IEEE Champions U.N. Sustainable Development Goals at WSIS Forum

President Bartleson addresses attendees at World Summit on the Information Society

24 August 2017

IEEE joined global stakeholders at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, held 12 to 16 June in Geneva. The annual event, organized by the United Nations and hosted by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), brought together more than 2,500 people from 150 countries who share a common mission to make information and knowledge accessible to everyone.

Participants discussed the role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in achieving the U.N.’s 17 sustainable development goals. They include gender equality, building sustainable cities, and promoting well-being for all.

Karen Bartleson, IEEE president, presented IEEE’s position statement, “Building a Sustainable Global Information Society,” which the Board of Directors approved in February. In addition, IEEE participated in several events at the WSIS Forum, including a hackathon for health.

After being nominated and selected to serve as one of two high-level-track facilitators representing the technical community, I moderated a high-level policy session titled “Inclusiveness: Access to Information and Knowledge for All.” This track brought together the perspectives on how to make Internet inclusion a reality from governments and other organizations, including Cuba, Sri Lanka, and UNESCO. In addition, I moderated the IEEE thematic workshop on 15 June addressing the ethical dimensions of ICT. This interactive panel and audience discussion focused on connecting the unconnected, artificial intelligence, security, and privacy.


Representatives from government, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the technical community presented high-level policy statements, including Bartleson, who delivered IEEE’s WSIS Forum high-level statement.

“IEEE endorses the goal of universal access to the Internet and supports national initiatives and international collaborations designed to expand access to the billions of people in both developed and developing countries around the world,” she said. “Through its global reach and capabilities, IEEE has an important role to play in advancing solutions to the global Internet access challenge. Promoting universal Internet access is inherent in our mission of fostering technology innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.”

In an interview about the WSIS Forum, she spoke about how technologists and policymakers can work together to give people in underserved areas access to the Internet in the name of advancing technology for the benefit of humanity.

“Young professional engineers, technologists, and scientists have to be part of the solution,” she said, adding that “all of the connectivity we put in place will be for naught unless we solve the security and privacy issues.”


The IEEE SIGHT (Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology) Tawasol project, in Tunisia, was recognized as one of 90 WSIS Champions. This designation honors projects that leverage the power of ICT to accelerate socioeconomic development.

The Tawasol project aims to bring Internet access to Tunisia, beginning with schools and then surrounding communities, with the goal of increasing awareness of the benefits of access among families, businesses, and community leaders. The IEEE Tunisia Section and the IEEE Internet Initiative, as well as research firm International Connector and the People-Centered Internet, are collaborating with IEEE SIGHT on the project.


The WSIS Forum Hack for Health event, held on 11 and 12 June, was organized by IEEE, ITU, and Be He@lthy, Be Mobile. It was the first hackathon at the annual gathering. More than 40 students from 16 countries competed in teams to develop innovative technology solutions to four challenges: access to clean water, urban environmental quality, managing noncommunicable diseases, and healthy living.

The project pitches covered a variety of important health-related issues, including a real-time emissions map to monitor carbon dioxide levels in cities, a community-based nutrition platform, and a big-data project to track noncommunicable diseases. Participants designed concepts and prototypes of mobile and Web applications, computer and mobile device games, tools and libraries, and graphic visualizations.

An ITU podcast included interviews with hackathon participants along with Karen McCabe, senior director, technology policy and international affairs at the IEEE Standards Association, and Member Deepak Maheshwari, vice chair of the IEEE Internet Initiative. They described global challenges and how IEEE helped recruit diverse participants in the hackathon to help students inform one another and collaborate. Bartleson and Brahima Sanou, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, awarded the top three prizes to teams from Norway, Poland, and Tunisia.

The third-place team from Tunisia, composed of members of the Tawasol project, devised a system to monitor and limit air pollution. Through a network of sensors, the system collects data about the carbon monoxide emission rate and sends regular updates to the government and the citizens. Graduate Student Member Meher Bnouni, past secretary-general of the IEEE SIGHT group in Tunisia, shared details about his participation in a blog post.


As technology rapidly advances and billions of additional users are connected to the Internet, ethical aspects of technology demand immediate attention. ICT will help achieve U.N.’s sustainable development goals only if the technologies are designed in an ethical framework that focuses on the role of humans and the preservation of human values. IEEE’s participation at this year’s WSIS Forum helped to raise the awareness of these important issues and the need to take immediate action.

Outcomes of the WSIS Forum sessions will be submitted to the Commission on Science and Technology, the U.N. General Assembly, and the ITU Council and will be available at the WSIS Forum website. Additional links to WSIS Forum recordings, photos, and resources are available on the IEEE Internet Initiative website. Highlights can be found on @IEEENetPolicy’s WSIS Hackathon Twitter moment.

Justin Caso, J.D., is IEEE’s technology policy programs senior manager in Piscataway, N.J.

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