UNESCO IPDC Talks: Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarter in Paris was the ideal meeting point on 28 September for individuals from all corners of the world to convene in the City of Lights for the Information Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC) 2017 talk on Powering Sustainable Development with Access to Information to discuss the global importance of information access, government transparency and media independence.

Within the United Nations system and across the international community, the IPDC is the only multilateral forum with the aim of promoting communication and media development globally. Its mission has been to protect the freedom of individuals and the press in keeping citizens informed. Such objectives are deeply intertwined with the efforts towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda. As such, the IPDCtalks in Paris gathered top community leaders, civil society, public sector organizations, multimedia outlets, and other actors working towards creating inclusive and informed societies, while 12 other simultaneous regional IPDCtalks also took place across the globe in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East. Given our extensive international network, Djembe Communications had the opportunity to serve as an official media partner to further strengthen UNESCO’s visibility across online channels during the talks.

Moderated by broadcast journalist Joy Doreen Birra, the IPDC morning sessions alternated between leaders emphasizing how being informed requires the basic building blocks of critical thinking, literacy competency and digital skills to understand the world today, and how this foundation requires achieving wider SDGs ranging from ensuring inclusive and quality education, promoting gender equality, and delivering clean and affordable energy. Critically, people understand the different goals of the SDGs; however, what needs to be emphasized is how this cannot be done without access to information and communication. As Dorothy Gordon, UNESCO Vice-Chair elaborated, “Even though information literacy is recognized as a need, it is rather slow in its implementation [for example] in education and schools” since currently, “most [people] understand how important education is, but they don’t immediately see that education is only possible when there is access to ICT information and media”. As a result, actors aren’t fully cognizant when striving to meet the wider SDG goals. This is why initiatives such as the IPDC are crucial, since they invest in programs and activities that tie such goals together.

Beyond education, there has to also be freedom of expression, free media and access to information. Representatives such as Tawanda Mutasah, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for International Law and Policy, urgently stressed that the protection of human rights and liberties also includes the freedom for individuals to be informed and make decisions independently. Ms. Nadia Al-Sakkaf, Yemen’s first female Minister of Information, reiterated that “access to information is only part of the answer, without the protection of human rights and gender equality”. She explains that, for instance, internet technology could allow women to be more politically active. However, the issue is that if some societies still view women as unequal, then increased access to information won’t help to transform this societal inequality. Thus, information access requires understanding how such issues are interlinked, and how crucial other SDGs such as gender equality are to the conversation.

Another important issue was addressed by Marietje Schaake, known as the “ultimate digital Member of European Parliament”, who elaborated that “halfway democracy is not good enough for anyone and the same can be said for halfway access to internet. Roughly half the world’s population are online but there’s a huge inequality”. If people do not have access to different viewpoints, they cannot be informed of changes relevant to them. This is tied into the other SDGs focused on energy, as the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, agreed that efforts to ensure basic electricity and technology infrastructure are needed to provide access for even individuals in remote areas. What needs to happen, said Birol, is implementing a supportive policy framework: “We don’t need to discover new technologies. If we use existing technologies and the right policies, we can create access for everybody in the world”.

Together, these IPDC speakers agreed that individuals must have channels in which they can access and share information, and that there needs to be attention at protecting the media and other information sources. As Amy Goodman, an investigative journalist from Democracy Now, states “The media is the greatest tool for peace and shared stories”. She explains that “There’s a power in the media spotlight when it shines in the right direction and that it’s our job as journalists to go where the silence is”. The media must be a part of this process, and this is further reiterated by Irina Bokova, Director-General UNESCO, who stated that “access to information are drivers of positive change to help with accountability, democracy, and transparency”. In today’s world, it is imperative that citizens take action after having all the facts. Overall, the IPDC talks are an excellent forum to highlight the importance of access to information and freedom of expression which empower individuals to take part in informed decision-making. To learn more about UNESCO’s IPDC program visit:

By Mi Thich, Switzerland