Remarks by Secretary Kerry at the Global Connect Initiative Event

SECRETARY KERRY: For a tech moment, that was an inauspicious beginning. (Laughter.)

Cathy, thank you very, very much. Thank you all for being here. I think anybody who knows Cathy Novelli knows that she was quickly recognized by Steve Jobs, who hired her on the spot, as the shiniest apple on the tree – no pun. But he hired her, frankly, because it takes a visionary to know a visionary, and he knew immediately that she brought some special qualities to the table. And she has shown that at the State Department. I’m delighted with her leadership on the free trade negotiations with Jordan, laying the groundwork for Transatlantic Trade and Partnership, the TPP, and particularly waking people up to the inextricable link between connectivity, global growth, and stability. The only thing I’d correct her on is I think everybody around this table is a champion, or you wouldn’t be here, and you all understand the stakes.

We are living in a far, far more complicated world than the world that many of us grew up in – the Cold War, the bipolar years, if you will, between East and West. And I’ve even heard Henry Kissinger sit and tell me how much more complicated today is than that world where one or two or three nations could kind of come together and pull things together. And people were still in that recovery period, even from World War II, for quite a few years, and then the fall of the Berlin Wall.

So this is new. I can remember when I was on the Commerce Committee of the United States Senate, we rewrote the telecommunications law of our country in 1996. And believe it or not, it was overtaken by events, by the marketplace, within a year – within a year. And almost every conversation that we had was about telephony – almost zero about information management, information transmission, and infrastructure of an information management system. So we were quickly chastened.

And we are now here at a very important gathering. And I want to thank the gentleman to my right, President Kim, for his outstanding leadership in one of the most difficult jobs. He, as all of you know, has always been an innovator. And it was true when he found radically new ways to deliver community-based health at the WHO and Partners for Health – and I worked with him in the Senate, particularly when he was at WHO, and we wrote the first ever legislation that we passed unanimously in the United States Senate to deal with HIV/AIDS. It became PEPFAR. And we’re all very grateful for his current effort here at the World Bank, where he is now shining a spotlight on the vital role that online access has in fulfilling this institution’s global mission – and frankly, fulfilling every one of our countries’ objectives.

I’m very grateful, very pleased to see so many ministers of finance, presidents of multilateral development banks, and NGO, others here, because your presence really underscores a fundamental truth, and it’s pretty simple: The internet is essential to economy prosperity in the 21st century. As President Obama said last year, the internet is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. So when we talk about infrastructure today, we have to include the internet, right alongside roads and ports and bridges and dams and airports and power grid.

And that’s why I want this morning to urge every single one of you who are making decisions about investment and making budget decisions and making decisions about allocation of capital, please think deeply about the long-term contributions that increased connectivity produces. This is really mostly common sense – not even a revelation – but it, nevertheless, takes effort to create a critical mass and to move people. To turn an enormous tanker around, as we know, it takes a while. According to a report that was released by the World Bank, for every 10 percent increase in broadband access, a developing country can see up to 2 percent increase in GDP.

Now, we don’t need numbers to understand why digital access is so critical and one of the smartest investments that people can make anywhere in the world. In Kenya, where I visited last year with President Obama, a majority of people already use mobile phones to meet their personal banking needs. In Morocco, entrepreneurs are using technology to increase participation in the legislative process. Women entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia have formed cooperatives online that enable them to take advantage of economies of scale.

And children everywhere are learning faster and learning more through educational materials and curricula that are available on the internet. Distance learning, as we call it, has become an enormous new enterprise. And when you think about the fact that there are upwards of a couple hundred million kids in Africa alone who need to be in school not 10 years from now, tomorrow; when you look at what is happening in the North of Africa, in the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, in Central Africa, and the radicalization that takes place in filling a vacuum – so the internet is the greatest, faster filler of a vacuum that we have. And if we use it properly it will contribute not just to the growth and economy, it will contribute to stability and to peace.

The examples are actually endless. They really are. And I think the bottom line to take away from this that investment in the internet access is actually an investment in people.

Now, none of this is headline news. But here’s the fact: We are not – we are still not taking full advantage of the – of all of the advantages that connectivity – all the opportunities that connectivity affords. And I want to say to you – and we’re not doing it by a long shot. That’s the irony.

Out of every five people in the world, there remain three without internet access in 2016. It’s unacceptable. And in the poorest countries the figure can top 95 percent. With that reality in mind, last year, the State Department launched the Global Connect Initiative precisely to bring at least an additional 1.5 billion people online by 2020.

