Ten years ago, the political leaders at the World Summit for Information Society formulated a vision – a vision and commitment “to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals, communities and peoples to achieve their full potential in promoting their sustainable development and improving their quality of life, premised on the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and respecting fully and upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
That vision charted the way forward into the unknown. No one could predict the way the Information society would evolve. Yet two things were clear. One, that the Information society would evolve at great speed. Second, that this development would merit a review in ten years’ time.
Indeed, the past ten years have shown the fulfilment of the promise of access to information. Our world is more connected than ever before; already now there are more mobile subscriptions than there are people in the world. The global penetration of the Internet has ensured that ICTs can support the development of all countries – big and small, rich and poor. In many countries, including Latvia, ICT sector has become one of the key drivers of economy. ICT solutions have enabled a wide range of public services that are available through Internet. Internet penetration has also enabled new opportunities for education, with online courses and new distance learning opportunities. These opportunities are particularly important for diasporas who can preserve and develop their identities through digital connections with their native countries.
Yet this fast pace of positive change has not eliminated all challenges. In fact, these positive changes have brought new challenges. While the overall digital divide is narrowing, the broadband digital divide persists. While countries like Latvia, that has one of the fastest Internet speeds in the world, benefits from this technology, others need help to fully enjoy the opportunities that ICTs can bring. Part of the solutions lies in new technologies, but no less significant is the establishment of enabling environment for technological development. Furthermore, access alone is not the solution. People need to be educated about the new technologies both at school level and through life-long learning, but we also need to strengthen critical and analytical thinking skills. Also, respect for diversity, tolerance and other values promoted by civil society must be a core part of the education system. We need to redesign teacher training systems in line with these priorities.
In the context of access and usage we should also continue to address the persisting gender digital divide. This is both in the interest of the individuals and of the society as a whole. In a broader context of human rights, it is important to ensure that the rights that people enjoy offline are protected also online.
We should also use the ICTs to preserve the linguistic and cultural diversity of our world. This challenge is particularly important for smaller languages – as most of the online content is available in just ten languages! Five hundred years ago the printing press became the instrument that helped develop the local cultures and languages. Nowadays one can speak of the “second Gutenberg effect” – that the development of ICT local content and multilingual content helps maintain the global multicultural diversity. The Latvian ICT sector has been actively and successfully working on developing local content and preserving our cultural heritage digitally for over twenty years.
Importantly, ICTs will be a key enabler in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the next 15 years. As the Agenda rightly mentions, “the spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress”.
With all these changes in mind, it is particularly opportune that political leaders of the world determined ten years ago that the review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes would take place in 2015. This review has shown the readiness of all stakeholders, including Governments to engage in a meaningful dialogue to arrive at an outcome document that takes stock of the past ten years but also shows the way forward, including the extension of the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum for ten years.
Latvia is grateful for the opportunity to have contributed to the successful outcome of the WSIS review process as one of the two Co-facilitators of the negotiations, who were appointed by the President of the General Assembly. We are grateful for the support of the President of the General Assembly and his predecessor to the work of the Co-facilitators and for the active role of the President of the General Assembly in engaging the broad stakeholder community.
I am sure that in ten years’ time when the General Assembly will hold the next High Level Meeting on the overall review of the implementation of WSIS outcomes in 2025, the participants of the meeting will once again be amazed by the speed by which the ICTs will have changed our lives. In the meantime, I am confident that the WSIS vision will keep us focused on building “a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society” in the years to come. Today’s meeting is an important affirmation of this vision.