Information and communication technologies for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the WSIS 2019 opening ceremony
Geneva - Switzerland
In the ten years since the World Summit on the Information Society was launched, we have witnessed the acceleration of three revolutions:
- a digital one that is affecting the way we produce, work and consume;
- an ecological one because we are becoming more conscious of the finite boundaries of our planet
- and a social one, with citizens everywhere around the world demanding better quality of life, less inequalities and more respect for freedom and rights.
In these ten years we have also seen the family of the United Nations pledge to work together to respond to these challenges by leaving none behind.
We are here because we believe in the power of technology, properly harnessed, to help us achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Let me mention some facts that speak of the acceleration in the digital transformation of our economies and societies:
- One in three of the world’s population owns a smart phone, with 15% of the 400 million phone subscribers in Africa, using a smartphone.
- In Africa access to the internet grew from 4.5 million in 2000 to 475 million in 2019
- E-Commerce grew by 13% in 2017 and the number of registered e-commerce sellers in LDCs have grown by 30%
- Globally, online retail sales represent 20% of all consumer purchasing; in some countries almost 50% and is a share that is accelerating.
- The number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.2 billion, up 13 percent year-on-year
But we know that 50% of the world’s population is not connected to the Internet. We know that although internet penetration in Northern Europe is almost 95% it is only around 12% in the centre of Africa. That is it 90% in North America but only 50% in Central Asia. It is no coincidence that those regions which are farthest from reaching the SDGs are those who are less on the digital highway. So, if we are to collectively meet the targets contained in the SDGs during the next decade, one of our priorities has to remain to connect the unconnected to this global grid of data, information and intelligence.
But we should not stop at connectivity. We also need to use digital for more local value creation.
Underlying every SDG is a digital solution- even some that have not yet been created.
Whether it be on SDG 8 which is focused on “decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation…” or on SDG 17 which in part highlighted the need to “Significantly increase the exports of developing countries…” there are digital solutions that can push progress.
ITC’s work in West Africa through the “Connect UEMOA” platform for buyers and sellers has seen over 7,000 firms taking up the opportunity for e-training leading to many of them successfully listing their products for e-commerce opportunities. And digital trade can overcome borders- just take ITC’s intervention in the State of Palestine where training in E-skills has led to Palestinian youth securing ten times more sales by moving into the provision of digital services. And the same goes with Somali refugees in Daadab or with young entrepreneurs in Jordan. This is why it matters that a group of countries have launched negotiations on e-commerce at the WTO. Because e-commerce also needs global “rules of the game”. And it matters that all countries can help craft them.
When you mix the digital revolution with the economic empowerment of women, you have a powerful cocktail. Through our SheTrades work on SDG 5 to “promote the empowerment of women”, as well as through our partnership with ITU and others under the Equals initiative, we have seen that digital offers a route to market far greater than traditional forms of trade: after all the share of online business for women entrepreneurs is double that of traditional forms of trade.
And digital solutions can also help us reducing carbon footprint and meet SDG 12 focused on “responsible production and consumption”, as is the case with our online platform SustainabilityMap supporting thousands of small producers around 180 countries adopt sustainability standards.
At ITC we know that investing in micro, small and medium enterprises will help us to achieve the SDGs. But investing in helping SMEs explore and exploit the benefits of ICT will turbo charge the 2030 Agenda. In its 10 years of existence WSIS has placed a spotlight on the transformative power of digital. The next ten years must focus on ICT as the game changer for the Global Goals, ensuring SMEs have their rightful place.
Thank you for your attention.