It was great to be able to participate as a UNESCO Chairholder in UNESCO’s first Partners’ Forum on 11th-12th September in Paris, and to contribute as a panellist in the session arranged by Indrajit Banerjee and his team on Responding to Opportunities and Challenges of the Digital Age. Much of the Forum focused on the successes of existing UNESCO partnerships, but our panel yesterday instead addressed practical issues where UNESCO’s Knowledge Societies Division could make a difference.
Our panel also consisted of:
- Moderator: Indrajit Banerjee (Director, Knowledge Societies Division, UNESCO)
- Marcus Goddard (Netexplo Observatory)
- Marie-Helene Parizeau (Chair of World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology)
- Dr. Davina Frau-Meigs (Professor of Media Sociology at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, and Chairholder of UNESCO Chair for “savoir-devenir le développement numérique durable: maîtriser les cultures de l’information”)
- Octavio Kulesz (Teseo, Argentina).
Our multilingual session had five themes, and there was a great audience who contributed hugely through their smiles! I note below some of the contributions that I sought to make:
I focused on two main issues:
- We must avoid an instrumental view of the world. AI, the Internet of Things, 5G… do not have any power to change anything themselves. They are created by global corporations – be they failing USAn ones, or rising Chinese ones – and by individuals in them who have particular interests. AI, for example, will not change the world of work. Those who are creating AI are doing so for a very particular set of reasons… We are responsible for the things we create.
- Use of the term 4th Industrial Revolution is highly problematic. I guess there are two kinds of people – those who see the world as being revolutionary, and those who see it as evolutionary. The “revolutionary” people like to see the world as shaped by heroes (perhaps they want to be heroes themselves) – elite people such as Turnip Townsend or Thomas Coke of Holkham in the “agricultural revolution”, or Richard Arkwright who invented the water-powered spinning mill, Jean Baptiste Colbert here in France, or George Stephenson – people who led the so-called industrial revolution. However, the reality is that these changes evolved through the labour of countless millions of poor people across the world, and their lives were shaped by fundamental structural forces, most notably the driving forces and interests of capitalism – money bent on the accretion of money – that sought to reduce labour costs and increase market size. These forces still shape today’s world. There is no 4th Industrial Revolution
How can UNESCO leverage digital technologies to achieve SDGs?
I sought to raise challenging questions about the relationship between digital technologies and the SDGs, particularly around notions of sustainability:
- First, most ICTs and digital technologies are based on fundamentally unsustainable business models – and there are therefore real challenges claiming that they can contribute positively to “sustainable development”. Just thinking about it. How often do you replace your mobile phone, or have to get new software because you have bought some new hardware with which it is incompatible, or instead need new hardware to run the latest memory and processor demanding software. Such obsolescence is a deliberate ploy of the major technology companies.
- Second, the use of most such technologies is damaging to the environment – this is hardly sustainable – think about the satellite “waste” in outer space, or the electricity demands of server farms, or take blockchain; do you realise that Bitcoin mining consumes more electricity a year than does the whole of Ireland?
- And then, the SDGs have failed already – most countries have not set their targets, and for many the baseline data simply do not exist. It is therefore not going to be possible to say whether many targets have been met or not. Take UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics date on SDG 4. In most parts of the world less than a third of countries have data for the educational indicators and targets. [http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/sdg4-data-book-2018-en.pdf]. Indeed, it is often said that the SDGs purely exist to give UN agencies something to do!
- But being positive, the answer is simple – we need to concentrate our efforts first on the poorest and most marginalised. These new technologies have rapidly been used to make the world a more unequal place. It is good that we now have SDG 10 focusing on inequality, but few people ever mention it in the context of digital technologies. No-one else has mentioned it in any of the sessions at which I have yet been during this Forum. We should not always be talking about connecting the next billion – but instead of connecting the first billion – yes, the first and most important – those who are poorest and most marginalised – people with disabilities, street children, refugees, and women in patriarchal societies. We need to work with them, to craft new technologies that will help them achieve their empowerment.
How can we de-risk digital interactions and counter online challenges to privacy, human rights and freedom of expression?
I responded briefly, since other speakers addressed this at greater length and with more sophistication:
- Ethics is incredibly important – Most people tend to think that new technology is necessarily good. But it is not. Technology is neither good nor bad – it simply “is”. But technologies can be made, and used, for good or bad purposes.
- Two examples on which I have recently been working are:
- Sexual harassment through mobile devices – Pakistan, India and Caribbean
- Is it too late for “pure humans” to survive – or will we, are we already, all cyborgs?
- How might we respond to these challenges
- We need to focus as much on the negatives as on the positives of technologies in our education systems and media.
