It is a pleasure to address this closing session of the fifteenth annual Internet Management Forum.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of digital technologies and transformation and the urgent need to improve the role of the IGF as a platform for dialogue on proposed solutions.
This year has provided new evidence of the benefits of connectivity. Internet access protects healthcare, jobs and lives.
But the pandemic exacerbates inequalities of all kinds, including the digital divide. Those without access to digital technology – almost half of the world – are denied opportunities to study, communicate, trade, shop, work and participate in much of modern life.
Nearly half a billion students are affected by school closures and most marginalized people, including at least 11 million girls, are at high risk of never returning to school.
And for those who are online, connectivity has increased the vulnerability to many types of abuse. The shadow pandemic of disinformation about COVID-19 has endangered health and lives and threatens to reduce the uptake and efficacy of any vaccines available.
Meanwhile, hate speech and discrimination are rampant in digital spaces.
And the risk of a fragmented internet is greater than ever.
These are critical areas where my roadmap for digital collaboration gives a way forward through its vision to connect, respect and protect all people online.
I welcome the focus of this Forum on digital inclusion, which is essential for a strong recovery. We urgently need to address the growing digital gender gap and apply digital technology to those who need it most: the vulnerable, the marginalized, those living in poverty and people suffering from all kinds of discrimination.
The pursuit of inclusion should not only determine our approach to expanding connectivity, but also how we manage data. We need to look at how we can make the best use of digital data for the public good, and develop data management frameworks that recognize diversity, empower businesses and communities, and advance Sustainable Development Goals.
Many of you – representing different communities, from governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical and academic communities – are working closely with the United Nations to further the goals of the Roadmap.
These include reducing digital divisions, promoting digital inclusion, achieving universal connectivity and protecting human rights online.
Together, if we want to build a strong recovery from the pandemic, we can reduce the harmful aspects of digital technology and unleash its power as a true equalizer and enabler.
I urge all governments to make sure your response and recovery plans increase that digital connectivity is affordable, secure and inclusive.
The forum’s extensive discussions over the past week have been important and meaningful. The IGF plays an important role in connecting the dots on the global digital map. But it can only fulfill this role if it reaches decision makers.
We must now act decisively and urgently to strengthen the IGF so that it can enhance its unique role in the digital collaboration architecture.
After more than a decade of consultations, we have identified several areas for improvement. It ranges from increasing the Forum’s visibility and funding sustainability, to a proposed high-level body within the IGF that can translate the key discussions into concrete impact.
My Roadmap provides a series of actions for this purpose, and I intend to proceed quickly with those that fall under my responsibility.
We need an internet management forum that is responsive, relevant and effective.
We need it to be a place where governments, companies, technical experts and civil society from all parts of the world come together, share ideas, discuss solutions and agree on common standards and principles.
I congratulate you again on your discussions this week.