Magdy Martinez-Soliman: ICTs, Inclusive Governance and Conflict Prevention

May 21, 2013

Opening Remarks  Community of Practice Meeting
Istanbul, Turkey

Magdy Martinez-Soliman, Deputy Director, Bureau for Development Policy

•    Minister Haldun Koç, IT Director at the MFA in Turkey
•    my dear colleagues Ms. Marta Ruedas, Deputy Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery from UNDP and
•    Ms. Simona Marinescu, Director of the Istanbul International Center for Private Sector in Development of UNDP, and our host today  
•    Distinguished representatives of Member States, experts; UNDP colleagues, ladies and gentlemen

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here with you today, and I guess pleasure is the right term to describe an international meeting taking us from our homes to this unique city in the world. Istanbul has been in the past a place where the future has been invented, from where the Silk Road was administered, a city which connects the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, Europe and the Middle East. A trans-continental community, it is today one of the best administered megalopolis, thanks to the far-reaching vision of Mayor Topbas, member of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Istanbul and the International Centre are good places to be, and excellent vantage points from where to discuss the topic that brought us here, the role of technology in giving voice and preventing conflict, the potential that information and communication has to foster Sustainable Human Development.
We all know that the diffusion of and access to ICTs is unstoppable. The ITU records 7 billion interconnected mobile device subscribers around the world, with almost 80% of them living in developing countries.  A third of the world’s population has access to Internet, in total; that is, one third of the developing world, and three quarters of the rich world’s inhabitants. Africa is the fastest Internet access region of the world, but only 16% of Africans have access today. As we said in the context of the MDGs, there is a huge digital divide to be filled.

But progress has been constant. The new technologies have become intelligently affordable. They have changed the way we relate to one another and to our governments. They have modified the communication between the States and their citizens, the private sector and their clients. The Arab Spring comes to mind, but we had seen before youth and SMS changing the course of a presidential election in Korea over the last 5 hours of vote; alternative movements against the excesses of globalisation and the impact of the economic crises being networked through social media; collective action becoming faster and better informed; poor people being able to demand, by the thousands, the attention that their lack of communication power had prevented them from having in the past.  

Governments also benefit from the diffusion of ICTs, particularly mobile technologies, as platforms to enhance service delivery, strengthen the link with their constituencies, offer information and alert. I have participated in the transformation of a conditional cash transfer system for 25 million people, from an unhealthy clientele atmosphere to a modern and clean public service, where mobile phone and the banking industry joined hands with the government; and where the people’s returns consisted in greater confidence in government. We have just heard the example of e-visas connecting nationals and visitors, immigration, customs, police and airlines, to provide a more guest-friendly service. Marta just told us how recent all this change has been. There have been more pictures taken in 2012 with cell phones than in mankind’s history, with any other device or camera.   

New technologies also have the potential to drastically change the nature of multilateral negotiations. For the first time in history the United Nations is engaging hundreds of thousands of people around the world in shaping the post-2015 development agenda, following the Millennium Development Goals deadline. The other day we celebrated the voter number half a million to the MY World survey. A few days later, we are close to reaching 600,000 and have already received votes from 194 states and territories. In a mutually reinforcing loop, ICT voters are telling governments what they think is more important for their future; and they are telling them that one of the most important issues is to have the transparency and accountability that ICT provides for their views to be taken into account and participation to be effective.

At UNDP we started our work on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for development in 1992, following the outcomes of the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Today we are focusing our efforts on e-governance and access to information, which are key pillars of UNDP’s Democratic Governance work. We believe that both means assist citizens and governments in their efforts to make public information easily available, to improve the quality and coverage of public services and to allow those who yesterday were voiceless, to participate in governance and policy-making processes, in the decisions that affect their lives.

By the end of 2012, UNDP alone was supporting over 200 e-governance projects in close to 100 countries, for a quarter billion per year. About 60 projects add themselves to the portfolio every year. We are not blinded by the shine of the technology itself, even if it sometimes really looks magic. Voting with a paper ballot or on a computer screen doesn’t make a democracy, but it makes a world of a difference for a senior citizen with limited mobility, a poor labourer in a rural area, a person living with disability or a patient staying at a hospital during the voting day. Mobile phones alone will not pull people out of poverty, but they can get products quicker to the market where they will be sold and real-time information to the farmer where before there was at best, a best guess.

This Community of Practice workshop should help us advance our thinking on how we can be creative and practical, offer others our best experience, scale it up to inform nation-wide public policies. The experts who are with us today are a precious resource of knowledge and wisdom, let us question them and learn. That is what we came here for; to a country that represents one of the most striking crossroads between a splendorous past, a present of human development and a future full of hope; to a place where the sea and the sounds of marine sirens behind us remind us that communications and mobility, trade and travel are some of the was that make our life a better one.

Thank you for your attention.      

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