- We need more open public debate and discussion on the ethics of digital technologies – governments tend not to trust their citizens to engage in these very difficult issues.
What forms of multi-stakeholder mechanisms/government frameworks will foster global dialogue around the use of advanced ICTs?
Again, towards the end of the session, there was little time to discuss this, but I noted:
- Everyone talks about partnerships, but few actually succeed
- Back in 2005 I actually wrote about multi-sector partnerships as part of UNESCO’s contribution to WSIS – and most of what I wrote then still applies!
- We must stop competing and instead work together creatively and collaboratively in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised. This applies particularly both within and between UN agencies!
This is what I think I said:
I have huge admiration for many of the staff in UNESCO; the organisation has the most important mandate of any UN agency – focusing as it does on Education, Science and Culture. There are three simple, and easy things that UNESCO could do, but they require a fundamental change of mentality:
- Focus on understanding the needs of the poorest and most marginalised
- Work with, not for, the poorest and marginalised
- Develop digital solutions that will serve the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.
And of course, UNESCO could take much more advantage of the expertise of the many Chairholders in its UNITWIN and UNESCO Chairs networks!
Thanks again to all those in UNESCO who made the Forum such an interesting event.
EQUALS is a global initiative committed to achieving gender equality in the digital age. Its founding partners are the ITU, UN Women, UNU Computing and Society (UNU-CS) institute, the International Trade Centre, and the GSMA, and Royal Holloway, University of London, is one of the first group of 25 partners for the initiative. We were delighted that the Principal of Royal Holloway, Professor Paul Layzell, was able to attend the first Principal’s meeting in New York during the UNGA in September 2017 (image to the right). There are three Coalitions within EQUALS, for Skills (led by GIZ and UNESCO), Access (led by the GSMA) and Leadership (led by the ITC), and these are supported by a Research Group, led by the UNU-CS. The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D has been very active across all areas of EQUALS’ work since its original conception during the discussions held at the WSIS Forum in May 2016, and has been particularly involved in contributing to the work of the Skills Coalition.
The first face-to-face physical (rather than virtual) meeting of the Research Group was convened by the UNU-CS in Macau from 5th-6th December (official press release), and it was great that the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D could be represented by both Liz Quaglia and Tim Unwin at this meeting. This week’s gathering brought together researchers and policymakers from 21 organizations around the world. It established the group’s research agenda, drafted its work plan for 2018, and finalized the content and schedule of its inaugural report due to be published in mid-2018. In particular, it provided a good opportunity for researchers to help shape the Coalitions’ thinking around gender and equality in the three areas of skills, access and leadership, and also to identify ways through which they could contribute new research to enable the coalitions to be evidence-led in their activities.
Huge thanks are due to Araba Sey, who convened the meeting with amazing enthusiasm, insight and professionalism, and all of the other staff at UNU-CS who contributed so much to the meeting. It was a great occasion when some of the world’s leading researchers in gender and ICTs could meet together, not only to discuss EQUALS, but also to explore other areas of related research, and to build the trust and openness necessary to increase gender equality both in the field of ICTs, and also through the ways that ICTs influence every aspect of people’s lives.
It was great to be back in Islamabad to participate in the second two-day workshop organised by the Inter-Islamic Network on Information Technology and COMSATS Institute of Information Technology with the assistance of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, and held on 5th and 6th October. It was fascinating to see the progress that has been made in Pakistan since the first such workshop that we convened in January 2016, particularly in terms of policy making, awareness, and entrepreneurial activity. It was also very good to see such a diverse group of participants, including academics, entrepreneurs, civil society activities, government officials, and representatives of bilateral donors engaging in lively discussions throughout both days about how best we can turn rhetoric into reality.
Following the official opening ceremony, there were seven main sessions spread over two days:
- Understanding the ICT4D landscape, in which the main speaker was Dr. Ismail Shah, the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority
- The road to facilitation: financial technologies for the marginalised, with a plenary given by Qasif Shahid (FINJA) about making payments frictionless, free and real time.
- Addressing the digital gender gap, at which the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about why this is a pressing concern, and it gave a chance for him to tdiscusst the new UN-led EQUALS initiative for gender equality in a digital age, as well as some of the challenges that face women in using ICTs (slide deck).
- No tech to low tech to high tech: an entrepreneur’s tale, with a plenary by Muhammad Nasrulla (CEO INTEGRY).
- Serving the most marginalised: accessibility and disability, with a plenary by David Banes on access and inclusion using ICTs, which included a very useful framework for considering digital accessibility issues.
- Developing technologies for the rural/urban slum needs, during which Muhammad Mustafa spoke about his vision of enabling all 700 million illiterate adults in the world to go online through his Mauqa Online initiative.
