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Navigating the United Nations Global Digital Compact: Key questions from the civil society perspective

Web Foundation · August 17, 2022

This post was written by Nnenna Nwakanma, Chief Web Advocate. Follow Nnenna on Twitter @nnenna.

Over the past five years, the World Wide Web Foundation has collaborated with the Digital Cooperation agenda of the United Nations. Through consultations, reports, and feedback, our contributions ultimately played a role in the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation—an initiative to foster global cooperation to tackle the big challenges and embrace the many opportunities that digital technologies offer around the world.

As part of our continued engagement with the UN, we joined one hundred civil society organisations to welcome Under Secretary-General Amandeep Singh Gill to his role as the UN Envoy on Technology. In our letter, we emphasised the importance of a truly multistakeholder process to advance human rights-based digital cooperation worldwide, as was the process that led to the Roadmap.  

In his response, USG Gill recognised that “a multistakeholder approach to digital cooperation is absolutely essential, and within this, civil society engagement is particularly important.”

While we applaud this statement, now it is time to walk the talk and actively make multistakeholder engagement come alive in the creation of the Global Digital Compact, an unprecedented drive to focus the global digital community towards seven key priorities for digital transformation. 

From our perspective, here are ten critical questions demanding answers:

  1. How will UN member states respond to the mobilisation and engagement of the civil society organizations in the survey for input launched by the Office of the Envoy on Technology?
  2. Will member states be willing to share their own input, perspectives and positions openly and transparently?
  3. Will all contributions from all stakeholders (Governments, Private Sector, Civil Society, Technical Community, Academia) be considered on equal footing?
  4. The 7 sub-themes of the Global Digital Compact match the existing working groups of the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. Will the stakeholders from these working groups remain committed in the same spirit of multistakeholder engagement?
  5. How do we ensure that voices from the global South, especially women and feminist voices, disconnected and unconnected populations, as well as migrant populations are captured, in a way that ensures that the Global Digital Compact is truly #ForEveryone?
  6. What role will the technology industry giants play? How transparent will this role be?  How can we ensure balance of power?
  7. How do ongoing initiatives like the Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Security of and in the Use of Information and Communication Technologies, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), and the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Forum feed into the Global Digital Compact process? 
  8. How do we ensure sustainable, enhanced and inclusive engagement from civil society, especially organisations from developing countries where digital cooperation is needed the most?
  9. What will be the communication process during the drafting of the Global Digital Compact?
  10. How can we monitor the process and be jointly responsible and accountable between now and the adoption of the Global Digital Compact?

These are only but a few of the questions. As we plan to convene in New York for UNGA 77, the Web Foundation will host a hybrid session, in collaboration with the Office of the Envoy on Technology and other key partners, on September 19, to seek initial answers and, more importantly, to set the wheels in motion toward a better digital future for all.

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