Over 1,000 representatives of government, civil society and the private sector kicked off a United Nations forum in Geneva today designed to help countries more effectively harness the power of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to accelerate progress towards globally agreed development targets.
Co-organized by four UN agencies, the week-long forum is the world’s largest annual gathering of the ‘ICT for development’ community. It builds on the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a UN process initiated in two phases, in 2003 and 2005.
“We can proudly say that the WSIS Forum is truly becoming a stakeholder-driven platform that displays our common desire and commitment to build a people-centric, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society,” said Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU), at the event’s opening.
The WSIS Forum aims to define strategies and tactics to help countries and organizations more effectively use ICTs to advance progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include eradicating hunger, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, all by 2015.
Among the topics on the agenda at the meeting are rural development, ICT infrastructure, cybersecurity, multilingualism, environmental sustainability, education, healthcare and innovation.
In his remarks, Mr. Touré noted that a particular area of focus is the challenge of sustainable development, and the role that ICTs can and must play in the process. The forum comes ahead of next month’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) that will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“I am confident that the results of discussions and the concrete recommendations of the WSIS Forum will become an important contribution to the Rio+20 process,” said Mr. Touré.
He added that the high-level of participation at the event, which is drawing more than 40 ministers and top officials from the private sector and civil society, is “a clear demonstration that ICTs continue to remain right at the top of country-level agendas – and it is our responsibility to ensure that they continue to stay there up to and beyond 2015.”
The opening ceremony of the forum also saw the awarding of WSIS Project Prizes to 18 winners from around the world, recognizing the success of their efforts in implementing development-oriented strategies that leverage the power of ICTs.
The WSIS Forum is co-organized by the ITU, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).