1 September 2020

Narrowing Digital Divide Could Become ‘Greatest Equalizer’ in Promoting Equality, Secretary-General Tells Online Conference, Calling on Nations to Support Youth

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to a virtual high-level meeting on Generation Unlimited — Connecting Half the World to Opportunities, in New York today:

It is a pleasure to join this important discussion on how we can build, strengthen and utilize digital connectivity and learning platforms to create opportunities for the largest generation of young people in history.  Our world is in trouble.  The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed gaps, fragilities and inequalities that have been allowed to develop for far too long.  Young people are often on the front lines of this injustice.

Even before the pandemic, around one fifth of young people were not in employment, education or training.  Now, around one third of them are unable to access remote learning.  Schoolchildren from the poorest households and those in rural areas are by far the most likely to miss out.  They are among nearly half the world’s people who cannot access the Internet.  And this digital divide is greater for young women.  The situation of children and young people is a crisis within a crisis during this pandemic.

We can and must turn this around.  I firmly believe that education and digital technology are two of the most important investments we can make, as we respond to COVID-19 and lay the foundations for a strong recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The United Nations’ commitment to young people — Youth 2030 — is aimed at building a new, equal partnership with young people everywhere.  This is not altruism, but realism.

My generation has failed to respond properly to the global challenges we face, but around the world, young people are stepping up, creating momentum for change and making a difference.  Young people are leading the fight against inequality, discrimination and division, and for climate action, human rights, gender equality and sustainable economies and societies.  It is clear that, without the energy, technological savvy, optimism and sensitivity to injustice of young people, we have no hope of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals or implementing the Paris Agreement.

Putting resources into digital learning and training for young people is an essential investment in building social cohesion, and in reducing the unsustainable inequalities that are blocking human development and economic growth.  But, these investments cannot be top-down.  Those days are over.  Young people themselves must be at the forefront, with decision-making power, bringing their creativity, energy and problem-solving skills to the world’s greatest challenges.

I welcome all the young leaders and change-makers joining our conversation today, and look forward to hearing their views.  I particularly encourage young women to speak and look forward to hearing from you.  The obstacles you face — from societal discrimination, to unequal access to education, technology, increased time spent on care duties — are all challenges to our shared goal of gender equality.

Generation Unlimited, our global partnership for and with young people, knows that young people are already in the business of changing the world.  It is focused on building resources and networks to support them and help them realize their dreams.  Generation Unlimited is calling for every young person, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, sex and ability, to be able to connect to the internet and access opportunities for education, training and entrepreneurship.  It serves as a vehicle, for example, to advance key initiatives such as the Giga project, which aims to ensure that every school in the world is connected to the Internet and is an important part of my Road Map on Digital Cooperation.

This could be the greatest equalizer and enabler of our times.  We have a generational opportunity to reimagine education for the fourth industrial revolution, through the development of modern, relevant curricula and skills.  Generation Unlimited partners are already developing successful and innovative education, training and employment programmes.  Public, private and civil society sector partners, Government, business and United Nations agencies are coming together with young people to scale up initiatives and innovations, creating greater impact.  We have made a strong start.  Today’s meeting is about exploring ways to take this work to the next level.  We have 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  So, we have no time to lose.

Over the next 12 months, we need to strengthen links across sectors and rally investment for the ambitious goal of connecting half the world to opportunities.  We need large-scale commitment of financial and political resources by both advanced and emerging economies and international agencies.  We need the private sector to invest in shared-value partnerships and foundations to provide catalytic funding.  And we need to lay the groundwork for this step-change at the country level — with young people and national partners in the lead.  In all these efforts, I urge everyone here to play their full part, through technology, know-how, leadership or finance, so that every school and community is connected to the Internet, and every young person has access to education, training and opportunities to fulfil their potential.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.