faith in action

Global Leaders Unite at World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+20 Forum 2024 to Shape a Sustainable Digital Future

The WSIS+20 Forum 2024 marked a significant milestone of twenty years of progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society.

Levi and WSIS + 20
The Rev. Dr. Liberato Bautista holds his certificate of recognition from ITU, acknowledging his contribution as a High-Level Track Facilitator at the WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event 2024. He is joined by H.E. Thomas Schneider (left), Swiss Ambassador and Director of International Affairs at OFCOM, DETEC, and Mr. Thomas Lamanauskas (right), Deputy Director General of the ITU. Photo: United Nations

Twenty years ago, WSIS set the framework for global digital cooperation with a vision to build people-centric, inclusive, and development-oriented information and knowledge societies.

In today’s era marked by the rapid evolution of emerging technologies that both present opportunities and challenges, global cooperation in managing their impact on society becomes crucial.

Last month’s discussions at the WSIS+20 High-Level Event that took place May 27-31 in Geneva, Switzerland, brought attention to the need for proactive and inclusive governance to shape a sustainable digital future, establishing guidelines and policies that ensure these technologies benefit all of humanity without compromising fundamental rights and ethical standards.

Organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations agency responsible for addressing issues related to information and communication technologies (ICTs), The WSIS Forum has served for 20 years as a platform for governments, civil society, academia, and the private sector to chart a course for the future on digital inclusion, cybersecurity, and the ethical governance of emerging technologies.

Rev. Liberato Bautista, Assistant General Secretary for United Nations and International Affairs at the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS), played a dual role as a High-Level Participant and Facilitator at the event. Having been invited for the third time, Bautista moderated a session of high government officials and leaders from civil society and the private sector.

In a meeting that discusses the governance of information and communications, Baustista guided the panel “Leaders TalkX: Looking Ahead: Emerging Technology for Building Sustainable Futures” among government leaders from the Netherlands, India, and Belgium. Using the WSIS Principles and Lines of Action, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) from 1948 as guiding frameworks, the conversation explored the risks and opportunities of technology innovation and how they impact the development of sustainable futures.

During the Interview with High Level Track Facilitators, Bautista stressed the importance of not only looking forward to the future of technology but also looking back at the foundational principles established by the WSIS Action Lines 20 years ago. He asserted, “The digital future must be innovative, but it must not renege on human rights, communications justice, linguistic justice, and cultural and gender sensitivity.”

In his intervention in the panel Leaders TalkX: WSIS Towards the Summit of the Future Global Digital Compact and Beyond, Bautista discussed the primary outcomes from the WSIS Process from the UN Civil Society Conference held in Nairobi two weeks prior.

Affirming the effectiveness of the WSIS process, he highlighted the importance of continuing the programs and processes established by WSIS over the past two decades. “The WSIS conferences of 2003 and 2005 started and modeled a participatory, consultative, collaborative, and innovative relation between the United Nations system and civil society organizations,” said Bautista. “I was in Tunis. I was in Geneva. I knew that it works, and it works 20 years after.”

Finally, in his remarks during the closing ceremony, Bautista called for collective action to bridge the digital divide. Bautista stressed, “The world today is overrun with fear and grossly deficient in hope. We must work together to develop ICTs that are implements of life, hope, and peace. The digital divide will widen unless we reverse this sorry condition. Communications, digital rights, and justice play a significant role in reversing this surfeit of fear and deficit of hope.”

As United Methodists, “We believe that media and communications technologies should be open and accessible to all, foster norms that promote civility and respect, and protect the dignity and worth of all people, including society’s most vulnerable.” (Social Principles, The Social Community, Section G)