SDG Stories: UNESCO Chair contributing on sustainability of ICT systems

e_sdg-goals_icons-individual-rgb-09In the run-up to this year’s UN General Assembly, the Office of the DG of the UN Office in Geneva has launched a novel initiative on big conversations driving the big goals of the SDGs as part of their Perception Change Project.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is delighted to have been invited to participate in this initiative, alongside other leading figures in the ICT4D world including Houlin Zhao (SG of the ITU, and one of our Honorary Patrons), Kathy Calvin (President and CEIO, UN Foundation), and Nicholas Negroponte (Founder MIT Media Lab).

Our stories are about the question “What are the biggest hopes and challenges we face in providing reliable ICT access to communities as we work towards improved sustainable development?

This was my response:

Seeing the eyes of a group of street children in Ethiopia light up when I let them play with my laptop in February 2002 convinced me in an instant of the potential of technology to be used effectively for learning by some of the poorest people in the world.  However, the plethora of global initiatives that have been designed to use ICTs to contribute to reducing poverty through economic growth over the last 15 years have had the consequence of dramatically increasing inequality at the same time.  The poorest and most marginalised have not benefited sufficiently from the promise of ICTs.

Few people pay appropriate attention to the dark side of technology, and yet we must understand this, and change it, if this potential is fully to be realised for all.  In the context of the SDGs, there is a fundamental challenge.  To be sure ICTs can contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, but few people sufficiently highlight their unsustainability: ICTs have seriously negative environmental impacts, and their usual business model is built on a fundamentally unsustainable logic.  In terms of environmental impact, for example, they have contributed to substantially increased electricity demand, and the amount of waste in space is now presenting very serious threats to future satellite deployment.  The business model, whereby people are encouraged to replace their mobile phones every couple of years, and new hardware often requires the next generation of software, which in turn then requires new hardware, is good for business, but not for sustainability.

If we are serious about using ICTs for sustainable development, we must do much more to address negative aspects such as these, so that the poorest individuals, communities and countries can indeed benefit.

Follow the stories at: http://www.sdgstories.com, or on Twitter using #sdgstories.

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at WSIS Forum 2017

JPN ChairMembers of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are delighted to be participating in the 2017 WSIS Forum being held in Geneva from 12th-16th June.

We are very pleased to congratulate one of our Honorary Patrons, Hon. Jean Philbert Nsengimana (Minister of  Youth and Information and Communication Technology, Rwanda), who was elected Chair of the WSIS Forum 2017.

Sessions in which members of the Chair (including Jean Philbert Nsengimane, Marco Zennaro, Charlotte Smart, Bushra Hassan, and Tim Unwin) are playing an active role as moderators and speakers include:

  • Special SDG9 Session Co-hosted by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) (Session 266): Digital Transformation for Sustainable Development (Room 1, CICG, 9.40-10.45 Thursday 15th June).

  • Action Line C4. Capacity Building: Building Capacity to Leverage eAgriculture Applications (Session 309) (11.00-13.00, Room G2, ITU Varembé)

  • Innovation in ICT Technologies, Broadband, Smart Cities and Manufacturing for Sustainable Development Goals (Session 310) (Room C1, 11.00-13.00, Thursday 15th June)

  • Global Partnership for Digital Gender Equality, first Research Group meeting being convened by UNU-CS.  The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is delighted to be one of the founding members of this research group undertaking important research in support of this significant global initiative being led by the ITU and UN Women (Thursday 15th June)

  • Building ICT innovation capacity (ITU) (Session 324) (14.30-16.15, L2 ITU Montbrillant, Thursday 15th June)

  • Network for Digital Development – Advancing a Global Action Agenda (World Economic Forum, IEEE) (Session 335) (16.30-18.15, ICT Discovery, ITU Montbrillant, Thursday 15th June)

  • Reclaiming ICT4D (Session 345) hosted by the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D (11.00-12.45, Popov 1, ITU Tower, Friday 16th June)

We very much look forward to seeing friends and colleagues at these sessions.  Copies of Tim Unwin’s new book, Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development will also be available at a special WSIS rate during our session on Friday.

 

Symposium on SDGs and sustainable supply chains in the post-global economy

It was great to participate in today’s symposium on the SDGS and sustainable supply chains in the post-global economy today, convened in the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, by The Centre for Research into Sustainability (CRIS) at Royal Holloway University of London, the University of Twente, and the Greening of Industry Network.  Several of the keynotes and papers specifically addressed the role of ICTs in delivering the SDGs, and enhancing sustainability in supply chains.

