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 Wednesday, 3 July 2002

Showcasing ICT activities

Day three of the preparatory meeting for the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) began with highlights of ICT-related development initiatives from a variety of regional and multilateral organizations. Today's session, beyond outlining some of the key global initiatives relating to the evolution of the global information society, stressed the importance of partnerships between all of the stakeholders involved in WSIS. The presentations also allowed representatives to share their experiences ICT development and ongoing initiatives to close the digital divide.

The morning session offered global and regional organizations a chance to showcase the differentiating elements of their respective ICT programs. However, some common themes emerged. Most of the regional delegations indicated that transparency, good governance, and sector-specific foci (e.g. e-health) are essential to making ICTs work in the unique contexts throughout the developing world. Below are brief overviews of some of the innovative ways in which ICTs are being used to help less developed countries.

African Regional Conference

The plenary meeting began with an address from representatives from the African Regional Conference (ARC) that took place in Bamako, Mali in May 2002. Speaking on behalf of the ARC, Mamadou Lamine Diallo pointed out that the overall goal of the Conference was to share with the more than 2000 participants representing all stakeholder segments Africa's needs and priorities, while stressing the importance of helping the continent find its voice in the global arena. Focusing on cultural diversity, institution building, gender and localized content, the ARC laid out a comprehensive framework for facilitating a participatory process to bridge the digital divide between Africa and the developed world.

During the comment period, the UNCTAD representative noted that there is a dire need to facilitate a global dialogue that will enable less developed countries (LDCs) to express their needs as they relate to the global information society. The representative went on to say, "knowledge can be passed on to allow each state to have access to information…while respecting their unique cultures." The Algerian representative concurred, noting that access to knowledge and the rights to communicate are essential elements in becoming a participant in the evolving global information society.

UNICT Taskforce

Created in November 2001 by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN, the UNICT Taskforce is comprised of 39 high level members whose mission is to utilize ICTs to close the digital divide. The Taskforce, which acts as a facilitator, coordinator and catalyst for ICT-related development initiatives, is designed around six specific themes, including policy reform, human resource development and entrepreneurship. Commenting on the uniqueness of the Taskforce, Pekka Tarjanne, Executive Coordinator, said, "It is the first UN-wide process where all the stakeholders participate on an equal footing, including civil society, academics and NGOs." Mr. Tarjanne's comment underscores one of the key themes of the first preparatory committee for WSIS: partnerships. Responding to a question from the Indian delegation, Mr. Tarjanne pointed out that the Taskforce has a mandate for three years, and intends to publish annual reports on its efforts.

G-8 Dot Force

With more than 20 ICT-related initiatives under development, the G-8 Dot Force has become a key player in the global effort to narrow the digital divide. Focusing on issues relating to Internet governance, the creation of localized content and applications, human capacity building and e-government, the G-8 Dot Force has become a model for helping less developed countries modernize. Mr. Stephan Roberge, Policy Adviser, stated that the multi-stakeholder framework of the G-8 Dot Force is designed to be scalable, replicable and sustainable across situations.

The Benin delegation asked Mr. Roberge to explain the Dot Force's strategy for bridging the digital divide on the African continent. Mr. Roberge pointed out that one of the key elements is to continue to appeal to multinational agencies for development aid, while ensuring that such aid is directed toward making use of ICTs in important sectors, such as health and education. Mr. Adama Samassekou, president of the First Preparatory Committee meetings, asked Mr. Roberge to elaborate on the Dot Force's efforts in Africa, to which he responded, "we have a variety of projects under development that are going to be launched over the next few months."

