenary session, Member States approved revised Resolution 170, which calls for focused engagement and additional support to ITU Sector Members from developing countries within the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) and the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU T), to encourage more such members to join and mobilize their expertise into ITU’s work.

The next Plenipotentiary Conference should make a final decision on such participation based on an evaluation by the Council Working Group on financial and human resources, with the assistance of the ITU secretariat.

India to host WTSA 2024

Also during the 15th plenary on Wednesday, delegates unanimously agreed on India’s invitation to host the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) in 2024.

Numerous Member States extended their appreciation to India for their flexibility, as the country was meant to host WTSA in 2020 but could not due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The delegation from India in the plenary session on 12 October. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

The Indian delegation thanked Member States who expressed support.

“Standardization which provides interoperability is the main focus of the discussions,” they said, adding how they look forward to welcoming delegates to their country.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao took the floor to mention the major conferences to be held in forthcoming years: WRC-23 in the United Arab Emirates, WTSA-24 in India, WTDC-25 in Thailand, and PP-26 in Qatar.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao addresses the plenary on 12 October. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Zhao also noted Rwanda’s invitation to host the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2027.

“The ITU secretariat will start to work with all host countries to reconfirm our arrangements, and report to Council to make decisions on these host country invitations,” he added.


11 October

Delegates reached consensus on another set of key decisions during Tuesday’s plenary session at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22), including two new resolutions.

New resolution on the use of frequency assignments by military radio installations for national defence services

In a landmark decision at PP-22, Member States agreed on how to address cases of possible misuses of Article 48 of the ITU Constitution, which addresses military radio installations for national defence services.

The new resolution considers the current lack of specific provisions or procedures in the Radio Regulations related to the invocation of Article 48 when processing, recording and maintaining in the Master International Frequency Register frequency assignments to stations that are part of military radio installations.

In case a Member State invokes Article 48 in relation to frequency assignments for space or terrestrial services, the new resolution says:

  • The Member State undertakes obligations to use such frequency assignments for military radio installations.
  • All relevant provisions of the Radio Regulations still apply for non-military radio installations.
  • The Member State undertakes obligations to revoke the invocation of Article 48 if the frequency assignment is no longer used for military radio installations.

Moreover, if the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau receives information about a possible misuse of radio frequency assignments under Article 48, the Bureau should seek clarification from the Member State invoking Article 48.

Finally, Member States agreed on a mechanism to address persisting disagreements about a Radiocommunication Bureau assessment. In such cases, the matter shall be referred to the Radio Regulations Board (RRB) together with the Member State’s basis for the disagreement. If the Member State disagrees with the RRB decision, it may appeal to the next World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC), and the RRB decision will remain on hold until the WRC decides on the matter.

ITU Radiocommunication Bureau Director Mario Maniewicz thanked Member States that sent ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) experts to the Plenipotentiary Conference to be able to adequately address this and other radiocommunication-related matters submitted to the conference.

“The resolution works as it was drafted,” he said. “It is a good resolution that shows the will of the membership for Article 48 to be used properly.”

ICTs, climate change, and environmental protection

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. While information and communication technologies (ICTs) form part of the problem due to their carbon emissions and e-waste, they can also help to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation.

Delegates at PP-22 agreed to revise Resolution 182 on the role of telecommunications and ICTs in the context of climate change and environmental protection.

The updated resolution encourages the telecommunications/ICT sector to minimize emissions by 2030 in line with Paris Agreement trajectories; to adopt science-based targets (SBT) in the short run and net-zero targets in the long run; and to report publicly on their efforts.

ITU’s leadership is tasked with considering online practices developed during the pandemic and leveraging ITU’s ICT Development Fund (ICT-DF) to help developing and least developed countries use ICTs to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts.

Among other calls to action, the newly updated resolution invites ITU members to:

  • promote energy supply efficiency, including through smart grids and renewable energy sources;
  • encourage telecommunications/ICT companies to assess their environmental impact along the entire value chain and assist them where appropriate;
  • cooperate to maximize the enabling effect of telecommunications/ICTs in combatting climate change and protecting the environment while reducing their environmental footprint as much as possible;
  • increase investments in emerging telecommunications/ICTs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, to mitigate and adapt to climate change impacts, and to improve e-waste solutions;
  • consider increasing financing for telecommunications/ICTs in the context of mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change and natural disasters.
ITU’s future headquarters

Updates to Resolution 212 on ITU’s future headquarters premises welcome a new sponsorship by Kuwait and donations from Nigeria, and Ghana, on top of the project’s original sponsorships by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and a donation from the Czech Republic. The revised resolution also recognizes Switzerland’s offer to help ITU with conference-hosting solutions until the new building opens.

Through the revised Res. 212, Member States have confirmed their commitment to the construction of the future ITU headquarters, which will offer sustainable, state-of-the-art working and conference facilities at the heart of International Geneva.

Learn more about the new ITU Headquarters building project.

Ensuring business continuity

PP-22 approved a new resolution on ITU’s business continuity management for 2023-2026, in which Member States resolve to pay close attention to further developing, monitoring and adapting ITU business continuity strategy and policy.

Strengthening the ITU regional presence

An updated Resolution 25 says ITU’s regional and area offices should keep strengthening their relations with regional telecommunications organizations, deepen cooperation with UN country teams, and pay particular attention to the least developed countries.

Non-discriminatory access to ICT facilities, services and applications

At PP-22, delegates revised Resolution 64 on non-discriminatory access to telecommunication/information and communication technology (ICT) facilities, services and applications, including applied research and transfer of technology, and e-meetings, on mutually agreed terms. The updated resolution instructs ITU leadership to dedicate attention to activities related to this resolution during pandemics.

Other resolutions passed

Delegates also agreed on revised Resolution 148 on the tasks and functions of the Deputy Secretary-General, and Resolution 180 on promoting deployment of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).


10 October

On the first day of the final week of the 2022 Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22), delegates agreed on several key resolutions.

New resolution on artificial intelligence

Recognizing ITU’s important role in technology and development, PP-22 delegates passed an historic new resolutionon artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and telecommunications/ICTs.

“For the first time in its history, ITU has a resolution on artificial intelligence,” remarked Working Group of the Plenary (WG-PL) Chair Kwame Baah-Acheamfuor.

Resolution WGPL/1 notes work already underway across ITU, including but not limited to the AI for Good platform, convened in partnership with more than 40 United Nations partner agencies, and its AI repository. AI for Good seeks to identify practical applications of AI to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ongoing work takes place in several study groups, focus groups and capacity building activities examining the intersection between AI, telecommunications, and information and communication technologies (ICTs) to facilitate sustainable development.

Delegates resolved that ITU should continue its work on AI related to telecommunication and ICTs within its mandate and core competencies, including studies, information sharing, and capacity building. The resolution also calls for ITU to foster a telecommunication/ICT ecosystem for the deployment of AI technologies, while noting how the full realization of AI technologies in this context will bring both opportunities and challenges and will require bridging digital divides.

With developing countries in mind, the new resolution instructs the ITU Secretary-General, in consultation with ITU’s three Bureau Directors, to foster information-sharing and build understanding about the challenges and opportunities of deploying AI technologies in support of telecommunications and ICTs.

The high-level resolution also instructs the ITU Secretary-General, in consultation with ITU’s three Bureau Directors, to identify collaboration opportunities with other relevant organizations and stakeholders. It is important to note that ITU co-chairs, with UNESCO, the United Nations interagency working group on AI activities.

ITU Member States, Sector Members, and Academia Members are invited to promote a common understanding of how a strong telecommunication/ICT ecosystem can support AI technologies, considering the many AI use cases that contribute to sustainable development.

The resolution also invites ITU members to share experiences and contribute to international multistakeholder discussions, capacity building, and studies on AI applications aimed at helping to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in line with ITU’s mandate.

AI comprises a broad set of methods and disciplines, including computer vision, natural language processing, decision making, problem solving, robotics and other applications that enable machines to learn. While AI has the potential to advance economic development and drive progress across all SDGs, its use also entails extensive socioeconomic and ethical implications. Many governments and organizations are preparing for the widespread adoption and use of AI technologies with these opportunities and challenges in mind.

Mainstreaming a gender perspective in ITU

ITU Member States revised Resolution 70, which seeks to promote gender equality and empower women and girls through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The revised resolution notes that unequal access to ICTs for women and girls harms everyone, especially in low-income countries. It also notes the importance of fully engaging men and boys, as agents and beneficiaries of change, to achieve gender equality.

It also encourages Member States and Sector Members to collect and contribute sex-disaggregated data to support ITU activities on gender equality issues, to highlight trends in the sector, and to set benchmarks towards achieving equality.

Member States also resolved to encourage the adoption of gender inclusive language in ITU’s work.

Revised Res. 70 invites Member States to actively encourage the participation of women in ITU activities such as Network of Women (NoW) initiatives and Women in Standardization Expert Group (WISE) activities, and to encourage greater participation of women in their delegations.

Mina Seonmin Jun of the Republic of Korea presides over Committee 5 on policy and legal issuesImage credit: ITU/R. Farrell

In the same vein, the ITU Secretary-General is instructed to facilitate the creation of a consultative mechanism that supports the alignment, cooperation and coordination of activities that empower women across all three ITU Sectors, in close consultation with their respective networks and groups; to continue supporting cross-sectoral training and upskilling of women delegates, within ITU’s available resources; and to consider creating a sponsorship programme that supports women delegates who have completed training and upskilling initiatives to attend ITU meetings, in order to facilitate a pipeline of women delegates to ITU conferences and assemblies.

Vernita Harris of the Unites States presides over Committee 6 on administration and management. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Revised Res. 70 also invites ITU’s Member States and Sector Members to encourage men to support women and girls in leveraging the opportunities offered by telecommunications and ICTs.

PP-22 has sought specifically – with the stated aim of holding an inclusive, gender-responsive conference – to encourage the active participation of women in leadership roles, such as chairing committees. According to official conference statistics, 33 per cent of the delegates present are women.

Read about women delegates connecting and uniting at PP-22 on the ITU News blog.

Bridging the standardization gap

Holding ITU meetings at the broader regional level can increase the participation of developing countries within each of ITU’s designated regions. Resolution 123 on bridging the standardization gap between developing and developed countries was revised on this basis, with a particular focus on boosting the engagement of academia members from developing countries.

Revised Res. 123 calls for collaboration with relevant academia, in close collaboration between ITU’s Standardization Sector (ITU-T) and Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R), while also taking into consideration the activities conducted through ITU Academy Training Centres and other capacity-building initiatives of the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT).

Joint meetings with other organizations at the regional level could encourage more participation by developing countries.

The revised resolution envisages “joint meetings of regional groups of study groups, in particular if concatenated with a regional workshop and/or a meeting of a regional standardization body and meetings of the regional organizations” for any given region.

Such regional organizations include the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL), the Regional Commonwealth in the Field of Communications (RCC), the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the Council of Arab Ministers of Telecommunication and Information represented by the Secretariat-General of the League of Arab States (LAS), the Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT) and the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT).

ITU regional offices should be engaged in activities related to bridging the standardization gap, including raising awareness within developing countries. ITU’s Secretary-General and Bureau Directors are tasked with promoting active participation in all three ITU Sectors, and to propose candidates for study group chairmanship and vice-chairmanship positions, particularly from developing countries.

Youth empowerment through ICTs

For young people to engage meaningfully in society, they must be equipped with the skills and opportunities to advance their vision of a connected future. But a lack of connectivity along with numerous other barriers can prevent young people from obtaining digital skills and education.

The United Nations defines ‘youth’ as people between the ages of 15 and 24, who today account for 16 per cent of the global population. According to a joint report by UNICEF and ITU, some 63 per cent of youth (almost 760 million young people) lack Internet access at home.

Preparing youth with digital education and opportunities can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals – and particularly Goal 8 on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all. ​

On Monday, delegates revised Resolution 198 on the empowerment of youth through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The revisions were added to the already strong commitment ITU and its Member States made to youth empowerment, as mandated by PP-18 (Dubai).

The revised resolution additionally recognizes the ITU Youth Strategy as the operational framework for strengthening ITU’s capacities in engaging and empowering youth through ICTs. Within this framework, ITU’s Generation Connect initiative aims to engage and empower global youth, encouraging their participation as partners alongside today’s leaders of digital change.

The updated Resolution 198 calls for ITU to make youth engagement and participation regular aspects of its work, to encourage youth participation in ITU programs, events and activities, and to promote youth-related ICT policies among ITU Member States.

Member States, in turn, are invited to support ITU in promoting ICTs for the social and economic development of youth, including through the ITU Youth Strategy and Generation Connect initiative, with voluntary contributions and sponsorship if possible.

Reviewing WSIS outcomes and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

ITU’s Member States have expressed unanimous support for the Action Lines stemming from the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to advance the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

On Monday, the PP-22 Plenary approved updates to Resolution 140 on implementing the outcomes of the WSIS process, identifying key trends, challenges and opportunities related to the WSIS Outcomes and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The revised Res. 140 recalls the pledge in UN General Assembly Resolution 75/1 that “we will improve digital cooperation,” along with annual General Assembly resolutions on ICTs for sustainable development and UN Economic and Social Commission (ECOSOC) resolutions on progress in implementing WSIS outcomes.

The latest World Telecommunications/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-21), the Kigali Declaration from this year’s World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), and previous ITU Plenipotentiaries have also called for expanding digital infrastructure and making digital transformation relevant for everyone.

As new and emerging digital technologies and new regulatory challenges continue arising, ITU must evolve to keep pace, the revised resolution notes. This includes ensuring that the unconnected are connected.

In nearly two decades since the WSIS outcomes were established, ICTs have fundamentally transformed the world. Revised Res. 140 recognizes that infrastructure developed through investment and competition will increase global connectivity and thus help fulfil WSIS Action Lines and Sustainable Development Goals. Greater connectivity narrows the digital divide for everyone, including vulnerable groups in remote, rural, unserved, and underserved areas.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, while highlighting the critical role of ICTs for the continued functioning of societies, has brought to the fore the significant digital divides between and within countries. In this context, ITU should leverage the WSIS Framework to leave no one offline, despite the setbacks brought about by pandemics.

The success of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will depend on increasing ICT access, connecting the unconnected, and ensuring the inclusion of the marginalised and vulnerable, according to revised Res. 140. While the WSIS process must remain aligned with the 2030 Agenda, the WSIS Forum can provide a platform for reviewing implementation to date.

The upcoming WSIS Forum 2024 should feature “WSIS+20” review, including multi-stakeholder discussions and a stock-taking of achievements and key trends, challenges, and opportunities. It should be branded as “WSIS+20 Forum High-level Event in Geneva”.

ITU should continue to coordinate with relevant UN organizations where appropriate to support the overall review of WSIS outcomes by the UN General Assembly in 2025. This includes playing an active role in the process in accordance with ITU’s own WSIS+20 Roadmap and the review process established by the General Assembly. Subsequently, the ITU secretariat should submit a report on that review to the ITU Council and the Plenipotentiary Conference in 2026.

Connect 2030 including broadband

Revisions adopted on Monday to Resolution 200, outlining ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda, highlight the need for new initiatives in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The revised resolution also calls for accelerating broadband connectivity to ensure connectivity for everyone, everywhere by the end of the decade.

Accelerating broadband development is especially challenging in hard-to-reach, rural and remote areas where topography or demography can impede returns on investment. Investments in telecommunication/ICT services and technologies should focus on all stages of development and deployment, including their mobilization for sustainable development at later stages, the revised Res. 200 suggests.

Affordability remains a major barrier among the most vulnerable or excluded populations, especially for persons with disabilities and indigenous communities.

The revised resolution affirms the critical role of telecommunications/ICTs in pandemic response and recovery, along with adjustment to the “new normal”. In this regard, ITU should further promote universal, secure, reliable, and affordable connectivity in line with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and WSIS Action Lines.

ITU’s leadership team is instructed to take account the pandemic’s impact and to ensure that information, experience, and expertise are shared among Member States and stakeholders in the pursuit of Connect 2030 goals.

Special assistance to broaden academia and industry representation

Resolution 30 outlines special measures for the least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), landlocked developing countries (LDCs) and countries with economies in transition.

New revisions adopted on Monday note the “very limited representation” of those countries in ITU’s sector and academia membership.

Enhanced and effective participation by industry and academia, especially in the ITU standardization and radiocommunication activities, could help develop the information and communication technology (ICT) ecosystem for LDCs, SIDS, LLDCs and transitional economies.

More than half a century has passed since the UN first recognized LDCs as a category of states facing specific challenges. Today, LDCs and other specified categories require more focused efforts to bridge the digital divide.

The Doha Programme of Action, which emerged from the 5th UN Conference on the LDCs earlier this year, calls for “Leveraging the power of science, technology, and innovation to fight against multidimensional vulnerabilities and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing the urgent need to accelerate investment in the development and scaling of innovation and technology solutions for the most pressing problems that least developed countries face across economic, social and environmental fields that support their digital transition and strengthen efforts to bridge digital divides.”

The updated resolution therefore instructs ITU to help LDCs, LLDCs, SIDS and transitional economies enhance the engagement of their academia and industry representatives. One way could be to create a dedicated network for industry and academia from those countries.

Updates on alternative calling procedures

National approaches could promote competition, consumer protection, consumer benefits, dynamic innovation, sustainable investment and infrastructure development, and accessibility and affordability in relation to the global growth of alternative calling procedures, according to a PP-22 decision today.

Revisions to Resolution 21, Measuring concerning alternative calling procedures on international telecommunication networks, are in line with a revised Resolution 61 from the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) on countering and combating misappropriation and misuse of international telecommunication numbering resources, that was passed by the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly earlier this year.

With these updates, ITU’s Member States have recognized that:

  • Although the understanding of alternative calling procedures is still evolving, there is wide agreement that they can serve persons with specific needs.
  • Some forms of alternative calling procedures – which route voice traffic outside standard international calling and charging mechanisms – are widely used in today’s telecommunication/ICT markets.
  • Alternative calling procedures have transformed the economies of both developed and developing countries, necessitating collaboration between ITU Member States and Sector Members.
  • Studies are ongoing and relevant recommendations exist within ITU-T study groups.

ITU‑T Study Groups 2 and 3, and ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU‑D) Study Group 1, specifically, are requested to address:

  • countering, combating, and addressing fraudulent activities due to number misappropriation and misuse of alternative calling procedures; and
  • operational aspects of interworking between traditional telecommunication networks and evolving and emerging telecommunication/ICT architectures, capabilities, technologies, applications, and services.

