ICTs and Sustainable Development

Information and communications technology (ICT) – as we discussed during seminar session 5 – play an extremely important role in sustainable development. From the Maitland Commission Report, “The Missing LInk,” to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and outcome documents from the World Summit in Information Society HIgh Level Meeting (WSIS+10) ICTs have had a well documented – but sometimes overlooked – role in inclusive, sustainable development.

In short, “The Missing Link” is a report from 1985 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which highlighted the stark global inequality around phone access. According to the report, in 1985, there were 600 million telephones and 75% – or 450 million – were concentrated in just nine countries (p. 3). This is problematic because – as we discussed and the report argues – access to telephone lines and other forms of technology are absolutely vital rools in cultural, economic, and social activity. The Maitland report highlights a number of scenarios where access to a telephone could have enhanced the lives of an individual or community (p. 7). For example, a banker needs a telephone to confirm the credit-ranking of a customer to approve a loan. If a telephone isn’t available and the loan is denied, that customer’s business may fail.

Building on “The Missing Link,” the development community has realized the importance of ICTs in sustainable development incorporating this principle into current strategies and policy. Nearly every SDG incorporates technology in some way. For example SDG 1 to end poverty states a key step will be to “appropriate new technology services” (p. 5). In addition, SDG 4, subgoal 7, states that ICTs will be vital to increasing school enrollment in developing states and African countries (p. 7). The WSIS+10 outcome document also highlights the importance of ICTs in sustainable development. More specifically, the outcome document reaffirms WSIS’s vision to “build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize, and share information and knowledge” (p. 2). In other words, WSIS clearly brings ICT development at the forefront of its work.

In sum, this week’s discussion and readings introduced and reaffirmed the need of inclusive strategies when it comes to the global digital divide. Landmark strategies, like the SDGs and WSIS+10 outcome documents, document the very real and growing presence of SDGs in development work. Even though there is currently massive inequality when it comes to ICTs, access to information and technology can serve as an important leveling factor when successfully incorporated into development strategies.