UNDP Geneva Liaison Office Deputy Director: WSIS Forum 2009

18 May 2009

Najat Rochdi, Deputy Director, UNDP Office in Geneva, speaks at the ITU WSIS Forum 2009
Photo: ITU/V.Martin

UNDP Opening address for the WSIS Forum 2009
Najat Rochdi, Deputy Director, UNDP Liaison Office in Geneva

Excellencies, Heads of Delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be here with all of you to deliver those opening remarks on behalf of UNDP. I have had the opportunity and the privilege to work with many of those who are present today while taking part in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), in its two phases in Geneva 2003 and Tunis 2005. The Summit was an important landmark in the global effort to eradicate poverty and achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015 and since the Tunis Phase of WSIS, much progress has been made and many flagship initiatives have been announced and implemented. However, we need to keep in mind that there is much more to be done and there are only six years remaining to 2015.

We started 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime.  Millions of jobs have been lost.  Many businesses cannot borrow or make payroll.  Many families cannot pay their bills.  And many, many citizens across the world are both anxious and uncertain of what the future will hold. Yet, only one year ago, nobody would have predicted what happened and we have very little idea of what the world will look like 50 years from now.

Therefore, the time has come to open up the world and shake its very foundations by asking ourselves:

Do we want a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?
Do we want a world where profit turns a blind eye to suffering?
Do we want a world where growth is synonymous with environmental catastrophes?
Do we want a world where far too many children suffer from malnutrition?
Do we want a world where girls are forbidden to attend school?
Do we want a world where people continue to be judged by the color of their skin?
Do we want a world where youth are silenced and reduced to inaction and cynicism?
Do we want a world that divides continents instead of bringing them closer together?

What these questions point to is an ethic of responsibility and global solidarity. First, we are all responsible for each other's security. Second, we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity. Third, both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law. Fourth, states must be accountable to each other, and to a broad range of non-state actors, in their international conduct.

We can only do all these things by working together through an open, inclusive and renovated multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the “One UN” platform, by a new multilateralism where every stakeholder brings his share of commitment, support, policy, programs, expertise and funding, where Governments, at both central and local levels, where Development Partners and Organizations, where Civil Society, where Private Sector and where Communities all come together around a strong and common interest in fostering a solid sustainable development base that is integrated into the global economy.

Today, UNDP would like to call for urgent, collective and innovative actions to address the achievement of the MDGs and set the stage for renewed sustainable development.

Today, I would like to share with you some thoughts about how ICT4D and its related innovations can foster the achievement of the MDGs and thus put decision makers, development organizations, civil society and private sector leadership in front of their collective responsibility to accelerate and commit to the Global development agenda.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ICTs, when used to address Development, are one of those tools that are transforming the traditional map of development, expanding people's horizons, dramatically shrinking learning curves, and creating the potential to realize, in a decade, progress that required a time span of generations in the past.

All of us here have witnessed how access to a range of ICTs in developing countries gave people knowledge that empowers them, offering a new realm of choices that enabled the poor to improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys equal access to these technologies. As the social and access divides grow wider, it aggravates the existing divisions of power and inequities in access to resources between men and women, the literate and non-literate, and urban and rural populations. Therefore, we need to innovate.

From social networks to mobile technology, the private sector has clearly driven the experimentation and expansion of innovative IT models. They have applied “open and user-driven” processes to their product development. Telecom companies become media houses. Food retailers become banks. Computers become phones and video stores.

M-Technologies and social networks have reduced the entry barriers (language, cost, interface, etc.), and made innovation in development possible. It helps meet pressing humanitarian challenges: to connect families separated by disaster helps emergency relief workers respond more quickly and empower health workers operating in rural areas. It is changing the way grassroots organizations monitor elections in countries where weak capacity, infrastructure, freedom of speech and political will prevail.  

But MT also faces its own challenges. On the supply side, many cell phone providers are starting to hit market limitations particularly in areas where very poor populations live and markets are either very small or inexistent. This might put a stop to the rapid growth of mobile phone users in the short run. On the demand side, MT users do not have access to the required applications that will allow them to get public and private services from their phones. By matching supply and demand new opportunities will emerge for both suppliers of MTs and end users and, in concert with national and local government generate win-win situations that will foster human development in the medium and long terms.

We need to significantly increase the application of these innovative models to the needs of the poor and vulnerable people. We need to effectively leverage the skills and knowledge of creative local citizens as designers of and contributors to products and services and not only as consumers.

These are some of the issues we can address to pave the way and prepare the ground for actions. But one should remember that, for innovation in ICT4D to help advancing democratic governance and poverty alleviation, the most important thing to understand is that Development is not about technology, it is about people with all the challenges it entails. The challenges are great, but so too are the opportunities. We need to invest in people as the greatest resource and the most precious asset if we are to shape, and not just be shaped by, the challenges we face. This in turn will not only get countries closer to the achievement of the MDGs but also develop new markets and new demand.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world is not on track to meet the MDGs, and yet it could be: we have the resources, the technology and the creativity that are required; we just need to bring them where they are most needed. Thus, we need to take urgent action, collectively, to change the course, otherwise the situation will become dramatically worse. We need to preserve the dreams and the hopes of a generation so they can still invest and believe in their future. We need to come up with new ways of doing development business, innovative tools and applications. We need each and everyone to commit. 

On behalf of UNDP, I would like to reiterate our strong commitment to continue to support Governments at the national and local levels, along with UN sister agencies and our partners, in their strategies to capitalize on ICT as a lever for economic and social transformation and expansion to propel our collective modest endeavors of today into the world reference cases of tomorrow so that the next generations will carry forward the flame of equity, justice, prosperity and peace.

Thank you very much.