The updated resolution invites ITU Member States to consider the interests of consumers and users of telecommunication services, as well as the benefits of competition in delivering lower costs and choice to consumers. The use of certain alternative calling procedures that are not harmful to networks may contribute to competition in the interests of consumers, the revised resolution notes.

Exposure to electromagnetic fields

New revisions to Resolution 176 on measurement and assessment concerns for electromagnetic fields (EMF) highlight the need for clear and accessible public information. People concerned about their EMF exposure may oppose the deployment of wireless infrastructure based on inaccurate or inadequate information, particularly in developing countries.

Work to raise awareness, therefore, should also include the dissemination of EMF measurement methodologies, consumer information, and frequently asked questions. ITU should continue cooperating with the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and other relevant international organizations, particularly on guidelines and limits for human exposure to EMF from both radiocommunication and non-radiocommunication sources.

Conformance and interoperability

New revisions to Resolution 177 instruct the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) to develop criteria for assessing the maturity of implementation of conformity assessments – Pillar 1 of ITU’s Conformity and Interoperability (C&I) programme – and for defining the ITU Mark concept.

ITU, as an international standardization body, can address impediments to the harmonization, interoperability, and growth of worldwide telecommunications. Its C&I programme should work closely with regional and national accreditation and certification bodies, as well as accredited testing labs, according to the updated resolution.

The interoperability of international telecommunication networks continues to be one of ITU’s main strategic goals, as well as the primary focus of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T). In recent years, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and advanced mobile networks (IMT-2020 and beyond) have increased the need for C&I testing to ensure interoperability in the latest telecom and ICT devices.

The Product Conformity Database and Testing Laboratories Database are key outcomes in ITU’s ongoing C&I action plan. Progress is also evident in the “living” list of ITU standards for non-radio technologies, also known as ITU-T Recommendations; a list of pilot projects involved in C&I testing; and a reference table of ITU-T Recommendations.

Mobile device theft

An updated Resolution 189 underlines the need to find innovative solutions and implement national, regional, and worldwide strategies to fight mobile device theft. The updated resolution instructs ITU’s directors to compile and share information on technical solutions and on the best practices developed by governments, industry, and other stakeholders in combating such thefts. ITU’s directors are also instructed to share information on measures to prevent access to mobile networks for ICT devices whose unique identifiers have been tampered with.

Insight from regions where the rate of mobile phone theft has fallen could be especially valuable, the updated resolution notes. While unique device identifiers can block access to networks, ITU’s members need to share insights on how to control tampering with those identifiers.

Other resolutions adopted

PP-22’s 13th Plenary also approved a series of additional resolutions, including Res. 119 on methods to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Radio Regulations Board; Res. 154 on use of the six official languages of the Union on an equal footing; Res. 170 on the admission of Sector Members from developing countries to participate in the work of the ITU Radiocommunication Sector and the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector; Res. 179: ITU’s role in child online protection; Res. 193: Support and assistance for Iraq to continue rebuilding and developing its telecommunication/information and communication technology sector; and Resolution 196 on protecting telecommunication service users/consumers.

UPU Director-General Masahiko Metoki addresses PP-22 delegatesImage credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Director-General Masahiko Metoki of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) delivered a policy statement during Monday’s afternoon plenary session.

Almost half of the world’s post offices have yet to be connected to the Internet, he said, adding:

“I firmly believe that by working together we can help to strengthen not only the ITU and the UPU, but also society as a whole.”

See more policy statements and plenary speeches delivered at PP-22.

Update on ITU Council Resolution 1408 on assistance and support to Ukraine for rebuilding their telecommunication sector

Monday’s afternoon Plenary session saw ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao update delegates on ITU Council Resolution 1408, adopted on 24 March 2022. He recognized the Member States that pledged financial support through the Partner2Connect initiative to help rebuild telecommunication infrastructure damaged by the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian delegation asked delegates to stand for a moment of silence for the victims of the war.

Delegates stand in silence to honour victims of the war in Ukraine. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
ITU Journal Editor-in-Chief recognized

Today’s Plenary also saw ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao present a certificate of appreciation to the founding Editor-in-Chief of the ITU Journal on Future and Evolving Technologies, Ian F. Akyildiz.

ITU Journal Editor-in-Chief Ian F. Akyildiz receives certificate of appreciation. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

“The relationships that he has built are one of the ITU Journal’s greatest assets,” said Zhao, noting the journal’s unique position in the research landscape. ITU Journal is published free of charge for authors and readers.

“I hope we will cross a bridge between the academic world and the ITU world,” said Professor Akyildiz upon receiving the accolade.


7 October

Delegates continued deliberations at the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) on Friday, racing against the clock to conclude ad hoc discussions ahead of the Saturday 21h (EEST) deadline to prepare the documents for the final Plenary sessions starting next week.

New resolution on AI

During a Working Group of the Plenary meeting on Friday, delegates agreed on a new resolution on artificial intelligence (AI) technologies and telecommunications/ICTs, the first on this subject in ITU.

Support for WSIS implementation

Amid a wide range of topics on Friday, delegates also discussed updates to Resolution 140 on implementing the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process, reflecting unanimous support among ITU’s Member States for the WSIS Action Lines to advance the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Connect 2030 Agenda

Updates have been agreed upon for Resolution 200, on ITU’s Connect 2030 Agenda, with the revised version set for plenary discussion early next week.

ITU’s role in child online protection

Delegates have completed revisions of Resolution 179, which addresses ITU’s role in child online protection, noting increased online threats during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing need for broad cooperation to ensure a safe online environment.

Global Symposium for Regulators

On 6 October, the Plenary passed Resolution 138, which considers the importance of maintaining the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) for regulatory bodies to continue to share and exchange experiences.

The updated resolution notes new challenges for regulators over programmes to finance network deployment, particularly through universal service funds – a method of assessing long-distance telecom carriers to subsidize services to low-income households or high-cost areas.

The annual GSR has brought together heads of national telecom/ICT regulatory authorities from around the world since 2000. The updated Res. 138 calls for holding future GSRs in different regions of the world in rotation, while ensuring balanced regional representation among participants, speakers and stakeholders.

The Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) is instructed to consult Member States and stakeholders in advance on GSR topics and annual best practice guidelines to ensure GSR outcomes reflect the interests of stakeholders and attract participation from all countries. In addition, the BDT Director should promote the participation of regional and subregional regulatory organizations and associations in preparing GSR meetings and best practice guidelines.

The next edition of the Global Symposium for Regulators will be held in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 5 to 8 June 2023.

E-waste turned into art

For Romanian recycling company Reciclad`OR, recycling is an art. Along with other green partners, the organization is inviting PP-22 delegates to discover e-waste art installations throughout the expansive Palace of Parliament. The artwork will be displayed for the duration of the conference, which is set to conclude on International E-Waste Day, 14 October.

PP-22 - E-waste art installations
Art installations made from recycled materials throughout the PP-22 venue. Credit: ITU/R. Farrell

The works on display, made from 100 per cent recyclable materials, include paintings in the hallway of the Brancovenesc Reception Room, angel wings made from aluminium cans in the Unirii Hall, and the globe at the entrance to C1 Hall, onto which delegates are invited to stick “make the planet smile” messages or objects.

Learn more about efforts to green PP-22.

Photo competition winners announced

In the run-up to PP-22, ITU held a photography contest for both amateur and professional contributors from around the world. The Technology for Good Photo Competition attracted more than 270 contributors from 50 countries, each submitting images highlighting green, inclusive and gender-responsive technology use, in line with the PP-22 conference themes.

See the full set of winning photos here.


6 October

In-depth discussions and deliberations characterized the day at the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22), which culminated in the Thursday afternoon Plenary approving resolutions related to IoT, SMEs, accessibility, digital financial inclusion, and more.

IoT for smart and sustainable cities and communities

More than half of the world’s people live in cities, which account for more than 70 per cent of global carbon emissions. Recent developments in the Internet of Things (IoT) – the rapidly growing network of connected devices with built-in sensors and software – are driving the development of smart and sustainable cities and communities around the world.

The IoT enables billions of devices to connect with each other, collect real-time data, and send this, via wireless communication, to centralized control systems. These, in turn can be applied to improve a wide range of urban operations and services.

While no city exists where all urban systems and services are connected, many are already on the path to becoming smart and sustainable.

IoT systems can be used, for example, to enhance energy efficiency and waste management, improve housing and health care, optimize traffic flow and safety, monitor air quality, and more. Information and communication technologies like the IoT can help to accelerate the achievement of all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 11, which calls for creating sustainable cities and communities.

In ITU’s revised Resolution 197 on facilitating IoT for smart sustainable cities and communities, delegates noted ITU’s work to achieve SDG 11, including the work carried out by ITU-T Study Group 20 and other relevant ITU Study Groups as well as United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC), a UN initiative coordinated by ITU, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and supported by 15 other UN entities.

The revised resolution calls on the Directors of the three ITU Bureaux to promote and encourage the implementation of U4SSC key performance indicators (KPIs), as a method for smart, sustainable cities’ self-assessment.

The updated resolution also considers how smart and sustainable cities and communities (SSC&C) can use the IoT to discover and respond to regional and global crises; that in IoT and SSC&C environments, connected devices and applications represent a diverse range of ecosystems; and the key role of security aspects in the development of reliable and secure IoT ecosystems.

ITU’s Bureau Directors are instructed to support Member States, especially developing countries, in organizing forums, seminars and workshops on IoT and SSC&C, and to assist developing countries on the implementation of related ITU recommendations, reports and guidelines.

In addition, the revised Resolution 197 invites ITU Member States to cooperate and share knowledge, expertise, and best practices on IoT and SSC&C, as well as encourage consultations with stakeholders on national policies, strategies, action plans, capacity building, and knowledge-sharing for both the private and public sectors.

Strengthening support for SMEs

Resolution 209 encourages the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the work of ITU.

The updated resolution emphasizes the contribution of SMEs to infrastructure expansion in rural and underserved areas, especially in developing countries.

ITU’s Member States, especially developing countries, have invested in enabling sustainable SME growth. ITU, meanwhile, has welcomed SMEs as associate Sector Members with reduced fees. As the revised Res. 209 acknowledges, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting work disruptions initially hindered SME participation.

The updated resolution, therefore, extends the trial period for another four years, boosting such engagement, and invites ITU Member States to inform relevant organizations and encourage more SMEs to join.

Accessibility for persons with disabilities

New revisions to Resolution 175 encourage greater engagement of persons with disabilities, persons with specific needs, and their representative organizations, in ITU’s work.

ITU is urged, for example, to consult and actively involve persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs in the venue selection process for ITU conferences. The revised Rev. 175 also calls for improvements to organizational culture and relevant internal systems to ensure equal opportunities in the recruitment and retention process.

The resolution encourages continuity in workshops and management training to help ITU staff understand and champion accessibility and disability inclusion.

Resolution 175 (Rev. Bucharest, 2022) recalls prior accessibility resolutions by the ITU Radiocommunication Assembly (ITU-R 67-1; rev. Sharm el-Sheikh, 2019) and World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (Rev. Geneva, 2022).

The latest resolution invites Member States to develop, within their national legal frameworks, guidelines or other mechanisms to enhance the accessibility, compatibility and usability of telecommunication/ICT services, products, and terminals, and to offer support to regional initiatives related to ensuring accessibility. Notably, it also encourages the observation and celebration of the annual UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December.

Member States and Sector Members are invited to encourage the participation of persons with disabilities and persons with specific needs in the work of ITU, including in the composition of delegations to conferences, assemblies and study group meetings.

Bridging the digital financial inclusion gap

Financial inclusion is a key enabler for reducing poverty and boosting prosperity. Around 1.4 billion people globally lack access to formal financial services, and over 50 per cent of adults in the poorest households are unbanked.

Bridging the digital financial inclusion gap can contribute to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals, especially SDG 1 on poverty eradication, and SDG 10 on reducing inequality within and among countries.

Increased use of ICTs and financial inclusion policy reforms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have further underlined the importance of fintech and other digital applications in unlocking access to financial services for millions of people.

Noting the increased interest in emerging economies in using mobile financial services and emerging technology applications to advance financial inclusion, Resolution 204 on the use of information and communication technologies to bridge the financial inclusion gap instructs relevant study groups in the ITU Telecommunication Standardization and Development Sectors (ITU-T and ITU-D) to develop technical standards and guidelines that will allow developing countries to address the opportunities and challenges of emerging telecommunications/ICT for digital financial services.

Updates to Resolution 204 also instruct relevant ITU-T and ITU-D study groups to contribute to global efforts designed to deal with enhancing the cybersecurity and resiliency of the digital finance ecosystem by developing international standards and industry best practices.

In addition, the resolution was updated to invite Member States to include policies supporting access to financial services in their national ICT and financial inclusion strategies.

Academia members gain free access to ITU digital publications

Resolution 66 concerns marketing and distribution aimed at promoting increased use of ITU documentation and publications. The latest revisions give ITU Academia members free access to all ITU publications that are available in digital format.

This follows another PP-22 decision, whereby a revised Res. 169 encourages the participation of academia in the development of ITU technical work.

PP-22’s twelfth Plenary also approved Res. 136: The use of telecommunications/information and communication technologies for humanitarian assistance and for monitoring and management in emergency and disaster situations, including health-related emergencies, for early warning, prevention, mitigation and relief; Res. 138 on the Global Symposium for Regulators; and Res. 157 on strengthening of the project execution and project monitoring functions in ITU.

Thailand to host next WTDC

Thursday saw delegates unanimously support Thailand’s invitation to host the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Bangkok in 2025.

Thailand announces their invitation to host the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Bangkok in 2025.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș asked Committee 6 to take the Plenary’s approval into account when revising Resolution 77 on the scheduling and duration of conferences, forums, assembles, and Council sessions of the Union.

Also on Thursday, regional coordinators were recognized with certificates of appreciation for their hard work in leading preparations for the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22).

Regional coordinators recognized with certificates of appreciation for their hard work in leading preparations for PP-22. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

5 October

Delegates continued their deliberations on new and revised resolutions in a series of ad-hoc meetings and informal consultations on Wednesday.

The day’s discussions involved revisions to strengthen and update existing resolutions on the Global Symposium for Regulators and ways to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Working Group of the Plenary (WG-PL) finalized updates to Resolution 123 on bridging the standardization gap between developed and developing countries; Resolution 198 on the empowerment of youth through telecommunication/information and communication technology (ICT); and Resolution 200 on the Connect 2030 Agenda for global telecommunication/information and communication technology, including broadband, for sustainable development.

These revised resolutions are expected to be approved by the Plenary in the coming days.

Shaping the next generation of ITU delegates

On the sidelines of the conference, the Generation Connect Youth Envoys and young social media creator delegates held a meaningful youth engagement workshop.

Deputy Secretary-General-elect Tomas Lamanauskas, the youngest person to be elected to that position in ITU’s 157-year history, opened the side event.

Generation Connect holds meaningful youth engagement workshop on the sidelines of PP-22 in Bucharest.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
A CAMPUS field trip

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao and PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș joined a group of young delegates to visit the University Politehnica of Bucharest Center for Advanced Research on New Materials, Products and Innovative Processes (CAMPUS).

The group visited several of the institution’s 41 laboratories focused on a range of applied research topics, from 5G, open RAN and millimetre wave communications (mmWave) to the Internet of Things (IoT) for environmental monitoring and artificial intelligence.

Rector Mihnea Cosmin Costoiu explains how the University Politehnica of Bucharest aims to combat brain drain
by creating “a good environment for young researchers” to stay in the country. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

The CAMPUS visit took place the day after PP-22 approved revised Resolution 169 on the admission of academia to participate in the work of the Union.


4 October

In the Tuesday morning plenary session, Member States unanimously approved Qatar’s request to host the 22nd ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Doha in 2026 (PP-26).

“Over the past years, Qatar has built state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure, making it a leader in the global digital arena,” said Qatar’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, H.E. Mohamed bin Ali Al Mannai, noting the country’s significant track record in hosting events.

“We are confident that Qatar can host PP-26 and all Member State delegations with tremendous success,” he added. “We are fully committed to working with each one of you and the newly elected ITU Council over the next four years to make ITU stronger and make the world a better place for the 2.7 billion still unconnected.”

Delegates at the current PP-22 in Bucharest expressed their support and gratitude for Qatar’s bid to host PP-26 in Doha.

 “I’m very pleased to see the conference unanimously accept the invitation from Qatar to host PP-26,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “2026 is a very important year for ITU,” he added, noting the importance of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that everyone is connected by the end of the decade.

Zhao went on to highlight Qatar’s rich experience in organizing international events, including ITU meetings such as WTDC 2006, the Connect Arab Summit 2012, and ITU Telecom 2014.

Read the full media release.

Newly elected and re-elected officials sworn in

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș invited ITU’s newly elected and re-elected officials to accept their respective letters of appointment and to read and sign their oath.

Newly elected and re-elected officials following the swearing-in ceremony. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

The Plenary approved by acclamation the  decision that the five officials (four newly elected and one re-elected) would take up their duties on 1 January 2023.

Next, the Plenary approved that newly elected members of the Radio Regulations Board would also take up their duties on 1 January 2023.

Outgoing RRB members recognized

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presented certificates of appreciation to outgoing Radio Regulations Board members Tariq Alamri (Saudi Arabia), Lilian Jeanty (The Netherlands), Samuel Mandla Mchunu (South Africa), and  Nikolai Varlamov (Russian Federation) for their service since 2019.

Re-elected Radiocommunication Bureau Director Mario Maniewicz, outgoing Radio Regulations Board members,
and ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Tuesday’s Plenary also approved several revised resolutions.

Assistance to developing countries

Newly added points in ITU Resolution 135, which concerns technical assistance and advice to developing countries on information and communication technologies (ICTs), note the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, mention the UN Secretary-General’s plan for achieving universal connectivity by 2030, and point to an increasing role for ITU regional and area offices.

Under revised Resolution 135, recalling the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, and considering that COVID-19 has highlighted the critical role of telecommunications/ICTs and also brought to the fore the startling digital inequalities between and within countries, PP-22 agreed that ITU should assist countries, including through ITU regional offices, in particular developing countries, that request support for their infrastructure development plans, taking into account their technological migration plans, according to their actual situation and their development specificities.

