UN launches information technology venture to build 'digital bridges' to world's poor

20 November 2001 –

The United Nations today launched a global task force to help build universal interconnectivity and spread the benefits of the digital revolution to the world's poor.

An initiative of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force was set up to work with partners such as regional development banks, international donors and non-profit organizations to help mobilize resources around specific programmes and initiatives.

The Task Force, which also includes the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), has representatives from governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, foundations and United Nations bodies.

Speaking at the launch ceremony, the Secretary-General stressed that since the information and communication technology age had dawned for some, but not for all, the Task Force faced an important challenge "to help build digital bridges to the billions of people who are now trapped in extreme poverty, untouched by the digital revolution and beyond the reach of the global economy."

"The new technologies that are changing our world are not a panacea or a magic bullet," he added. "But they are without doubt enormously powerful tools for development. They create jobs. They are transforming education, health care, commerce, politics and more. They can help in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and even contribute to peace and security."

For his part, UN General Assembly President Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea said that information technology had an enormous potential to promote sustainable development, build capacities and reduce poverty. He warned, however, "it would indeed be a cruel irony if the world's newest technological revolution were to widen, rather than narrow, the existing gap between developed and developing countries."

At a related press conference at UN Headquarters, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Information and Communication Technologies José María Figueres Olsen, the former President of Costa Rica, said that even though the Task Force was global in its conception, it aimed to be regional and specific in terms of country and regional needs. He said the Task Force had launched four regional nodes to act as “one-stop” ICT information facilities within regions and had six different working groups to look at content issues, such as regulatory frameworks, low-cost connectivities and applications for health and education.

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