Broadband Commissioners at SDG Digital

Broadband Commissioners stepping up digital support for the world's 2030 Agenda

SDG Digital was organized alongside the 2023 SDG Summit, which was convened by the President of the General Assembly during the High-Level Week of UNGA78 to mark the midway point toward achieving the 2030 goals. Hosted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, this high-level event was co-organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as part of the SDG Action Weekend. 

SDG Digital brought together over 300 leaders from government, civil society, the private sector, youth, and academia to assess progress on the SDGs and explore how digital technology can accelerate their achievement. Its primary focus was on scaling up digital solutions for the SDGs, including the launch of new High Impact Initiatives for sustainable and inclusive digital transformation 

The SDG Digital Acceleration Agenda was launched at SDG Digital as well and provided proof that digital technologies can benefit 119 of the 169 SDG targets (about 70 percent) in areas as diverse as climate action, education, hunger and poverty. It also notes that countries that have made considerable progress on digital infrastructure or affordability achieved more of the SDG targets than countries with similar incomes.  

The event showcased effective digital solutions, analyzing challenges and opportunities, promoting global connectivity through the ITU Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, and fostering collaboration through the UN High Impact Initiative on Digital Public Infrastructure. A key emphasis was also placed on engaging youth as active contributors to SDG progress, and the introduction of the SDG Digital GameChangers Award recognized individuals leveraging digital tools to advance Global Goal achievement. 

Throughout the day’s agenda, leaders and members of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development played a prominent role. Commissioners shared invaluable insights and expressed firm commitments to achieving universal and meaningful connectivity. Below is the summary of the contributions of the Commission to the SDG Digital event. 

Act I — Taking Stock: SDGs and the Potential of Digital

The event opened with a thought-provoking query: “Why digital? Why now?” This question, posed by the Co-host of the event, Ms. Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Secretary-General of ITU and Co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, set the stage for a day of reflection and exploration. Ms. Bogdan-Martin emphasized the limitless possibilities enabled by connectivity, from AI-driven agricultural revolutions in India to digital shopping innovations in Rwanda. Yet, she reminded the world that 2.6 billion people remain unconnected, highlighting the urgency of the digital divide. 

Ms. Bogdan-Martin underscored the potential impact of digital technology, stating: "We firmly believe it's the greatest test, the greatest opportunity of our time."

Mr. Achim Steiner, event Co-host, Administrator of UNDP and Broadband Commissioner, contextualized the global challenges we face, including climate change and inequality, and underscored the role of digital technologies in addressing them. He painted a picture of the fourth industrial revolution as a beacon of hope, unlocking new ways of thinking and working. Both speakers emphasized the transformative impact of digital, with Ms. Bogdan-Martin calling it a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” and Mr. Steiner advocating for a “people-centered, rights-based, and inclusive” approach. 

President Paul Kagame at SDG Digital

President Kagame's Vision

H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Co-Chair of SDG Digital and Co-Chair of the Broadband Commission, recognized the ITU’s leadership in digital transformation and UNDP’s unwavering support for Rwanda’s development. President Kagame highlighted the Broadband Commission’s mission to ensure equitable access to high-speed internet for all. He stressed that collaborative efforts were essential, showcasing Rwanda’s progress through the Giga initiative and underlining the importance of connecting Africa’s vibrant youth to the global market. 

President Kagame expressed the need for collaborative efforts, stating: "Everyone has their part to play… these challenges are too big for anyone to solve alone."

Act II — Showcasing Solutions to Achieve the SDGs Through Digital Technologies

Tawfik Jelassi at SDG Digital

The event shifted its focus to game-changing digital solutions that exemplify how digital technologies can propel each of the SDGs forward. Dr. Tawfik Jelassi, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Innovation at UNESCO and Broadband Commission Focal Point, highlighted transformative applications across diverse domains. He showcased digital tools aiding farmers in optimizing crop yields, bridging the homework divide to promote quality education, and empowering journalists to uphold democracy through access to information. 

Dr. Jelassi emphasized the importance of a people-centric approach to digital innovation: "Technology is there to serve the people."