Under the revised text, PP-22 also agreed that ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) shall: facilitate the implementation of projects under the regional initiatives by considering both cash and/or in-kind contributions from Member States. It shall work on increasing knowledge, awareness and capacity building and development programmes on the evolving role of telecommunication/ICTs in all aspects of life, through relevant platforms including ITU academy training centres and digital transformation centres. It shall also, through ITU regional and area offices, assist and support developing countries in keeping pace with technological development by implementing developmental projects or supporting national initiatives in cooperation with other stakeholders, if needed, within the available resources.

Academia in ITU activities

Revised Resolution 169 invites Member States to consider including members of academia in official delegations to major ITU conferences. It also invites Member States to inform their academia of the resolution, and to encourage and support them to participate in ITU activities.

Digital inclusion of indigenous people

Resolution 184 was amended to designate other mechanisms for sharing information to enable indigenous peoples to access relevant information on ITU fellowships.

The revision also encompasses taking equitable geographical distribution into account when providing ITU fellowships to indigenous peoples.

To enable the participation of indigenous peoples in ITU workshops, seminars and events, thus facilitating their digital inclusion, the revised resolution invites Member States to promote and design mechanisms for sharing information.

The Plenary on Tuesday also approved the following revised resolutions: Resolution 94: Auditing of the accounts of the Union; Resolution 150: Approval of the accounts of the Union for the years 2018-2021; and Resolution 151: Improvement of results-based management in ITU.

Youth at PP-22

Concluding the morning plenary session, PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș announced the presence at PP-22 of six young social media creators, who aim to bring unique insights from this high-level UN conference to their respective audiences, in their own languages.

“ITU will create a ‘best of’ of their work, to be posted on ITU social media accounts,” said Sărmaș, encouraging delegates to engage with these young social media creators and help them “discover the world of ITU.”

Read more about young social media creators at PP-22 on the ITU News blog.

Sărmaș went on to announce another youth initiative: 25 Generation Connect Youth Envoys are in Bucharest this week, engaging in line with ITU’s Youth Strategy. Their participation is funded by Canada and Australia, in coordination with Romania, he said, congratulating the young people on their presence at PP-22.

First intergenerational dialogue

The first of three Generation Connect Intergenerational Dialogues took place on the sidelines of PP-22 on Tuesday afternoon.

ITU Secretary-General-elect Doreen Bogdan-Martin addressed the young people gathered at the event.

“We need you: you are the drivers of change in our world,” she said in her opening remarks.

A panel that included Generation Connect Youth Envoys as well as experts from the telecommunications industry discussed the topics at hand: education, future jobs, and digital skills.

When asked how to digitally upskill the next generation of workers in Africa, John Omo, Secretary-General of the African Telecommunication Union (ATU), pointed out the lack of structured digital skills development programmes in much of the developing world.

“Governments need to develop a digital skills master plan for each and every country that brings the youth on board in terms of their needs,” he suggested.

Wassila Chtioui, Generation Connect Youth Envoy from Tunisia, shared that many areas in her country still struggle with accessing the Internet, which is “the biggest digital inclusion need for students.” Bringing all stakeholders together is key, she added.

Bogatoz Kaliyeva, Chief Specialist at the State Radio Frequency Service of Kazakhstan, highlighted the importance of “providing financial support to assist in bringing necessary equipment for training and study, and to provide high-speed connections.”

For Simran Sahni, Generation Connect Youth Envoy from India, young people have a responsibility to preserve the “essence” of policies. This can happen in several ways, such as understanding the policy on the ground; connecting and engaging with people concerned; and participating as much possible, she said.

“Don’t be shy to write an e-mail to someone higher up in the hierarchy,” she advised the young audience. “They do listen to you – this event is proof of that.”

PP-22 - Intergenerational Dialogue
Intergenerational dialogue: Education, future jobs, digital skills. Credit: ITU/R. Farrell

3 October

As the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) entered its second week, ITU Member States elected the 12 members of the Radio Regulations Board as well as 48 Member States that will serve on the ITU Council for the next four years.

Election results for the Radio Regulations Board, 2023-2026:

  • The Americas (2 seats) – Chantal Beaumier (Canada); Agostinho Linhares de Souza Filho (Brazil)
  • Western Europe (2 seats) – Yvon Henri (France); Mauro Di Crescenzo (Italy)
  • Eastern Europe and Northern Asia (2 seats) – Sahiba Hasanova (Azerbaijan); Rizat Nurshabekov (Kazakhstan)
  • Africa (3 seats) – El-Sayed Azzouz (Egypt); Talib Hassan (Morocco); Edmund Yirenkyi Fianko (Ghana)
  • Asia and Australasia (3 seats) – Revathi Mannepalli (India); Majed Alkahtani (Saudia Arabia); Jianjun Cheng (China)

ITU Council Member States elected for 2023-2026:

  • The Americas (9 seats) – Argentina; Bahamas; Brazil; Canada; Cuba; El Salvador; Mexico; Paraguay; United States
  • Western Europe (8 seats) – France; Germany; Italy; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Türkiye; United Kingdom
  • Eastern Europe and Northern Asia (5 seats) – Azerbaijan; Bulgaria; Czech Republic; Poland; Romania;
  • Africa (13 seats) – Algeria; Egypt; Ghana; Kenya; Mauritius; Morocco; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; South Africa; Tanzania; Tunisia; Uganda
  • Asia and Australasia (13 seats) – Australia; Bahrain; China; India; Indonesia; Japan; Korea (Rep. of); Kuwait; Malaysia; Philippines; Saudi Arabia; Thailand; United Arab Emirates

Read the full media release here.

Find the complete set of election results here.

PP-22 Election

WSIS process beyond 2025

Delegates came together on the sidelines of the conference to discuss the continuation of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process, which is to be considered by the United Nations General Assembly in 2025.

Professor Isa Ali Ibrahim, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and the Chair of WSIS Forum 2022, welcomed participants remotely and highlighted the importance of the WSIS process in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations for 2030.

Addressing participants, ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson said:

“The WSIS process has proved itself over the years and is a force for global public good. It has gone from strength to strength.”

Ibrahim outlined some major achievements of the WSIS process, including uniting countries and institutions globally; gathering over 25,000 participants in person and another 100,000 virtually; providing a platform for connectivity during COVID-19; aligning WSIS Action Lines with the SDGs; conducting WSIS stocktaking since 2004; awarding WSIS prizes; supporting stakeholder-led WSIS special initiatives; forming a UN group on the information society; and aligning WSIS action lines and the SDGs with special days on the UN calendar.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao stressed the importance of maintaining WSIS to help connect the 2.7 billion people worldwide who still lack Internet access.

“It is important to have our WSIS Forum annual meetings continued,” he said.

Ibrahim thanked participants for their positive interventions, saying:

“We do hope that we will continue to implement the WSIS process [beyond 2025] in our countries and our institutions.”

The next annual WSIS Forum is scheduled to take place between 13 and 17 March 2023 at ITU headquarters in Geneva, with the option of remote participation.

UN Tech Envoy consults PP-22 delegates

Over the weekend, the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology at the United Nations (OSET) held a consultation on the proposed Global Digital Compact, which aims to “outline shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future for all.”

Delegates in attendance expressed their views on its contents and direction, suggested ways forward, and shared their respective visions of what a shared digital future might look like.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao thanked the Tech Envoy, Amandeep Singh Gill, for conferring with PP-22 participants, underscoring the importance of “consulting the ITU family on this important topic.”

“Digital is looked at as one of the global commons, just like in the context of maritime, outer space, and other shared environments,” said Gill during the consultation.

“But we must make sure these are commons, not clubs. We must work to maintain them for everyone’s benefit, not only today, but also for future generations.”

UN Consultation on Global Digital Compact

“The Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology has a facilitating role – an enabling role,” Gill added, asking:

“How can we bring more visibility to the critical work you do here at ITU?”

“We will not stop here after this consultation,” concluded Zhao. “The Tech Envoy will try to keep in touch with us, and we will do our best to support him, so the Sustainable Development Goals can be achieved.”


30 September

The day began with a women’s high-level networking breakfast jointly organized by host country Romania, ITU, and Australia, which provided financial support and training for more than 100 women to take on leadership roles at the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) of the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs).

“This is a historic breakfast, because yesterday we elected the first woman Secretary-General of ITU,” said outgoing Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who is also an International Gender Champion. “This is important not only for ITU, but for the whole business of ICT everywhere.”

PP-22 - HIGH-LEVEL PANEL AND NETWORKING BREAKFAST – STRENGTHENING WOMEN`S EMPOWERMENT AND LEADERSHIP IN THE ITU
Delegates gather at the high-level panel and networking breakfast on 30 September
to discuss strengthening women’s empowerment and leadership at ITU. Credit: ITU/D. Woldu

Read more about Australia’s gender equality initiative and find in-depth coverage of the high-level women’s networking breakfast on the ITU News blog.

The morning continued in the PP-22 plenary with another set of policy statements.

Next, Zhao presented a certificate of appreciation to the outgoing Chair of the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet), Majed Al Mazyed, recognizing his “outstanding contribution to this important work, and deep knowledge of Internet-related activities within the ITU family, and skilful leadership to guide this group through 2009-2022.”

Al Mazyed expressed gratitude to the government of Romania for organizing the conference, and to ITU elected officials, delegations, and colleagues. “Thanks to my work here, my skills have been boosted,” he said.

“I call upon you to invest in ITU – this organization brings together elites from the whole world in the areas we work on.”

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presents a certificate of appreciation to
CWG-Internet Chair Majed Al Mazyed. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
Bureau Directors elected

Also today, Member States completed the voting process to elect ITU’s three Bureau Directors.

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș announced the winners in the order stipulated by the ITU Constitution and Convention.

Radiocommunication

Mario Maniewicz of Uruguay was re-elected as Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) with 174 votes and a required majority of 88.

Mario Maniewicz re-elected to the post of
Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

In his acceptance speech, Maniewicz expressed deep gratitude to ITU Member States for their confidence in enabling him to hold the office of BR Director for the next four years.

“This expression of trust will help me redouble my commitment so that the ITU Radiocommunication Sector continues to meet the challenge of technological development and keeps up the energetic work required by Member States and its industry partners,” he said.

Mercedes Aramendia, President of the Uruguayan Regulatory Unit of Communication Services (URSEC), said: “We are extremely proud and would like to thank the ITU family for its support and reiterate the excellent work done over the past years with Mr Maniewicz as BR Director.”

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao offered congratulations on behalf of current ITU elected officials. With the election of Mario Maniewicz, he said, “we are ensured the radiocommunication business will be in good hands, and next year’s World Radiocommunication Conference will be handled by his skills, knowledge, and leadership capacities.”

Standardization

Seizo Onoe of Japan was elected Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (TSB) with 93 votes. The required majority was 90.

Seizo Onoe elected to the post of Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Onoe thanked all Member States for their support across regions. “I am committed to further improving the ITU-T Sector and making it the best it can be,” he said in his acceptance speech.

“Being an outsider of ITU, which I humbly admit, I will bring a new diversity into ITU leadership.”

Hiroshi Yoshida, Vice Minister for Policy Coordination (International Affairs), Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan, expressed gratitude for the confidence in their candidate. “Seizo Onoe will quickly bring the benefits of ICT to ITU, governments and the private sector,” he said, adding: “Japan is ready to support the new and diversified ITU management team.”

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao offered congratulations on behalf of current ITU elected officials. “I am sure Mr. Onoe will ensure that TSB continues to work closely with industry and government to develop international telecommunication technology standards to meet market requirements, ” he said.

Development

Cosmas Zavazava of Zimbabwe was elected to the post of ITU Telecommunication Bureau Director with 101 votes. The required majority was 83.

Cosmas Zavazava elected to the post of Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau. Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

“I want to speak from the heart,” Zavazava said in his acceptance speech.

“My vision is very simple: meaningful connectivity, meaningful skills development and bridging the skills gap – because this is what faces most of the developing countries – but also digital transformation.”

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Dingumuzi Phuti, expressed gratitude to the host for making history in several ways, evidenced by election results thus far. “This result is a victory for the entire membership, and charts a new path for a development-oriented discourse in the information and communication technology sector,” he said.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao offered congratulations on behalf of current ITU elected officials. “We are very confident in Dr. Zavazava’s long service with the ITU, always in BDT, and his very good understanding of our challenges. He will have a very good tenure for the next four years.”

Read the official ITU press release here.

Find more photos from the ITU elections so far here.

WRC-23: Host country agreement signing ceremony

Before the second round of voting for ITU’s next BDT Director, a signing ceremony took place between ITU and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is set to host the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23) in Dubai.

Newly re-elected Director of the Radiocommunication Bureau, Mario Maniewicz thanked the UAE for its generous invitation to host WRC-23.

“It is not the first time the UAE hosts a major conference of a United Nations specialized agency such as ITU,” he said. “I look forward to seeing you all in Dubai next year,” he added.

The official logo for WRC-23 was revealed in a video.

“With this invitation, UAE will become the first country of our family to host all major conferences,” remarked ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

“The UAE’s strong commitment to digital transformation coupled with its expertise in welcoming the ITU family makes it an outstanding host for our upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference and a most fitting venue for forging the pathways of future digital communication.”

H.E. Engineer Majed Sultan Al Mesmar, Director General of the UAE Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA), said: “We are very happy today to officially sign the agreement to host WRC in the city of Dubai from 20 November to 15 December 2023. We have been determined to prepare all the components of success, hoping this will be yet another occasion to renew relationships with our friends from all countries of the world, for the benefit of international telecommunications in general and the radio sector in particular.” He thanked all countries for their trust in the UAE and its ability to host global activities.

WRC-23: Host country agreement signing ceremony
Signing ceremony between ITU and the United Arab Emirates, host country for the 2023 World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-23).

29 September

Today marked the beginning of the process to elect ITU’s five-person executive leadership team, starting with the post of Secretary-General.

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș opened the day’s proceedings at the Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) by thanking Rwanda – the host country for ITU’s recent World Telecommunication Development Conference – for a lively drum and dance performance in the PP-22 Plenary. He then congratulated all ITU election candidates on their respective campaigns.

Rwanda – the host country for ITU’s recent World Telecommunication Development Conference – gave a lively drum and dance performance at the PP-22 Plenary on 29 September. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Next, the Secretary of the Plenary, Beatrice Pluchon, explained the election process.

Election for Secretary-General

The room was divided into five voting stations, each with a corresponding ballot box, and the doors were closed for the casting of the ballots. Member States were called in French alphabetical order, with each designated delegate scanning their badge before depositing their ballot.

Member States cast their votes for ITU’s top executive positions on 29 September 2022.
Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

After ballots were cast, the vote count took place in a separate room, followed by the announcement of the winner.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin of the United States was elected Secretary-General of ITU with 139 votes, pledging meaningful connectivity as her goal. In total, 172 Member States were present and voting, with a required majority of 83 to win.

Bogdan-Martin will be the first woman to lead ITU in its 157-year history.

“As Secretary General, I will continue to drive this institution to be innovative and increasingly relevant for our Member States, better positioning all of us to embrace this digital environment,” she said in her acceptance speech.

“After 157 years, we shattered the glass ceiling. I hope this day will be an inspiration for other women to follow,” she added.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin: ITU Secretary-General-elect. Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

Bogdan-Martin will begin her first four-year term as ITU Secretary-General on 1 January 2023.

Outgoing ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao congratulated Bogdan-Martin on her new mandate to lead the UN agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs). “This is the result of your wonderful career development, and your wonderful work for ICT in the world,” he said, extending congratulations on behalf of the other ITU elected officials.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao congratulates ITU Secretary-General-elect Doreen Bogdan-Martin.
Image credit: ITU/M. Jacobson-Gonzalez.

“We are very happy to have a woman elected Secretary-General for the first time in ITU history,” he added. “I am confident that ITU will go further and higher with the new Secretary-General, who is very competent to lead this organization.”

Numerous Member States offered their congratulations, starting with PP-22 host country Romania:

“Today, in Bucharest, Romania, the ITU is making history electing the first woman to the position of SG,” said Cristiana Flutur, Head of International Affairs at Romania’s National Authority for Management and Regulation in Communications (ANCOM).

“It is an honour for me to say, on behalf of Europe, heartfelt congratulations, Madam Secretary-General. You are a role model for all women in ICT, and you are paving the way for all of us.”

Read Doreen Bogdan-Martin’s full acceptance speech and find the official ITU press release here.

ITU Secretary-General-elect Doreen Bogdan-Martin speaks to the press following her election on 29 September.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
Call to contribute to Global Digital Compact

Another set of policy statements was delivered during the conference plenary session.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, Amandeep Singh Gill, invited delegates to the UN Summit of the Future in 2024. “It will help us ensure the digital future we seek is open, inclusive, human-centric; respectful of human agency, fundamental freedoms, and human dignity; sustainable and secure,” he said.

Gill thanked the ITU community for its outstanding work and invited delegates to contribute to the landmark Global Digital Compact.

“It is time that within the UN family, the ITU is recognized, its profile is raised, and its contribution appreciated for the critical work that you do in a multi-stakeholder framework,” he added.

The United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology addresses the plenary on 29 September.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
Election for Deputy Secretary-General

During the afternoon plenary on 29 September, Tomas Lamanauskas of Lithuania was elected ITU Deputy Secretary-General, with 105 votes. In all, 179 Member States were present and voting, with 89 votes as the required majority.

Tomas Lamanauskas delivers his acceptance speech after being elected to the post of ITU Deputy Secretary-General.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

“Tomas will be the youngest ever Deputy Secretary-General of this great organization,” noted Marius Skuodis, Lithuania’s Minister of Transport and Communications.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao congratulated Lamanauskas on behalf of all ITU elected officials, saying: “This proves the young generation is now stepping in to help ITU move further and higher.”

Deputy Secretary-General-elect Tomas Lamanauskas. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Acknowledging the Deputy Secretary-General-elect as the youngest in ITU’s long history, Zhao added: “I am very confident he will assist Doreen Bogdan-Martin to lead ITU and to help the United Nations to accomplish the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] by 2030.”

Lamanauskas will begin his first four-year term as ITU Deputy Secretary-General on 1 January 2023.

Read the official ITU press release here.

Find more photos from the ITU election so far here.


