Helen Clark: Broadband Commission for Digital Development

23 Sep 2012

Remarks UNDP Administrator Helen Clark
Broadband Commission for Digital Development
Session 3: B more Informed:
International Policy Frameworks for an Enabling Environment

23 September 2012, 9:45am New York, Yale Club

It is a pleasure to be participating in this meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in New York, and to speak about the role of ICT in development.

When the Millennium Development Goals were developed in 2000, the vast potential for information and communication technologies (ICTs) to support development efforts was recognized; but so was the inequitable access to those technologies.   

To reflect that, MDG 8 included a target to make the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies, readily available to people around the world, in co-operation with the private sector. 

Where the global development agenda goes beyond 2015 is now being actively debated, and the role of broadband & ICTs as development enablers is more widely understood than it was in 2000. That’s not surprising - since then, access to new technologies, particularly mobile phones and broadband, has grown exponentially. According to the Broadband Commission report being launched today, The State of Broadband 2012, mobile phone subscriptions exceeded six billion in early 2012, three-quarters of which were in the developing world. This is up from approximately 725 million in 2000.

Growth in smartphones is projected to enable 3 billion people to access the internet in 2017, making wireless broadband a particularly promising way of participating in economic, political, and social activities, and for improving service delivery.   

As cited in the report, the World Bank has estimated that a ten per cent increase in broadband penetration would yield a 1.21 and 1.38 per cent increase in GDP growth on average for high-income and low/middle-income countries respectively.

GDP growth per se, however, does not automatically lead to improved living standards for all, nor to greater equity, dignity, happiness, and sustainability.  These outcomes must be pursued by complementary policies.  Nor is greater human development an inevitable outcome of the spread of broadband and other new technologies in developing country markets.  Broadband is a means to an end. Where its rollout is linked to global development goals and national priorities, it is a very valuable tool for advancing equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development. 

Around the world we see truly innovative and low-cost uses of ICTs emerging, through public-private partnerships and social entrepreneurship, with potential for wide development impact.

They range from improvements in, for example,

  •     healthcare delivery through remote consultations;
  •     agricultural development through access to pricing information and extension services;
  •     education and learning through online resources; and
  •     banking services through mobile banking.

As emergency response tools in times of crisis, basic mobile phones with SMS capacity and phones with more complex mapping platforms allow citizens to monitor elections, track and report violence and crime, and provide logistical support in response to natural disasters and other crises.

UNDP has been working in ICT for Development since 1992. We see expanded access to broadband and ICTs supporting better delivery of services across the board, and engaging people in democratic governance through increased access to information and more transparency.  

By the end of 2011, UNDP was supporting 211 e-governance projects in 94 countries.

In Kyrgyzstan, UNDP used crowdsourcing and Ushahidi mapping to help monitor Election Day incidents last year. Almost 3,000 text messages from peace monitors and concerned citizens were sent to the platform, increasing transparency around the elections. Observers could see the emerging picture “live,” and respond accordingly.

In the Philippines, UNDP helped establish e-hubs in select schools across the country, to enable citizens to exchange information, share knowledge, and mobilize support on issues such as poverty, corruption, employment, and education.  This has helped empower citizens to hold their government accountable on development goals.

A common feature in all these initiatives has been to reach the poorest and most vulnerable people, and expand dialogue between governments, civil society, and citizens. In the latter respect, it is important to note the role played by ICTs and social media in the uprisings in the Arab States region over the past twenty months.

The 2001 Human Development Report, “Making New Technologies Work for Human Development”, highlighted the potential for ICTs to contribute to human development by removing barriers of social, economic, and geographic isolation, increasing access to information, and enabling poor and marginalized people to participate more actively in decisions which affect their lives. It warned, however, that new technologies could widen inequalities between North and South, and between rich and poor.

The ‘digital divide’ described in the Broadband Commission report being launched today is not just about the extent of the penetration of the technologies, but also about the quality of service and about disparities based on gender, class, geographic location, literacy, and disability.

At the global level, a woman is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. In 2011, broadband connection costs in many developed countries were equivalent to one per cent of average monthly income, while in nineteen Least Developed Countries surveyed the cost equaled more than 100 per cent of average monthly income. 

As international attention focuses on what should follow the 2015 targets set for the MDGs, the UN task team on the post-2015 Development Agenda has issued a first report arguing that “Globalization offers great opportunities, but its benefits are at present very unevenly shared.” It recommends a vision for the future which rests on the core values of human rights, equality, and sustainability, with inclusive social and economic development at the core.  

Building on the outcome of Rio+20, this Broadband Commission has a critical role to play in advocating for the use of ICTs and expanded broadband as an enabler of sustainable human development, and as a tool for amplifying the impact of development initiatives

In March the Secretary-General of ITU, Dr Toure, and I wrote to all UN Resident Co-ordinators and Country Teams to offer substantive and technical support to them in incorporating ICT for development in their country programmes, and in that way to help translate the Commission’s recommendations and thinking into practice.  A number have already sought such support, and I hope many more will.

ICTs can also be used to ensure that the post-2015 development agenda is defined through inclusive processes, giving voice to those who are usually not heard.

To that end, UNDP is preparing - together with other UN development agencies - national consultations in more than fifty countries; at least nine thematic consultations on issues ranging from governance to food security; and, in co-operation with civil society, open consultations through a virtual platform aimed at ensuring broad-based participation.

I encourage all of you to engage in these consultations and be advocates for ICTs, including broadband, being key enablers of the post-2015 development agenda.

Leadership
Helen

Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on 17 April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization. She is also the Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues.

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