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Partner2Connect steps up drive for meaningful connectivity in LDCs

At a briefing for the UN Missions in New York on the Private Sector Forum of the LDC5 Conference (March 5-9), representatives from the private sector showcased pledges submitted to Partner2Connect, ITU’s digital coalition to mobilize commitments for universal and meaningful connectivity.

United Nations leaders and private-sector partners gave a briefing on 7 February on Partner2Connect (P2C), the innovative multi-stakeholder digital coalition created by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to mobilize commitments to bring the whole world online.

The briefing highlighted the combined moral and business case for ensuring that everyone, everywhere can benefit from the opportunities created by Internet connectivity. This means ensuring no one – including the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – gets left behind.

The testimonies of real-world digital providers about their connectivity pledges laid key groundwork for a stepped-up Partner2Connect drive at the upcoming LDC5 – the fifth UN Conference on the LDCs – in Doha, Qatar, on 5-9 March. A Private Sector Forum will run in parallel to the main intergovernmental conference between 5 and 7 March.

Rabab Fatima, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS, said such partnerships were key to sustainable development.

“Governments and countries cannot achieve sustainable development alone,” she said. “The private sector can play a big role.”

With one in seven people now living being in an LDC, “We need to build on the success of the Partner2Connect Coalition and encourage more investment to tap into this potential for success.”

She called the ITU-led coalition “an important step towards that end” and “an excellent example of what can be done.”

ITU Secretary-General Doreen Bogdan-Martin reiterated the need for broad cooperation to ensure the benefits of the Internet reach everyone worldwide.

“Any divide, including the digital divide, is an opportunity divide. It keeps the most vulnerable nations at risk of falling further behind,” said Bogdan-Martin, who led ITU development activities and was instrumental in the formation of the Partner2Connect before her election to ITU’s top job.

Private-sector partners on board

Pledges made through the Coalition are already starting to boost meaningful connectivity on the ground.

Convergence Partners, an impact investment firm, pledged last year to invest at least USD 250 million over five years “to improve the availability, quality, capacity, and affordability of digital infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa.”

This Partner2Connect commitment will benefit over one billion people, said the firm’s Executive Chairman Andile Ngcaba, adding: “Last week, we closed the fund at USD 297 million,” or more than 18 per cent oversubscribed.

Some of the biggest global tech and telecom companies have recognized the value of broad, UN-facilitated partnerships.

“We’re talking about a multi-stakeholder approach to advance the Doha Programme of Action, which is explicit in calling for using technology to empower LDCs to achieve sustainable development,” said Christopher Sharrock, Vice President for UN and International Organizations at Microsoft (ITU Sector Member). “The Partner2Connect Coalition is a great example.”

Microsoft’s General Manager for Digital Inclusion and Community Engagement, Naria Santa Lucia, added: “We’re focusing our efforts on people and communities that are traditionally excluded from the digital economy.”

Telecom provider Vodafone (ITU Sector Member) has pledged to invest USD 190 million over the next five years to increase 4G mobile coverage to an additional 80 million people in Africa. Joakim Reiter, Vodafone’s Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer, called the first year of Partner2Connect “an astounding success… from a private-sector perspective.”

To date, the coalition has mobilized some 600 pledges totalling about USD 30 billion in value for extending meaningful connectivity, with financial or in-kind commitments addressing key issues like infrastructure, cybersecurity, digital skills, inclusion, and socio-economic transformation. Nearly 200 pledges so far target at least one LDC.

For companies, such commitments merge business reasons with a commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. “We know that broadband connectivity can reduce extreme poverty, create jobs, and boost women’s participation in economic life,” Reiter noted.

Video on-demand streaming service Netflix (ITU Sector Member) has pledged to form partnerships with Internet exchange points (IXPs) and content-caching servers in countries and regions with connectivity challenges. “Netflix’s pledge to Partner2Connect aims to improve local access to – and the quality of – streaming services for over 100 million people in LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS,” said Thomas Volmer, the company’s Head of Global Content Delivery. “This commitment will enable the development of digital economies by streaming 80 per cent of the content locally.”

Connectivity for global development

About 2.7 billion people, or one-third of the world’s population, remain unconnected. According to ITU’s Facts and Figures 2022, only 26 per cent of people in lower-income countries use the Internet, with 21 per cent of women in those​ countries being online compared to 32 per cent of men.

Internet access is increasingly recognized as a prerequisite for global development, including fulfilling the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Universal connectivity is a key priority in the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which aims to build a more open, free, and secure digital future for all.

ITU established the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition in 2021, in close collaboration with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology, and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

The ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) last year provided a high-profile push for pledges to be submitted through P2C’s online platform, which ensures transparency and accountability to support universal and meaningful connectivity.

The programme’s first annual report was released in December, when participants at the Partner2Connect annual meeting provided self-reported progress updates on the status and impact of their pledges.

The platform remains open, and commitments continue to be recorded and tracked upon. Interactive dashboards enable users to search pledges, contributors, and self-reported progress on implementation.

To view current information on Partner2Connect pledges.

To view current information on self-reported progress on Partner2Connect pledges.

ITU’s side-event at the LDC5 Private Sector Forum (Partner2Connect: Accelerating the Doha Program of Action through partnerships for meaningful connectivity and digital transformation) takes place on 6 March, 17:00-18:45 in Doha.

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