28 September

Delegates convened on the third day of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) to continue their deliberations in a series of official meetings, ad hoc discussions, and informal consultations.

Also on Day 3, another set of policy statements was delivered during the fourth and fifth Plenary sessions.

A visit to the Ecotic Caravan

In the spirit of the ‘green’ theme of PP-22, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao visited the Ecotic Caravan, an e-waste ‘mobile museum’ parked outside host country Romania’s Palace of Parliament during the first week of the conference.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao visits the Ecotic Caravan outside the venue of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest, Romania. Image credit: ITU/D.Woldu

Valentin Negoiță, President of Ecotic, explained the organization’s mission to raise awareness about e-waste management, highlighting a series of initiatives from public information campaigns and training courses to developing e-waste collection infrastructure with recyclers across Romania.

Learn more about how ITU is greening PP-22 here.

Elections starting soon

Today’s proceedings transpired on the eve of elections of ITU’s new executive management team.

Voting is set to start tomorrow, with the election of the Secretary-General, followed by the Deputy Secretary-General.

Learn more about ITU’s official election process here.

Read exclusive interviews with each of the candidates here.


27 September

The second day of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-22) featured further high-level policy statements from ITU Member States on their respective digital transformation plans.

All policy statements given to date can be found here.

Three of six PP-22 Committees began their first official meetings, as did the Working Group of the Plenary (WG-PL).

Responsibilities are divided among committees as follows:

  1. Steering Committee
  2. Credentials
  3. Budget
  4. Editorial
  5. Policy and legal issues
  6. Administration and management

and a Working Group of the Plenary.

The Plenary, WG-PL and the six committees establish daily schedules for the work to be covered at each of their sessions.

Find the PP-22 daily schedule here.

Video interviews underway in the ITU Studio

“This is the largest event of its kind that we’ve ever hosted,” said Romania’s Minister of Research, Innovation and Digitalization, Sebastian Burduja, when asked about the significance of PP-22 for the host country.

Burduja said the signing of the Bucharest Declaration at Romania’s pre-conference Ministerial Roundtable would go down as “one of the most significant moments” of the ITU Plenipotentiary.

“It essentially highlights our joint commitment with over 50 nations around the world –  from all continents – to an open, secure, reliable, interoperable Internet: access to it, bridging the digital divide, as well as ensuring these opportunities for all,” he explained.

Slovenia’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Emilija Stojmenova Duh, outlined a strategy to drive digital transformation by bolstering connectivity nationwide. “By 2025, we plan to cover 100 per cent of urban municipalities with high-speed broadband, and by 2030 the rural areas as well,” she said, adding:

“In Slovenia, access to the Internet is a universal service, so everybody has the right to be connected.”

For Pawel Lewandowski, Undersecretary of State in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland, the Plenipotentiary Conference is “a great opportunity to talk face-to-face about problems that are the same almost everywhere in the world, such as Internet availability and bridging the digital gap.”

He expressed his country’s willingness to share experiences and to learn from other countries about tackling problems across the entire information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

“One of the highest priorities is cybersecurity,” said Peter Ocko, Deputy Minister for Digitization and Innovations, Czech Republic.

“We pushed for quick implementation of new legislation in the EU in this area.”

He also noted the “many synergies” of European Union plans and policies with ITU’s work on digital infrastructure and human-centric approaches to digital technology development.

For Spain’s Secretary of State for Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure, Roberto Sánchez Sánchez, telecommunication networks are the “first essential step towards universal connectivity.”

He expressed pride in being part of the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission, through which he aims to help drive the development of universal connectivity.

Check out the official PP-22 video playlist.


26 September – Opening day

The opening of ITU’s 21st Plenipotentiary Conference, also known as PP-22, brought about 2,000 information and communication technology (ICT) decision-makers from ITU’s 193 Member States to Bucharest, Romania, to advance digital transformation for the good of all.

The day began with a flag-raising ceremony ahead of the official conference opening.

The ITU flag is raised in front of the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, Romania. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
Opening ceremony

To open the conference, the Cantus Mundi Choir and the National Chamber Choir Madrigal-Marin Constantin sang the Romanian national anthem. Delegates were then regaled with “Connect and Unite”, a surprise song composed specially for PP-22.

The Cantus Mundi Choir and the National Chamber Choir Madrigal-Marin Constantin perform for PP-22 delegates during the opening ceremony. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Deputy Prime Minister Sorin Mihai Grindeanu welcomed all delegates to Romania for three weeks of discussions on crucial global technology issues. “It is an honour and a privilege for us to organize the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2022 in a Member State of the European Union for the first time in the last 30 years,” he said.

“We are in the middle of a digital revolution,” he added. “How we live and use this technological advantage dictates the development of our economies and societies.”

Deputy Prime Minister Sorin Mihai Grindeanu of Romania addresses the conference. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a video message to greet PP-22 delegates, noting how “digital transformation and connectivity are critical to rescuing the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“It is essential that we seize the opportunities of digital technology while protecting against its risks,” he said, calling on delegates to “put humanity’s progress at the centre of discussions.”

In his opening remarks, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao welcomed delegates and congratulated ITU’s Romanian hosts on their country’s rapid digital transformation.

“This is a momentous occasion, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our members, partners and others for their successful and tireless work in promoting ICTs,” he said.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao delivers remarks during the opening of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

Romania’s Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digitalization, Sebastian Burduja, wished delegates success, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to host PP-22 in Bucharest.

“It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the pace of innovation but also blessed that we can be here to discuss it, to debate it, to decide what we’ll do further and how we answer the difficult questions that lie before us,” he said in his remarks at the opening ceremony.

Romania’s Minister of Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digitalization Sebastian Burduja addresses the conference.
Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell

“Connecting and uniting: it is the mission of ITU. And it involves both adopting new technologies, but also preparing all of the citizens of the planet to use them.”

Read more about the opening ceremony of PP-22 here.

ITU Elected Officials and representatives of the host country at the Opening Ceremony of PP-22. Image credit: ITU/R. Farrell
First Plenary

The conference’s first plenary session began with the adoption of the agenda and the appointment of the PP-22 Chair, Sabin Sărmaș, head of Romania’s parliamentary Information Technology and Communications Commission.

“We are here in Romania at a one-of-a-kind event,” Sărmaș said. “A once in a lifetime experience – under our flag − that carries a message to ‘Connect and Unite.’”

PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș addresses the first plenary session of the conference. Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

The newly confirmed Chair thanked the institutions involved in the organization of PP-22 for their time, efforts, and resources.

“In only three weeks, our work can have a huge impact. Let’s use them as a unique opportunity to make the world a better place,” Sărmaș said, adding:

“We can only achieve consensus through close collaboration. We must use our time wisely because it is limited.” He urged delegates to envisage a better future for humanity as they negotiate.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao also addressed the first plenary session, saying: “People everywhere recognize and appreciate the power of technology – but the world expects more from ICTs.”

He reviewed the four years since ITU’s last Plenipotentiary Conference in 2018, noting the disruptions surrounding COVID-19, and then laid out the challenges ahead.

“The world needs ICTs, and ICTs need ITU,” he concluded, wishing delegates a successful conference.

Delegates decided to maintain the contributory unit for ITU’s annual budget at 318,000 Swiss francs (CHF) per year for the period 2024-2027.

Monday’s plenary also saw government officials begin to share their countries’ plans to accelerate digital transformation, as outlined in a series of policy statements.

Dive into what each ITU Member State said about its key ICT priorities and plans on the PP-22 Policy Statements page.


Pre-conference

At the final meeting of the 2022 session of the ITU Council on 24 September, delegates expressed their appreciation for the Government of Romania’s warm welcome and for hosting the Plenipotentiary in such a magnificent venue: the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest.

Chair Saif Bin Ghelaita presides over the last session of ITU Council 2022. Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu
Chair Saif Bin Ghelaita presides over the last session of ITU Council 2022. Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

Delegates thanked the Italian external auditor, Corte dei conti, for their work and congratulated the UK national audit office on their appointment as incoming external auditor.

At the final session of ITU Council 2022, the United States announced an increase of their contributory unit from 30 to 35, for a total of CHF 11,130,000 per year, towards the organization’s general budget.

Delegates expressed their gratitude to ITU Council Chair Saif Bin Ghelaita of the United Arab Emirates for his extraordinary work over the past two and a half years and welcomed incoming ITU Council Chair César Martinez of Paraguay.

Secretary-General Houlin Zhao thanked delegates for bringing the last session of 2022 Council to a successful close.

“To describe the past cycle as ‘challenging’ would be an understatement,” he said, noting how the Virtual Consultation of Councillors enabled decisions to be taken by correspondence amid the pandemic, “showing growing interest from our Member States.”

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao addresses the last session of ITU Council 2022. Image credit: ITU/D. Woldu

Zhao presented certificates of appreciation to Council Working Group Chairs for their work over many years.

He also acknowledged Expert Group Chairs whose terms came to an end, and thanked all those who supported Council activities over the last four years.

ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao presented certificates of appreciation to Council Working Group Chairs and Expert Group Chairs. Image credit: ITU/D.Woldu

View more photos from the final session of ITU Council 2022.

Host country Romania organized a Ministerial Roundtable on the eve of the Plenipotentiary Conference, 25 September, where ICT ministers from around the world gathered to discuss building a better digital future for all.

Ministerial Roundtable: Building a better future for all. Image credit: ITU/M. Jacobson-Gonzalez.

The ministers signed a declaration on the need to continue accelerating digital transformation, universal connectivity, and inclusion to ensure that no one is left behind. The declaration also highlighted the need to facilitate new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs for sustainable development.

Bucharest Declaration: “Building a better digital future for all”

View more photos from the Ministerial Roundtable.Highlights: ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2022

Women are greatly underrepresented in entrepreneurship despite adding immense value. How can e-Residency encourage more female entrepreneurs?


There is growing evidence that gender diversity in business is both economically and socially beneficial. Closing the gender gap and encouraging more women entrepreneurs could promote economic growth, boost household revenue streams, support financial independence, and bring new ideas and experiences to the table.

Yet globally women own only a third of formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), according to World Bank data. The share of female entrepreneurs also tends to be lower for company directors and sole proprietors. Women entrepreneurs are greatly underrepresented in the e-Residency community too. Only 16% of new e-residents are women. They clearly represent a large untapped population of entrepreneurs for the programme.

So, why are there not more female entrepreneurs? And how can e-Residency empower more women to take up entrepreneurship?

Women across the world face many barriers to entrepreneurship. A major challenge for women entrepreneurs globally relates to accessing finance. The exact causes of this vary across different regions, countries and societies. Some common causes include regulatory discrimination, attitudinal biases, and a lack of self confidence. Tackling these issues and so reducing the constraints women experience when seeking out finance could help level the playing field and open up more opportunities in entrepreneurship.

Why does boosting women entrepreneurs matter?

  1. Diversity in entrepreneurship promotes economic growth and corporate profitability

McKinsey estimates that narrowing the gender gap could addUSD12 trillion in GDP to the global economy by 2025. Improving opportunities for women worldwide should be a priority for all policymakers and decision makers in the public, private and social spheres. As the report says, gender inequality “is not only a pressing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge. If women—who account for half the world’s population—do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer”. Just look at Afghanistan where, 12 months after the Taliban took over, the economy has lost $5 billion and reversed ten years of economic growth. A UNDP report suggests that restricting women from work in Afghanistan could result in a economic losses up to $1 billion or 5% of the country’s GDP.

There is also a business case for gender diversity in corporate leadership, affirms McKinsey in a separate study. Their research showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile. Another study by Harvard Business Review found that firms with more women in the C-suite are more profitable. These studies provide practical evidence that women-owned and -managed businesses perform well for shareholders and ultimately the economy.

  1. Women entrepreneurs can provide an alternative household revenue source or become financial independent

Women make up half the world’s population, yet often are not able to participate in the formal economy, seek a wage through employment, or reach their full earnings potential. Allowing women to do so provides financial independence. For women in families, it can also increase household income. One way is to empower women to take up entrepreneurship.

On its blog, the World Bank notes: “In lower income countries, working as an employee is the exception, not the norm for men and women. Only 7% of women ages 15 and up are employed as wage workers in low-income countries, compared to 18% of men (this includes public and private sector jobs as employees, formal and informal).”

It’s not just low-income countries where women are affected. The figure below shows the gender gap by region. The gender wage gap is the difference between median earnings of men and women relative to median earnings of men. Wage equality increased marginally for women in 2022 but it will still take 151 years to close the global gender gap in women’s economic opportunity and attainment.

The global gender gap can be shortened by empowering more women entrepreneurs
The global gender gap is closing, but slowly. Image: World Economic Forum

The World Bank again: “Female entrepreneurship (and self-employment, in general)—working without a boss, be it in micro, small, medium, and large enterprises—consequently becomes an important vehiclefor women’s empowerment.”

In addition, many women are already entrepreneurs despite not being counted in official statistics. In some countries, it’s women who overwhelmingly participate in the domestic informal economy – as unpaid carers, maids, cleaners, shopkeepers and nannies. For example, in South Africa the informal sector is significant. Over 2.5 million people make up 20% of total employment in the country and contribute to about 5.1% of the country’s GDP.

Fifi Matlatse, a location-independent entrepreneur from South Africa, runs her company out of Estonia as an e-resident. She is the founder of FiFi M advisory, a data protection and privacy strategy consulting firm. Matlatse originally became an e-resident to manage her business while travelling. She even spent time in Estonia on the digital nomad visa. She attributes her entrepreneurial mindset partly to South Africa’s informal economy culture:

“The entrepreneurial spirit has been in me from a very young age because my father was an entrepreneur and I used to ‘help’ him in his tuckshop. I started my own ‘entrepreneurial’  journey in primary school where I would buy sweets from the supermarket and secretly sell them at school for a little bit of extra cash. I come from a country with a large number of informal businesses, so informal entrepreneurship drives the economy and it is mostly women running these businesses.”

  1. Women bring diverse ideas, approaches and experiences to entrepreneurship

A growing body of evidence shows that organizations with a higher percentage of women in leadership roles lead to more innovation. People with different backgrounds and experiences often see the same problem from a new perspective and come up with alternative solutions. This increases the odds that one of those solutions will be a hit. In a fast-changing business environment, such responsiveness leaves companies better positioned to adapt.

Research from the Harvard Business Review found that women score higher than men in 17 out of 19 key leadership skills, including “taking initiative, acting with resilience, practising self-development, driving for results, and displaying high integrity and honesty”. It is thus important to encourage female entrepreneurs to step forward and allow their skills to be put to productive and powerful use.

What are the barriers to overcome the disparity of women entrepreneurs?

According to the World Bank, “women face time, human, physical, and social constraints that limit their ability to grow their businesses.” These types of systemic barriers are widespread and relate to discriminatory laws and structures, lack of education or access to technology, social norms, and attitudinal biases. They vary in size, strength and prevalence across regions, countries and societies. For example, “only 38 out of 141 economies covered in the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law database set out equal legal rights for women and men in key areas such as opening a bank account, getting a job without permission from their spouse, and owning and managing property.”

In this article, we’ll hone in one barrier that is ubiquitous: access to finance.

Accessing capital or finance is a huge barrier for any woman seeking to start or grow their business. Access to finance and “financial exclusion pose a great challenge, especially for women entrepreneurs as they try to access capital to start, operate, and/or expand their businesses.” Recent estimates by the International Finance Corporation suggest that women entrepreneurs worldwide face $1.5 trillion worth of financing deficits.

The investment gap is also clear in startup funding. For example, according to an analysis of startup investment data in the US, investments in companies founded or cofounded by women averaged less than half that invested in companies founded by men. Over time however, the startups founded or cofounded by women actually performed better, generating about 10% more revenue in a five year period. That translates to a better financial bet for the investors by far! But I digress.

It’s not just women-led startups that struggle. Scaling a sustainable business can also be difficult if there are systemic or social barriers in the way. Invisible barriers like unconscious bias hinder women from business potential.

E-resident Fifi Matlatse from South Africa is one of our amazing women entrepreneurs
E-resident Fifi Matlatse

Despite progress, studies show about 90 percent of men and women alike hold some sort of bias against women in the workplace. As Matlatse has found, “I cannot tell you the number of times I’m addressed as a ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr’. Before meeting me, people assume that I am a man. This doesn’t bother me per se, however it shows just how far we still have to go to close the gender gap and give women the respect they deserve as entrepreneurs.”

Women founders currently face serious challenges in accessing venture capital at all stages of a company’s life cycle. Perhaps it is no surprise when, according to Crunchbase, which tracks VC funding, “92% of partners at the biggest VC firms in the US are men.” Plus, given that historically most VC funding has been awarded to men, this translates to more media coverageabout IPOs and unicorn status relating to male founders. Investors may therefore subconsciously assume that male entrepreneurs are more likely to give better bang for their buck.

How to tackle the funding barrier to women taking up entrepreneurship?

Overcoming the barriers is a multi-stakeholder project, and must include the public, private, and social sectors. First and foremost, countries should ensure their laws and policies provide a level playing field to anyone wanting to be an entrepreneur, male or female. It’s really a no brainer, when thinking about the huge boost to a nation’s productivity, GDP, and general societal welfare and wellbeing.

Addressing the systemic barriers is at the heart of projects undertaken by international organisations such as The World Bank, especially in emerging markets. For example, through introducing business development services training programs, incubators for women-led enterprises, loans earmarked for women, and improving technology access.

In the startup world, venture capital firms must pick up some of the slack to support more women founders through funding and scaling opportunities, as well as non-financial support too. For example, accelerating the timeline to a viable product, and connecting startups to customers and suppliers.

It’s promising to see more women-led VC funds emerging across the world with earmarked funds especially for women and diverse startup teams. But there is always more work to be done. For example, getting more women interested in VC investing as a career opportunity or better supporting existing women investors. Then, increasing leadership opportunities, and ensuring women are involved in decision-making when it comes to who to fund.

While progress may be slower than desired, the good news is that the number of women entrepreneurs and those in leadership positions is trending upwards. This means that there are more and more great and inspiring women stepping up as role models. Highlighting successful female founders and the creation of mentorship programs can be impactful. Mentors can guide young entrepreneurs in the right direction, foster connections, and develop a needed sense of confidence to succeed in the field. They can assist their mentees with market research, strategy, and the shaping of a successful business model. Additionally, they can help sharpen the needed skills to be a successful entrepreneur.

