Helen Clark: Remarks at “Innovations to Connect the Unconnected”, Special session of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum

Jan 17, 2017

3.9 billion ppl (53% of the global population) lack effective access to public information and services that are available online. Credit: UNDP

I am pleased to join this special session of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development co-hosted by the World Economic Forum.
Over a year has passed since world leaders adopted the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, of which the central principle was “leaving no one behind”. Overcoming the challenge we are discussing here today, how to connect the unconnected, is vital for implementation of this global agenda and for achieving the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Right now, 3.9 billion people (53 per cent of the global population) are set back because they lack effective access to public information and services that are increasingly available through the Internet.

Those currently unconnected are disproportionately female, rural, poor, illiterate, and elderly, and living in the Global South, particularly in Africa and Asia-Pacific. Eighty-five per cent of people in least developed countries are estimated to be offline. 

This digital divide has serious implications for the global agenda on sustainable development. The inequality at the core of the digital divide is a big barrier to realising the SDGs.  Big investments in connectivity are needed – ITU estimates that US $450 billion will be required to connect the next 1.5 billion people.

With connectivity, people have access to: 
•    processes where decisions affecting their lives are made. An example, in Bhutan UNDP helped connect parliamentarians and their constituents in remote communities via videoconference through ‘Virtual Zomdu’ (village meetings), enabling real-time engagement on new legislation, national issues, and community concerns;
•    networks and information that can help advance human development. For instance, in Myanmar, UNDP helped establish iWomen, a network of local women that leverages digital opportunities for women’s empowerment through mentorship.
•    and to life-saving information, such as in Kosovo and Uzbekistan, where we helped set up mobile disaster risk reduction applications and networks to facilitae early warning and rapid response to disasters. Citizens are able to directly report, through text and photos, hazardous conditions and thus contribute proactively to reducing risks in their communities.

A key challenge is to ensure equitable access to the benefits of connectivity. This is not an automatic result of broadband availability.

A particular focus is needed on gender - 58 per cent of the unconnected are women . A study undertaken in nine developing countries revealed that women are fifty per cent less likely to be connected to the Internet than are men of similar age, education, and income . In some regions, including Africa and the Arab States, the gender gap in Internet usage is growing . That sets back efforts to build inclusive societies which embrace gender equality.  

We can achieve a great deal together to address these challenges, including through the “Internet for All” initiative. For meaningful impact, it is imperative to integrate broadband policies and investments into national development priorities. To “leave no one behind”, there must be strategies to connect the most marginalized and those in remote areas. 

Today’s discussions should consider how connectivity can support progress not only on specific SDG targets, but as an enabler of inclusive sustainable development overall.

UNDP Around the world