As many of you know, a few weeks ago I started my new internship at the Global Sustainability Foundation (GSF). This fairly new UN foundation functions to support the international community’s development goals while promoting economic, sociocultural and environmental sustainability.
Since my time here began, I have been working on preparation for the 150th Anniversary of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which the GSF co-hosted this past weekend (September 26). The ITU is an United Nations agency responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies (ICT). Information and communication technology is a broad term to cover any product that stores, receives, transmits, or manipulates information electronically (think: computers, televisions, email, 3G and 4G data services, internet, etc.). When I first started completing research on the achievements of developing nations in ICT, I wondered why the Global Sustainability Foundation would be co-hosting an event that worked with technology; in my mind, technology was not a sustainable means to growth since there are exponential amounts of electronic waste. The ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao commented “ICTs are … catalysts for shaping the post-2015 development agenda and achieving global goals for sustainable development.” I knew then that he knew something that I didn’t and that I would simply finish my internship tasks and maybe understand why.
The more research I did on the information and communication tech accomplishments of Thailand, Rwanda, and Nigeria (among many), the more I understood the concept of technology as a form of sustainable development in a country. While something as simple as having to use 4G instead of WiFi bothers me, over 4 billion people from developing countries remain offline according to the ITU. Those people represent two-thirds of the population residing in developing countries. Technology is so easily accessible to developed nations that I never even thought about it as a privilege. The fact that the world average of households with Internet access is only 46%, according to the ITU, is frightening. However, global Internet penetration grew seven-fold from 2000 to 2015, causing the ITU Secretary-General to note that the figures “show the rapid technological progress made to date, but also help us identify those being left behind in the fast-evolving digital economy.” As shown in the figure below, the overall access to information and communication technologies are increasing world-wide, but what must be looked at is which regions still need ICT investment the most.
The Global Sustainability Foundation and International Telecommunications Union awarded 10 Heads of State and Heads of Government on their use of ICTs to promote sustainable development in their respective countries. Those rewarded included the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, the Republic of Fiji, the Republic of Kenya, the Kingdom of Thailand, and the Republic of Vanuatu. With the importance of improving technology and ICT’s in every part of the world, the awards of ICT’s in Sustainable Development were extremely important.
In determining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development earlier this weekend, technology played a large role and I believe it will be a prominent part of the discussions during the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg noted in his speech to the United Nations that “internet access is essential for achieving humanity’s #globalgoals.” I’m very interested to see what comes out of this week of debates and the importance of ICT’s in realizing the goals that are determined.