As Matlatse notes: “What has helped me in my entrepreneurial journey is that I have always been surrounded by successful career/business women – my mom and her friends are C-level executives and directors. I grew up surrounded by women who were successful in their careers so it was normalized to me. In my own career, although it is a largely male dominated industry [cybersecurity], I had really awesome women managers and mentors who took me under their wings, taught me the ropes and sang my praises to the higher ups.

Most importantly, my managers were also very forgiving – as women we fear making mistakes because it reflects badly on other women. But mistakes are inevitable and knowing that other women before also made mistakes and still climbed the corporate ladder and created their own successful businesses is really liberating.”

What this makes clear is how important women entrepreneurs ourselves are in solving the disparity. Let’s not simply complain about the barriers and limitations, but do something to help. We can lift others up, not be afraid to ask for more money, shout louder about our successes, and work with men and other women to push for change.

How can e-Residency empower more women entrepreneurs?

E-Residency takes seriously the need to ensure our product offering is inclusive and supportive for all men and women. The first step is to understand how people take up e-Residency. Through data tracking and visualisation, we can observe that while the numbers are growing, women still make up only 16% of new e-resident applications.

Why do we think this is? Well, for sure some of the barriers we discussed above are major factors. There is also the reality that the tech sector itself is gender imbalanced. A PwC UK report found that 5% of leadership positions and less than a quarter of STEM positions in the tech industry are held by women.

eResident Priya from Cyberconnecting
e-resident Dr Priya Abraham

E-resident Dr. Priya Abraham is a business anthropologist, and digital transformation strategist with long-term global experience with startups and large enterprises.

Abraham is the founder of VAELIOU, a boutique subscription based software system to help individuals build a thriving company culture digitally. She’s also the author of the book “Cyberconnecting. The Three Lenses of Diversity,” which educates organizations on how to build connections across different technical, social, and cultural barriers.

Abraham notes that recent global realities have exacerbated the barriers women face in entrepreneurship: “Due to recent geopolitical and economic developments, we live in a world that has become increasingly unfavourable to women. Therefore, it’s crucial to offer a user-friendly, non-discriminating, and highly transparent process to become an entrepreneur, such as e-Residency offers. The networking opportunity it offers is unparalleled and essential for business success.”

Indeed, e-Residency offers all entrepreneurs a great launchpad to get their enterprise off the ground:

  • The programme is fully digital, meaning you can start and run your business from anywhere,
  • Estonia’s digital business environment is transparent and easy to use, saving you lots of time and stress,
  • It’s low risk for early stage startups and SMEs – startup and running costs are low, the tax system incentivises growth, and there are numerous support programmes available for founders, and
  • The e-Residency community of 100,000 people are here to help you get started and learn as you go.

E-Residency will continue to spotlight its female entrepreneurs and provide resources and opportunities to aspiring women around the world.  This includes equal representation of female entrepreneurs at panel events, webinars, and in our content.

But more data and innovative and multidisciplinary policy responses are needed to enhance the development impacts of creative industries, especially in developing countries.

The creative economy offers a feasible development option to all countries, particularly developing economies, says UNCTAD’s Creative Economy Outlook 2022 launched on 7 October at the 3rd World Congress on Creative Economy in Bali, Indonesia.

UNCTAD defines creative industries as cycles of creating, producing and distributing goods and services that use creativity and intellectual capital as primary inputs. They comprise a set of knowledge-based activities that produce tangible goods and intangible intellectual or artistic services with creative content, economic value and market objectives.

The report says that although creative services exports vastly exceed those of creative goods, developing countries are underrepresented and face hurdles in exporting these services. In addition, there is a significant creative trade data gap between developed and developing countries.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said: “The report is published at a time when the global community faces some of the most significant challenges in decades: the COVID-19 pandemic, looming climate change and environmental crisis, geopolitical tensions and a major cost-of-living crisis. Despite these challenges, the creative economy remains a critical sector for sustainable development.”

Creative industries raise countries’ revenues

Trade in creative goods and services generates increasing revenues for countries, with services having a dominant role. The latest available data show that in 2020, creative goods and services represented 3% of total merchandise exports and 21% of total services exports.

Global exports of creative goods increased from $419 million in 2010 to $524 million in 2020, while world exports of creative services increased from $487 billion to almost $1.1 trillion during the same period.

Developing economies export more creative goods than developed ones. In 2020, China was by far the largest exporter of creative goods ($169 billion), followed by the United States ($32 billion), Italy ($27 billion), Germany ($26 billion) and Hong Kong (China) ($24 billion).

South-South trade in creative goods has almost doubled in the past two decades. In 2020, South-South trade in creative goods represented 40.5% of creative exports by developing economies. South-South trade is important for developing economies to create new trading opportunities and diversify exports.

Creative goods exports were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns worldwide. Creative goods exports were down by 12.5% in 2020, while exports of all goods fell by only 7.2%. However, preliminary data show that creative goods exports began to recover in 2021 and surpassed 2019 levels.

Creative services exports also rose, with their share of total services exports increasing from 12.3% in 2010 to 21.4% in 2020.

Developed economies export significantly more creative services than developing ones, accounting for 82.3% of all creative services exports in 2020. The largest creative services exporters in 2020 were the United States ($206 billion), Ireland ($174 billion), Germany ($75 billion), China ($59 billion) and the United Kingdom ($57 billion).

Creative services were more resilient than other services sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exports of creative services were down by only 1.8% in 2020, while exports of all services fell by 20%.

Developing countries face several barriers to participating in services trade, including creative services. These include lack of fundamental skills and infrastructure, which can hinder them from becoming competitive players in creative services, and trade restrictions.

How countries are harnessing creative industries

The report highlights some recent statistics from both developed and developing countries showing how creative industries are contributing to various economies.

For example, in Azerbaijan, cultural and creative industries contributed 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and 3.8% of total employment in 2018.

In Canada, culture and sport represented 3% of the GDP, while cultural products accounted for 2.5% of total exports and 2.9% of imports in 2019.

In Colombia, almost 500,000 people worked in the creative economy in 2021.

In Georgia, culture accounted for 2.8% of the GDP and 5.1% of the workforce in 2017.

In Mexico, the cultural sector contributed 2.9% of the GDP and employed over 2.2 million people in 2020.

Case studies from Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa show that developing countries measure the economic contribution of their creative industries in diverse ways.

The lack of yearly reporting and diverse definitions and methods applied in different countries make international comparisons difficult.

Countries increase support to the creative economy

Responses from 33 countries to an UNCTAD online survey provide insights into how the creative economy’s social, political and economic significance has grown at the national level.

Since 2015, more developing countries have issued national strategies, policies and regulations for the sector. Most respondent countries have established a strategy or national plan to support and develop creative industries.

In addition, several countries drafted national plans for their creative industries in 2020 and 2021 as an integral part of their post-COVID-19 recovery plans.

Tech is changing creative industries

New and emerging technologies (Industry 4.0) are fundamentally changing some creative industries, the report says. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards e-commerce and digital platforms and the scope of transformation of the creative economy.

But global digital divides persist, with repercussions on the creative economy. Digital divides mainly affect the creative economy’s ability to be inclusive, notably in developing countries that still need to benefit from the digital dimension of the creative economy.

To enhance the development impacts of the creative sector, especially in developing countries, UNCTAD calls for multidisciplinary policy responses in education, digital infrastructure and legal frameworks related to the creative economy, such as intellectual property rights.

Challenges to measuring the creative economy

Lack of harmonized definitions and methodologies and lack of data are among the key challenges to measuring the creative economy. Lack of data may lead to some creative industries and activities being overlooked by analysis, policy design and development.

Several frameworks exist to measure the creative economy, with patterns of common industries and products covered, but also differences due to national or regional classifications, activity or product coverage and methodology.

Developing countries face several challenges in quantifying creative services. They often lack appropriate statistical systems, adequate institutional arrangements, financial resources, IT infrastructure and trained experts. Even if data exist, processing, formatting and publishing them may be challenging.

Better and more disaggregated data are required to gain more insights into the role of creative services in economic transformation and their potential for services-led diversification in developing economies.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced Africa’s women entrepreneurs to rethink how they run their businesses, organize their workspaces, and manage employees. They have had to innovate and adapt to new, restrictive and challenging market realities.

The shift includes remote working and introducing a raft of new technology, tools, and digital platforms to connect effectively with customers and employees.

To provide practical guidance for women entrepreneurs adapting for the changes already in motion, the Lionesses of Africa, a network of trailblazing women entrepreneurs, has launched the 100  Lionesses ‘Future of Work’ playbook. 100 Lionesses is an initiative of Lionesses of Africa that celebrates 100 leading African women entrepreneurs. The African Development Bank is supporting the production of this digital tool for women entrepreneurs through its Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA).

The second in a series, the playbook provides practical business advice and peer insights to help women enterprises manage the transition to the future of work. Now, the future of work is about how we adapt to new ways of working, communicating, interacting and collaborating in constantly changing business environments. It features 24 leading African women entrepreneurs sharing hacks and experiences across five key dimensions: strategy; leadership and vision; technology and systems; people and teams; and new ways of working. It also offers a practical roadmap for Africa’s women entrepreneurs and key lessons, such as harnessing communications, developing a resilient supply chain, and developing hybrid work environments for businesses preparing for the future of work.

Melanie Hawken, founder and CEO of Lionesses of Africa said: Our working practices, the structure of our businesses, the reorganization of our workplaces, and the practical way we communicate with and engage our employees, have changed, and continue to evolve at a faster pace than ever. As a result, we must constantly open our minds to change, to innovation, to finding solutions to new challenges – and importantly, to learning from other women entrepreneurs. The future of work is already here.”

Esther Marieme Dassanou,  AFAWA manager, said: “Gone are the days of full brick and mortar businesses, or only face-to-face interaction with customers. The businesses getting ahead are ones with a strong digital presence, involved in e-commerce, and which have redesigned their systems to accommodate remote work. Looking at the glass half-full, this new work model provides great opportunities for women entrepreneurs as it allows them access to a much wider market, as well as increased productivity in some instances.”

Dassanou added “AFAWA works closely with commercial banks, meso- and microfinance institutions, equity funds and guarantee providers to develop holistic programs which include financial and non-financial services for women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. It is time to make our financial institutions part of our growth and pivoting process.”

Download the 100 Lionesses ‘The Future of Work’ Playbook here

Discover our hand-picked sessions organized by eTrade for all partners on e-commerce and the digital economy:


Session 5: Working Session

Leveraging Digital Tools to Connect MSMEs with Global Markets

Organizer(s): Misión Permanente de México ante la OMC, International Trade Centre (ITC), WTO Informal Working Group on MSMES

This session explores key digital platforms and resources designed specifically to assist MSMEs in making informed and sustainable business decisions, getting access to finance, finding the right business partners, and successfully completing their export transaction. It looks at concrete tools and initiatives that focus on connecting MSMEs to regional and global markets.


Session 26: Working Session

The Prominent Role of Disruptive Technologies and E-Commerce for an Inclusive Post-Pandemic Economic Recovery: The Customs Perspective

Organizer(s): World Customs Organization (WCO), WCO Private Sector Consultative Group (WCO PSCG)

The panel focuses on how customs can contribute to a post-pandemic recovery through digitalization and transformation. It will also consider the role of disruptive technologies as well as facilitation of e-commerce for an inclusive recovery. The panel discusses the importance of public-private partnerships to achieve these goals in terms of the accelerated implementation of technologies and facilitation of e-commerce for a fast recovery, from the Customs perspective. Panellists also explore the important initiatives, programmes, and tools for supporting members in terms of the implementation of disruptive technologies and facilitation of e-commerce.


Session 31: High-level panel

Leveraging Technology for an Inclusive Recovery

Organizer(s): World Trade Organization (WTO)

The panel of global thought leaders discuss how trade can narrow digital gaps by leveraging technology to promote an inclusive economic recovery while ensuring a fair, safe and sustainable marketplace. In particular, this distinguished panel deliberates on how trade can support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in harnessing the power of technological transformation to better integrate into global economy. Drawing lessons from the current polycrisis —the pandemic, climate change, geopolitical tensions, and food insecurity, the panelists also shed light on why technology is essential to prepare MSMEs for future pandemics and other crises.


Session 56: Working Session

Shedding New Light on the Evolving Regulatory Framework for Digital Services Trade

Organizer(s): Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)

Recent efforts to measure the regulatory environment affecting digital trade, including the OECD Digital Services Trade Restrictiveness Index, have shown that the measures that affect digital trade are on the rise and that there is a wide heterogeneity across regions. Drawing on the work undertaken with three UN regional commissions (UNECLAC, UNESCAP and UNECA), this session presents new insights on the nature, evolution, and drivers of digital trade restrictiveness in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America.


Session 71: Working Session

Industry 4.0 Technologies and Value-Added Services: Opportunities and challenges for LDCs

Organizer(s): Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the WTO and other International Organizations, Consumer Unity & Trust Society International, Geneva (CUTS International)

This working session informs about the challenges and opportunities of integrating industry 4.0 technologies in LDCs’ value-added services and discusses ways to support them reap the fruits of the digital age for increased integration in global value chains.

The objectives of this session are to: (i) learn about Industry 4.0 technologies’ applications for enhanced value-added services; (ii) share government and private sector perspectives about the challenges and opportunities of integrating industry 4.0 technologies in LDCs’ value-added services; and (iii) explore current initiatives to support LDCs to reap the fruits of Industry 4.0 and what else can be done.


Session 94: Workshop

Trustworthy Data Spaces: A Dialogue Between North and South

Organizer(s): Diplo Foundation, Swiss Federal Office of Communications, OFCOM, Switzerland (OFCOM, Switzerland), Geneva Internet Platform (GIP)

This session addresses data sharing and data flows from national and international perspectives. It aims to establish a bridge between proposals advanced by actors in the Global North and in the Global South, such as Switzerland’s proposal of trustworthy data spaces, Japan’s proposal of data free flows with trust and India’s notion of community data. The panel discusses how these different proposals could contribute to promoting a more equal distribution of benefits in the data economy and to shed light on current negotiations on data flows taking place at the WTO.


Session 128: Working Session

Digital Trade Innovations for a Sustainable and Inclusive Recovery Through Increased Intra-African Trade

Organizer(s): United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), African e-Trade Group (AeTrade)

In this session, ECA, Afreximbank, AeTrade, and Senegal’s Minister of Digital Economy unpack how innovations in digital trade, including in e-commerce, finance, trade facilitation, and the wider ecosystem can accelerate economic recovery through increased intra-African trade. Panelists investigate how these digital innovations are addressing issues of entrepreneurship, youth and women empowerment, job creation, trade barriers, and access to affordable finance, and how these tools can be further leveraged to support economic recovery. The session concludes with recommendations for their widespread development and use for Africa’s sustainable and inclusive recovery.


Session 139: Working Session

Governing Data for Global Data Flows and Exchanges for Digital Trade

Organizer(s): IT for Change (ITfC), the South Centre, Transnational Institute, Amsterdam (TNI)

Data being a digital society’s key resource, there is no gainsaying the importance of its effective governance. However, beyond privacy issues, data governance remains poorly developed. Allocating appropriate rights and responsibilities for economic value and use of data can ensure its most productive as well as fair use. The consent and participation in data use of people and communities who are the subjects of data would ensure the best use of our often finite resources. Governing data as an economic resource has to take place in conjunction with data’s other social, cultural and political roles in the society. UNCTAD’s 2021 Digital Economy Report called for a holistic Global Data Governance Framework. Such a framework should then inform global digital trade, ensuring a digital economy that is most productive and fair, globally, and within nations. This workshop would discuss the why, what, and how of a global data governance framework.

Cloud computing has democratised access to technology, affording organisations of all sizes access to a plethora of digital tools as well as the security and sustainability benefits of the cloud. However, many public and private organisations often have difficulties understanding the cloud and the policies that can enable its widespread adoption. There is a growing need to explore how the cloud works, how public and private sectors can utilise it, and how forward-thinking, pro-innovation digital policies can accelerate digital transformation.

Such was the rationale behind a webinar to discuss the importance of the cloud, its benefits, and the policy best practices for digital transformation. Organised by the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Southeast Asia Development Solutions (SEADS) of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the webinar was attended by more than 280 from the Asia–Pacific region.

Alfredo Perdiguero, Director of the Regional Cooperation and Operations Coordination, Southeast Asia Department of ADB, reported the growing trends of the public cloud services market in Asia and discussed how governments across ASEAN are beginning to adopt cloud-based system to automate public services such as business permit applications and public infrastructure management. As governments build on this momentum, he said it is important to note that building a cloud policy framework will be crucial to ensure the success of countries’ digital transformation.

Agne Makauskaite, Head of Public Policy for Regulated Industries, Asia Pacific & Japan, AWS, said it is important to understand the different types of cloud and know the steps public and private organisations should follow to move their system to it. She enumerated some benefits of cloud adoption, including how the cloud can help organisations be more operationally resilient in data management. She added that many enterprises and public services are moving their workload into the cloud for sustainability and reduction of carbon footprint.

Mary Joy Abueg, President of the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines (NICP), spelled out NICP’s aims to develop a local ecosystem in infrastructure, talent, and business environment, including how the cloud can be used to enhance digital transformation and efforts. She said that flexibility, security, and cost-efficiency are some of the building blocks for businesses to move to the cloud, and it is important for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to utilise and understand it.

Tahir Hashim, Senior Vice President of Engineering of Tokopedia, shared insights on how the cloud has been supporting thousands of merchants and start-ups that want to scale up their business using Tokopedia. He explained the importance of ownership and data or privacy issues of cloud service providers, and how setting boundaries is the main responsibility not only of governments but also of cloud providers.

Thomas Abell, Advisor for Digital Technology for Development, ADB, talked about ADB’s support to cloud digital training and the importance of building the cloud infrastructure for start-up companies and businesses. He described how the cloud has created more digital jobs and how it will continue to boost digital talent. He added that government should put laws and regulations in the cloud to avoid market domination of certain cloud services.

Bonifasius Wahyu Pudjianto, Director for ICT Empowerment  of Indonesia’s Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, specified three main building blocks to enable policymakers to foster cloud-first environment: (1) creation of cloud-adoption policies with a multi-stakeholder approach, (2) building cloud infrastructure based on public–private partnerships, (3) constant provision of programmes and support to upgrade workers with digital skills and tools as human skills are the cloud’s main driver.

