#WSIS 2016 reinforces commitment to harnessing ICTs to meet the SDGs

WSIS2016I have been involved now with WSIS since its very first manifestation in Geneva in 2003, and more than ten years later it never fails to inspire and surprise. It has been an incredible journey so far, and a wealth of valuable knowledge has been created and shared by our ever-growing global community – a community of people and organizations who are so incredibly passionate about and committed to information and communication technologies as real catalysts for sustainable development.

Over the past ten years and more, the WSIS Process is where the real grassroots ‘ICT for development’ work is being done. It represents a unique, authentic and effective platform for voices and stories from developing countries, from local communities, and from across just about every sector of society. The WSIS Forum, which concluded today in Geneva, is where the results of that ongoing process are showcased each year, with a solid focus on success stories, concrete results and evidence of impact.

The big focus this year was how to harness the power of ICTs to reinforce, support and ultimately achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At ITU, we believe that ICT is an enabler of all 17 goals, and I am convinced that without ICT the 17 goals might not be easily achieved.

That is why is it so encouraging to see more and more people across diverse sectors working together, side-by-side, because of a shared belief that using ICTs could be the long-awaited solution to many chronic development challenges. This approach embodies the multi-stakeholder, solution-oriented spirit that exemplifies the global WSIS community. It is through this collaborative spirit and shared convictions about the power of harnessing ICTs for development that the WSIS Process accelerates efforts to build tomorrow’s knowledge society.

As we embark on a new decade of WSIS Action Line implementation towards 2025, this emphasis on a cross-sectoral approach will be vital to strengthening the enabling power of ‘ICTs for the SDGs’. We look forward to future WSIS Forums representing an opportunity to bring even more representatives of education, health, banking, agriculture and other sectors into the WSIS fold.

Equitable and affordable access to ICTs to achieve a truly inclusive digital economy remains a major challenge. One strong theme emerging from discussions this year – including in the opening addresses of high-level WSIS partners UNCTAD and the ITC – has been the potential of e-commerce and e-trade platforms to empower women economically. Women who can now access profitable markets internationally by selling online. Women who can thrive by building ICT-focused businesses and by providing digital services. Women who can now be financially included through access to digital financial services and mobile payment solutions.

So many issues were discussed and debated this week, so many connections made and best practices shared, that it is difficult to point to highlights. Of great interest to me personally was the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan and Dubai Smart City project, emphasizing the vital role of ICT in encouraging local and national development. This is a new paradigm for modern cities and offers an innovative ICT approach to addressing the challenges of growing urbanization.

Cybersecurity continues to be an important focus on the policy agenda of all countries, as the world becomes ever-more interconnected. As facilitator of WSIS Action Line C5: Building confidence and security in the use of ICTs,  ITU is particularly encouraged to see the issue of online security being dealt with in such a collaborative and constructive manner, with all stakeholders working together around a common vision of building a safer online environment for all.

At WSIS I stressed that only talking about cybersecurity to the engineers – inviting them to design technical solutions for more secure network and services – it is not sufficient anymore. We need to open the discussion to all stakeholders who can contribute to managing risk and delivering robust solutions, including people from relevant government departments, industry, academia and civil society, who together comprise a rich and diverse community of cybersecurity experts and analysts.

The WSIS Forum this week demonstrated a resounding commitment to putting information communication technology at the heart of global development, and especially to ensuring that the WSIS Process plays its crucial part in helping drive progress to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The WSIS Forum is very results-oriented, so we were delighted to be able to release the WSIS Forum 2016 Outcomes on the final day of this year’s event, for all to discuss, and share.

This unique community has been over ten years in the making, and it is reassuring to see it going from strength to strength. I am already looking forward to the next forum, to be held in June 2017, and invite all stakeholders to get involved in the open consultation process for that event, which will kick off in September.

Houlin Zhao
zhaoHoulin Zhao (@ITUSecGen) was elected 19th Secretary-General of the ITU at the Busan Plenipotentiary Conference in October 2014. He took up his post on 1 January, 2015.Prior to his election, he served two terms of office as ITU Deputy Secretary-General (2007-2014), as well as two terms as elected Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau (1999-2006). He is committed to further streamlining ITU’s efficiency, to strengthening its membership base through greater involvement of the academic community and of small- and medium-sized enterprises, and to broadening multistakeholder participation in ITU’s work. He is married with one son and two grandchildren.   


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