- Educating the marginalised, where the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D spoke about educating marginalised children (slide deck) and Shaista Kazmi from Vision 21 described their Speed Literacy Program.
Each session combined enthusiastic discussion around the themes addressed by the plenary speakers, and it was excellent to learn from all those involved about using ICTs in very practical ways to deliver on the needs of poor and marginalised people and communities in Pakistan.
Full details of the event can be found on the INIT site, where copies of the slide decks from each main presentation will also be available. Very many thanks go to all of the organisers, especially Tahir Naeem, Akber Gardezi and Muhammad Atiq from COMSATS IIT and INIT for all of the hard work that they put into making the event a success. We look forward to convening the next such workshop in about a year’s time, once again bringing together people from all backgrounds intent on using ICTs to support Pakistan’s most marginalised communities.
The UNESCO Chair in ICT4D was delighted to represent Royal Holloway, University of London at the first Focal Point meeting of the EQUALS initiative held on the side of the UN High-Level Political Forum in New York on 18th July 2017 .
EQUALS is a global initiative founded by the ITU, UN Women, the ITC, GSMA and the UNU, and delivered by a partnership of more than 20 corporate leaders, governments, non-profit organizations, communities and individuals around the world working together to bridge the digital gender divide – by bringing women to tech, and tech to women.
Royal Holloway, University of London, was created from two of the leading women’s university institutions in the UK: Bedford College founded in 1849 as the first women’s higher education institution in the country; and Royal Holloway College, founded in 1879, also as an all-women College. The wealth of expertise of Royal Holloway, University of London’s researchers and teachers, especially those involved in the UNESCO Chair of ICT4D in fields such as information security, business management, computer science and geography, is highly relevant to the EQUALS agenda of enabling gender equality in the digital age. The Chair is also one of the first 20 research organisations committed to working as part of EQUALS Research Group led by the UNU-Computing and Society Institute, and looks forward to participating actively in the group.
This first Focal Point meeting brought together the founders and partners to explore ways through which the work of EQUALS can best be delivered through three coalitions of partners:
- Access: Ensuring that women and girls have full access to digital technologies, devices and services;
- Skills: Empowering women and girls to acquire skills to become both ICT users and creators in the digital world as well as in broader STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields; and
- Leadership: Promoting leadership opportunities for women in the digital workforce including women’s entrepreneurship.
The work of EQUALS can be followed at:
Despite all of the global initiatives undertaken so far to use technology to empower women, digital inequality has increased. As UNESCO reported in March 2017 “the global Internet user gender gap grew from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the estimated gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher from men than women in all regions of the world”. EQUALS aims to use new approaches to reverse this trend, ensuring that women across the world have the access, skills and leadership to enable them to benefit from ICTs to the same extent as do men.
Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to our workshop this morning at WSIS 2017 in Geneva on what we need to do to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.
Our co-created mindmap is available here in .pdf format and by clicking on the image below:
A special thank you to our panel:
- 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
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.
Following 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.
This appointment will be crucial for the entire future of UNESCO – so, though, it was worth copying this directly from UNESCO’s site at http://en.unesco.org/news/nine-nominations-received-post-director-general-unesco
Nine Nominations received for the post of Director-General of UNESCO
Paris –The Chairperson of the Executive Board of UNESCO, Mr. Michael Worbs, today officially announced the names of the nine candidates received for the post of Director-General of UNESCO.
The nominees are listed below in the order of receipt of their candidature, within the deadline set by the Executive Board.
|Name of candidate
Date complete file received
|Mr Polad BÜLBÜLOGLU
|Mr PHAM Sanh Chau
|Ms Moushira KHATTAB
|Mr Hamad bin Abdulaziz AL-KAWARI
|Mr Qian TANG
|Mr Juan Alfonso FUENTES SORIA
|Mr Saleh AL-HASNAWI
|Ms Vera EL-KHOURY LACOEUILHE
|Ms Audrey AZOULAY
The Director-General is nominated by the Executive Board and appointed by the General Conference for a period of four years. These nine candidates will be interviewed during the 201st Board session on Wednesday 26 and Thursday 27 April 2017. The person to be nominated by the Executive Board shall be chosen by secret ballot, during a vote that will take place during the Board’s 202nd session in October 2017. Subsequently, the Chairperson of the Board shall inform the General Conference, during its 39th session in November 2017, of the candidate nominated by the Board. The General Conference shall consider this nomination and then elect, by secret ballot, the person proposed by the Executive Board.
Information pertaining to the candidates, together with the procedure for the nomination of the Director-General of UNESCO, is available on the Executive Board website at: http://en.unesco.org/executive-board/dg-candidates-2017.
The 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
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!
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.