Participants and panellists discussed issues surrounding the cloud, including data sovereignty, cybersecurity, and tools to build cloud infrastructure.

May-Ann Lim, Director of the Fair Tech Institute and Emeritus Director of the Asia Cloud Computing Association, moderated the panel discussion.

Dr Lili Yan Ing, ERIA’s Lead Advisor on Southeast Asia Region, cautioned that although the cloud could support the acceleration of digital transformation, it has the potential to widen inequality. It is important, she said, for the government to work with all stakeholders to address challenges in the digital age such as data privacy issues, cybersecurity, uneven market concentration, and competition between big technology players and MSMEs.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to update the MoU between the two organizations dating back to 2013.

The Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Rebeca Grynspan, and the Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya signed the MoU, which marks an important step towards deepening the long-standing cooperation between the two organizations.

The MoU aims to support Customs modernization by enabling interoperability between the UNCTAD’s Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) and the WCO Cargo Targeting System (CTS), National Customs Enforcement Network (nCeN) and Time Release Study (TRS). UNCTAD and the WCO are committed to enhancing Customs’ capability in managing risks by utilizing information and technology while streamlining and simplifying data collection and eliminating redundancies.

UNCTAD and the WCO agreed to collaborate further to accelerate harmonized supply chain digitalization through the implementation of international standards for data exchange, such as the WCO Data Model. In addition to increasing data quality and accuracy, the initiative aims to enhance trade facilitation by providing consistency and predictability related to cross-border data requirements.

In line with the WCO’s Data Strategy, the revised MoU lays the foundation for the two organizations to embrace a data culture and build data ecosystems by using Customs statistics. Under this initiative, UNCTAD and the WCO will develop a harmonized methodology for statistics data collection / sharing.

“The revised Memorandum of Understanding is a robust foundation towards closer cooperation with the UNCTAD in implementing our data strategy as well as supporting supply chain digitalization, trade facilitation and effective Customs control. Customs has long led border modernization, and this new partnership is expected to enhance this potential further and bring it onto a new level,” stated Secretary General Mikuriya.

UNCTAD Secretary-General, Ms Rebeca Grynspan, noted that this MoU would ensure that ASYCUDA systems are fully compliant with the international instruments and standards developed by the WCO. The collaboration between the two organizations would be instrumental in the successful delivery of respective goals and activities.

The WCO represents 184 Customs administrations across the globe that collectively process approximately 98% of world trade. It is the only international organization competent in Customs matters and its mission is to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Customs administrations.

UNCTAD is the UN’s leading institution dealing with trade and development. It is a permanent intergovernmental body established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1964. UNCTAD is part of the UN Secretariat and has a membership of 195 countries, one of the largest in the UN system. UNCTAD supports developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively.

Members of UNCTAD and the WCO talking in a meeting room

A few days ago, representatives from government, business, academia, and civil society from across all regions descended on Geneva to participate in the largest outreach event of the World Trade Organization (WTO), its annual Public Forum.  Buzzling with lively conversations under the broad umbrella topic of “Towards Sustainable and Inclusive Recovery: Ambition to Action“, the house was packed with 3200 participants and 671 speakers engaged in person in over 140 sessions on all things trade. Like in a grand bazaar, there was something for everyone. In my case, I heard five key messages from many stakeholders, loud and clear. The common thread among them is that it is time for action at the WTO.

First, the WTO matters. In a world of overlapping and reinforcing crises, from geopolitical rifts and war, threats to food and energy security, high inflation, supply chain disruptions, climate change, and the lingering impacts of the pandemic, the strengths and weaknesses of the global trading system have come into sharp focus. The WTO system has been vital to create and maintain stability and predictability in trade relations, both in normal and in more challenging times. But it has been slow to negotiate new rules, some of its working procedures could be more effective, and its dispute settlement system is no longer functioning as intended.

There were no calls in the Public Forum to ditch the WTO, however. On the contrary, evidence continues to mount that a well-functioning global trade system is not really a choice. It is a necessity. A necessity to manage the risks arising from a vastly more complex trade policy landscape. A necessity to fill the gaps in global governance that are weighing on the ability of countries to respond to pressing collective challenges. And a necessity to help make international trade more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable.

Second, the WTO must be reformed. Governments agree, which is why they launched a WTO reform process at the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) last June. There is a strong case for improving the WTO rulebook to respond to the profound shifts in production, consumption and trade that have taken place in the past 30 years. The good news is that change is already happening, as witnessed by the successful conclusion of the multilateral fish subsidies agreement at MC12. It is also taking new forms like in the case of the plurilateral deal on services domestic regulation. The process of reform offers additional opportunities to tackle other areas, like subsidies, where the rules may need to be revised and updated.

WTO reform is also about improving the way in which WTO members work in regular committees and bodies. This work is not flashy and often goes unnoticed, but it is a cornerstone of the global trading system. More and better dialogue and deliberation, based on increased monitoring, data and evidence, can help build a common understanding of both the problems at hand and potential solutions. It can also ease trade frictions.

Dispute settlement is perhaps the toughest part of the reform. There is no shared vision yet where to go, and tensions over trade, technology and security are not making it any easier. There is nevertheless the need for members to sort it out, with great political will and realism.

Third, the WTO can help boost digital trade. The rapid development and adoption of digital technologies is transforming the global economy and cross-border trade. The pandemic supercharged this trend, allowing small and large businesses everywhere to access new markets near and far. Digitally delivered services exports, for example, increased 14 percent year-on-year in 2020 and 2021. Governments are using disruptive technologies to support more efficient trade processes. Greater multilateral trade co-operation, not least to narrow digital divides, could help harness the vast potential of digital trade to stimulate growth, create jobs and foster innovation, especially in countries that are far from major global production hubs.

At the WTO, governments have taken important steps, like temporarily extending a ban on imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions. Importantly, nearly 90 WTO members are negotiating a plurilateral agreement on e-commerce with a set of disciplines to facilitate remote transactions and strengthen trust in digital markets while helping to tackle and prevent the proliferation of digital trade barriers. Digital trade permeates all areas of the WTO. Several committees are dealing with issues at the heart of the digital transformation, from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity and from autonomous vehicles to drones. We need more of that. Greater monitoring of digital trade flows and policies, as well as strengthened analysis, would help trade officials stay on top of a rapidly changing digital trade policy landscape.

Fourth, increasing trade opportunities lies at the heart of the WTO. Evidence is clear on the role of trade in driving growth, productivity increases and improved earnings, which is why the global trading system must put a focus on creating more openings for trade wherever possible. This is especially important for those who remain in the margins of the global economy, including small business, women, and least-developed countries. Greater inclusivity considerations are increasingly present in WTO deliberations, including in groups of WTO members that work together to support the integration of micro, small and medium enterprises and of women in trade.

Unblocking longstanding areas of negotiation that have made little headway over the past decades, like agriculture, could open new possibilities for farmers across the developing world. Moving ahead in newer areas such as digital trade could help reduce trade costs that disproportionately impact smaller players. Taking a renewed look at the potential of services trade, including digitally enabled services, could bring more women and young people into trade. Overall, WTO discussions on trade and development should seek to bring the many to leverage the benefits of trade, in tandem with appropriate domestic policies.

Fifth, the WTO is a tool to tackle climate change.  Climate change is already massively impacting trade patterns and supply chains everywhere. It has led more and more governments and companies to put in place net-zero strategies. Open and predictable trade can help spur the production of high quality and affordable green technologies, facilitate access to those technologies, and mobilize investment at the scale and speed needed to decarbonize the global economy over the next few decades.

The WTO could play a key role, for example, by slashing the barriers that weigh on the diffusion of climate-friendly goods and services to where they are needed, facilitating the emergence of the reverse value chains that underpin the circular economy, and supporting smallholder farmers and small businesses in developing countries so that they can meet increasingly stringent carbon and other sustainability standards in foreign markets. It could also support dialogue and coordination around the use of carbon border adjustment measures to help avoid trade frictions

Throughout the four days of the Public Forum, in every single conversation I held with many participants, I detected a sense of expectation, combined with a remarkable dose of realism. Stakeholders hope that multilateral trade cooperation can be revitalized and reshaped to continue to do in the 21st century what it did in the second half of the 20th century: to promote trade-led growth, prosperity, and development. But they are also clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, and the hard work it will take to bring about meaningful change. Most encouragingly of all, I saw so many people come to the Forum ready to engage and share ideas about how to do so constructively. So, a big thank you to all those who joined us in Geneva -and to those who made it happen.

We caught up with Generation Connect Youth Envoy Horace Chipembere to learn more about bridging the digital gender divide. Horace runs HerforTech, an initiative that promotes digital skills development to empower women and girls in Malawi.

In a recent LinkedIn post, you describe helping girls overcome “fears of technology.” Were you ever afraid of technology in your youth?

I think there are always fears associated with technology. During my school years, I found most things I was learning to be complex, confusing, and unfamiliar. For example, during my first programming lesson, I was intimidated by the idea of writing code or an entire program from scratch.

How did you overcome those fears?

I challenged myself to say: “If others can do it, then I can too.”

I got extra lessons on the Internet, including through YouTube, and conquered my fear of programming.

I now enjoy coding because it allows me to solve problems and boosts my creativity. I also found role models and mentors who inspired me to take action and supported me to overcome my fears.

Why is being a Generation Connect Youth Envoy important to you?

Generation Connect has given me a platform to discuss opportunities and challenges related to digital technologies in the African context. My involvement with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as a Generation Connect Youth Envoy allows me to bring my talents, passion, and energy to engage and collaborate with youth globally.

What kind of example would you like to set for other youth envoys?

I would like other youth envoys to lead with integrity and be positive role models in their engagements.

We have the power to create the change that we want to see in the world.

This can be achieved by working together to shape our future and inspire others.

When it comes to bridging the digital gender divide, how can girls overcome their fears of using technology?

The first step is to understand the reason for the fear. Reminding girls that they are strong, capable, and bigger than their fears is important. They can challenge themselves with an “I can” attitude, and by trying out different technologies. Thinking of the positive outcomes of technology can help, as well as finding women leaders in technology to be role models.

three happy, young African women sitting at a desk in front of their laptops and listening to an young African man standing next to the desk

I would love girls to remember that it is okay to make mistakes when learning new technology and that there is always room to learn from those mistakes.

Can you share some examples of how digital skills are empowering girls and women in Malawi?

Malawi has a population of 19,647,681. According to the World Bank, 82 per cent are rural dwellers who rely on agriculture and small-scale entrepreneurship for their livelihoods. Girls face many challenges in Malawi, including limited access to education, early marriage, and sexual violence.

However, technology and digital skills are empowering girls and young women with key skills to succeed in life. For example, Victoria Kasoti, a Her4Tech mentee trained in digital skills, shared how new mobile and social media technologies have provided her with a platform to communicate, access information and connect with like-minded individuals from around the world.

Another Her4Tech member, Natasha Mahiye, told me that using digital tools gave her access to new learning opportunities and valuable career experience.

Victoria and Natasha are now pursuing degrees in computer systems and security at the Malawi University of Science and Technology. By building their skills and confidence, girls and young women like them are becoming agents of change in their communities.

What are the biggest hurdles you notice in empowering girls and women to use technology?

A primary challenge is that some girls and women think technology is a male-based domain. Another is thinking technology is too complicated, or not seeing its value. Some girls and women may be intimidated by technology because of inexperience or limited access to devices.

Sometimes, the media portrays girls and women in the IT industry as geeky or antisocial – stereotypes that can have a negative influence. Women are still underrepresented in the technology field. This means fewer role models for girls who are interested in science, tech, education, and math (STEM).

What’s next for you as a Youth Envoy focused on empowering girls and women?

I aim to help increase the number of young girls interested in pursuing technology careers.

My plans include introducing them to drone technologies, offering advice in school career guidance sessions, conducting digital bootcamps, and fostering relationships with those who share these goals.

What is your dream job?

I would like to serve as a Minister of Information Technology. I would have the power to make positive decisions that my generation needs, including in areas like the gender digital divide, cybersecurity, Internet governance, education, and access to information and communication technology (ICT) tools.

I would want to influence people to take charge and use resources at their disposal to create a better future for the coming generation.


This interview has been edited for length.

ITU’s Generation Connect initiative has established six regional youth groups, with Youth Envoys from over 100 mostly developing countries.

These groups aim to provide a unique and participatory platform for young people to contribute to ITU’s work, discuss opportunities and challenges related to digital technologies, and more.

Learn more about Generation Connect.

A Q&A with Ousmane Diagana, Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa for the World Bank Group

Ousmane Diagana, a Mauritanian national, is the Regional Vice President for Western and Central Africa where he heads relations with 22 countries in Africa and oversees a broad portfolio of projects, technical assistance operations, and financial resources worth more than US$40 billion. Previously, Mr. Diagana was the Vice President of the World Bank Group Human Resources and Vice President for Ethics and Business Conduct (EBC) and Chief Ethics Officer of the World Bank Group. He has extensive country experience, previously serving as World Bank Country Director for Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea, and Togo, and prior to that he held the position of Country Director for Mali, Niger, Chad, and Guinea. Between 2006 and 2009, Mr. Diagana was Country Manager in Niger and from 2004 to 2006, he was Program Leader in Morocco. In addition to English, he speaks Arabic, French, and Wolof.

Why is digitalization a priority for development in Western and Central Africa?

Digitalization is one of the most transformational opportunities of our times. It is reshaping the global economy, driving financial inclusion, closing information gaps, and changing the way we work, live, and learn. As such, digitalization will be key for poverty alleviation and boosting shared prosperity in West and Central Africa.

recent report by IFC and Google estimates that Africa’s internet economy could add up to nearly $180 billion to its economy, accounting for 5.2% of the continent’s gross domestic product by 2025. Using data from Nigeria, the largest mobile market on the continent, a 2020 World Bank and GSMA study demonstrated that extreme poverty declined by about 4% after one year of mobile broadband coverage, and about 7% after two or more years of coverage. With an estimated 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa requiring digital skills by 2030, increasing digital literacy will be essential to help citizens seize the jobs of the future.

Despite the challenges to access and affordability, digitalization in West and Central Africa is a huge opportunity and the region is showing tremendous potential. For example, in Guinea-Bissau – where we recently completed a Digital Economy Country Assessment – digitalization holds opportunity to help the country address fragility, boost financial inclusion, and develop job opportunities beyond the cashew nut trade. In Cameroon, public services are going online, entrepreneurs are building startups, and development partners and the private sector are increasingly financing the digitalization of services.

During the World Bank’s 2022 Spring Meetings, we heard from African leaders that there is a shared sense of urgency around this agenda. We will need to help countries deepen reforms and attract the necessary investments for increased digitalization of services, which will be an essential condition for creating good jobs and fostering strong, green, and resilient growth.

As Western and Central African countries work to recover from the pandemic, what are some of the biggest challenges and opportunities they’re facing in digitizing?

While the COVID-19 pandemic caused untold hardship, it did one important thing: it proved that digital solutions are an opportunity to radically change the way development services are delivered. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, countries that could leverage digital assets – broadband connectivity and digital public infrastructure – were able to reach more beneficiaries and deliver social assistance in a faster, more targeted, and more transparent manner.

There is now a unique momentum and urgency to accelerate digitalization, narrow the digital divide, and develop the digital public infrastructure that can support emergency response. Countries without this digital infrastructure are now keen on developing them to be better prepared and able to respond more quickly to provide social protection, food security, and economic stimulus when disaster strikes.

However, many countries in the region face challenges of low network coverage and quality, high operating costs, barriers to market entry, lack of competition, and high operating and investment risks. Deep divides in digital connectivity, internet use, and access remain. Sub-Saharan Africa 3G and 4G mobile broadband coverage stands at 86% and 57% of the population, respectively. In Western and Central Africa, only 36% of the population has access to broadband connectivity. The gap between access and use is growing, with 56% of people in Western and Central Africa living within range of broadband but not using it. And of course, there’s the issue of equity with connectivity gaps disproportionately impacting communities in rural and fragile settings, women, and other marginalized groups.

As I wrote in an op-ed last year, COVID-19 presented a unique opportunity to reverse inequality and promote strong economic growth. Accelerating Africa’s digital transformation can be a part of this reality. This will require greater leadership and collaboration from Governments, the Private Sector, and Civil Society to accelerate the digital transformation of Africa, and the World Bank stands ready to help.

What are some next steps in building digitization both in Western and Central Africa and on the whole continent?

We are supporting countries on a number of fronts from providing technical advice to supporting investments in digital infrastructure, skills, platforms, and regulations to increase the share of the population with broadband connectivity to 43% by 2024.

Through our DE4A initiative, the World Bank is committed to supporting sub-Saharan Africa double its 3G broadband penetration from 12% in 2016 to 24% in 2022, and we are excited that the region has moved past this target to effectively reach 34%. In the past two years, we have prepared 21 projects in direct support to digitalization with a total amount of $2.47 billion in 16 Western and Central African countries.

We are working to mainstream digital across all our efforts. With technology as cross cutting theme in our most recent IDA20 replenishment, we have a unique opportunity to put digitalization at the core of everything we do. In July, heads of states of 24 African countries released the Dakar Call to Action which reaffirmed the need to intensify efforts to accelerate the development of the digital economy and aim for universal access to broadband by 2030.

In that call to action, leaders firmly committed to using IDA20 resources to achieve these goals. Under IDA20, we have identified three key areas of work to accelerate digitalization:

  1. Closing the digital connectivity gap. Affordable mobile broadband (3G/4G) is particularly important to drive connectivity forward, though fiber optic connections are growing rapidly in main economic centers. Extending broadband to areas with no coverage presents a substantial economic challenge.
  2. Investing in safe and open digital public infrastructure. Digital public infrastructure (DPI) comprise platforms hosted in data centers and clouds for digital identification, payments, data sharing, representing key elements for digital transactions including authentication of individuals and payments, and the flow of money and data. Only when such platforms are able to integrate and work together seamlessly and safely, can more sophisticated products and services be unlocked.
  3. Helping countries access and use digital services. Investments to improve connectivity and internet access along with DPIs offers leapfrogging opportunities to increase productivity and promises new solutions to long-standing problems.

There is much work to be done. Together with governments and the private sector we can leverage resources, harmonize policies, and help countries scale up inclusive digital transformation in the region. The good news is that many African countries are well on their way to building a vibrant, safe, and inclusive digital economy. Going forward, regional economic commissions can play a key role in accelerating digitalization and groups in Africa are stepping up efforts to promote digital markets that encourage regional cooperation across member states.  The potential of an integrated digital market in West Africa and at the continental scale is even greater.

