Royal Holloway, University of London, at EQUALS Focal Point meeting in New York

UN SmallThe 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.

EQUALS smallThis 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.

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