ICT4D innovation to achieve the MDGs
Najat Rochdi, Deputy Director
UNDP LO, Geneva ‐ Switzerland
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here at this most significant event. On behalf of UNDP, I would like to congratulate
the organizers for their leadership in turning this promising idea into a reality. I also thank them for inviting
UNDP to address those opening remarks.
I've had the opportunity to take a look at your past proceedings. It is filled with outstanding policies and
prescriptions for much of the role Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can play. So I'd like to
congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far.
Today, I would like to call for urgent, collective and innovative actions to address The achievement of the
MDGs and set the stage for renewed sustainable development. Today, I would like to talk about the
connection between the use of ICT and Poverty alleviation and share with you some thoughts about how
ICT4D and its related innovations can foster the achievement of the MDGs and thus put fire under the feet of
decision makers, development organizations, civil society and private sector leadership to accelerate and
commit to the Global development agenda.
Throughout the past twenty years, there have been some years that simply rolled into the next without much
notice. Then there are the years that come along once in a generation – the kind that mark a break from the
past, and set a new course for our world. 2009 is one of those years.
We started 2009 with critical global challenges such as poverty, inequity, democracy crises, globalization and
environmental degradation. This is deepening political, social, economic and cultural divisions within and
between countries thus increasing the risk of violent conflict and threatening social and political stability.
This is particularly worrisome , when one knows that the accumulation of socio‐economic problems and the
invasion of the new values of globalization have aggravated an identity crisis among the new generations. The
resulting vacuum has become a fertile ground for a number of forms of extremism.
We started 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime. Millions of jobs have been
lost, and other millions who want and need full‐time work, had to settle for part‐time jobs. Many businesses
cannot borrow or make payroll. Many families cannot pay their bills. Many workers are watching their life
savings disappear. And many, many citizens across the world are both anxious and uncertain of what the
future will hold.
But, we also started 2009 with an Afro American as President of the USA.
Yet, only one year ago, nobody would have predicted what happened and we have very little idea of what the
world will look like 50 years from now.
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
ICTs when used to address Development are one of those tools that are transforming the traditional map of
development, expanding people's horizons, dramatically shrinking learning curves, and creating the potential
to realize, in a decade, progress that required a time span of generations in the past.
All of us here have witnessed how access to a range of ICTs in developing countries can give people knowledge
that empowers them. ICTs such as radio, television, telephones, computers, and the Internet can provide
access to knowledge in sectors such as agriculture, microenterprise, education, and human rights, offering a
new realm of choices that enable the poor to improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys
equal access to these technologies. As the divide grows wider, it aggravates the existing divisions of power and
inequities in access to resources between men and women, the literate and non‐literate, and urban and rural
populations. Therefore, we need to innovate.
In Wikipedia, the term innovation means a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical,
and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations. A distinction is typically made
between Invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully. Inventions are
potential change, innovations are changes realized.
The private sector has clearly driven the experimentation and expansion of innovative IT models. eBay is a
very good example. They have applied “open and user‐driven” processes to their product development and
the results have been revolutionary. We want this momentum of open and user‐driven innovation to reach
the development sector. Therefore, when we refer to Innovation in development process, it doesn't just mean
coming up with new ideas; it is coming up with applications of those new ideas, or even new applications of
We need to significantly increase the application of these innovative models to the needs of the poor and
vulnerable people. We need to effectively leverage the skills and knowledge of creative local citizens as
designers of and contributors to products and services and not only as consumers. We need to invest in
people as the greatest resource and the most precious asset if we are to shape, and not just be shaped by, the
challenges we face.
This is of much importance in a networked world where efficiency, speed of delivery and optimization are the
key ingredients of competitiveness. In this context, Information and Communication Technologies (ITC) are
without any doubt a lever for modernization.
From social networks to mobile technology, innovation in ICT is on the move and a new digital age is starting.
Years ago there was already a meaningful move from the traditional and static Web 1.0 (the “read‐only” web),
to the more current Web 2.0, where the notion of the “read‐write” web has been created to allow for all this
data to be shared by the online community which vibrantly started to interact and provided the impetus for
social networking. Now with the dawn of Web 3.0, the web is to be tailored by the people themselves for their
own needs: some day virtually any citizen should be able to modify the website or resources. It is people‐
centered, empowering citizens to innovate and find solutions in hyperspace using Web‐hosted infrastructure.
