Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the World Congress on Information Technology
Kuala Lumpur, 19 May 2008

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to address the 2008 World Congress on Information Technology. In the 30 years since the founding of the World Information Technology and Service Alliance, this event has been instrumental in its ability to bring together leaders in the information and computer industry and to focus their attention on critical issues confronting the world.

Nations that embrace information and communication technologies open themselves up to new collaborations between governments and businesses. We do not need to look any farther than here, Malaysia, to understand how ICTs enable business, empower society and enhance economies – and how knowledge and people are the real capital.

Each new person brings about the hope of a new perspective, a new way of understanding the world, and new solutions to the challenges that face us all. The developing world, which is the fastest growing part of the global economy, is full of opportunities to draw upon the collective experiences of each individual. But realizing this potential is limited by inadequate access to the global information infrastructure.

Great progress has already been made in bridging the digital divide. Many of those who were bypassed by the technological revolution now have access and connectivity. As I speak, inexpensive computers and laptops are being built and distributed to developing countries. They are creating a base towards the goal of achieving universal primary education and improving health systems.

Governments of most countries have gone – or are going – online to provide electronic and mobile services to their citizens. The explosive growth in mobile telephony, even in the poorest countries, is changing the way people contribute to the economic and social well being of their societies. ICTs have the potential to bring millions upon millions of people into the global economy and to form new social communities.

Innovators in e-business are in the best position to develop platforms for e-government. The concept of connecting business and customers is similar to connecting governments and people. In fact, more governments are taking the view of citizens as customers. With all of its experience in developing best-practices and enriching partnerships, the private sector can apply itself to delivering services for government administration that are accountable and responsive to the people.

Innovative technology solutions and business models are also needed to connect schools, hospitals, the poor, and people in rural communities. The “Grameen model of microfinance and the telephone lady” are well-known examples pioneered by Nobel Laureate Professor Mohammad Yunus. But there are many others. Investing in research and development, today, to design technologies for the poor can empower them to become the consumers and productive citizens of tomorrow.

The ICT community can also work to provide easy-to-implement business models for communities and countries with weak infrastructures. In many cases, the costs associated with building and maintaining a reliable network of roads, telecommunications and services can only be realistically met in an expanding economy that is creating wealth.

But we cannot wait until all conditions are perfect to seek out opportunities in the developing world. There are opportunities now. And the sooner we act, the more it will benefit everyone, both financially and socially.

Designing and implementing sustainable solutions to development requires the participation of all sectors of the economy and society. ICTs offer new avenues for working together to advance sustainable development in developing countries.

Despite this progress and all this potential, ICTs are still not accessible and affordable for the majority of the people in the world.

Against this backdrop, the United Nations launched the Global Alliance for ICT and Development, an open and inclusive platform to broaden the dialogue on innovative ways of harnessing ICT for advancing development.

The Global Alliance affirms a commitment by the United Nations to reach out to all stake-holders: public and private, local and global. The Alliance promotes partnerships to match unmet needs with solutions that are beneficial to consumers and business alike. It encourages new business opportunities and can help redefine how business is done. And the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which serves as the Secretariat of the Alliance, has long been advocating the integration and use of ICT in advancing the broader United Nations development agenda.

Bringing about the needed changes requires a nuanced approach to public policy and a greater recognition of the private sector as a partner to governments. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), held in 2003 and 2005, helped the larger international community to recognize ICT as a strategic tool for realizing the potential of poor people and empowering them to grow out of poverty.

The challenge is not only to provide affordable access to information and communication technologies, but to do so in a way that makes socially responsible business sense.

Investing in the developing world is not a trade off. Businesses cannot flourish in unstable societies and degraded environments. It is only logical to invest in a more stable and more sustainable world.

There are millions of people waiting to contribute to the global economy in more substantial ways, but they are limited by their current circumstances. Knowledge flows both ways and the world recognizes that the ICT community can be the facilitator of a new transformation that must take place.

Today, we have gathered here some of the brightest leaders in the business world. I invite you to join hands with the United Nations in a global partnership to meet the challenge of opening up a new world of opportunity for those who have been, so far, left behind, moving forward, together, to a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable future for all.

Let us work together to replicate what has been achieved in mobile telephony in the developing world in the past half-decade or so, for internet connectivity and access in the coming five years. This is a challenge that we must – and that we can – meet together.

Thank you.