Nº 2 2013 > Youth
ITU hosts UN youth event around technology
ICT as the way forward in development, peace and prosperity
From 9 to 11 January, ITU opened its doors to some 350 students from across Europe as the host for the Ferney Model United Nations 2013 Conference (FerMUN 2013). The event was run by the Lycée International of Ferney-Voltaire, in France, as part of the Model United Nations programme. The students discussed information and communication technologies (ICT) as the way forward in development, peace and prosperity.
At the FerMUN 2013 opening ceremony, held in ITU’s Popov meeting room, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré welcomed a panel of high-level speakers including: Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva; Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations and other international organizations at Geneva; Ambassador Sylvia Poll, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations Office at Geneva; Sebastien Chatelus, Counsellor with the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations; Jean-Paul Brech, Principal of the Ferney-Voltaire Lycée International; Christian Caron, Representative of the Academy of Lyon; and Guy Larmenjat, Vice-President of the General Council of the Ain department.
Dr Touré told a packed room of students, teachers and United Nations staff that he was delighted to be surrounded by so many inspirational young people committed to debating technology issues in a spirit of international cooperation. “As young men and women, you hold the keys to the future in your hands. In a hyperconnected world, that future includes ICT in every aspect of modern life — from schools and hospitals and government offices, to homes and businesses and public spaces. Yours is the most connected generation that has ever lived. That connectedness offers fantastic opportunities for engagement and empowerment, as information is accessed, used, created and shared to build tomorrow’s knowledge society,” he said.
The conference agenda covered topics as diverse as cybersecurity, education for all, biodiversity, equal opportunities, Internet access as a human right, social media and emergency communications. “These are critical issues for our times, and I firmly believe that ICT can do much to help in addressing each and every issue facing humankind today,” Dr Touré told students.
As the next generation of leaders, students “bring the new thinking, the innovation and the ideas that we need to solve the challenges before us”, said Mr Tokayev, adding that the extensive agenda of FerMUN 2013 already testified to the readiness of the students to confront the most complex challenges. “You have all come here because you are interested in, and inspired by, the United Nations. But, I think that when you have finished your debates, it will be the rest of us who are inspired by the creativity and resourcefulness that you bring to the table,” Mr Tokayev commented.
He underlined that “Going forward, we need to put in place a strong framework for continued development after the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. And here, appropriate and comprehensive use of ICT has to be at the top of the global development agenda. Ensuring that the potential of ICT benefits all groups and communities is a challenge. Equality in access has to be a priority — regardless of gender, background and circumstance.”
Ambassador Sylvia Poll also highlighted the importance of ICT as part of the solution to the global issues of our time. “The role of telecommunications in environmental protection and sustainable development has been shown to be essential. Less energy consumption, reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases and better response to natural disasters, are just a few examples.”
Ms Poll sees mobile technology as a great opportunity for the promotion of health. “Mobile health solutions have shown that they can help combat non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases, currently the leading causes of death in the world,” she said. But she warned that excessive use of technology, such as “spending more and more hours with our laptops and mobile phones is also affecting our health. We are being less active, practising less sport and becoming overweight people.”
She then spoke of the vulnerability of children online. In this context, she recalled that President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica is the Patron of the ITU Child Online Protection initiative. Costa Rica has embraced ICT for its social and sustainable development. This is one of the reasons Costa Rica will host the ITU Global Youth Summit in September 2013, “which aims to mobilize youth from around the world, to create, through access to ICT, solutions for social good”.
The students plunged into the debate with enthusiasm. “Representing a country that is not my own gave me an understanding of global issues from a perspective I had never witnessed before. It taught me a great deal about diplomacy in other parts of the world. That and the obligation to follow strict speaking procedures ensured that negotiations went as smoothly as possible in order to have real UN atmosphere,” said Manon Fabre, Delegate of India during FerMUN.
The students considered that the theme was well chosen, as ICT are central to their day-to-day lives. “This conference has been a huge eye opener as to how surrounded by technology we are. Most importantly, I found out that ICT could have an impact on a humanitarian level. I do take an interest in the latest technologies but before FerMUN I never knew that they could actually help so much,” said Sebastian Spence, Delegate of Sudan.
The three-day event gave ITU a chance to showcase its conference organizing skills, as teams from across the Union assisted the FerMUN 2013 committee with everything from registration and badging to room allocation and seating plans, audiovisual and live webcast support, training for student interpreters and translators, onsite photo and video production, graphic design and printing for promotional banners and two onsite FerMUN’13 magazines, and media relations activities.
Students were impressed by the slick organization of the conference. “Being hosted by such a place as ITU was inspiring. It gave us the perfect setting to understand how nations come together to communicate. We had access to things we never would have otherwise, such as interpretation systems and conference rooms, as well as the opportunity to interact with real press and other forms of media. Best of all was the help those at ITU were willing to give us. We felt trusted among adults who enabled us to work together for the organization of a successful conference,” said Alice Rougeaux, Head of Press at FerMUN.
“Young people will continue to benefit from the fully-networked society in ways that we cannot even imagine today — and I am personally looking forward to seeing where the extraordinary marriage of technological advance and human brainpower will lead us”, commented Dr Touré.
Students participating in the conference were invited to visit ITU’s new ICT Discovery museum, with visitors eligible to win one of two Samsung Galaxy tablet computers. The lucky winners, drawn by Dr Touré at the closing ceremony on 11 January, were Filip Drzazga, a Polish student representing Italy in the FerMUN debates, and Marta Miori, one of the youngest students at the conference, who was representing Singapore.