A global pledging event organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has rallied unprecedented support from governments and companies to expand Internet access everywhere as a key aspect of sustainable development.
The Partner2Connect (P2C) Digital Development Roundtable taking place in the Rwandan capital concluded with the announcement of over 360 pledges representing an estimated combined financial value of USD 18.55 billion.
The ambitious pledging event, held between 7 and 9 June, has been a highlight of the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC), which aligns global connectivity strategies with the wide-ranging Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
The drive for universal and meaningful connectivity represented in the P2C pledges will directly benefit billions of people around the world, especially in developing countries where connectivity is lagging.
The funding, services, technical support, and other assistance detailed in the pledges will improve people’s access to – and readiness for – digital technologies, as well as fostering digital ecosystems and incentivizing investment in digital transformation.
“The Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable will prove to be a tipping point,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao at the close of the pledging sessions. “The pledges and commitments made in Kigali and in the months leading to this Roundtable send a powerful message that together we can ramp up investments in ICT development to leave no one offline.”
Some 2.9 billion people – or more than one third of the world’s population – have still never connected to the Internet.
Rwanda’s Minister for ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, Chair of the WTDC, said: “We need everybody to pull together in the same direction if we are to successfully address the challenge of ensuring universal meaningful connectivity globally. Partner2Connect is one of the best avenues through which we can catalyse and engage in productive partnerships towards sustainable connectivity for all.”
The P2C pledges come at a critical inflection point, with the protracted COVID-19 pandemic underlining the importance of fast, reliable broadband connectivity as an essential service.
The pledges announced at the Roundtable were not only financial – they also included ground-breaking commitments, policies and advocacy plans to bridge the digital divide, creating fertile ground where new partnerships and alliances for global connectivity can flourish.
“After months of collective work developing the Partner2Connect Action Framework and the pledging platform, together with ITU Member States, civil society groups, philanthropic organizations, private and youth-led organizations, we are now setting a major milestone by gathering under one umbrella an unprecedented number of commitments to advance universal and meaningful connectivity,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.
In a major announcement during the 3-day Roundtable programme, ITU’s host country Switzerland pledged that Geneva would host the headquarters of Giga – a joint ITU-UNICEF initiative to connect every school in the world to the Internet by 2030. Announcing the plan, the Swiss Confederation said the new Giga Office in Geneva would serve as a unique collaboration point, bridging the world of finance with the world of international relations and development.
The Partner2Connect Digital Roundtable engaged over a thousand participants onsite in Kigali, who were joined by more than 350 connecting remotely. Alongside announcements of pledges and commitments, the event featured 10 high-level panel discussions involving senior representatives from government, the private sector, international organizations, civil society, and youth-led groups.
Speaking at today’s closing ceremony, H.E. Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, Minister of Communications and Digitalisation of Ghana and Focus Area Leader of the P2C Coalition, said: “Our Partner2Connect Coalition commits us to accelerate our efforts to connect the unconnected and achieve sustainable global development. Let us implement all our pledges for our collective benefit.”
Five spotlight sessions held over the 3-day event highlighted crucial digital development topics: Partnering to transform education; Advancing the LDC5 Doha Programme of Action through P2C; Discovering the secret ingredients to last-mile connectivity investment; Accelerating universal meaningful connectivity through the UN Digital Compact; and a special session on Assistance and Support to Ukraine for rebuilding its telecommunication sector.
“The discussions at WTDC and the Kigali Action Plan will be essential in helping us build the Compact at next year’s UN Summit of the Future,” said Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the UN Secretary-General’s Acting Envoy on Technology. “In particular, the work of the Partner2Connect Coalition will bring us closer towards our collective goal of universal, meaningful connectivity for all.”
Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Acting High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS), said: “The Doha Programme of Action calls for all people in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to have safe, affordable, and meaningful digital connectivity by 2030. We are only going to get there with joint work and the long-term partnerships that Partner2Connect represents. It is a truly inspiring example of how relationships which span different sectors can deliver for the LDCs.”
The Partner2Connect interactive dashboard, newly launched at this week’s P2C Roundtable, will enable users to search for specific pledges and contributors, as well as view overall tracking analytics.