And this initiative has three interrelated goals: One, to encourage finance ministers to make internet access central to all development and growth initiatives. Two, to work in cooperation with multilateral development institutions in order to double public and private lending for connectivity and digital technologies. And three, to harness the knowledge, skills, and resources of the tech community itself to implement solutions for high-speed, affordable broadband access.

We are committed to fully doing our part. And that’s why OPIC is announcing today up to 171 million in new financing for a low-cost and rapidly scalable wireless broadband network in India. It’s why we’re announcing more than a billion dollars in U.S. Government financing and loans with our development agency partners. And it’s why we’re intensifying our nationwide effort to extend broadband access to the less than 10 percent of American citizens who do not yet have it.

And it’s why we will have digital economy officers. This is something I’m very pleased with. We had appointed this, I think, earlier in the year, last year. And we’ve designated now every embassy in the world of the United States – that’s 275 posts and embassies are going to have a digital officer who is going to identify and break down barriers to help people become connected.

We view this as the beginning. We launched Global Connect only seven months ago, and since then, more than 35 countries have joined the effort. In my judgment, this is really the equivalent of – sort of the international equivalent of Franklin Roosevelt’s electrification program 80 years ago.

And he said back then – I mean, there was a conscious effort by the government to say we are going to connect Americans to electricity; we are going to change life. And that’s Franklin Roosevelt said. Quote, “Such a program involves new standards of living and will therefore do much to help promote the economic health and strength of the country.” And boy did it ever, and does it ever still today as we struggle with some of the distributive power issues, which are now growing significantly in their capacity to make a difference because of the improved quality of solar panels and the higher efficiency and lower cost. And I think there are very exciting things which I hope we will be announcing with respect to that over the course of the next months.

But this reality about the internet was really brought home to me in very personal ways when I was in Kenya last year. I spoke to a group of Somali refugees, and most were of high-school age and yet had never in their whole lives, in this time of strife and intense globalization, lived anywhere except in that one refugee camp. But thank God, thanks to the international efforts and commitments of people to help, they were in school in that camp. They might not have been elsewhere. And the students that I spoke to communicated to me how desperately – they were very articulate, very clear, but they were also clear in their passion and desperation to complete their schooling, to find jobs, and begin their careers. And one young woman, who was studying chemistry and biology, told me that she hoped to become a doctor. And I’m willing to bet anybody here she had never stepped inside a hospital in her life. Now, the irony is that at the refugee camp, they had internet connection. I can’t help but wonder whether that will be the case when they return to Somalia – unless we try to make a difference.

Multiply that woman’s hopes by a billion or more and you can understand why we are here at the World Bank today to discuss this. We know from hard experience that not every story has a happy ending – and none of us has the power, as much as we would like to, to change that overnight. But what we do have within our power is to act so that a lot more people in a lot more countries are lifted up by the incredible technological advances of our age. And we have it within our power to steadily increase connectivity through the decisions that we make in our national budgets and in our international agendas. And we have it in our power to harness new ideas so that we can not only communicate faster, but also more efficiently; but also, importantly, widen the circle of online opportunity and ensure that fewer and fewer of our global neighbors are left behind.

Why does that matter? I’ll just leave you with a story. I was in – I’m not going to name the country, but I was in one country in Africa, and I went out to dinner with my colleague fellow foreign minister. And it’s a country with a less than majority, but significant minority Muslim population. I asked him, “How do you manage that in the context of everything that’s going on?” And he said to me, “I’m really worried about it, because we have so many young people, so many minds that are not being reached in any way whatsoever, except by an organized effort by extremists who reach out to 13- and 14- and 15-year-olds and pay them and put them in an environment, where, paid, they are indoctrinated with this radical theology and extremist view. And then they don’t need to be paid anymore because they’re bought in and they go out and become the next recruiters.” And what the foreign minister said to me, he says, “They have a 35-year plan. We don’t even have a five-year plan.”

So that’s the pushback against what is happening. It’s not the bullets and bombs and what’s happening in Syria – though we have to fight Daesh, and we will, I am convinced, destroy it. But we’ve got to provide opportunity for these hundreds of millions, billion kids around the world who need a future. And it’s in the not doing of that that we will create our own set of additional crises and problems.

So that’s what this is about in very real terms. And I want to thank Cathy for her leadership, I want to thank Jim Kim for his commitment of the World Bank to this initiative, and I thank all of you for being here and being part of this. And if we do this right, this can be as powerful a tool as anything that we have at our disposal. Thank you. (Applause.)