Irina Bokova is the Director-General of UNESCO, elected for four years, was Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to France and Monaco, Personal Representative of the Bulgarian President to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO from 2005 to 2009. During her long and distinguished career, she also served as Bulgaria’s representative to the United Nations and as her country’s Secretary of State for European integration and Foreign Minister. Ms Bokova has long promoted the transition to European integration. As Founder and Chairperson of the European Policy Forum, she worked to overcome divisions in Europe and promote the values of dialogue, diversity, human dignity and rights. Irina Bokova obtained an MBA from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and studied at the universities of Maryland and Harvard in the USA.
The Broadband Commission for Digital Development, launched by ITU and UNESCO, seeks to define strategies for accelerating broadband roll-out worldwide and to find applications - a wide range of social services, from healthcare to education, environmental management, safety and more - that could be more effectively delivered using broadband. The Commission’s mission is to help ensure that strategic broadband deployment occurs and serves the United Nation’s wider mission of furthering “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.
In the ten years since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals agenda, the number of Internet users worldwide has increased from 400 million to 1.8 billion. The time has come to build on this encouraging trend by realizing the vision of broadband for all so as to unleash the opportunities for economic growth, educational development, health provision, environmental sustainability and social empowerment offered by high-speed Internet access. However, enlightened political leadership will be required if, as proposed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), at least half of the world’s population is to have access to broadband content and communication by 2015. The Broadband Commission for Digital Development was launched by ITU and UNESCO at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum 2010 in Geneva on 10 May last. The Commission is co-chaired by H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mr Carlos Slim Hélu, honorary lifetime chairman of Grupo Carso; ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Touré and I as Director-General of UNESCO will serve as joint vice-chairs; and the membership is composed of 52 high-level Commissioners from around the world including eminent Ministers, industry leaders, cultural icons and experts. The aim of the Commission is to define strategies for accelerating broadband roll-out worldwide and to examine applications that could see broadband networks improve the delivery of a wide range of social services, from healthcare to education, environmental management, safety and much more. The Broadband Commission has come into being at a crucial point in time. It is clear to all that broadband technology complemented by relevant applications and content is a driver of development, one with the potential to transform the lives of the world’s poorest people in a multiplicity of ways, as it has revolutionized daily life in the developed world. UNESCO is strongly committed to broadband inclusion for all, believing that strategic deployment of broadband networks will help accelerate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). However, while broadband infrastructure is crucial, connectivity and content go hand in hand. It is therefore essential that we examine ways to develop local content and applications in order to serve internationally agreed development goals. Promoting access to education, health services, agricultural and environmental information and other crucial information services should thus become an integral part of the strategic deployment of broadband infrastructure. UNESCO has already launched initiatives to promote access to education through the effective harnessing of information and communication technologies. We are currently developing an Open Educational Resources (OER) platform that will provide free and open access by people worldwide to a significant repository of UNESCO’s publications. This platform will constitute a unique OER resource since institutions and individuals will have the possibility of adapting, localizing and modifying these resources to suit their own needs. In this connection, UNESCO considers it essential to emphasize the relevance of local content. Local content not only helps preserve and promote linguistic and cultural diversity, but can also be leveraged to develop Internet economies nationally and locally through capacity building in the field of content production, through job creation and through reductions in the cost of access to Internet and broadband infrastructure. UNESCO also has a programme to develop multilingualism in cyberspace through the development of local language content and resources. The Broadband Commission also endeavours to explore ways in which the deployment of broadband will contribute to the building of inclusive knowledge societies. UNESCO’s unique contribution to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has been to emphasize the importance of the human dimension of the Information Society beyond connectivity and infrastructure, to highlight the importance of freedom of expression, education, information literacy, content and multilingualism, as well as to advocate multi-stakeholder approaches throughout the entire process. In keeping with this distinctive focus, UNESCO has argued strongly for the idea of knowledge societies characterized by four key principles: freedom of expression, quality education for all, universal access to information and knowledge, and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. The concept of knowledge societies was recognized in the 2003 WSIS Declaration of Principles, with its reference to the importance of the creation of a “true knowledge society”. Since then UNESCO has been working with its partners to implement this concept across the globe. The speed of broadband take-off varies greatly between regions, countries and groups within society. UNESCO will propose that the Commission should focus on effective programme creation and resource allocation for priority groups such as girls and women and marginalized populations, as well as for priority regions including Africa, the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. As 2010 Chair of the United Nations Group on the Information Society, UNESCO will be energetic in coordinating measures by 29 UN agencies to implement the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society. It also advocates, as an active participant in the Internet Governance Forum, that the principles of freedom of expression and universal access to information should be central tenets of Internet governance. Finally, in keeping with an agreement signed last December with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, it is committed to promoting greater linguistic diversity on the Internet by allowing the use of top level domain names in scripts other than Latin. At the time this issue was going to print, we all have our sights set on the Summit that will be taking place in New York in September 2010 to review progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. I intend to make the point strongly during the MDG Summit that broadband networks, and broadband-enabled applications, have the potential to counteract the negative impact of the crisis and drive progress towards agreed development goals. Equitable and affordable universal access to broadband networks and broadband-enabled services and applications are the key to the delivery of quality education, sharing of scientific information, strengthening of social cohesion and promotion of cultural diversity. The Commission plans to submit its report entitled ‘A 2010 Leadership Imperative: Towards a Future Built on Broadband Connectivity and Content” to the United Nations Secretary-General at the 2010 MDG Summit. At the same time, it will provide world leaders gathered at the Summit with “A 2010 Declaration of Broadband Inclusion for All”, together with a set of recommendations and a proposed plan of action. I believe that these documents should provide a clear vision and impetus for broadband infrastructure deployment linked to the development of broadband-enabled content, services and applications. The Commission will have fulfilled its purpose if it helps to ensure that broadband deployment is strategic and serves the United Nation’s wider mission of furthering “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’.