We hope to continue this discussion in the weeks and months ahead. To draw attention to this topic, at the 2022 Annual Meetings, together with the Digital Development team, we will be hosting a high-level seminar with policymakers and practitioners, “Accelerating digital transformation: Realizing the Dakar Call to Action in Western and Central Africa.” With that event, we hope to identify solutions and concrete actions countries can take now to truly catalyze Africa’s digital development. This will be a key opportunity to rally around this cause, and I hope you’ll join us for this discussion.

The two entities have strengthened their existing collaboration to promote digitalization, facilitate trade and improve customs control worldwide.

UNCTAD and the World Customs Organization (WCO) have expanded their decade-long cooperation to include more areas of work.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan and her WCO counterpart Kunio Mikuriya signed a memorandum of understanding on 4 October, updating the two organizations’ previous agreement from 2013.

Joint efforts to modernize customs operations

The new agreement will boost customs modernization by enabling interoperability between UNCTAD’s Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) programme and various WCO projects.

ASYCUDA – UNCTAD’s largest technical assistance programme – helps customs offices in over 100 countries and territories to expedite the clearance of goods.

Currently, 77 WCO members are using ASYCUDAWorld – ASYCUDA’s flagship software – as their integrated custom data management system.

“It is worth noting that ASYCUDA systems are fully compliant with the international instruments and standards developed by the WCO,” Ms. Grynspan said.

“Our collaboration will be instrumental in the successful delivery of our respective goals and activities,” she added.

WCO works to make customs operations more effective and efficient. The Brussels-based entity represents 184 customs administrations across the globe, which collectively process about 98% of world trade.

“The memorandum of understanding is a robust foundation towards closer cooperation with UNCTAD,” Mr. Mikuriya said.

“Customs has long led border modernization and this new partnership is expected to enhance this potential further and bring it onto a new level.”

Leveraging data for stronger customs capability

Through the agreement, UNCTAD and WCO will help customs authorities better manage risks with information technology.

To streamline and simplify data collection, the two organizations will develop a harmonized methodology to gather and share customs statistics.

They will join forces to accelerate supply chain digitalization by implementing international standards for data exchange, such as the WCO Data Model.

In addition to increasing customs data quality and accuracy, the collaboration will also facilitate trade by improving consistency and predictability related to cross-border data requirements.

"UNCTAD and WCO secretary generals at the signing ceremony"
UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan (right) and WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya at the signing ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Smartphones are being developed to let users connect by satellite when there is no Wi-Fi or cellular coverage.
  • The first satellite smartphones allow text messaging, and offering additional connectivity will be challenging.
  • Ways of connecting remote communities are needed urgently because of a global digital divide affecting billions of people.

It’s a familiar and frustrating feeling: you need to make an urgent call or get online, but your smartphone has no bars.

For some of us, connecting via satellite could soon be the answer.

Phone companies are racing to bring us products that will let us use a satellite connection when we’re out of reach of Wi-Fi and cellular networks.

Only an estimated 15% of the world’s surface is covered by cellular networks, according to satellite communications company Iridium.

Reaching beyond the phone networks

Bouncing phone signals off a satellite orbiting the Earth could – in theory – make coverage almost universal.

Explorers and the military have used satellite phones for years because the technology lets them make calls and send texts from the most remote places on the planet.

But the devices have traditionally been seen as a specialist kit for people venturing beyond the places phone networks cover.

Texting via satellite

That’s starting to change as manufacturers develop ways ordinary smartphones can communicate by satellite.

UK-based smartphone maker Bullitt is to launch a messaging service for its devices which will switch to satellite networks if there is no cellular or Wifi signal.

Users will initially only be able to send texts by satellite. The person receiving the message gets a simple SMS and can respond if they download the Bullitt app.

An example of how texts could be sent via satellite. Image: Bullitt/BBC News

Receiving and replying to the messages is free, but the Bullitt phone owner will need to pay a service charge to connect by satellite.

Bullitt hasn’t yet revealed the cost but says charges will be similar to standard mobile tariffs and paid as an extra on a network contract, reports the BBC.

The service will be launched in February 2023.

Meanwhile, SpaceX and the wireless carrier T-Mobile say they will use low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites to allow text messaging across the US.

They say the service will connect most smartphones on the T-Mobile network to SpaceX’s Starlink satellites.

Apple’s satellite service

Apple has also joined the space race. The newly launched iPhone 14 allows users to message the emergency services by satellite when there is no Wifi or cellular coverage.

In an emergency, the iPhone poses a series of questions to establish the nature of the SOS before connecting.

Satellites are moving targets so can be hard for phones to connect to. Image: Apple.

That process is designed to avoid delays, according to Apple: “Satellites are moving targets with low bandwidth, and it can take minutes for messages to get through”.

The iPhone will tell users where to point their phones to connect them to a satellite. The messages then go to a centre where trained specialists will call for help.

The service is only available in the US and Canada from November, and will be free for two years.

Challenges of satellite-connected smartphones

All the companies trying to offer satellite smartphones face some “fairly obvious” challenges, says The Mobile Network.

These include the cost of building and launching communications satellites, the speed at which they orbit the Earth and the complexities of offering more than a basic text service.

While the technology has its limits now, it has the potential to end “not spots” – the dead zones where it has been too expensive or difficult to put up phone masts.

Promoting digital inclusion

The LEO satellites that phone companies are planning to use could also help communities which aren’t connected to the internet.

The satellites orbit relatively close to the Earth’s surface, at about 2,000km. They operate as a network to provide internet coverage on the ground.

About 2.9 billion people – 37% of the world’s population – are offline or not connected to the internet, according to the Edison Alliance, a World Economic Forum initiative to improve digital inclusion. “For those living in rural or remote areas, advancements in satellite technology can complement existing terrestrial infrastructure in order to bring these individuals online and into the digital economy,” says Lisa Meng, Head of the EDISON Alliance.

Rural and remote communities suffer digital divide

The digital divide deprives people of employment opportunities and stops them from using online education and health services.

Rural and remote parts of the world are the worst affected, even in some wealthier countries.

The Alliance has launched a Digital Inclusion Navigator to share the best ideas for connecting people to the internet.

It’s part of the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, which aims to accelerate the delivery of affordable digital services to underserved communities.

 

This article is part of:Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation

How can we teach 1 million kids to innovate themselves out of poverty?

Africa Teen Geeks has the answer. The South-African non-profit organisation is teaching kids in Africa to code, giving disadvantaged youth across the continent access to technology and computer science lessons. The organisation’s mission is to close the digital divide in South African schools by providing young people with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and broader life skills. Lindiwe Matlali, founder of Africa Teen Geeks, originally ran the organisation in her spare time to help teens with similar backgrounds to her own.

“So when you bring these kids, most of them have never touched a computer before and you see the excitement of just sitting in front of a computer and some of them not even knowing how to turn it on. And then after the first day they’ve written their first code, they can see their spirits jumping,” explains Matlali. “And we just see the passion in their eyes and how their world has just opened up. And that is what I love the most, because, from that moment on, you’ve created a spark and a new world that these kids were never exposed to.”

Today, the organisation is one of the largest computer science non-profits in Africa. The skills the kids learn through coding can teach them many other life skills, says Matlali.

“They learn critical thinking. They learn how to solve problems,” she says.

“Your first code is not going to work. The second one may not work. The third one, I mean, sometimes even your hundredth one, you know, depending on what you are doing. So teaching them how to persevere and how to have a positive relationship with failure.”

By offering the combination of STEM and these other essential life skills, Africa Teen Geeks’ aim is to raise students’ aspirations and ambitions, as well as create a new generation of entrepreneurs. In 2019, nearly 60% of Africa’s population was under the age of 25. However, a big portion of this youth comes from disadvantaged communities and faces many challenges, from lack of access to education, to lack of mentors or coaching.

That’s why UpLink is partnering with Africa Teen Geeks to leverage African youth to become the continent’s greatest asset for accelerating growth through innovation. UpLink and Africa Teen Geeks will create a programme to equip students with STEM, innovation and other relevant skills to inspire them to develop creative ideas that can submit to UpLink Innovation Challenges. By amplifying the work of Africa Teen Geeks, UpLink hopes to build a movement of teen innovators and raise awareness of sustainability issues around the globe.

“We are hoping obviously to expand it to every country that doesn’t have it, the curriculum. And that’s also part of the work that we will be doing with UpLink to try and reach children from all over the world, not just African kids only, but children from all over the world who come from disadvantaged communities,” says Matlali.

Member States of the UN specialized agency will gather in Doha to continue guiding the world’s digital transformation.

 

 

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will hold its next Plenipotentiary Conference, known as PP-26, in Doha, Qatar, four years from now, delegates from governments around the world agreed today.

The Plenipotentiary Conference, where delegates representing ITU’s 193 Member States set the organization’s four-year strategic plan and budget, is ITU’s highest decision-making body. ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, with a mission to help connect the world sustainably while leaving no one behind.

The decision to host PP-26 in Doha was adopted by consensus among the Member State delegations present Tuesday morning, during the second week of ITU’s current Plenipotentiary Conference, PP-22, in Bucharest, Romania.

The quadrennial gatherings serve as milestones on the path to global digital transformation, which ITU aims to align with United Nations sustainable development priorities.

“I applaud the decision to hold the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Qatar, the successful host nation of previous important ITU events,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “PP-26 – marking less than four years until 2030 – will support accelerated digital uptake, which is crucial for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring that everyone is connected by the end of the decade.”

Zhao recalled Qatar’s hosting of ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference in 2006, the Connect Arab Summit in 2012, and ITU Telecom World in 2014.

Qatar’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology, H.E. Mohamed bin Ali Al Mannai, attending today’s session in person, called the quadrennial Plenipotentiary “the primary event where ITU Member States define the role of the Union in driving the development of telecommunications [and] information and communication technologies (ICTs).”

Following endorsements by delegates from countries and regions worldwide during today’s plenary session, Romanian official and PP-22 Chair Sabin Sărmaș noted the “overwhelming support” for Qatar to host the 2026 conference and offered to share best practices and insights with the next Plenipotentiary Chairperson.

“The State of Qatar has a strong ICT infrastructure that is compliant with international standards, making it one of the leading countries in the world in this regard,” Minister Al Mannai said in his proposal to host the conference in Doha. “The State of Qatar is also a world leader in organizing and hosting major events, including high-level global and regional conferences across a variety of sectors.”

ITU’s member states last week elected a new leadership team for 2023-2026, headed by Secretary-General-elect Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who is currently the Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Underlining the challenges ahead for ITU and its membership between now and the newly announced PP-26, ITU’s latest statistics show an estimated 2.7 billion people – or one-third of humanity – still lacking access to the Internet. Stark digital divides persist despite accelerating progress over the last two decades and a global connectivity surge during COVID-19.​​


Additional resources

Follow the discussion at #Plenipot

A new report reveals persistent barriers in the digital finance sector that limit women’s economic empowerment in Africa, while recommending policy responses to overcome them.

Commissioned by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the latest edition of the biennial African Women’s Report was published today. The report analyses the digital finance ecosystem in Africa to examine all its components and how they impact women’s economic prospects.

Barriers

The report pinpoints five key issues affecting the use of digital finance as a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment in Africa. First, despite having more mobile money services than anywhere else in the world, women’s access to digital services, mobile and internet in Africa is limited due to illiteracy, cost, skills gap and social norms.

Second, while impressive gains are made in improving women’s digital finance skills, Africa lags behind compared to other regions. For instance, the share of women with digital finance skills in North Africa has doubled from 12.5 per cent in 2014 to 25.7 per cent in 2018 – surpassing the global average of about 20 per cent. However, the same figure stands at only 12 per cent for the entire continent.

Third, only 33 per cent of women in Africa have a formal bank account compared to 43 per cent of men. This gap, together with limited access to economic assets, escalates women’s vulnerability and exclusion from profitable sectors and formal jobs. Fourth, social norms as well as inherent biases in financial practices, products and services adversely impact women.

Finally, the lack of women’s participation in decision-making processes, as well as in financial and technology fields, means digital finance policies and products are unlikely to include women’s perspectives and meet their needs. In addition, in some African countries, women are nine times less likely to have formal identification than men, which impedes their ability to access, own and use digital finance services freely and safely.

Speaking about the report, Ms. Edlam Yemeru, acting Director of ECA’s Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division, said: “Africa is a global leader in several transactional technologies such as mobile money but there remains considerable scope to scale up digital finance and ensure that women can take full advantage of the resulting opportunities. This requires addressing a number of barriers related to connectivity, digital literacy, cost, laws and culture.”

She continued: “Our report takes a holistic approach in looking at the digital finance ecosystem and defines policy options for governments to develop the sector further and accelerate financial inclusion while paving the way for women’s economic empowerment – leaving no one behind.”

Responses

The report outlines 10 policy responses for governments to consider in ensuring their national digital ecosystem supports, not challenges, women’s economic empowerment.

Specific responses include prioritising female representation in the sector, up-skilling people – especially women – in digital finance, reforming laws for greater mobile money uptake and designing gender-sensitive policies that combine technology with social development.

The report proposes that sex-disaggregated data on internet usage, mobile ownership and financial literacy should be part of national household surveys to inform the design of relevant policies.

It further recommends embedding digital finance frameworks in national development plans and working with credit bureaus to address the potential for inherent gender biases within credit reporting systems.

Finally, the report urges African countries to establish regional digital finance regulatory and justice frameworks using the African Continental Free Trade Area as a platform to enable digital identities and improve cross-border cooperation.

The African Women’s Report is a biennial flagship publication of the ECA. The latest edition focuses on ‘Digital Finance Ecosystems – Pathways to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa’’.

Postal services have changed dramatically as global trade and technology have evolved, making the UPU’s role of facilitating global communications more relevant than ever, as stated in the new Abidjan Postal Strategy and UPU’s development cooperation policy 2022-2025. The newly published UPU Regional Development Plans are designed to help the UPU fulfil this role.

“Governments must provide the necessary enabling environment and ensure that universal postal services are maintained, while postal operators around the world must adapt to the new environment and meet the evolving demands of society and the market through structural reforms, innovative services and constant modernization,” stated in the Abidjan World Postal Strategy.

With this new strategy come the Abidjan cycle’s Regional Development Plans, through which the UPU will focus its efforts on activities specific to each region.

For the Africa Region, the plan centers on three aspects: capacity building, consultations with countries to better understand their needs, and procurement assistance for countries facing difficulties, such as natural disasters or armed conflict, said Amadou Bello, UPU Coordinator, Africa Region and LDCs, SIDS and LLDCs.

“African countries made progress,” Bello said. Some have adopted solutions in e-commerce or digitalization, yet it’s not enough. “We have to push them to be more innovative, because now, if you are not innovative, you cannot survive.”

For the Europe and Central Asia Region, this cycle’s spotlight on cooperation with governments and regulators is an important shift. “Previously, our main focus was on assisting designated operators, but this underestimated the role and importance of governments and regulators in the development of the postal market and in strengthening the role of the postal network in socio-economic development,” explained Andrei Soudakov, Coordinator, Europe and CIS Region and Capacity Development.

Projects include e-commerce development, postal financial services and payment readiness for e-commerce, as well as digital transformation. The UPU will rebuild its presence in the field to ensure greater effectiveness and a higher level of interaction with regional stakeholders. It is also going to implement more than 70 activities, including consultancy missions, technical workshops, and individual training, Soudakov added.

In the Latin America and Caribbean Region, stakeholder involvement, starting with governments, will be equally crucial for supporting the postal sector as it implements the UN sustainable development goals, said Nicolás Bilhoto, Coordinator, Latin America, Caribbean and Postal Sector Modernization.

“Governments are key in implementing changes and improving the regulatory environment for the postal sector,” he said. Projects include e-commerce development and development of postal policies. In the Caribbean, improvements will be made in transportation and connectivity within the region.

The Asia-Pacific Region’s focus this cycle is capacity building for its 19 LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS by offering training and equipment, said Thakur Subhash Sinha, Coordinator, Asia-Pacific and South-South Cooperation. A million Swiss franc project has been rolled out to supply postal equipment to these countries. Projects in the region are under implementation to improve operations, human resource capabilities, digitization, diversification of services and environmental sustainability, among others.

Last but not least, in the Arab Region, the focus will be placed on helping countries be more resilient, utilizing different strategies for its main postal players, said Hashim Elhaj, Coordinator, Arab Region and Disaster Risk Management. “We’ve identified some countries in our region who are now in the game of e-commerce,” he explained. “We are offering other activities in postal financial payments to help member countries have a wide basket of services and be more resilient for disasters.”

The UPU will offer training workshops, send consultancy missions to help develop action plans, and, in least developed countries, possibly offer equipment, such as servers or computers, to improve the quality of service. Additionally, the region’s field presence will shift to include two offices with two regional experts rather than one office.

With these elaborated, needs-based and forward-looking plans, the UPU is well equipped for another four-year journey of innovation and collaboration in support of postal development and the broader sustainable development efforts.

To learn more about the UPU’s development cooperation work and access all the Regional Development Plans 2022-2025 in multiple languages, click here.

A joint publication entitled “Study Report on Disruptive Technologies” was launched by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and World Customs Organization (WCO) Secretary-General Kunio Mikuriya at a virtual event today (3 October). The publication reviews how so-called disruptive technologies, such as blockchain, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, can help to improve the conduct of international trade and border management.

The report, a follow-up to an edition published by WCO in 2019, notes the benefits of disruptive technologies for Customs administrations and international traders. However, there are still opportunities for broader implementation, the report underlines, highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with the adoption of these technologies.

In his opening remarks, WCO Secretary-General Mikuriya said: “I’m pleased that we have been partnering with the WTO since early 2021 to get a more comprehensive review of where we are in using technologies in global trade, and its implication for Customs. The extent to which Customs leverages these new technologies to improve its processes can have an important impact on cross-border trade processes and supply chain operations. Hence, the two organizations decided to jointly assist our respective members in their digital transformation journeys.”