European Union

Speaking for the European Union (EU) delegation, Mr. Ambassador Carlos Trojan pointed out that at the center of the debate among the 15 member states is the concept of universal access to affordable telecom services. Given that telecommunications is a crucial component to accessing the global information network, Mr. Verhoef stated that the EU's focus on liberalization, privatization, market freedoms and sound economic policies "has proven its value." He went on to note that close collaboration with the private sector and civil society has allowed the EU to capture the necessary expertise to lead the region into the information age. He said, "The development of a coherent and focused e-strategy [e.g. eEurope], coupled with commitments at the highest political level, has proven to be essential." Responding to a question from the Chinese delegation about how to address the issue of universal access in China, Mr. Verhoef pointed out that universal access must be at the heart of policies relating to telecom diffusion, suggesting "the market will adapt itself to the needs of each country."

Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT)

Comprising 32 member states stretching from Iran in the west to the remote islands in the east, APT is a facilitator and coordinator of ICT-related development initiatives in the region. According to Hugh Railton, Deputy Executive Director of APT, the objective of APT is to foster development of telecom services and infrastructure throughout the region, with a particular focus on less developed areas. Our mission, he continued, is to improve the lives of people in our member states by allowing them to become members of the global information society. In conclusion he said, "We declare that we'll do our best…to enable [all] the people of the Asia-Pacific region to have access to ICTs by 2005." The APT intends to facilitate the diffusion of ICTs via publicly accessible access points located in remote communities throughout the region.

ITU's ICT Activities

During his presentation, Hamadoun Toure, Director of ITU's Telecommunications Development Bureau (BDT), offered insights about the many ICT initiatives the ITU is currently undertaking to help societies in less developed countries join the information age. Specifically highlighting the Istanbul Action Plan (IsAP), Mr. Toure noted that regulatory reform; multilateral cooperation, human capacity building and sound e-strategies are essential elements to helping developing countries emerge from the margins. Mr. Toure indicated that IsAP, which stemmed from the World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC) held in Istanbul, Turkey in March 2002, provides a viable roadmap for WSIS.

Drawing on the lessons learned from WTDC in Istanbul, which draws on insights from the ITU's 189 member states and more than 250 ITU-BDT sector members, Mr. Toure offered the following four action items for WSIS:

- Use WSIS as a catalyst for worldwide development

- Ensure that IsAP is an integral part of the WSIS framework

- Provide a platform to facilitate cooperation among all stakeholders

- Foster awareness of ICTs throughout the developing world

In conclusion, Mr. Toure said, "Today's digital divide is a fertile field for the growth of tomorrow's societal digital opportunity in both developing and developed countries."

Following Mr. Toure's presentation, an observer from one of Africa's NGOs urged the assembly to ensure that WSIS will not be another international conference where "Africa's hopes are dashed." Further, he stated that we need a true international commitment to sustainable development, saying, "Please let us [Africa nations] take an extra inch to listen to the weak voices on our planet." Further, he pointed out that WSIS should create a framework that will help mobilize Africa's resources, and stressed the need to protect WSIS from becoming another procedural bureaucracy rather than a substantive summit that genuinely addresses the unique needs of the developing world.

World Bank

Pointing out that the World Bank is in the business of poverty alleviation, not ICTs, Bruno Lanvin acknowledged that ICTs have become an "unparalleled tool" for our work. Mr. Lanvin, who heads up the grant functions of the World Bank's InfoDev programme, noted that Bank spends approximately US$2.5 billion in loans and over US$30 million in grants per year on ICT-related initiatives. According to Mr. Lanvin, WSIS can bring visibility and awareness to an area that has for decades been considered a minor element in development. Moreover, WSIS will provide a forum to share experiences, design clear objectives, facilitate the creation of innovative ways to address the myriad social, cultural, political and economic issues associated with the digital divide. In the area of new ideas, Mr. Lanvin suggested that they must focus on low cost, flexible solutions that are tailored to developing countries. He concluded by stating that "we cannot use the best practices from the most developed countries, rather we must identify best practices in the developing world" that are replicable.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Similar to the World Bank's ICT efforts, UNDP is mostly concerned with strategies that link ICTs to human capacities and infrastructure in an effort to eradicate poverty. Speaking on behalf of UNDP, Denis Gilhooly noted that UNDP is investigating innovative areas such as open source software and the encouragement of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) at the local level. To illustrate the importance of stakeholder partnerships, he referenced the Digital Opportunity Initiative, which brings together global consulting firm Accenture and the Markle Foundation in an effort to develop and implement grassroots strategies to close the digital gap. Additionally, he mentioned that UNDP is also looking into the viability of a implementing a 'Big Bang' approach in a couple of LDCs in an effort to rapidly alter their development trajectories. In conclusion he reiterated the importance of regional conferences to provide vital input to WSIS, adding, "This has to be a participatory and transparent process to be effective."

