This year marks the end of two major United Nations processes that signify the beginning of a new era in international development, an age when Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), such as the Internet and telecommunications, are considered vital to facilitate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN has recognized how important international development is by adopting the SDGs and initiating a ten-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10).The WSIS+10 process will ultimately produce an outcome document with the potential to steer the course of ICTs for development. Stakeholders input will help preserve the WSIS vision of building a people-centric, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society.
The Internet is a powerful platform to advance and improve health care, agriculture, education and training, commerce, and government participation and services worldwide. Between 2000-2015, global Internet penetration grew from 6.5% to 43% and mobile-broadband adoption increased across developing countries at reduced rates. Over the years, more countries have integrated government services with communications technologies, creating a more holistic approach to sustainable development. Although the WSIS+10 review addresses communications technologies, the Sustainable Development Goals rarely mention them, failing to recognize the importance they play in securing a peaceful and connected future. Information and Communication Technologies will become even more critical to sustainable development as their capabilities increase and their access spreads.
A recent UN mapping exercise revealed significant areas of overlap between each of the Sustainable Development Goals and the WSIS Action Lines, including opportunities to promote gender equality, international cooperation, and security. Linking communications technologies with development goals will facilitate progress in both the Development Agenda and the WSIS+10 outcomes, ultimately translating them into better and more effective policies. However, despite the widespread view that ICTs are critical to implementing the Development Agenda, concerns persist as to the extent that the role of technology is recognized in these discussions. For instance, there is no development goal addressing ICTs and only a handful of targets specifically pertain to them.
The WSIS+10 review has acknowledged the importance of ICTs and critical obstacles to sustainable development, such as the digital divide, which has the potential to exacerbate social and economic inequalities. Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals with the WSIS+10 process will help the international community achieve its development goals. It’s still possible for organizations to engage in the WSIS review by submitting comments to the forthcoming zero-draft document or by organizing and participating in side events during the second interactive stakeholder consultation on October 19. Only involvement from a diverse range of stakeholders and communities can help us achieve a truly inclusive global Information Society.
Image by Wikimedia Commons user Bastenbas