There is always so much bad news focussing on the day-to-day grind. Apparently, as the saying goes, ‘bad news sells’. This is a great pity. So many people are depressed and overwhelmed by the difficulties of the day, and some have a dark view on the future – pointing to climate change, population growth, poverty, the financial crisis and so on.
However, to get a more realistic view of the future we also need to look back and see if there have also been some positive changes.
First of all, if you take the real long-term picture then it is safe to say that since the human race started to emerge some hundred thousand years ago we have moved forward. There have been setbacks – famine, economic collapses of whole civilisations, floods, the Black Death and numerous wars, including large-scale world wars, genocides, and the list goes on. But we have never slipped back. Developments may have stagnated for a while but the trend over all of those hundred thousand years has, in general, been a positive one.
So maybe we should be reassured by this when facing the future. Of course, all of the current global problems we are facing could create a setback, stagnation, problems for specific regions; but the overall trend will most likely be positive.
At the recent meeting of the UN Broadband Commission in Dublin some interesting UN statistics were presented:
- In 2011 there were 700 million fewer people living in extreme poverty than in 1990 – this despite the increase in population.
- However one in eight still goes hungry.
- There are 57 million primary school children deprived of education, down from 102 million in 1990 – 50% of those receiving no education are in Sub-Sahara Africa.
- There are still 123 million people who don’t receive basic education and 61% of these are girls.
- Employed women – only 40% are outside agriculture and only 20% are in leadership positions.
- Since 1990 the child mortality rate has dropped by 47%.
- In 2012 6.6 million children died under the age of six.
- There are 8 million people still living and working thanks to HIV treatment.
- Tuberculosis treatment saved 20 million lives
- Global emissions have increased by 47% since 1990, 77% up in the developed world and 31% up in the developing world.
- By 2019 92% of the world population will be covered by mobile communications and 85% by mobile broadband.
These stats were discussed in relation to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which flagged to be completed by 2015. Obviously that won’t happen and therefore this work will be continued, albeit in a new format, and the plan is to launch as a follow-up the Sustainability Developments Goals (SDGs) in that same year.
Obviously the world is not without problems. There is still poverty, hunger, lack of health and education, mistreatment of girls and women, wars and so on. But the commitment of people all round the world plus the work that has been done within the UN MDGs has most certainly made a dent in all of this; and the positive results achieved by the MDGs is leading to the development of these new SDGs, in the knowledge that this program also will assist in addressing the truly big problems the world is facing.
The Broadband Commission is contributing here by ensuring that the social and economic benefits of broadband, and ICT in general, are better recognised and embedded in the SDGs, as major tools that can be used to address the underlying problems the goals are aimed at addressing. The alternative to this – the more traditional approaches to solve those problems – is very costly.
In the economy we already can see the positive results when companies use these tools to improve the productivity and competitiveness. These tools are essential in providing access to services, connecting people, communities, and service providers, and in assisting in the economic and social transformational processes that are essential to create greater sustainability for people and communities, to help in their social and economic aspirations and the environments in which they live.
While most people accept the importance of ICT and broadband, many have great difficulty in actually applying these tools in their work and for that reason they are too often simply placed in the too-hard basket. There is an essential role for the Broadband Commission – to inform and educate the UN decision-makers, as well as the governments involved who are formulating the policies, to ensure that the use of these tools is maximised so as to achieve the outcomes of these goals; and for that reason they will need to be embedded in all of the SDGs.
Embracing the new modern tools will enable the people working on the ground implementing the SDGs to tackle the issues at hand in a different way – to break through old bureaucratic silos, traditions and work practices. Among some of the NGOs there is also the notion that their projects should be directed straight to water, health and education rather than to ICT. But they do not necessarily realise that ICT can assist in all of this. This requires further information and education from the ICT providers, especially directed towards the leadership of these organisations. Changes on this level will have to be initiated from the top.
I was recently in an office in Perth where the people had sponsored a water well in Africa. The problem in the past had been that once the pump fails the water stops. This well now has a smart meter connected and the people in Sydney can actually get a video picture and real-time information about the installation and can act to prevent failure or address these problems when they occur. This is exactly the kind of situation where new tools can assist, and improve, projects that have been in place for decades. It also, of course, brings the problem right back into the developed world (the office in Perth) resulting in a much more inclusive partnership, shared responsibilities and new opportunities for cooperation.
However at the top, it remains a difficult task to get the bureaucracy to embrace new tools, and also to transform themselves to better face the future. We don’t just need smarter tools – we also need smart people who are able to maximise the social and economic benefits that these tools can deliver.
Broadband and ICT can be the horizontal layer that can assist in all of this. As I have often said, broadband cannot put an end to world hunger, but without broadband and ICT hunger and all of the other issues cannot begin to be resolved/tackled.
As an adviser to the Commission I am proud to be involved in these projects and hopefully we can also share our Australian views at the G20 in Brisbane later this year, led by Australia, the Broadband Commission organises its own side event here to focus on the importance of ICT in addressing many of the social and economic issues.
- Global – Infrastructure – The Broadband Commission for Digital Development
- Global Telecoms – Industry Transformation with M2M, Cloud Computing, Big Data, Wi-Fi and New Spectrum
- BuddeComm Intelligence Report – Internet Governance and Net Neutrality Insights
- BuddeComm Intelligence Report – M2M, IoT and Big Data – Key Global Trends
- BuddeComm Intelligence Report – Need for New Finance and Investment Models for Broadband
- BuddeComm Intelligence Report – OTT and Industry Transformation
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