*The following article has been adapted from my opening remarks at the 14th Annual AARP UN Briefing Series.
One benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has accelerated digital transformation and raised awareness of the importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to achieve progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
More than ever, older persons must be able to use digital technologies effectively.
Not only for their own health and welfare, but also to keep in touch with family members, keep up to date with the latest information and advice, and to generally help overcome the feeling of being isolated.
Connecting the unconnected
But for that, we need to leave no one offline, and as we know unfortunately some 3.7 billion people are still unconnected, mostly, in developing countries and especially those living in rural areas where the return of investment is much poorer than urban areas.
Connecting everyone is ITU’s core mission and we need our Member States to incentivize the private sector to invest in these areas.
Statistics are very important on this and that is why ITU is committed to ensuring that policy makers receive these statistics to help track progress in areas such as
infrastructure, digital literacy, affordability, and the quality and reliability of access.
Digital skills are also very important, and this is more of a challenge of course for older persons than for the younger generations. The pandemic has underlined the critical importance of having the necessary digital skillset to navigate these virtual times and thrive online. A good example would be the difficulties that are being experienced by older persons to secure COVID-19 vaccine appointments. ITU is working with others to provide this very important online training.
A call for unprecedented collaboration
Tackling this big challenge will require new innovative approaches, encourage, and incentivize the industry and governments to provide for everyone. Our efforts must have one thing in common: collaboration! We must work together to bring everyone online, regardless of age, gender, location, financial means, or ability.
In a world that is aging rapidly, I would like to reaffirm ITU’s commitment to work together to bringing older persons online and empower them to make use of digital technologies so that they can take their rightful place in the global community.
Together with several other UN organizations and other stakeholders, ITU dedicated a special track at last year’s World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum to Older Persons and ICTs and we are building on that at this year’s WSIS Forum. The new track addresses several challenges, from the role of ICTs in combating age-based discrimination in the workplace, to achieving healthier ageing and ensuring the financial inclusion of older persons, which is so important when they must order and purchase online. It is helping create awareness, exchange best practices, and forge many beneficial partnerships.
The WSIS Forum 2021, which is currently ongoing, will build on this success, with more activities including the creation of a special WSIS prize and a hackathon on ICTs and older persons in collaboration with the Global Coalition on Aging. The WSIS Forum is open to all and I hope you will join us. We look forward to our continued collaboration!