UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged tech industry players Monday to devise new practical plans to achieve universal digital connectivity.
Speaking via video message at the opening of the World Telecommunication Development Conference underway in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Guterres said leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline.
The conference, organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), is being held from June 6-16.
It is dedicated to driving the digital transformation in line with the global Sustainable Development Goals set out by the United Nations.
“The potential of digital technologies to help us make up for lost ground in our efforts to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is tremendous; but so too are the challenges. Over one third of humanity still has no access to the internet; this divide reinforces social, economic and gender divides,” said Guterres.
“Your task is to map out a new action plan to bring the nearly 3 billion unconnected people into the global digital community,” he said.
The conference represents an opportunity for the international community to forge bold and innovative digitally focused strategies to help break down chronic socio-economic development barriers.
Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), stressed that the development of new technologies is central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We have obligations to the world's youth, and to each other, to connect the unconnected, drive the development of new technologies central to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame called for public-private partnerships to expand affordable digital access and equip vulnerable citizens with digital literacy skills.
He noted that the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies globally but that challenges still remain such as access to high-speed internet, which has not kept up with the fast pace of the digital transformation and digitization of the economy in general.
“The responsibility to shape the future of the digital economy and ensure that no one is left behind lies with all of us, working together. No company, country or institution has the resources to do it alone,” said Kagame.
The conference is expected to adopt the Kigali Declaration, which will set out the priorities of ITU's Telecommunication Development Sector for the next four years.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, the director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau, said the event is geared at mobilizing leaders from government, the global tech sector and beyond to bring digital inclusion to even the hardest-to-connect communities and unleash the power of digital partnership to deliver on 2030 sustainable development pledges.