Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director Broadband Commission Working Groups Meeting and Plenary Meeting, Yale Club
Good morning, Commissioners and distinguished guests — and thank you to ITU and UNESCO for co-chairing this event.
I’m delighted to be here for my first meeting of the Broadband Commission as a Commissioner. When I attended the Commission’s spring meeting in San Francisco as more of an observer, it was clear to me that this group had tremendous potential to speed progress towards the goal we all share: global digital inclusion.
As I reflect on the dynamic mix of innovators, entrepreneurs, advocates and leaders in this room, I am even more convinced that success is in our grasp.
But the fact remains: Half of humanity still does not have access to the internet. Billions of people are missing out on the wealth of knowledge and information that — increasingly — can only be found online. More than 360 million young people are excluded from the digital age by poverty, geography or other circumstances beyond their control.
This level of digital exclusion is a huge barrier to social and economic development. Not only for young people deprived of 21st century skills, education and opportunities, but also for their communities and entire societies. That is why we must find new ways to support the work of digital inclusion on a global scale.
At UNICEF over the past two years, we have explored a range of new approaches with our partners. Just yesterday, we held the first Working Group meeting on one approach we are taking in partnership with ITU: the Common Bid for School Connectivity, a project we call “GIGA.” Through GIGA, we aim to connect every school to the internet — creating an entry point to opportunity and choice for every young person who is currently disconnected.
Now we need your help and ideas to move this concept forward. To that end, I would like to pose questions in three key areas.
First, financing: Leading up to the World Economic Forum in January, what commitments can we expect from public and private partners? At the last Broadband Commission meeting, Jeffrey Sachs said we might need around 20 per cent public financing for an initiative like this to succeed. Do we think that figure is still on the mark? How much do we need, what is the right mix, and who should be asking for these funds — given the scope of what we want to achieve?
Second, technology: How do we keep abreast of innovations across the tech industry in ways that both support more connectivity and build on the industry’s core business? We are looking beyond corporate social responsibility and philanthropy — so what are the best business models for global connectivity? How can we monitor connectivity in real time, and better distribute connectivity where it is most needed? And what kind of technology will best prepare young people for an uncertain future of mass migration, climate change and other emerging challenges?
Finally, and most important, children: Our objective is to connect the most vulnerable children and young people — particularly children from disadvantaged households in poor or remote areas that lack the expensive infrastructure needed for internet access. How, practically, can we do this?
One solution, which we are building with the Government of Norway, is a platform for “digital public goods.” These are open-source tools and applications that young people, teachers and administrators can use to connect with the world around them. What open-source tools do you or your networks have to offer in this global digital “storefront”?
I know these are all complex questions with few easy answers. I look forward to tackling them with you in our discussion this morning. The goal of connectivity for all demands our full attention and our best ideas.