Joseph SarkisFollowing an opening by Professor Gloria Agyemang (Head of the School of Management at Royal Holloway, University of London), keynotes were given by Hans Bressers (University if Twente), Diane Holt (University of Essex), Shaun McCarthy (Action Sustainability), Joseph Sarkis (Foisie Business School, Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Tim Unwin (UNESCO Chair in ICT4D), and Natalia Yakovleva (Newcastle University).  Joseph Sarkis and Tim Unwin both focused specifically on ICTs, sustainability and the SDGS, highlighting both the positive and more problematic aspects of the relationships between technology and sustainable development.

A lively discussion was held during the finger buffet lunch, covering a very wide range of issues relevant to technology, supply chains, and international development, including the importance of the informal economy, the irrelevance of the SDGS, and conceptualising no-growth/low-growth economies.  Afternoon papers were grouped into five tracks:

  • Geopolitical shifts and supply chain contribution to SDGs
  • Social inclusion, CSR and business ethics in cross-border sustainability chains
  • Measuring and reporting to embed sustainability and social inclusion in sustainable supply chains policy and practice
  • Interdependencies and trade-offs between SDGs and the outcomes of environmental practices, social practices and operational practices in supply chains
  • New actors, information sharing and networks.

The Symposium was convened by Diego Vazquez-Brust (a Member of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D), Laura Franco-Garcia, and Lauren McCarthy, to whom many thanks are due.  Details of papers presented at the symposium will be available in due course, but slides from Tim Unwin’s paper are already available at The SDGs, supply chains and the ICT sector: critical reflections.

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D session at WSIS Forum 2017

coverTo coincide with the recent publication of Tim Unwin’s new book entitled Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development (Oxford University Press, 2017), the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is convening a workshop on Friday 16th June (11.00-12.45 in Room Popov 1) at the 2017 WSIS Forum being held in Geneva.  The key premise of the workshop is that the global spread of ICTs has increased inequality, and that the poorest and most marginalised have therefore failed sufficiently to benefit.  The workshop will explore whether the continued focus on the ways through which ICTs can contribute to economic growth will inevitably lead to ever increasing, and dangerous, inequality, and will make recommendations as to how different stakeholders can best ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed benefit from their use.

It will begin with short (5 minute) perspectives from some amazing people (listed in alphabetical order of first names):

  • Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum) on The power of partnership
  • Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex) on The wisdom of marginalised women
  • Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development, UK) on The delivery of donors
  • Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society) on The trust in technology
  • Nigel Hickson (VP IGO Engagement, ICANN) on The design of the domain name system
  • Torbjörn Fredriksson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) on The energy of entrepreneurship

Following these short, and undoubtedly provocative, presentations there will be an open discussion focusing on participants’ thoughts as to what are the most important priorities for action that different stakeholders must take so that the poorest and most marginalised people and communities can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.

The workshop is open to everyone with interests in ways through which ICTs can indeed benefit poor people, and there will also be an opportunity after the workshop for participants to purchase copies of Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development at a 40% reduction from list price.

We very much look forward to seeing you in Geneva at the 2017 WSIS Forum.

Silvia Masiero’s seminar on big data and poverty in India

Silvia Masiero (Loughborough University, and Affiliated Member of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) has just finished a fascinating seminar at the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D on The Affordances of Big Data for Poverty Reduction: Evidence from India, which raised many interesting questions about the relative benefits and challenges of biometric data, especially in the context of demonetisation in India.  Slides of the presentation are available here, and her recent ICT4D briefing on the same subject is here.

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UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at WRS-16

rhul-wrsMembers of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D participated in the ITU’s World Radiocommunication Seminar 2016 (WRS-16) held in Geneva from 12th-16th December 2016. This provided an excellent opportunity to gain detailed updated information on both terrestrial and space services, covering technical and regulatory issues including publications, databases and tools for countries to use in managing radiocommunications.

now-smallIt also enabled us to engage in the kick-off meeting of the Network of Women (NOW) for the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) held on 13th December, during which the Chairholder contributed to the panel discussion, speaking on:

  • the big picture of women in the ICT/radiocommunication sector;
  • how to encourage women to take ownership of the group; and
  • the role that ITU should play in supporting this type of action.

