The age of interdependence: Global digital cooperation in the 21st century

Power lines and internet cables are seen in a street in Bangkok, Thailand February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva - RC1A2B2B6550

In July 2018, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres convened a High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation co-chaired by Melinda Gates and Jack Ma. Created in response to the unprecedented scale and speed of change brought about by digital technologies, the panel has sought to provide a framework to promote the Sustainable Development Goals through digital cooperation and the protection of human rights and values on the internet.

On June 13, the Brookings Institution’s Foreign Policy program hosted a roundtable to discuss the panel’s first report, “The Age of Digital Interdependence.” The event featured a presentation by Amandeep Singh Gill, Executive Director of the Secretariat of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, and Vinton Cerf, popularly known as one of the “fathers of the internet” and vice president and Chief Internet Evangelist for Google. Nicol Turner-Lee, Brookings Fellow in the Center for Technology Innovation, served as discussant, and Brookings Fellow Chris Meserole moderated. The event was held under the Chatham House rule.

The event opened with an overview of the panel’s new report. The overview emphasized the importance of fostering greater inclusivity and trust online and laid out the report’s recommendations for three potential models of digital cooperation. One panelist stressed the need for models of cooperation that reflect the different ways in which local communities around the world access and use digital spaces. Another panelist noted how the new digital economy is disrupting traditional economic norms, leading to a “new underclass” that is isolated due to their lack of digital access.

The event then featured a discussion of the report’s key findings and recommendations. The roundtable participants broadly affirmed the panel’s emphasis on greater inclusivity and diversity. Several participants questioned whether we needed altogether new models of cooperation, or instead would be better off building on existing frameworks. Others stressed the importance for improving and simplifying the U.N.’s approach to multi-stakeholder processes.

The roundtable concluded with a call to action regarding digital citizenship, and the need for safety and security to be woven into the new social contract in the digital world.

You can read the executive summary of the report here, and the full report here.

Findings from the UN's High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation report.


Foreign Policy interns Kizzy Dhaliwal and Malika Mehrotra contributed to this post.