In her opening remarks, WTO Director-General Okonjo-Iweala said: “Disruptive technologies … enable new and innovative business models that can contribute to making trade more efficient and inclusive, such as online retail and lean inventory. They also have the potential to significantly reduce border-related fixed costs, which is especially important for smaller firms. Governments must not lag behind as businesses use digitalization to operate more effectively. The good news — as this study makes clear — is that many governments are doing just that. They are using or experimenting with various digital technologies.”

The report identifies the key ways that disruptive technologies support international trade and economies more broadly and pinpoints ways in which they can assist Customs administrations in terms of trade facilitation, security and revenue collection.

In addition, the publication provides a basis for policy actions that will improve the transition to paperless trade and implementation of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

The launch was followed by short presentations on the experience of deploying disruptive technologies from the Customs administrations of Argentina, the Netherlands, Niger and the Republic of Korea.

The publication can be found here.

Digitizing G2P payments is a cross cutting agenda. The G2Px Initiative brings together the knowledge and expertise across various World Bank Group’s global practices and units–covering social protection, payments systems, financial inclusion, digital development, governance and gender–to improve G2P payments at scale. In this piece they are being represented by three directors for Digital Development, Social Protection and Jobs, and Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation.


The COVID-19 crisis highlighted how digital public infrastructure (DPI) can play a critical role for governments to deliver social assistance quickly and safely. DPI not only allowed governments to reach an unprecedented number of new beneficiaries, it also allowed them to make payments to them remotely. This brought millions of people into the social protection and financial system for the first time. Countries now have the opportunity to learn from, and build on, these experiences to implement G2P (government-to-people) payment ecosystems that are efficient, responsive and inclusive.

The restricted economic activity during the COVID-19 crisis created the need to support vast numbers of people, including urban informal populations, who generally were not receiving any existing social assistance program.

Expanding support systems posed two challenges: identifying who needed support, and making the payments efficiently and safely in the context of a pandemic. Our new G2Px research report, “The role of Digital in the COVID-19 Social Assistance Response,” illustrates how governments met these challenges most successfully when they could leverage existing digital infrastructure – digital databases, ID systems and payment systems.

The unique challenge of reaching new beneficiaries

Registering new beneficiaries during a pandemic and determining their eligibility was a significant challenge. Urban informal workers — as well as other newly vulnerable individuals in need of social assistance — were often hard to identify because they were not part of existing registries. An estimated 1.7 billion people in low- and middle-income countries lived in households that received COVID-response social assistance payments, and in most regions, over half had never had government support before.

Countries with existing digital databases and ID systems were better able to tackle the challenge of registering and determining the eligibility of new beneficiaries. These systems allowed countries to match potential beneficiary information, in a secure and privacy-preserving manner, across different databases to assess eligibility and also to verify their identity throughout the process. Thailand, for example, only asked for a national ID number (and basic demographic information for identity verification) in their COVID-response social assistance program online applications. Using only this unique number, they were then able to make checks against a range of databases and quickly  approve applications from over half of the working-age population.

Countries which couldn’t use existing digital databases or ID systems to cross-check or verify individuals registering remotely reached, on average, only 16 percent of their population with COVID-response support. In contrast, countries with existing digital databases and trusted data-sharing reached an average of 51 percent of their population.

Governments that did not have DPI in place instead had to rely on collecting information at the local level, which translated into error-prone and lengthy processes. The Philippines, for example, initially had to use local government officials to collect data from 18 million households for its first round of COVID-response social assistance payments because its social registry was out of date and its digital ID system, PhilSys, was still in the process of registration. The process led to delayed payments, substantial numbers of duplications (at least 5 percent), and made it harder to reach new beneficiaries. This experience prompted authorities to accelerate their efforts to roll out PhilSys, which has registered more than 72  million Filipinos to date and will be piloted for easing G2P payments by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The opportunity for inclusion

Once beneficiaries were registered and their eligibility verified, governments faced the second challenge: delivering payments quickly and safely. Many countries used digital payment methods, in several cases for the first time. Sometimes this took the form of transfers into mobile money or traditional accounts. In other cases, individuals received payments through mobile vouchers or tokens they could then use to cash out.

The fact that many countries delivered their payments digitally meant that millions of people opened an account for the first time, significantly accelerating financial inclusion. In Colombia, almost 3 million beneficiaries of the country’s COVID-response social assistance program received their payments through an account,  and over 1.3 million new mobile accounts were created for that purpose. Around 70 million beneficiaries received a payment through Brazil’s COVID-response social assistance program, for which the government set up a digital savings account which allowed individuals to access funds remotely. An estimated 40 percent of these beneficiaries didn’t have an account before the pandemic.

However, other countries missed opportunities to broaden financial inclusion – for example, some sent the payment into a limited account or used a token that could only be used to withdraw cash, instead of also allowing beneficiaries to make digital payments, save, or transfer money. Paraguay for example created 1.5 million new mobile e-wallets, but  they had limited functionality and didn’t allow beneficiaries to save or make transfers, unlike the above mentioned in Brazil. 

Dismantling barriers

The collective experiences of countries which embraced digitization during the pandemic to deliver social assistance payments represents a unique opportunity for progress, but that progress cannot be guaranteed without coordinated action, learning, and investment.

Significant strides were made in digitizing government-to-person payments during the COVID-19 crisis, but there is still a long path ahead to ensure this translates to long-term development outcomes.  For instance, while many countries leveraged digital payments during the pandemic, not all leveraged accounts which can accelerate financial inclusion and contribute to women’s economic empowerment. Neither does the fact that digital systems were used for COVID-response programs mean they will be scaled up — many of these programs were temporary.

Ensuring DPI is developed to support the digitization of government payment schemes across countries and programs  will require decisive action by stakeholders across the public and private sectors. It will also require learning from the successes and pitfalls from the COVID-response experiences to ensure programs can support long-term development goals, including the need to increase financial access points and improving financial products and services.

Countries now have a unique opportunity to build on these lessons to develop digital G2P payment ecosystems, as well as DPI more broadly, that can create efficiency gains for the government and open doors for beneficiaries. Doing so can ultimately provide the shared rails for payments streams which have the capacity to increase convenience, inclusion, and empowerment of their recipients.

In August 2021, following an extensive career in both the Japanese and international postal sector, Masahiko Metoki was elected Director General of the Universal Post Union (UPU), a UN specialized agency and the primary forum for international postal cooperation. His deep experience has included roles in the postal financial field, and with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Japan in Thailand, positions that provide excellent international preparation for his current role.

The role brings rewards, notably being able to lead knowledgeable staff in a rich multicultural environment, all who bring diverse ideas and perspectives to the table. This generates a great sense of responsibility both to the people served across the Union’s 192 member countries, as well as to the staff. As Director General, Metoki notes that he must “ensure the Union considers the needs, challenges and expectations of each of those member countries, and listening to UPU stakeholders within the postal sector and beyond has developed an even firmer belief that the Post plays an essential role in reaching every person all over the world.”

This is the mandate. Whether helping a small business owner in the remote Pacific Island to access the global marketplace through affordable e-commerce services or ensuring that those facing crises — natural disasters or conflicts — continue to have access to humanitarian assistance, the Post is there to deliver.

As the world’s second oldest international organization, the UPU also has a venerable history to communicate, and it does so via World Post Day, celebrated on 9 October. As the rise of globalization from the eighteenth century on created the need for multilateral solutions to support the growth of international communication and commerce, the UPU’s formation on 9 October 1874 provided one of the first solutions to this need. It paved the way for the first-ever truly global forum for postal cooperation and development. Director General Metoki notes that the Post has, perhaps as much as any other international institution, woven together all corners of the world, and the celebration of this pivotal event through World Post Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness about just how essential the role has been that the Post played, and continues to play, in global socioeconomic development by connecting people, businesses and institutions. Its global network of over 600,000 officers comprising over 5 million staff deliver everywhere, over land and sea, to the rural and truly remote. As such, the Post is an important provider not only of communication, but also of trade, financial, social, governmental, and digital services.

Director General Metoki explains how, each World Post Day, a particular theme is chosen that is deemed relevant not only to postal services, but also to the customers they serve. “This year we will celebrate World Post Day under the theme ‘Post for Planet,’ acknowledging the serious nature of the climate crisis and the Post’s role in helping to solve the issue.”

 

Director General of Universal Postal Union, Masahiko Metoki

 
As global society becomes quickly more aware of the need to make urgent changes to reduce environmental impact, the postal sector has naturally needed to react. The e-commerce boom, compounded further by the pandemic, together with the complex network of partners involved in delivering items, has shaped the Post’s approach to environmental sustainability within the sector. This has fundamentally meant an acknowledgment of the Post’s role in helping to reduce global carbon emissions as a key component of the e-commerce ecosystem. This has included huge shifts in developing sustainable packaging for e-sellers, rethinking how postal outlets are powered, finding sustainable transport options (and in doing so, often providing a model for scaling up to mass market adoption), greening postal delivery fleets, and reformulating delivery routes to optimize and reduce emissions. Similarly, the development of the Online Solution for Carbon Analysis and Reporting (OSCAR) is committed to carbon reduction.

Additionally, last year, UPU members passed a resolution that commits the organization to investigate possible emissions reduction targets and carbon-neutral cross-border services in the postal sector. As part of this, knowledge sharing on emissions reduction strategies, climate finance, and climate adaptation will be facilitated.

As a UN organization, the UPU is also collaborating with the UN Secretariat on the Global Digital Compact. In this respect, Director General Metoki points out that there are certain challenges that will be faced in working towards an open, free, and secure digital future for all.

Firstly, digital development can commensurately increase inequalities. The postal sector has already demonstrated how it can bridge such digital divides and reduce inequalities and the national level by supporting the rollout of digital infrastructure, together with the adoption of digital services in all economies, but especially in underserved communities. As an example, some 1.5 billion people worldwide access their financial services through the Post, making the Post the second largest contributor to financial inclusion globally. Many posts already offer some type of digital financial services, while UPU is actively supporting others to digitize their financial service offerings. The Post is a key global player not only for the uptake of digital financial services, but also for e-trade, e-government, and other digital services.

A secondary challenge the Compact may confront is that digital development could also significantly erode people’s trust in institutions. However, since posts are trusted national institutions around the world, they are leveraging this long-term trust to promote the adoption of digital services which, in turn, promote socio economic development across all levels of the economy.

With such ongoing challenges in mind, the UPU, under Director General Metoki’s leadership, is now consulting member states for their thoughts on other ways the Post can contribute to the Compact, and the results of this consultation will be made available soon.

After over a decade of mobile money, customer literacy of digital finance products and services remains low. Are DFS market players failing customers?

Abigail is 24 years old and living in Chainda, Lusaka with her parents. She does odd jobs for her income and supports the family by contributing to some of the bills, including electricity. While she uses mobile money to top up her phone credit, Abigail is reluctant to pay for electricity using her phone as she fears she may be overcharged or she may make a mistake and misdirect money. “Agents charge K5 (US$0.4) to buy electricity. If there are no extra costs, I’d prefer to pay with my mobile money.”

Grace is a widow and vegetable vendor. She has a smartphone but uses cash to pay for her water and electricity because she doesn’t know how to make mobile money payments.

These are just two examples of customers who are unaware that they can pay utilities using mobile money or do not trust this payment modality. Why is this? Especially in a country with a relatively high mobile phone penetration of 83 percent?

Owning a device does not equal using services available

Most utility providers in Zambia have adopted digital channels to receive payments, however customers’ usage of these channels remains a challenge. This can be attributed to customers’ low overall literacy levels, customers not having the technical skill to use a digital method, or not knowing the benefits of the digital payment channels. According to the Bank of Zambia FinScope 2020 Zambia Survey report, only 23.6 percent of the adult population is financially literate, and merely 16.2 percent of adult females and 21.4 percent of adults in rural areas are financially literate. These low levels of financial literacy have resulted in the low uptake of formal financial services by the adult population.

The 2021 FinDex Report indicated that 24 percent of adults aged 15 years and above owned a financial institution account, which includes mobile money accounts, and of these people, 10 percent use mobile money or an online service to make payments and purchases.

In the State of the Digital Financial Services (DFS) Market 2018 Report, customer dormancy was reported to be 70 percent, indicating low usage of existing mobile money accounts. Customer dormancy was attributed to several factors including low literacy of the target populations and low product awareness.

These data indicate low usage of DFS accounts among customers in Zambia. It can be argued that customer education levels are too low to allow the uptake of a wide variety of digital finance products in Zambia, especially among low-income users. Despite widespread efforts on the availability of digital financial services, mobile network operators (MNOs) and other providers have yet to adequately educate users on products and use cases and thus increase uptake of services (and consequently collections for utilities, for example), increase product awareness and build trust in digital financial services. Excluding this demographic from critical services will mean they remain excluded from additional digital products and services and the wider digital economy that is growing in Zambia.

But usage slowly picking up

The past three years, however, has seen an increase in the use of digital financial services, which was bolstered during the COVID-19 pandemic when incentives such as the zero rate of mobile money transfer for specific amounts were introduced by mobile network operators.

According to the FinScope 2020, mobile money uptake increased in 2020 to 58.4 percent, up from 14 percent in 2015. However, those who used these services were most likely to be urban-based, female, aged 16 – 35 years, had attained between grade 10 to 12 level of education, were salaried workers or dependants of salaried workers and were from households in the lower-to-higher incomes ranging from a mean of ZMW826 (US$52) to ZMW2879 (US$180) per month.

Last-mile customers are not prioritized

A scoping visit by a UNCDF team to three peri-urban neighborhoods in three provinces (Lusaka, Central, and Copperbelt) reinforced that those who use mobile money services are not peri-urban, low-income users, with lower-level education. Respondents in the focus-group discussions and key-informant interviews, who were majority youth, women and low-income Zambians, did not have knowledge of all digital payment methods for their utilities and a small number of them did not use mobile money at all.

Customers interviewed indicated that they would use the digital services if they knew about them and if they knew how to make the digital payment. Addressing these two needs would increase awareness and improve literacy at this customer level.

Typically, MNOs conduct extensive training of agents and merchants at on-boarding and product-awareness activities are conducted continually on-ground to drive usage. MNOs also conduct awareness drives for new products being introduced on the market and various payment methods that the companies offer.

According to John Mutobo, the Digital Channels Manager at FINCA Zambia, “The most important reasons for training the agent and customers is that the training helps them make correct decisions regarding financial matters. Further, most of the customers and agents in rural areas have a low savings culture, therefore, these trainings help them change their savings behavior and build more assets. Additionally, training the agents on financial literacy help them to ably handle financial matters on behalf of the bank and help transfer the knowledge to the customers because they are directly in contact with the target market than the bank.”

Agents are a critical touch-point for customers and play a key role in customer education alongside the public and digital financial service providers, but they may not be the most effective channel. Customer education takes time – time required to serve other customers; educating customers to perform transactions independently will eventually result in a loss of their overall commission, as customers will not cash out but, transfer the money from their wallet directly to the provider. Therefore, agents might not be incentivized enough to educate customers. The market needs to find a way of alleviating this loss for agents so they can continue serving subscribers to maintain the usage and demand of digital services.

Many business models focus on agents and merchants, rather than subscribers, especially those from low-income groups, as that is how the distribution of digital financial services is built — on an agent network. If we really want Abigail and Grace to start using their mobile money wallet for payments, providers can direct more effort to educate customers, show customers how to execute transactions, and help them gain trust in the payment platform.

Bridging the gaps

Alongside the private sector in Zambia, the Ministry of Finance is implementing the National Financial Education Strategy 2019 – 2024 on personal finance education through the school curriculum, entrepreneurship programmes and the private sector. However, this strategy does not address the digital component, which has become more prominent in recent years.

Training in digital financial literacy is key to bridging these knowledge gaps. Many stakeholders acknowledge this and have made efforts to bridge the financial literacy and digital literacy gaps. Financial Sector Deepening Zambia (FSDZ) recently re-launched a DFS radio drama called Bank Yako Yako to scale up financial education for DFS through radio in all of Zambia’s ten provinces. Further, the partnership between UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Viamo aims to do — to provide awareness and training in digital financial literacy for 30,000 women and youth via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and a WhatsApp chatbot for those who have smartphones. Customers that better understand the availability and usage of services can nudge low-income customers to transact and participate in the digital economy.

The UNCDF and Viamo partnership will address this information and training gap by using mobile-based and in-person trainings. Currently, 75 percent of the population in Zambia have mobile subscription — higher than radio or television ownership, which stand at 57 and 37 percent respectively, according to Zambia Information and Communication Authority (ZICTA). Viamo will leverage a combination of interactive voice response (IVR), WhatsApp channels, and in-person training solutions for customers and staff of utility services.

There are other such interventions on the market and they must be sustained or taken up by mobile money providers to ensure low-income customers are not excluded.

Jointly prioritize customer education

Owning a mobile money account does not necessarily mean the subscriber will use it, however, with better knowledge of what one can do with the account, its use is likely to increase. As the number of digitally-literate people grows, more users will have the confidence and ability to transact on digital platforms – beyond bill payments. These users will be brought into the growing digital economy that is transforming the country. Zambia has made significant strides on its path to digital transformation over the past few years. Progress is particularly evident in digital infrastructure, digital financial services, and digital platforms, while more significant gaps remain in digital skills and digital entrepreneurship. Addressing these gaps, especially the inclusion of last-mile customers, remains a key priority for UNCDF in pursuit of achieving the SDGs. Despite individual efforts from various industry stakeholders, more coordinated and rigorous efforts are needed to boost customer awareness and literacy of digital financial products.

Digital financial services continue to deliver substantial financial inclusion benefits and provide life-changing opportunities to communities, especially in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. In fact, as the latest Findex report shows, account ownership has risen to 76% of the global population and stands at 71% in developing economies.

Despite these encouraging developments, the risks associated with digital financial services from a consumer protection viewpoint remain a concern. New research by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) reveals that there are new consumer risks emanating from advances in digital financial services, centring around fraud, data misuse, a lack of transparency and inadequate redress mechanisms. However, the path to consumer protection in digital financial services is clear. Evidence from research by Consumers International and CGAP in 2021 plainly showed that engagement with consumers is key to strengthening consumer-centred regulations and policies and importantly, building trust with consumers.

To drive forward this change, Consumers International is implementing the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator (FDFA). The FDFA is a unique, proactive community of practice that will strengthen channels of engagement with regulators and provide much needed thought leadership in consumer protection for digital financial services. Through a unique and vibrant community of consumer associations in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, we have established a platform for collaborative action, learning and collective influence on digital finance to shape the future for consumers