The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) convened the first-ever Generation Connect Global Youth Summit in Kigali, Rwanda from June 2-4, 2022. It was my pleasure to represent AT&T at this inspiring conference, and I was glad to be joined by other delegates from the United States in government and academia. More than 1,500 delegates under the age of 30 met in Rwanda, with another 5,000 joining online, to discuss Information and Communication Technology (ICT) issues that are impacting our lives and will continue to be relevant in our digital futures. The event was presented in a hybrid format – bringing together participants from 115 countries in a manner made possible by the exact technological capabilities we were discussing.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau of the ITU, shared that she began to dream of an inaugural Generation Connect Global Youth Summit when she first assumed her role as Director in 2018. In her opening remarks, Director Bogdan-Martin shared her excitement and hope surrounding the landmark event and about the opportunities provided by harmonizing youthful optimism with the skills inherent to our generation of digital natives.
I also felt excitement and hope when engaging with not only with Director Bogdan-Martin and other experienced ITU, government and industry leaders, but with next-generation changemakers who will be shaping the future of ICTs. The gathering of this diverse, multi-stakeholder group allowed productive discussions that considered the wants and needs of the many, rather than the few. This Summit, like the ITU’s Partner2Connect digital coalition, demonstrated the promise of these collaborative conversations in addressing the greatest digital challenges of our time.
- I was energized by conversations with young people about the importance of equipping individuals from marginalized communities around the world with digital skills – and am proud that AT&T recognizes how critical this is and acts upon it.
- I was encouraged by the dedication that participants expressed in urging for a more equitable digital future for women and girls at all levels – the room burst into applause when it was announced that the Summit itself had reached gender parity with 50% female participation.
- I was inspired by stories of entrepreneurs for whom digital connectivity has expanded the reach and productivity of operations, or even made the existence of their organizations possible – ICTs can often be the link between a great idea and a successful business.
One thing I’ll carry with me the most from the Summit is an understanding of the value of connecting young women and girls interested in ICTs with role models in the sector. I know first-hand that I would not be where I am without the professional and personal role models that have guided me to this point – women who are not afraid of working hard to defy odds and shatter the glass ceiling. I am inspired and motivated by women who have found success in ICTs – and I thank them for the hard work they have done to break stereotypes in a field dominated by men, paving a path for women like myself who are a part of ‘Generation Connect.’ I only hope to one day pay things forward for the young women of the future.
While the Youth Summit proved the power and positivity of joining young voices, it also identified the significant challenges and concerns that remain to ensure an equitable and productive digital future for all. One major outcome of the Summit was the 2022 Generation Connect Youth Call to Action: My Digital Future document. The Call to Action urges decision-makers around the world to work with young people from various backgrounds and all regions, to take action now, together, for a better digital future. I hope you will take time to read through this document and to encourage and support young changemakers wherever you can – at stake is the acceleration of digital development everywhere, for all.
I am glad AT&T is working hard in these crucial areas – and especially glad to have my own seat at the table here.