From March 19-23, in Geneva, UNESCO co-organized the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, the world's largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. The Forum provided an opportunity for information exchange, knowledge creation and sharing of best practices, while identifying emerging trends and fostering partnerships in the WSIS priority areas.
This year’s Forum, convened around the theme of “Leveraging ICTs to Build Information and Knowledge Societies for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” ensured a global multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for advancing sustainable development. The Forum also underlined UNESCO’s leading role as the UN Agency with a mandate to defend freedom of expression and promote the free flow of ideas by word and image in creating inclusive knowledge societies and empowering people and nations through ICTs.
In partnership with ITU, UNESCO brought together stakeholders in the framework of one high level session and four Action Line sessions. The Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, Getachew Engida, participated in the opening ceremony on March 20th, and underlined UNESCO’s strong commitment to consolidating knowledge societies. “In taking this combined WSIS-SDG operational framework forward, UNESCO’s position is clear – universal access to information and knowledge and freedom of expression are the foundations for inclusive and sustainable development. In empowering every woman and man, they are, fundamentally, forces for dialogue, mutual understanding, and lasting peace”, he stated.
Promoting Internet Universality Indicators as a comprehensive tool for achieving the SDGs
Building on the consultation that UNESCO conducted on defining the Internet universality indicators at the WSIS Forum in 2017, this high-level session hosted by UNESCO presented the first draft Internet universality indicators. During the high-level session, a panel of speakers shared their views on the project and on how the indicators can play a valuable role for national stakeholders to map their Internet and contribute to evidence-based policy improvements. Panelists underlined that all citizens should have equal and affordable access to the Internet, and that multi-stakeholder cooperation is essential in order to create an inclusive internet society.
ESCWA Arab Inter-Regional Consultation meeting
On March 19th, UNESCO participated in the ESCWA (Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) Arab Inter-Regional Consultation meeting on “Digital technologies for Sustainable Development 2030 and related regional processes.” The objective of this consultation was to exchange experiences in view of the organization of an Arab Regional WSIS Forum in 2019. UNESCO contributed with its experience on the six WSIS Action Lines for which it is facilitator and outlined areas in which this work could be further reinforced in the Arab region. UNESCO also reaffirmed its commitment to ensure informed and active multi-stakeholder involvement in support of WSIS in all regions.
Youth, Access to Knowledge, and the SDGs: Strategies for Building Youth Skills in Digital Technologies
Building on the experience of many worldwide initiatives such as UNESCO’s YouthMobile Initiative that introduces young people to computer science programming (learning-to-code) and problem solving (coding-to-learn), this session hosted by UNESCO on March 19th highlighted policies and programmes that encourage youth involvement in ICTs. In this regard, the session examined a few key technological breakthroughs in A2K and A2Sk, such as Smart Campus Cloud Network (SCCN). The session also discussed inclusive digital policy for the youth and the need for advocacy, capacity building, research and innovative technology development. Lastly, the session also discussed strategies to develop Youth-sensitive content and youth-focused learning tools to prevent radicalization and violent extremism. “The prevention of radicalization leading to violent extremism on social media is a major challenge that will persist in the years to come. Only a firm commitment to meet this challenge can guarantee the success of our collective effort for a safer cyberspace that our youth and the future generations certainly deserve”, underlined Boyan Radoykov, the representative of UNESCO on this panel.
Ljubljana OER Action Plan
This session, hosted by UNESCO on March 22nd, examined elements from the Ljubljana OER Action Plan adopted at the 2nd World OER Congress 2017 and its contribution to a UNESCO OER Recommendation that will be developed in the 2018/2019 period. Specifically this session examined the five action areas of the Ljubljana OER Action Plan and their potential contribution to a UNESCO Recommendation in this area, and invited stakeholders, following an online consultation, to provide feedback on the development of this recommendation that will guide OER policy at the global level.
Gasper Hrastelj, Deputy Secretary-General of Slovenian National Commission to UNESCO, presented the Ljubljana OER Action Plan from a Governmental Perspective and Sophie Touzé, President of the Board of Open Education Consortium (OEC), did so from an Institutional and NGO Perspective. “The Government has started to initiate a nationwide movement for OER, and this movement needs to provide enough guidance for the people working on it”, underscored Ali Alyafei, from the Ministry of Education of the United Arab Emirates.
Strengthening the role of media and social media in relation to the SDGs
This session, hosted by UNESCO on March 22nd, focused on strengthening the role of media in achieving the SDGs. The emphasis of the session was on emerging digital trends, such as the rise in internet shutdowns, the impact of algorithms on diversity of content, ‘fake news’ as well as the rising challenges of big data and AI on journalism and freedom of expression.
The session also shed light on the issue of freedom of artistic expression in relation to the media and SDGs, as a crosscutting aspect related to WSIS Action Line 8 “Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content.” “The right of artists to express themselves freely is under threat worldwide. New digital technologies and media platforms introduce challenges but also provide great opportunities in this regard. They open new channels for new voices (women, citizen journalists, amateur film producers). We therefore need a legislative base and policies like the 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions to support all artists’ rights” underlined Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director of the Division for Creativity in the Culture Sector of UNESCO.
UNESCO at the Forum
In addition to the sessions organized by UNESCO, Boyan Radoykov, from the UNESCO Knowledge Societies Division, participated in two high-level policy sessions on Bridging Digital Divides and on Inclusiveness: Access to Information and Knowledge for All. Presenting UNESCO’s work in these two areas, Mr. Radoykov also stressed the important role played by the intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP) in ensuring both innovative and sustained policy and operational frameworks for the activities of the Organization.
Furthermore, a meeting of the United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) was held in the margins of the WSIS Forum. The group, which serves as an interagency coordinator of the implementation of WSIS outcomes, discussed concrete activities to be undertaken in 2018 in order to highlight the importance of ICTs in meeting the SDGs.
Preparing for the WSIS Forum 2019, UNESCO also announced its readiness to organize the 2019 WSIS hackathon together with ITU under the theme “Hacking Solutions for Lifelong Learning and Livelihoods.” This hackathon will build on successful projects such as UNESCO's YouthMobile initiative that encourages the creation of mobile app solutions developed by young people for sustainable development.