Advancing innovation in India’s ICT industry – and beyond: Malcolm Johnson

Advancing innovation in India’s ICT industry – and beyond: Malcolm Johnson

By Malcolm Johnson, ITU Deputy Secretary-General

The following was adapted from remarks delivered by ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson in New Delhi, India at the recent CMAI ICT World Communication Summit on the theme “Innovation in ICT Technologies, Broadband, Smart Cities and manufacturing for Sustainable Development Goals” on 11 March 2019.

We are living in a time of extraordinary advances at the intersection of various fields of innovation. Industries are entering new shared space.

New technologies are emerging, from the Internet of Things and cloud computing to artificial intelligence and 5G. And ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs), is at the forefront of this digital revolution.

These new technologies hold great potential for human progress, enabling innovations in areas such as health, financial services, energy, transport and smart cities and communities. They will be essential for the realization of every single one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Already, ICTs are empowering billions of individuals around the world, providing them with access to education, healthcare, e-government and mobile banking – to name a few.

For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population is now using the Internet. The challenge before us is to bring the other half online, in particularly in the Least Developed Countries, so that everyone can benefit from ICTs in terms of social and economic progress.

Financial inclusion

To give you an example, we know that access to financial services and financial literacy are essential to lift people out of poverty. Saving accounts, for instance, can help people use funds acquired during better times to cover harder times. But what do you do when you don’t have a bank account? Today, 1.7 billion adults worldwide do not have a bank account, but among them, 1.1 billion have a mobile phone.

“I expect India – as a technology powerhouse, with technology hubs and a start-up culture that rivals the best in the world – to play a major role in our efforts.”

Digital financial services show great potential to give previously ‘unbanked’ people the ability to save, make payments and access credit and insurance. They can also help governments ensure that social security payments reach their intended recipients, and help merchants accepting digital payments gain new business intelligence and access lines of credit. And with ground-breaking initiatives like Aadhaar, India is leading the way.

ITU wants to leverage ICTs to bring all people within reach of financial services and out of poverty. We have partnered with the World Bank Group, the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures and the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the “Financial Inclusion Global Initiative.” Our objective is to advance research in digital finance and accelerate digital financial inclusion in developing countries through the use of mobile phones.

I am very pleased that India has been a valuable partner in this effort. The first edition of ITU’s “Financial Inclusion Global Initiative Symposium” took place right here in India, in Bangalore, in 2017 with the kind support of the Indian Government. We just held the second edition of this symposium last January in Egypt.

Working together to make change happen

Digital financial inclusion. Smart cities. Smart villages. Climate monitoring. Emergency telecommunications. These are just a few of the areas where information and communication technologies can make a big difference. But only by working together will we bring the power of ICTs to all nations, all people and all segments of society.

Collaboration, coordination and cooperation are key words. We need to bring our own specific competencies to the table, pool our resources and avoid duplication of effort. With ITU’s large and diverse private sector membership and our academia members, I am confident that we will be successful in unlocking the full potential of ICTs to achieve the SDGs. And I call on industry leaders to join ITU in this endeavour.

Join us and help ITU work toward the necessary spectrum allocations, technical standards for interoperability and interconnection, and the policy and regulatory environment that will promote innovation while avoiding market dominance and ensuring consumer protection.

Join us in shaping the development of critical frontier technologies like artificial intelligence. ITU’s annual “AI for Good Global Summit” is the leading United Nations platform for dialogue on artificial intelligence. The summit focuses on impact – bringing together AI innovators and public and private-sector decision-makers, including more than 30 UN agencies, to generate new AI projects that can accelerate progress towards the SDGs. The third edition of the Summit will take place in Geneva from 28-31 May, and I hope to see you there.

Another major event this year will be ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference 2019, which will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt from 28 October to 22 November 2019. ITU maintains the only international treaty on the use of the radio spectrum and satellite orbits, which is the foundation for all technology developments since the start of radio communications 113 years ago. The World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 is an opportunity for India to make its voice count and play an important role in shaping the environment that will lead the development of key ICT technologies such as 5G and others into the next decade.

ITU congratulates India on its efforts to use 5G to expand mobile and broadband connectivity. Next-generation networks such as 5G will power our mobile lives, transforming key areas like health, education and financial inclusion – and serving as an accelerator towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

To achieve the SDGs, we will need to continue leveraging the power of public-private partnerships, as well as the huge potential of small and medium sized enterprises. Now more than ever, we need the expertise, innovation and investment of SMEs.

I expect India – as a technology powerhouse, with technology hubs and a start-up culture that rivals the best in the world – to play a major role in our efforts.

That is why we see enormous potential in the upcoming establishment of ITU South Asian Area Office and Technology Innovation Centre here in India to serve as a catalyst in connecting innovators with public and private-sector decision-makers.

We at ITU look forward to working with all stakeholders to move the Sustainable Development Goals from vision to action, and transform today’s digital revolution into a development revolution.

Malcolm Johnson is the ITU Deputy Secretary-General

Featured Photo: XAVIER GALIANA / AFP / Getty Images

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