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If you rely on government to solve your problems, you will wait a long time. That’s what I told 600 youth delegates from around the world (and some 4,000 more online) at the “Beyond 2015: Global Youth Summit” in San José, Costa Rica, a couple of weeks ago.

Howard onstage during a panel at BYND 2015 summit.

Howard onstage during a panel at BYND 2015 summit.

The ITU brought these young leaders together to hammer out recommendations that President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica will present to the United Nations General Assembly in New York by the end of September. The hope is to influence the priorities of global leaders and decision-makers as the U.N. sets the agenda for sustainable development.

The day I was there, the delegates talked about Internet access as a basic human right, getting a smart device to every child, making the Internet safer, and choking off Internet-enabled child pornography. They’re asking the U.N. for flexible, dynamic, and open government; broadly available information communication technology to support sustainable development goals; and education that equips students with “a practical mix of marketable, innovative and relevant skills needed to compete in the global, digital economy.”

Amen to that. But a U.N. resolution won’t make it happen. It’s going to take all of us working together.

On the broadest level, governments need policies that set the stage for success. South Korea and Denmark are both outstanding examples. Both recognized early that ubiquitous, high-speed broadband would be a backbone on which government services, healthcare, education, jobs, skills, and innovation could ride.

There are opportunities for telecommunications service providers, utility companies, corporations, and local government to drive broadband adoption and provide virtually unlimited bandwidth – and virtually unlimited opportunity. Many efforts are already underway in Costa Rica, Israel, and other places, including the first Google Fiber cities in the U.S. Midwest

Public-private partnerships are also key. In San José, the ITU partnered with Intel, Claro, Ooredoo, Cisco and others on the event, and then public and private money got the delegates there. The young people Cisco sponsored came from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria.

Universities and schools everywhere have to embrace the new possibilities – not just accommodate them. The top-down model that served us well for centuries is increasingly awkward in an age of crowdsourcing, collaboration, and massively online open courseware.

BYND 2015 Howard with NetAcad 2Organizations have to step up, too. Cisco’s business is not education per se – although we do a lot of it, mostly online, for our partners, customers, and employees. But one very tangible contribution we’ve made has been the Cisco Networking Academy, where more than a million students in 165 countries have learned marketable networking skills. Many of those kids are the first in their families to get beyond grade school or even elementary school.  That is life-changing. 

The most moving moment for me personally at the Global Youth Summit? When a young NetAcad grad from Iraq stood up and thanked Cisco for our commitment to that program in his country.

And, ultimately, the onus is on individuals themselves. Every one of us. Sure, Cisco provided the Networking Academy in Iraq – but that young Iraqi seized the opportunity. He is the one making his dreams come true.

The right mix creates opportunities. It’s technology, markets, education, public-private partnerships, corporate social responsibility, intellectual property protection, leadership, risk-taking, venture capital, R&D, long nights bent over a book or tablet, strokes of genius, cultures that don’t punish failure – and yes, government. Technology is arguably the easy part, by the way. It takes the whole ecosystem to make it work.

Howard wtih NetAcad students at BYND 2015. Also in this photo: Ravi Lingam, Manager, Sales Business Development, Central America, and Gustavo Sorgente, Managing Director, Sales, CANSAC.

Howard wtih NetAcad students at BYND 2015. Also in this photo: Ravi Lingam, Manager, Sales Business Development, Central America, and Gustavo Sorgente, Managing Director, Sales, CANSAC.

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