United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Given its focus on diversity and multilingualism, freedom of expression and education in/for the information society, UNESCO has much experience with many of the objectives of WSIS. Noting that UNESCO works closely with civil society and NGOs, Mr. Philippe Queau stated there is a real systemic issue plaguing less developed countries, and WSIS must address this fact. Mr. Malempre urged the assembly to address issues relating to access, multilingualism, localized content development, and expanding the information available in the public domain. He concurred with many of his colleagues that preceded him in that WSIS is the optimal venue for identifying ways that ICTs can be used to usher in the era of information throughout the developing world.

World Economic Forum

Speaking on behalf of the World Economic Forum (WEF), former Costa Rican President, Jose-Maria Figueres suggested that the international community faces the challenge of moving in the direction of a culturally rich and sustainable society or a "meaner, more fragmented world." He suggested that the political isolation of developing countries, coupled with inadequate institutional frameworks, has left would-be visionaries incapable of addressing today's challenges. Mr. Figueres stated that "we need a collaborative global effort addressing these new technology issues, a private sector committed to sustainable development, and a civil society willing to get engaged in the digital divide issue."

Stressing the importance of partnerships between all stakeholders, Mr. Figueres highlighted the WEF's new CEO Charter for Digital Development initiative. The initiative calls on CEOs to make public commitments to provide funds (approximately 20 percent of corporate citizenship budgets) specifically to help close the digital divide. He contended that such an initiative would help spur the business sectors' interest in international development. Thus far seven global corporations have signed onto the initiative, including Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Vivendi Universal. In conclusion he said, "We need a new approach, and mainstream ICTs in our development efforts."

Global Knowledge Partnership

Rinalia Abdul Rahim stated that the Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) envisions a world where new technologies are utilized to create a world of equal opportunity for all. With a membership that includes grassroots organizations to civil society and the business sector, the GKP's mandate is to identify ways to build knowledge societies throughout the world. Ms. Rahim recommended that the assembly ensure that the following items are incorporated into the WSIS action plan:

- Include everyone in the digital revolution

- Build on existing human resources

- Focus on key sectors, specifically e-commerce, e-health and e-government

As a facilitator of partnerships for ICT-related development initiatives and events, Ms. Rahim said, "GKP is a power channel for disadvantaged groups to affect the evolution of the global information society. It is our hope that WSIS will develop a vision that will build on cultural diversity and shared values." She also stressed the importance of encouraging the participation of women in children in the process, which is a key focus of WSIS.


The focus of AHCIET is to organize summits on new technologies and the information society throughout Latin America. The organization also serves as an important platform for discussions between regulators and the business sector in the region. Speaking on behalf of AHCIET, Birgit Gocht pointed out that by forming partnerships that integrate efforts and collaboration between all stakeholders in the region's digital revolution, AHCIET is a "key actor in the development of Latin America's knowledge society." The overall objective of the organization is to identify mechanisms for development of human resources, while finding a balance between policy formulation and grassroots priorities. Of specific note, Ms. Gocht mentioned that AHCIET has been involved in helping regional actors embrace ICTs by hosting conferences relating to teleworking, creating digital cities, e-government, and e-health. Concluding, Ms. Gocht offered to help facilitate the creation of a business sector preparatory meeting in Latin America.

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