As well as participating in the formal aspects of WRS-16 this was also an excellent opportunity to engage with national delegations and participants, especially from Pakistan and Kenya, as well as officials and friends in the ITU to discuss how the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D can further contribute to the ITU’s activities.

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Telecom World, 2016, Bangkok

teamThe UNESCO Chair in ICT4D featured prominently at the ITU’s Telecom World 2016 held in Bangkok from 13th-17th November, and was a partner of the ITU’s parallel Kaleidoscope academic conference held on the theme of ICTs for a Sustainable World.  Three PhD alumni took an active part in the event: Salma Abbasi (Chairperson and CEO of the e Worldwide Group) who participated especially in connection with her ongoing work on ICTs for development in Nigeria; Sammia Poveda (UNU Computing and Society), who represented UNU-CS primarily in several gender-related events, especially the EQUALS working meeting and the joint session on the gender dimension in international standardization; and Caitlin Bentley (Research Associate at the Singapore Internet Research Centre at Nanyang Technological University) who represented both her present Centre and the UNESCO Chair at Kaleidoscope.

Other activities where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was represented included:

  • The ITU Secretary General’s consultation with academia on 13th November, which considered the possible launch of a new ITU journal, an advisory board of academia to the Secretary General, and a platform to strengthen cooperation between the ITU and academia (the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s written contributions)
  • The m-Powering Development Advisory Board meeting held on 13th November

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©ITU/I.Wood

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This was a great opportunity for colleagues in the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D to engage in discussions with those in government, the private sector, civil society and international organisations and to influence policy on ways through which ICTs can contribute to development, especially for some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised.  We are most grateful to colleagues at the ITU for making this possible, and for inviting our participation at ITU Telecom World 2016.

Thanks to the ITU’s official photographer for most of the above images!

Making money from meeting the SDGs? An overarching approach to sustainable development

I am delighted to have been asked to moderate the session on “Making money from meeting the SDGs?” at ITU Telecom World in Bangkok on Monday 14th November (4:45 PM – 6:00 PM, Jupiter 10), although I wonder a little why I have been chosen for this task given my past criticisms of the SDGs!  Perhaps the “?” in the session title will give me a little freedom to explore some of the many challenges and complexities in this theme.  Following in the footsteps of the Millennium Development Goals (2000), the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) still generally focus on the idea that economic growth will eliminate poverty; indeed, they assert that poverty can truly be ended.  This is a myth, and a dangerous one. For those who define poverty in a relative sense, poverty will always be with us.  It can certainly be reduced, but never ended.   It is therefore good to see the SDGs also focusing on social inclusion, with SDG 10 explicitly addressing inequality.  We need to pay much more attention to ways through which ICTs can thus reduce inequality, rather than primarily focusing on their contribution to economic growth, which has often actually led to increasing inequality.

This session will explore the implications of such tensions specifically for the role of ICT businesses in delivering the SDGs.  Key questions to be examined include:

  • How can the ICT sector contribute to accelerating the achievement of the SDGs by providing ICT-enabled solutions and building feasible business models?
  • Is the SDG agenda relevant for the ICT industry?
  • What roles should the ICT industry, and its corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments in particular, play in working towards the SDGs?
  • Can the SDG framework provide an opportunity to accelerate transformative ICT-enabled solutions around new solutions like big data or IoT?

Underlying these are difficult issues about the ethics of making money from development, and the extent to which the ICT sector is indeed sustainable.  All too often, the private sector, governments and even civil society are now using the idea of “development” to build their ICT interests, rather than actually using ICTs to contribute to development understood as reducing inequalities; we increasingly have “development for ICTs” (D4ICT) rather than “ICTs for development” (ICT4D).  To be sure, businesses have a fundamentally important role in contributing to economic growth, but there is still little agreement, for example, on how best to deliver connectivity to the poorest and most marginalized, so that inequality can be reduced. As my forthcoming book argues, we need to reclaim ICTs truly for development in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized.

We have a great panel with whom to explore these difficult questions.  Following opening remarks by Chaesub Lee (Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU), we will dive straight into addressing the above questions with the following panelists (listed in alphabetical order of first names):

  • Astrid Tuminez (Senior Director, Government Affairs. Microsoft)
  • Lawrence Yanovitch (President of GSMA Foundation)
  • Luis Neves (Chairman Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), and Climate Change and Sustainability Officer, Executive Vice President, at Deutsche Telekom Group)
  • Mai Oldgard (Head of Sustainability, Telenor)
  • Tomas Lamanauskas (Group Director Public Policy, VimpelCom).

Magic happens when people from different backgrounds are brought together to discuss challenging issues.  This session will therefore not have any formal presentations, but will instead seek to engage the panelists in discussion amongst themselves and with the audience.  We will generate new ideas that participants will be able to take away and apply in their everyday practices.  Looking forward to seeing you on the Monday afternoon of Telecom World in Bangkok!

Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities

It was great to be invited to give a lecture in the Societat Catalana de Geografia in Barcelona on the subject of “Information and Communication Technologies: resolving inequalities?” on Tuesday 4th October in the Ciclo de Conferencias Programa Jean Monnet convened by my great friend Prof. Jordi Marti Henneberg on the theme of Los Desafîos de lintegración Europea.  This was such an honour, especially since I had the privilege of following the former President of the European Union Josep Borrell’s excellent lecture earlier in the day on El Brexit y sus consequencias en la goberabilidad de la Unión Europea.

lectureThis was an opportunity for me to explore the relevance to the European context of some of my ideas about ICTs and inequality gleaned from research and practice in Africa and Asia.  In essence, my argument was that we need to balance the economic growth agenda with much greater focus on using ICTs to reduce inequalities if we are truly to use ICTs to support greater European integration.  To do this, I concluded by suggesting  that we need to concentrate on seven key actions:

  • working with the poor rather than for the poor
  • pro-poor technological innovation – not the “next billion” but the “first” billion
  • governments have a  key role to play through the use of regulation as facilitation in the interests of the poor and marginalised
  • crafting of appropriate multi-sector partnerships
  • managing security and resilience against the dark side
  • enhancing learning and understanding, both within governments and by individuals
  • working with the most disadvantaged, people with disabilities, street children, and women in patriarchal societies

ICTs empowering people with disabilities

People with disabilities are amongst the most marginalised people in the world, especially in some of the poorer countries of Africa and Asia.  Yet, those with greater disabilities can be empowered far more through the appropriate use of ICTs than can those who claim to have no disabilities.  The global community needs to do very much more to develop appropriate policies and practices to ensure that people with disabilities are not further marginalised because they are unable to access and use ICTs effectively.  To this end, I am developing a small website that provides information and useful links for all those working on ICTs and disabilities – do visit https://disabilityict4d.wordpress.com/ – and more importantly please share information about this hugely important agenda.

Tim

ICTs and the SDGS: an economic perspective

 

group-smallThe ITU is preparing a new book, provisionally to be entitled “ICT4SDGs: Economic Growth, Innovation and
Job Creation” in advance of the WTDC meeting in Buenos Aires in October 2017 http://www.itu.int/net/events/eventdetails.asp… . This was explored in some detail over two days in September at a fascinating discussion convened in Geneva.

sdg-groupI have been invited to lead on a 6,000 word chapter, provisionally entitled “Sustainability in Development: Critical Elements” that has an initial summary as follows: “the chapter identifies how ICTs engage with the sustainability agenda and the various elements of the ecosystem (such as: education, finance/capital, infrastructure, policy, market, culture/environment, opportunities) and the stakeholders that are indispensable for ensuring resilient and sustainable development activities in developing countries in spite of some chronic shortages coupled with fast changing and fluid situations that can negatively hamper the efforts”.

I want this chapter very much to be a collective, bottom-up effort, and am exploring various collective ways of generating content – although this is hugely difficult given the tight word limit! At this stage, it would be great to receive suggestions as to (a) what content the chapter should focus on, and (b) examples of case studies of successes and failures with respect to the use of ICTs for sustainable development. Please share any thoughts with me – before the end of September!

For those who may be unfamiliar with my own critical comments on the linkages between ICTs and the SDG agenda do see https://unwin.wordpress.com/…/icts-and-the-failure-of-the-…/, and on the abuse of the term ecosystem https://unwin.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/icts-and-ecosystems/ . Rest assured, though, that the chapter for the ITU will reflect very different perspectives, and I hope that it will indeed represent the interests and concerns of the wider ICT4D community.

Tim

UNESCO Chair in ICT4D partners ITU Kaleidoscope conference

The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has recently become a partner of ITU’s Kaleidoscope academic conference which will be held in Bangkok on 14-16 November 2016 on the theme of ICTs for Sustainable Development. We look forward to participating actively in this event, and contributing to the ITU’s academic research endeavours.itu_kaleidoscope_web_395158

Tim