The United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (UN ICT TF) was a multi-stakeholder initiative associated with the United Nations which is "intended to lend a truly global dimension to the multitude of efforts to bridge the global digital divide, foster digital opportunity and thus firmly put ICT at the service of development for all."
The UN ICT Task Force was created by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan in November 2001, acting upon a request by Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) dated July 11, 2000, with an initial term of mandate of three years (until the end of 2004). It followed in the footsteps of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Digital Divide Initiative (GDDI), and the Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT Force), established in 2000 by the G8 at their annual summit in Okinawa, Japan. By providing it with a home in the United Nations, this accorded the UN ICT Task Force, in the eyes of many developing countries, a broader legitimization than the previous WEF and G8 initiatives, even if these previous initiatives also included a multi-stakehoder approach with broad participation by stakeholders from industrialized and developing countries.
The Task Force's principal aim was to provide policy advice to governments and international organizations for bridging the digital divide. In addition to supporting the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and leading the UN in developing ICT strategies for development, the Task Force's objective was to form partnerships between the UN system and states, private industry, trusts, foundations and donors, and other stakeholders.
The UN ICT Task Force has included the top ranks of the computer industry (Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Nokia, SAP, Siemens, Sun Microsystems), together with global NGOs (e.g. the APC), governments and international agencies. Its coordinating body was a multi-stakeholder bureau, assisted by a small secretariat at UN headquarters in New York. Technical advice was provided by a high-level panel of technical advisors.
In November 2002 Kofi Annan issued a Challenge to Silicon Valley to create suitable systems at prices low enough to permit deployment everywhere, whether through international aid programs, NGOs, charities, or microcredit support. The call has been answered, but only a few UN programs were actively using computers and communications in developing countries in 2004. The UNHCR ran a refugee camp in Tanzania where the Global Catalyst Foundation had placed computers and communications equipment for the use of the Burundian refugees confined there. The ITU worked with the kingdom of Bhutan on a Simputer project.
The Task Force was active, inter alia, in the process leading to the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December 2003 and WSIS II in Tunis in November 2005. In order to participate in the second phase of the WSIS, the Task Force's original 3-year mandate was extended by another year and expired on 31 December 2005, with no further extension.
The Task Force's stakeholders, members and the experts on the panel of technical advisors, are active in working groups organized around four broad themes:
Regional activities were carried out in five regional networks:
2002, June 17-18: A session of the General Assembly of the United Nations was devoted to[information and communication technologies for development, addressing the digital divide in the context of globalization and the development process. The session promoted coherence and synergies between various regional and international information and communication technologies initiatives. The meeting also contributed to the preparation of the World Summit on the Information Society. Many countries were be represented by high-level officials responsible for communications and for development.
The Task Force held 10 semi-annual meetings in various places that served as important venues for exchange of best practices, and to bring the various stakeholders together to work on common themes. Most successful, in the eyes of the participants, were those meetings that were held in conjunction with a series of Global Forums:
In addition, a Global Roundtable Forum on "Innovation and Investment: Scaling Science and Technology to Meet the MDGs" was held in New York, 13 September 2005. The primary focus of the Forum was on the critical role of science, technology and innovation, especially information and communication technologies, in scaling-up grassroots, national and global responses to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
Parallel to the booth at the ICT4ALL exhibition, a series of events was held under the auspices of the UN ICT Task Force and its members:
The Partnership for Measuring ICT for Development involves 11 organizations—Eurostat, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations ICT Task Force, the five United Nations Regional Commissions and the World Bank.
Key parliament leaders presented their views on the role that national and regional assemblies can play in building the information society at a “High-level Dialogue on Governance, Global Citizenship and Technology”, on 16 November.
At this workshop, the Global e-School Initiative  presented the Total Cost of Ownership Calculator—a framework for identifying and selecting the right ICT for schools by assessing their benefits, feasibility and costs.
Two high-level round tables on 16 November focused on “Regional Perspectives for the Global Information Society” and on “Women in the Information Society: Building a Gender Balanced Knowledge-based Economy”.
The 17 November round table examined how ICT can be applied to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals, and discussed ways to raise awareness of ICT as an enabler of development.
The 17 November panel demonstrated the potential of ICT to improve quality and cost efficiency of key public services, with specific focus on education and health care.
The 17 November round table focused on the critical role that broadband wireless infrastructure deployments play in bridging the digital divide.
One of the notable outcomes of the work of the UN ICT Task Force was the creation in 2003 of the (GeSCI), a new international non-profit organization located in Dublin, Ireland, to improve education in schools and communities through the use of information and communication technologies. GeSCI was officially launched during the WSIS.
Another outcome is the Global ePolicy Resource Network (ePol-NET), designed to marshal global efforts in support of national e-strategies for development. The network provides ICT policymakers in developing countries with the depth and quality of information needed to develop effective national e-policies and e-strategies. The network was first proposed by the members of the Digital Opportunities Task Force (DOT Force), who merged their activities with the UN ICT Task Force in 2002. The ePol-Net was also officially launched during the WSIS.
Another outcome of the WSIS is the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament. Launched by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) in cooperation with the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) on the occasion of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis in November 2005, the Global Centre for Information and Communication Technologies in Parliament responds to the common desire to build a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society, where legislatures are empowered to better fulfil their constitutional functions through Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
The Global Centre for ICT in Parliament acts as a clearing house for information, research, innovation, technology and technical assistance, and promotes a structured dialogue among parliaments, centres of excellence, international organizations, the civil society, the private sector and the donor community, with the purpose to enhance the sharing of experiences, the identification of best practices and the implementation of appropriate solutions.
The task of bridging the digital divide is yet unfinished. The WSIS has called for an Internet Governance Forum to allow for a global multi-stakeholder discussion of issues related to the governance of the global resource that the Internet represents. The WSIS also called for a follow-up and implementation process, for which the principles embodied in the multi-stakeholder composition and workings of the UN ICT TF can provide a useful model.
Work is also being carried on by the UN Group on the Information Society (UN GIS), with a focus on the UN System, and the successor to the UN ICT TF, the Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), with an international development emphasis.
As part of its work, the Task Force and its members have published a series of books on various topics related to the work of the Task Force. These books are available in the UN bookstore, at Amazon (partially), or in PDF form: