19 June 2003



NEW YORK, 18 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to “The Net World Order:  Bridging the Global Digital Divide” Conference, hosted by the Business Council for the United Nations, in New York, 18 June:

The swift emergence of a global “information society” is changing the way people live, learn, work and relate.  An explosion in the free flow of information and ideas has brought knowledge and its myriad applications to many millions of people, creating new choices and opportunities in some of the most vital realms of human endeavour.

Yet, too many of the world’s people remain untouched by this revolution.  A “digital divide” threatens to exacerbate already-wide gaps between rich and poor, within and among countries.  The stakes are high indeed.  Timely access to news and information can promote trade, education, employment, health and wealth.  One of the hallmarks of the information society -- openness -- is a crucial ingredient of democracy and good governance.  Information and knowledge are also at the heart of efforts to strengthen tolerance, mutual understanding and respect for diversity.

The World Summit on the Information Society offers a unique opportunity to shape the future of the information society so that all people can enjoy these benefits.  It will bring together political leaders and leaders from the private sector, civil society and media organizations.  It can help us to better understand just how the information revolution is transforming our societies.  Most of all, it provides a platform for developing a shared vision of ways to create a truly inclusive information society that serves and empowers all people.

That Summit would benefit greatly from the involvement of the United States information technology community.  While a number of corporations are supporting social causes or eagerly looking to do so, those activities are focused primarily on the United States.  I hope the industry will broaden its horizon and bring more of its remarkable dynamism and innovation to the developing world.  With governments themselves acknowledging that they cannot successfully pursue development on their own, there is unprecedented scope for public-private partnerships that match real investment opportunities with the real needs of the poor.  Even small initiatives can make an enormous difference.

I know that many leaders are rising to the occasion, with creative business models and initiatives that can help to improve the lives of under-privileged people.  The Cisco Networking Academy Programme, under John Chambers, is enhancing opportunities for youth in developing countries.  HP, under Carly Fiorina, has joined hands with research institutions to develop products such as the solar powered “village photographer”, which brings sophisticated yet practical technologies to businesspeople and others in remote areas.  And more and more of you are exploring the potential of wireless fidelity to deliver fast and cheap Internet access to remote areas.

We need more such ideas and innovation.  The United Nations is committed to doing its part, and has established an Information and Communication Technologies Task Force where industry leaders and experts can discuss with government representatives and others how best to bridge the digital divide.  I encourage you to participate and to give the Task Force your full support.

Information technology is not a magic formula or panacea.  But it is a powerful force that can and must be harnessed to our global mission of peace and development.  I look forward to working closely with you to make the World Summit, and our wider efforts, a resounding success.

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