UNYANET Webinar Activities : Youth as Partners for the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  

22 Novembre, 2016

On Sunday, 13th November 2016 The United Nations Youth Associations Network (UNYANET)  organized  its first series of interactive webinars on “Internet Governance and Youth: achieving SDGs” to answer fundamental questions on what Internet governance is and why it is important for youth in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The session included a 15 minutes presentation, a 15 minutes interactive discussion where worldwide participants had the opportunity to exchange questions with experts in the field and finally 5 minutes for closing remarks.  

I was invited in my capacity as the policy analyst lead of the Internet Governance in the Middle East and North African region Igmena program and kicked off  the webinar by evoking  the definition of Internet governance which is the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet. Internet governance should not be confused with the centralized government usage or control of the Internet or E-Governance, which refers to governments' use of technology to carry out their governing duties.

Why is the governance of the Internet such an important topic to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted in 2015, represents a ‘normative incentive’ for the Internet governance multistakeholder community which is represented by the government, the private sector, academia, civil society, and the end user. It draws attention to today’s most pressing global development challenges and will guide our development priorities for an entire generation.

Young people in the MENA region and beyond should play a key role in shaping this agenda and the future of the Internet not only as normal ‘end users’ but as active ‘manpower’ for the social, economic and political stability by using the Internet as an empowering engine to participate in the policy discussion on how the Internet should be governed in the future and to better understand the stakes. The grassroots Internet communities that are at the receiving end of Internet governance policies at the national level should experience first-hand many of the issues it seeks to address and are its torchbearers.   

The young generation's ‘interconnectedness ‘should aim to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. Explicitly or implicitly, young people are deeply woven into and embedded within the Internet fabric because simply they are connected to the Internet everyday for the ‘bad’ or for the ‘good’, ‘passively’ or ‘actively’.Their knowledge, reach and innovative solutions are essential for sustainable development goals of the UN to be realized. This Number of Internet users worldwide 2005-2016 provides information on the total index of Internet users from 2005 to 2016. As of the most recent reported period, the number of users worldwide was 3.5 billion, up from 2.21 billion in the previous year.  We need to fight for a globally connected world.  This will not be an easy milestone to achieve!
In the same vein, and to give a concrete example, access to the Internet is a basic component of civil life that some developed countries aim to guarantee for their citizens through ‘Mobile Internet’ which is often considered important for social security reasons. Health, criminal, and other types of emergencies might indeed be handled better if the end users in trouble have access to the Internet via Wi-Fi or broadband connection. Why shouldn't it be the case in the developing nations in a global interconnected world shaped by one technology, one Internet and on one planet?  

Another important fact seems to be that much vital information, knowledge and data for research and innovation for people's career, civic life, safety, etc. are increasingly provided via the Internet. Even social welfare services are sometimes administered and offered electronically. Yet, this is not the case in the Mena region or the global south. As a policy analyst, I think that governments need an integrated approach of development where ICT or computer and computer networks will play an increasingly important role in learning and careers for youth so that education should include computing and use of the Internet. Without such offerings and policies, the existing ‘digital divide’ works unfairly to the children in the lower socio-economic status. 

From the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, what should change?

On September 24th, 2015, the world adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, as part of new 17 goals. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. Every country is committing to working tirelessly on the full implementation of this Agenda by 2030.

For example Goal number 4 of the SDGs tackles the issues of quality education which needs to be tagged into the heart of Internet governance. It shows that quality education is part of the infrastructure and standards, and socio-cultural baskets where connecting schools to the Internet depends on a good infrastructure, but not only schools connected to the Internet will provide a high quality of education. Goal number 9  focuses on building a resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation that mainly deals with sustainable industry development, economic GDP incomes and infrastructure and innovation.

Another example is Goal 17 on Peace, Justice and strong institutions: attaining this goal is basically through excelling on Internet governance's legal basket where most critical issues are listed, analyzed and studied. Effective use of ICTs will require cross-sectorial collaboration and a multi-stakeholder approach, based on open data and open innovation.

Unfortunately, in the world there are still 757 million adults including 115 million youths who cannot read or write a simple sentence. The interactive literacy data shows which countries are most affected. The policy of accessibility of rural areas to the Internet is a test of the digital divide. But nowadays there are different ways to eliminate the digital divide in rural areas. Use of Power lines (PLT and PLC) and satellite communications offer new possibilities of universal access to the Internet, and lack of telephone lines will not limit access. Lower access prices are required to bridge the ICT divide.

How can we give youth more incentive to participate in the SDGs policy process?

Many young people across the globe are still experiencing interlocked forms of discrimination, limited political inclusion, high levels of poverty, and limited access to health systems, educational opportunities, and decent jobs. We need to ‘pragmatically govern’ the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda which are interconnected by a decentralized approached of ICT and technology  integration of the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. New graduates should be the focal engine of innovative solutions and they are essential if sustainable development is to be realized.

Why don’t we convert ‘the youth bulge’ to a massive ‘human capital’ which, if used productively, can usher in growth and prosperity? Here comes the new mandate of the UN to be more effective in helping countries to take advantage of the confluence of these two historic gifts: demography and growth. They can create a virtuous cycle of higher growth, higher incomes and savings. Failure to do so will result in a double jeopardy: the economic and social exclusion of youth drains growth and creates social strife. But the time for securing this double dividend is now. The window of opportunity where countries have fewer dependents to the North will close in the next ten to fifteen years.

Governments need to seize the opportunity of growing economies as many Asian countries have done. Despite good economic growth, prospects for young people are not improving significantly or rapidly. This has been a central pre-occupation of the Middle East Youth Initiative to understand why young people continue to be excluded.  To have more people connected, we need to have open and free Internet.

There is a need to share a global responsibility to close the dimension of the digital divide

The problem is often discussed in a centralized UN international context, indicating certain countries are far better equipped than other developing countries to exploit the benefits from the rapidly expanding Internet. Here is the latest State of the Internet Report from Akamai, showing average and maximum connection speeds, Internet Penetration and Broadband adoption, Mobile usage, as well as trends in this data over time. How can we Bridge the Gap?

The idea that some information and communication technologies are vital to quality civic life is not new. Some suggest that the Internet and other ICTs are somehow transforming society, improving our mutual understanding, eliminating power differentials, creating a truly free and democratic global society and other benefits. Literacy is arguably another such element, although it is not related to any new technologies or latest technological devices.

It is a very widely shared view in many societies that being literate is essential to one's career, to self-guided learning, to political participation and to Internet usage. In a world considered as a single community in which telecommunications link the inhabitants together, a free access to Internet resources is a fundamental Human right that should be recognized, secured and adopted by each and every government for the benefit of each and every citizen. 

Mr. Hamza Ben Mehrez, iGmena's Policy Analyst Lead has been invited as a guest speaker to the UNYANET webinar series on Internet Governance, Youth and the Sustainable Development Goals