World Telecommunication Development Conference forges path to meaningful global connectivity

Leaders at landmark ITU meeting in Kigali adopt roadmap for digital transformation in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) concluded today with the adoption of a forward-looking agenda to address the global connectivity gap that has kept 2.9 billion people around the world from using the Internet.

Organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) between 6 and 16 June, WTDC welcomed 2,152 participants in total, representing 150 Member States and 340 Sector members and partners, with 1,304 delegates present in the Rwandan capital, and another 848 joining the meeting remotely. The focus of the event was ‘Connecting the unconnected to achieve sustainable development’.

The Kigali Action Plan agreed at the conference charts a course for digital development that aligns closely with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations for 2030. It also defines the workplan of the ITU’s Development Sector (ITU-D) until the next WTDC.

Public-private partnerships were at the forefront with the conference’s Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable; since its launch, the Coalition has to date mobilized 418 ground-breaking connectivity pledges worth an estimated USD 25.05 billion, with more pledges still coming in.

“Having this conference take place in Rwanda is an important milestone,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “Let’s build on this momentum to strengthen the image of ITU as a UN specialized agency not just for technology but also for development – and to accelerate digital transformation for all, here in Africa and the rest of the world.”

In her closing address, Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, who chaired the conference, told delegates, “I want to thank all delegations for the zealous effort, spirit of collaboration, consensus exerted towards making this WTDC-22 a success and all the contributions made towards the Kigali Action Plan that will move us forward to bringing connectivity and its benefits to the unconnected over the next four years…I hope we can report positive results at the next WTDC.”

Committed to connectivity

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference set out to reinvigorate progress on SDGs and put digital uptake at the forefront for the remaining seven years of the UN’s Decade of Action.

Adopting the Kigali Declaration, delegates underscored their collective commitment to universal and meaningful connectivity, and approved new Regional Initiatives. Also agreed were various new ITU-D resolutions and new sets of Questions to be investigated by the two ITU Study Groups focused on development issues.

“It has been an intensive two weeks, but thanks to the tireless commitment and hard work of our delegates we have succeeded in finding consensus and building the solid global agreement on core principles to drive connectivity that has been the great talent of ITU for more than 155 years,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

Newly adopted resolutions aim to:

  • Ensure every school is connected to the Internet through the joint ITU-UNICEF Giga initiative (Resolution on Connecting every school to the internet and every young person to information and communication technology services)
  • Confirm the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition as the primary platform to foster new partnerships around meaningful connectivity and digital transformation globally, focusing on the hardest- to-connect communities (Resolution on The ITU Partner to Connect Digital Coalition (P2C))
  • Drive efforts to advance digital transformation for sustainable development, recognizing the enormous potential that ICTs have to create positive, meaningful and lasting change (Resolution on Digital transformation for sustainable development)
  • Create a thriving environment for entrepreneurship and digital innovation ecosystems to help accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (Resolution on Fostering telecommunications/ICT-centric Entrepreneurship and digital innovation ecosystems for sustainable digital development)

Regional Initiatives outlined in the Kigali Action Plan address specific needs for each major region of the world to advance and accelerate digital transformation. Broad themes across ITU’s six global regions include: infrastructure development; enhancing cybersecurity; nurturing enabling policy and regulatory environments; advancing digital skills development; and developing smart and sustainable cities.

Updated digital development questions

The latest ITU-D Study Group Questions aim to further support the achievement of global and regional development goals through collaborative discussions and technical engagement among diverse stakeholders.

The 14 Questions fall under two broa​d categories:

​-  Study Group 1: Enabling environment for meaningful connectivity

–  Study Group 2: Digital transformation

​These two ITU-D Study Groups are tasked with drafting reports, guidelines, and recommendations on a range of topics related to information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the context of digital development.

These include the use of telecommunications/ICTs for disaster risk reduction and management; economic aspects of national telecommunications/ICTs; consumer information, protection, and rights; sustainable smart cities and communities; enabling technologies for e-services and applications; and ICTs for the environment. See the full list.

New partnerships and engagement

WTDC featured ground-breaking events designed to mobilize new voices and partnership mechanisms.

The Generation Connect Global Youth Summit, held from 2 to 4 June, brought hundreds of young people aged 15-29 to Kigali’s Intare Arena, as well as engaging more than 5,000 virtual participants via 70 Generation Connect Hubs around the world. Key debate topics included the global digital divide, youth access to online education and digital skills, the digital gender gap, online safety, e-waste management, the future of work, digital entrepreneurship, and the role of technology in climate change.

The Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable from 7 to 9 June threw the spotlight on investment pledges from governments, the private sector and civil society to advance global connectivity, with commitments to be monitored transparently via a new ITU-hosted dashboard. Explore the pledges here.

ITU’s Global Connectivity Report 2022, released on 6 June, assesses the status of global connectivity and offers recommendations for accelerating progress. It notes that while easy, affordable access to fast broadband has become near-ubiquitous in most rich-world nations, vast swaths of humanity remain excluded from the immense possibilities offered by the online experience, stunting economic development and deepening global inequalities. The report calls for putting universal and meaningful connectivity – defined as the possibility of a safe, satisfying, enriching, productive, and affordable online experience for everyone – at the centre of global development.

A new Network of Women (NoW) for ITU-D programme supported women’s participation and professional development at the conference, with the goal of promoting better gender balance in national delegations and empowering women to take on more responsible roles as leaders of working groups and committees. In addition to dedicated in-person and online training sessions ahead of the conference, the programme featured a Women’s Lunch hosted by Qualcomm (9 June), a NoW Walk2Connect walkathon open to all delegates and Kigali citizens (12 June), and a Women’s Breakfast hosted by the Government of Australia (15 June).

WTDC registered delegates present onsite in Kigali included 64% male and 36% female delegates – an improvement over the previous WTDC in Buenos Aires in 2017 (74% male / 26% female), but still far from the gender-balanced conference that ITU is committed to achieving.

National Order of Honour conferred on ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame on 14 June conferred the Agaciro (National Order of Honour) medal on Secretary-General Zhao for “distinguished service as the leader of ITU during a very consequential period for the globalization of telecommunications technology.” The medal is awarded to high-ranking officials for promoting political, economic, and social welfare consistent with Rwanda’s interests at the national or international level.

Zhao said the award would “inspire and encourage all to tackle digital development challenges and ensure no one is left behind, adding: “I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to President Kagame for his vision for the digital future, as well as his capable leadership in ICT adoption to transform Africa and facilitate global ICT development.”

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WTDC Newsroom

WTDC – World Telecommunication Development Conference | Trello

WTDC – Opening Video | Youtube

WTDC – Highlights Video | YouTube

WTDC | Photos on Flickr ​​

Global Connectivity Report:

Global Connectivity Report 2022 | Trello


Partner2Connect | Trello

Partner2Connect Highlights Video | YouTube

Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable | Photos on Flickr

Generation Connect:

Generation Connect | Trello

Generation Connect Global Youth Summit Highlights Video | YouTube

Generation Connect Global Youth Summit | Photos on Flickr

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