On 21 September, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, opened the annual meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, as co vice chair, along with the Commission’s Co-Chairs, a representative of President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, and Carlos Jarque of the Carlos Slim Foundation and its Vice-Co-Chair, Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union.
The Meeting was joined by the UN Deputy Secretary General, Mr Jan Eliasson, who also addressed the Commissioners on behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, underlining the crucial importance of education to accompany access to infrastructure.
President Kagame spoke of the importance of broadband and ICTs for inclusive and sustainable development, noting his intention to lead Rwanda to become the world's 'smartest country' and Kigali the world's "smartest city."
“We meet at a crucial time, when States are shaping the new global development agenda,” declared the Director-General. “To move forward, the new agenda must harness the power of cross-cutting multipliers – this is why broadband and new technologies, and the message of the Commission, are so important.”
In this context, the Director-General referred to UNESCO’s work as vice-co-chair of the Commission, in its Working Groups on Gender, as well as Education and Multilingualism. She explored also UNESCO’s related and wider work within the WSIS process as well as to advance quality education through the use of ICTs, and especially mobile, including through the annual Mobile Learning Week.
"We need to get our messages out, to be included deeply in the process of shaping the post 2015 agenda," said Irina Bokova. "We need champions amongst Member States, we need to match advocacy with process."
The opening session was followed by two sessions entitled “From the MDGs to the Post-2015 Agenda” and “Investing in a Level Regulatory Playing-Field”.
Irina Bokova argued for greater advocacy to ensure wider recognition of the power of broadband and ICTs in the post-2015 agenda, highlighting the need for ICTs to be deeply embedded in future goals and targets.
“We are making progress but I believe the hard work remains ahead, to ensure full recognition of the cross-cutting power of broadband and new technologies,” said the Director-General, reminding all of the high stakes involved:
“Understating the importance of ICTs for sustainable development risks deepening divides, increasing disparities in access to information and the creation of knowledge, to the further disadvantage of developing countries and marginalised populations.”
The Broadband meeting provided an opportunity also to discuss the key role of ICTs and connectivity for the provision of health services, relevant also for addressing the ebola crisis.
In this context, the Director-General took part in the launch of “The State of Broadband Report 2014” which provides a global snapshot of broadband network access and affordability -- with country-by-country data measuring broadband access against the targets of making broadband policy universal, making broadband affordable, connecting homes to broadband and getting people online.
The meeting included special guests, including senior representatives of Google and Facebook as well as the investment community.
During the meeting, the Director-General proposed to hold the next meeting of the Broadband Commission at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in spring 2015.
In the margins of the Broadband meeting, the Director-General met with Ms Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Digital Agenda.
This meeting provided an opportunity for a rich exchange of views on the importance of developing skills along with access to ICT infrastructure and the need to highlight digital champions especially amongst young people. The Director-General noted UNESCO's work in mobile learning, within the Global Partnership for Girls and Women's Education, as well as the forthcoming UNESCO conference on ICTs and persons with disabilities to be held in India this November.