Nº 4 2013 > WSIS Forum 2013
WSIS Forum 2013 reviews progress
More than 1800 stakeholders from over 140 countries, representing government, civil society and the private sector took part in the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2013 (WSIS Forum 2013), hosted by ITU at its headquarters in Geneva from 13 to 17 May. Several high-level representatives, including more than 60 ministers and deputy ministers, ambassadors, chief executive officers of companies, as well as civil society leaders contributed passionately to the event reviewing progress towards the WSIS targets set in Tunis in 2005. This meeting of the WSIS Forum also marks ten years since the first phase of the Summit, held in Geneva in 2003.
WSIS Forum 2013 was organized jointly by ITU, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It focused on the future of information and communication technologies (ICT), particularly as an engine of growth.
In more than 150 sessions, participants discussed diverse topics, such as ICT infrastructure, cybersecurity, enabling environment, e‑learning, e‑health, e‑agriculture, media, accessibility, and ethics. High-level dialogues with government ministers and representatives from business and civil society examined women’s empowerment in the information society, smart climate change monitoring, ICT innovation and standards (see related story), securing cyberspace in a borderless world, and youth and ICT. These debates helped participants to identify post‑2015 goals for ICT.
Kicking off the opening ceremony, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré said, “This year’s WSIS Forum is a unique opportunity to develop multistakeholder consensus on what is needed for the WSIS process in the future, to ensure that the bottom-up approach of this process is preserved and that the decisions concerning modalities also respect the real requirements of the use of ICT for socio-economic development, while ensuring growth in the ICT ecosystem itself.”
Francis Gurry, Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) described how the advent of the “digital society” has fundamentally transformed our lives bringing new challenges and opportunities that require a central role for intellectual property. Creative works are freely available to anyone, as the cost of reproduction is minimal. In this context, intellectual property serves to balance the interests of individuals, producers and society, and is a means of giving value to a producer’s work. WSIS is an opportunity to discuss these challenging questions.
Janis Karklins, Assistant Director-General for UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector, reported on how the organization has been working on the WSIS review process. In February 2013, UNESCO hosted a review meeting in Paris under the theme Towards Knowledge Societies for Peace and Sustainable Development. Mr Karklins affirmed UNESCO’s belief in freedom of expression, online and offline, and encouraged stakeholders to promote this principle. He announced that on 1 July 2013, UNESCO will demonstrate its principles by making all publications available in open format. This will mean freedom to access, download, translate and adapt UNESCO publications and data free of charge.
Anne Miroux, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and Logistics, described WSIS as an attractive platform for enhancing the development gains from ICT. She underlined that UNCTAD greatly values its cooperation with ITU in specific fields such as measuring ICT for development and cyberlegislation. “There is today wider scope than ever for securing an inclusive information society. However, we should keep in mind that realizing this ambitious objective requires more than affordable access to infrastructure and services. More attention needs to be given to the development of local capabilities and skills, local content and adequate laws and regulations for the ICT potential to be captured in full,” Ms Miroux said.
In 2012, UNCTAD sought to contribute new insights into how developing countries can strengthen their domestic capabilities in the ICT sector. In its Information Economy Report 2012, UNCTAD called upon governments in developing countries to give attention to domestic software production. “As you know, software is embedded in an expanding range of goods and services, making it increasingly important for developing countries to have the necessary capabilities to adopt, adapt and develop software,” Ms Miroux explained, adding that meanwhile, the evolving ICT landscape is making it easier for programmers in low-income countries to generate an income from software development projects.
In her view: “There is room for developing countries to make better use of their software potential. Governments can take active part in fostering software capabilities and in strengthening their national software systems. But they should harness the views and experience of other actors, including the software industry, universities, software developer communities as well as users.”
Adama Samassékou, President of the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies, President of Maaya World Network for Linguistic Diversity, and former President of the WSIS Preparatory Committee for Geneva (2003), asked how we can speed up the attainment of current goals while guaranteeing cultural-linguistic diversity. He reminded participants that we are still a long way from a world of technology for all, particularly in Africa. The success of future initiatives will depend on States implementing policies. While language is important for the Millennium Development Goals, opening up to cultural diversity is an even greater challenge. Stressing that open source software and inclusiveness should be at the centre of the debate today, he encouraged delegates to instil new meaning into the Geneva Plan of Action.
John Davies, General Manager of the Intel World Ahead Program, Intel Corporation, encouraged the private sector to get involved with organizations such as ITU and UNESCO, as they are spearheading many important programmes. He said that everyone benefits from an event such as WSIS because of the wealth of experience, knowledge and best practice that can be shared. He urged ministers, ambassadors, and country leaders to be demanding of the ICT industry, pushing it to excellence. The industry, he said, will benefit from that pressure and, in turn, will help the public sector reach its goals.
Dr Salim Sultan Al Ruzaiqi, Chief Executive Officer of Oman’s Information Technology Authority (ITA), highlighted efforts that have led to the current high levels of ICT access in the Sultanate. In order for citizens to enjoy the benefits of ICT, governments must first take action to provide services online. Having mastery of ICT is a cornerstone of any society in today’s world. In this context, WSIS represents an extraordinary opportunity to exchange knowledge, and consolidate goals.
Majed Al Mesmar Deputy Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the United Arab Emirates described how his country had worked hard to implement the WSIS 2003 and 2005 outcomes paving the way to a digital world, where anyone, anywhere can have access to knowledge. “We are truly witnessing a revolution in the way information is generated, shared and utilized. This digital process has completely transformed the relationships we have with our governments, our businesses and essentially with one another,” he said.
In a webinar, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed the WSIS process beyond 2015, as well as his engagement with young people to inspire them to contribute to the post-2015 development frameworks currently being negotiated.
The United Nations Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) issued a joint statement on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (see related story on pages 42–44), and a high-level session — attended by more than 50 government ministers from around the world as well as industry executives — discussed emerging trends and innovation in the ICT ecosystem.
The Forum programme was enhanced through the strategic partnership and contribution of the Sultanate of Oman and the Intel Corporation. Contributions for specific activities also came from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Mexico, Poland, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania and Hewlett-Packard. The United Arab Emirates is the WSIS+10 Visioning Partner.