Pamela Coke Hamilton at SDG Digital

Ms. Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of The International Trade Centre (ITC), and Broadband Commissioner, emphasized the intrinsic link between prosperity and the SDGs. She argued that digital inclusion is a fundamental pillar of the SDGs and outlined the multifaceted applications of digital connectivity in areas like agriculture, food security, financial inclusion, and economic growth. 

Ms. Coke-Hamilton highlighted the significance of digital connectivity, stating: “Digital connectivity can provide support for smart agriculture, address food waste and food security, ensure financial inclusion through fintech, and promote economic growth through e-commerce and digital facilitation.”  

On behalf of Broadband Commissioner Mr. Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA, Mr. Max Cuvellier Giacomelli presented a case study showcasing GSMA’s implementation of a digital solution in Tunisia. He presented on the “Mobile Innovation Hub Platform for Tomorrow Project” in Tunisia, which works to address the employment challenges faced by the region and its evolving digital landscape. Mr. Giacomelli noted that Tunisia now boasts a robust digital ecosystem, with 61% of its graduates being women and that GSMA, in partnership with GIS Ed, is committed to identifying solutions aimed at creating a digital economy that prioritizes human well-being and fairness.

Act III — Way Forward: Accelerating Progress Towards the SDGs

The third act showcased pivotal announcements and commitments from the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition (P2C) aimed at catalyzing holistic collaborations and mobilizing resources to bridge the digital divide and ensure universal and meaningful connectivity for the 2.6 billion people still offline. 

 H.E. Dr. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, Governor of the Communications, Space, and Technology Commission (CST), Saudi Arabia and Broadband Commissioner, made a compelling case for global connectivity. He announced a joint initiative with the ITU, as an extension of a joint study with the EU, to assess the current situation of the global digital divide and compile innovative, sustainable, affordable, and effective solutions. 

Dr. Al-Tamimi affirmed the need for collaboration: “This initiative is a testament to our commitment to realizing the SDGs, leaving no one behind, and leveraging new and emerging technology for the greater good of humanity.” 

Ms. Rabab Fatima, Broadband Commissioner, Under Secretary-General and High Representative of UN-OHRLLS, spotlighted the digital divide in vulnerable nations. She praised P2C for its efforts and proposed dedicated campaigns for landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and small island developing states to empower them in the digital age and proposed the launch of dedicated P2C campaigns for the LLDCs. Ms. Fatima emphasized the importance of universal broadband connection: “Let us empower vulnerable nations with the tools they need to thrive in the digital age. We simply cannot afford to leave anyone behind.” 

Mr. Ziyang Xu, Executive Director and CEO of ZTE Corporation and Broadband Commissioner, showcased ZTE’s contributions to the Partner to Connect initiative, pledging $400 million annually for ICT infrastructure in vulnerable nations. He stressed the significance of this shared vision: “The advancement of the P2C remains the cornerstone of the mission, not only for the ITU but for all stakeholders.” Mr. Xu emphasized the importance of staying updated with technological trends: “Continuously coping with the latest technology innovation trends like AI is becoming a must.” 

Verizon Hans Vestberg SDG Digital

Mr. Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon and Broadband Commissioner, outlined three barriers to connectivity: technology accessibility, affordability, and usability. He pointed to Verizon’s robust commitment to the cause, mentioning, “We have, through ‘Partner to Connect,’ committed $3 billion over five years for digital inclusion in the United States.” He concluded by emphasizing the need for a holistic approach to bridging the digital divide that encompasses “broadband, device, and digital education.” 

Looking ahead

SDG Digital 2023 stepped up digital support for the world’s 2030 Agenda and demonstrated the power of digital technologies in advancing the SDGs. It brought together global leaders with a shared vision of a connected and inclusive world, including Broadband Commissioners who played a vital role in shaping this vision by offering valuable insights and unwavering commitments. 

As the world marches toward 2030, the potential of digital connectivity to drive meaningful change is clearer than ever, and events like SDG Digital provide the roadmap to get there.  

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