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Telecom companies become media houses. Food retailers become banks. Computers become phones and
video stores. We have a Nanopod for personal music, plus a tiny mobile phone (useless for serious camera
use), a pocket PDA with colour screen and video, an ultra‐small portable PC with 5.5 hours battery life suitable
for long flights, and a giant‐screened laptop for high‐powered applications, suitable for car journeys where
screen size prevents nausea and eye strain. We also have a data projector for a 3 metre wide home cinema
with a dedicated DVD / digital TV system, and so on.
YouTube in just 15 months became a 200 million downloads a day blockbuster media company and President
Obama used Facebook to mobilize young voters.
By the end of 2008, close to 4 billion people had access to a cell phone, a number that dwarfs the existing
number of Internet users (1.5 billion), particularly in developing countries. New ICTs such as M‐Technologies
and Social networks have reduced the entry barriers (language, cost, interface, etc.) , and made innovation in
M‐Technologies provide fertile ground to explore the provision of basic government services (documentation
such as birth certificates, education, health, etc), of private services such as banking, micro‐credit, etc, and the
involvement of local communities in decision making processes.
M‐Technology (MT)helps finding innovative solutions to meet pressing humanitarian challenges: to connect
families separated by disaster, helps emergency relief workers respond more quickly and empower health
workers operating in rural areas. M‐Government or The GonGo concept (Governance‐on‐the‐Go), is changing
the way grassroots organizations monitor elections in developing countries where weak capacity,
infrastructure, freedom of speech and political will prevail. GonGo is enabling open, fluid and interactive ways
for people to relate with each other and with institutions, including civil society and NGOs, the private sector,
media, parliaments, and also public institutions. Combined with SMS, MMS, blogging, etc it is opening a new
era of democratization, participation and freedom of expression. Beyond the implicit benefit of instant and
more extensive coverage, the costs of using SMS technology are accessible. Concrete examples include the use
of text‐messaging during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the citizens’ protests in the Philippines and
Lebanon or the role of text messaging during the crackdown on the monks of Burma (Myanmar).
This in turn will not only get countries closer to the achievement of the MDGs but also develop new markets
and new demand.
But MT also faces its own challenges. On the supply side, many cell phone providers are starting to hit market
limitations particularly in areas where very poor populations inhabit and markets are either very small or
inexistent. This might put a stop to the rapid growth of mobile celphone users in the short run. On the demand
side, MT users do not have access to the required applications that will allow them to get public and private
services from their phones. By matching supply and demand new opportunities will emerge for both suppliers
of MTs and end users and, in concert with national and local government generate win‐win‐win situations that
will foster human development in the medium and long terms
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Ladies and Gentlemen,
These are some of the issues we can address to pave the way and prepare the ground for actions. But one
should remember that, for innovation in ICT4D to help advancing democratic governance and development,
the most important thing to understand is that the future is not about technology, it is about people with all
the challenges it entails.
Overcoming those challenges requires practical groundwork, starting small with innovations, learning from
experience, sharing good practices and finding scalable solutions. We need better benchmarks to keep
checking the pulse of progress and prepare solid agendas for the future. We need solid and practical research
on ICT tools, instruments, methodologies, applications, policies to address development issues and on how to
adapt them, adjust them, and embed them into social and economic development strategies. The challenges
are great, but so too are the opportunities.
My hope is that today’s meeting is a starting point.
Thus, the rapid pace of change makes it all the more necessary to be proactive. We need to evolve rapidly and
continually in response to tomorrow’s challenges. We need to take urgent action, collectively, to change the
course, otherwise the situation will become dramatically worse. We need to preserve the dreams and the
hopes of a generation so they can still invest and believe in their future. We need to come up with new ways
of doing development business, innovative tools and applications. We need each and everyone to commit.
The world is not on track to meet the MDGs, and yet it could be: we have the resources, the technology and
the creativity that are required; we just need to bring them where they are most needed. We need a new
multilateralism where every stakeholder brings his share of commitment, support, policy, programs, funding,
etc. where Governments, at both central and local levels, where Development Partners and Organizations,
where Civil Society, where Private Sector and where Communities all come together around a strong and
common interest in fostering a solid sustainable development base that is integrated into the global economy.
On behalf of UNDP I would like to reiterate our strong commitment to continue to support Governments and
partners in their strategies to capitalize on ICT as a lever for economic and social transformation and
expansion to propel our modest endeavors of today into the world reference cases of tomorrow so that the
next generations will carry forward the flame of equity, justice, prosperity and peace.
To conclude, I would like to leave you with this proverb quot;Take hold of the future or the future will take hold of
Thank you very much.
10 February 2009, Gigun , Asturias ‐ Spain
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