WTISD 2023 calls for bold digital action

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General, ITU

Each year on 17 May, we dedicate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) to a specific topic where digital development needs extra attention.

None of them is more urgent than this year’s WTISD theme – bringing the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) into the digital era. More than just an economic opportunity, this is also a moral imperative.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has helped shape the development of numerous technologies over the years – like radio, television, satellites, the Internet, and mobile communications – that have become part of the fabric of our lives. With artificial intelligence (AI) and today’s emerging generative AI, the pace of tech innovation is accelerating yet again.

We must – both as the United Nations agency for digital technologies and as a global society – ensure these technologies are safe and developed responsibly. We also need to bring the benefits of these technologies to everyone, everywhere.

This means looking to the digital future with confidence in who we are, and in what we can do together to bend the arc of tech history towards inclusion. LDCs must not be left behind in our new digital era.

We can no longer define them only by what they lack. Instead, let us define LDCs by what they can be.

Mobilizing partnerships for connectivity

ITU has prioritized LDCs, and so has the fast-growing ITU-led Partner2Connect Digital Coalition. Out of some USD 30 billion mobilized in Partner2Connect pledges so far, more than one third directly targets at least one LDC.

Pledges already received – from governments and companies around the world – show what we can all do, together, to address some of the most unjust digital inequalities. The challenges facing LDCs range from unaffordable Internet access to a digital gender gap that shows no sign of narrowing.

Of course, these issues are too big for any one player to face alone. Partner2Connect needs more players and champions; partners who think big and are bold.

Our next big goal – which I announced at ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on WTISD 2023 – is to reach USD 100 billion in pledges in the next three years.

To keep up the momentum, I am calling on the public and private sectors to step up their pledges for universal connectivity and sustainable global digital transformation.

Digital rescue for the SDGs

For both ITU and the wider Partner2Connect digital coalition, success rests on our collective commitment to reach the hardest-to-connect communities, many of which are in LDCs. Doing this goes hand in hand with rescuing the Global Goals – the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.

Today, at the halfway point in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, just over 10 per cent of the original SDG targets remain on track. As of now, the SDGs are failing, and we need to rescue them.

Through game-changing digital technologies, we can mobilize greater action on the SDGs where it matters most.

SDG Digital Day, taking place on 17 September in New York, will put data and digital technologies front and centre during the upcoming SDG Summit.

This is our opportunity to create lasting digital justice, prosperity, and sustainability for all. What we do now will matter for generations to come in LDCs and beyond.

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

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