​​​​​​​​​The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has announced its Partner2Connect pledging platform and an action framework to advance universal connectivity and digital transformation​.

ITU’s Partner2Connect (P2C) Online Pledging Platform will help mobilize resources to transform societies, promote sustainable digital technology uptake, and ensure meaningful connectivity for everyone.

Today, an estimated 2.9 billion people – 37 per cent of the world’s population – have never used the Internet. An estimated 96 per cent of them live in developing countries – despite a global surge in connectivity surge the past two years.

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“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, ITU has redoubled its efforts to help countries around the world expand connectivity, to reach communities where connectivity remains too fragmented or unreliable to offer meaningful benefits,” said Houlin Zhao, ITU Secretary-General. “The Partner2Connect Coalition reflects these efforts, helping put new and emerging technologies truly at the service of humanity and sustainable development.”

Collecting commitments

The P2C Online Pledging Platform is set to receive pledges and commitments from across the government, business, civil society, and academic sectors to drive digital transformation all over the world. The P2C Online Platform serves as a key place for leaders to declare their organizations’ commitment to close the digital divide and as a “marketplace” to catalyse new partnerships and collaboration.

The 16 March kick-off featured high-profile statements of support from multiple governments and an initial set of pledges from the German development agency GIZ, and global technology and communications firms Microsoft and Vodafone.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The international community needs to find new ways to move the needle on connecting the unconnected, to overcome chronic connectivity barriers, to dramatically level-up affordable access to technology, to empower people with digital skills, and to foster thriving local digital ecosystems. As the UN specialized agency for ICTs with a mission to connect the world, the P2C platform will re-energize global and regional connectivity efforts through broader commitments and a holistic approach to advance universal and meaningful connectivity, so that everyone, everywhere, has access to life-changing, enabling, digital platforms and services.”

Partner2Connect addresses four key priorities to ensure a sustainable global digital transformation:

  • Access: Connecting people everywhere
  • Adoption: Empowering communities
  • Value creation: Building digital ecosystems
  • Accelerate: Incentivizing investments​​

Companies, governments, and other stakeholders can register single-organization or joint pledges spanning financial, policy, advocacy, and programmatic support.

The P2C Online Platform will allow those who pledge to self-report progress and showcase best practices. The P2C Secretariat will produce an annual report. 

Connecting partners

ITU last year launched an alliance of public and private partners, the P2C Digital Coalition, in close cooperation with the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology and the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).

The Coalition builds on the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation in fostering meaningful connectivity globally, with a particular focus on helping hardest-to-connect communities in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), and Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

“The benefits of being online are not shared equally,” observed Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Acting High Representative at the UN’s Office of the High Representative for the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS. “The Least Developed Countries struggle most to use technology to drive innovation, growth, and the delivery of services. As a crucial milestone in the realization of the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition will help bring about meaningful change in the countries that need it most.”

The P2C Platform aims to strengthen global digital cooperation and support efforts towards the UN Global Digital Compact and the 2023 Summit of the Future.

Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary General of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs and Acting Envoy on Technology at the Office of the UN’s Secretary-General Technology Envoy, reiterated that “global connectivity is the foundation of the Secretary-General’s vision of an open, free and secure digital future for all” and “that the action-oriented approach taken by Partner2Connect will be critical in pushing this forward.”

Building an inclusive Action Framework

The accompanying Focus Areas Action Framework – developed by P2C Working Groups, Focus Area Leaders and with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) as a P2C’s knowledge partner – builds on extensive, inclusive consultations with a wide array of digital and socio-economic stakeholders.

The framework summarizes key prerequisites, including who, what, why and how, to achieve universal, meaningful connectivity and digital transformation for all.

“Digital inclusion is a pivotal concern as more and more aspects of life require connectivity,” said Maikel Wilms, Partner & Director of BCG. “The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition and its Platform provide a clear pathway for private players, civil society, and governments to come together in partnership to connect all people around the world.

Pledges announced on 16 March:

The German Agency for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – GIZ) pledged to support the Digital Public Goods ecosystem by developing the specification of 12 ICT building blocks that will reach up to 2.000.000 citizens as part of their engagement within the GovStack initiative. To reach this goal, eleven technical Working Groups – with more than 60 experts from civil society, the open-source community, academia, and the private sector – are developing design specifications based on best practices for 12 generic, reusable, interoperable digital building blocks. “For GIZ, a human-centric, inclusive approach to digital transformation was always at the heart of what we were and are doing. That is the reason we are honoured to join the Parter2Connect Digital Coalition to convene stakeholders with a shared vision to mobilize and unlock impactful actions and resources,” said Björn Richter, Head of Digital Transformation Cluster of Global and Sector Programmes at GIZ.

Microsoft Corporation: 
Microsoft today pledged to train 10 million people and help them attain an in-demand certificate or credential in digital, foundational, or technical skills by 2025. “To succeed in the digital economy, you need to have the right skills. That’s why we’ve pledged to train and certify 10 million people with in-demand digital skills by 2025,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft President and Vice Chair. “By combining Microsoft technology with partnerships with governments and non-profits, we can help create opportunity for people around the world.” 

Vodafone Group ​Plc:
4G connectivity can reduce the number of households in extreme poverty and increase participation in the labour force, particularly by women. 4G networks cover nearly half of Africa’s population, but there is a still a long way to go to reach the hardest-to-connect communities. Vodafone will invest USD 190 million over the next five years to increase digital inclusion in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa, increasing its 4G population coverage by an additional 80 million people. Vodafone will leverage P2C to develop co-investment partnerships to achieve this goal. “The pandemic increased the digital divide between African countries and other regions,” said Joakim Reiter, Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer, Vodafone Group. “We are focused on enabling more of the poorest and hardest-to-reach communities in the world – including in four of the world’s Least Developed Countries – to access digital society. However, no organization can solve this challenge alone. It requires a multi-stakeholder approach, which is why we are strongly supportive of the Partner2Connect approach.” ​

Roundtable pledge opportunity 

The Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable, taking place 7–9 June 2022 in Kigali, Rwanda, offers a timely chance for ITU member states, the private sector, academia, civil society, international organizations and other stakeholders to announce their commitments and pledges, engage in high-level discussions around the challenges and opportunities related to digital development, forge new partnerships, and help advance together digital transformation for all.

  • For more information and to register click here.

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