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"Digital Opportunities for All: Meeting the Challenge"
Final Report of the Digital Opportunity Task Force

http://www.g8italia.it/_en/docs/STUWX141.htm

11 May, 2001, 30 pages

Review by Madanmohan Rao (madan@inomy.com)

The "digital divide" is threatening to exacerbate the existing social and economic inequalities between countries and communities, and so the potential costs of inaction are greater than ever before. In response to these growing concerns, the Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force), created by the G8 Heads of State at their Kyushu-Okinawa Summit in Japan in July 2000, brought together forty three teams from government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and international organizations, representing both developed and developing countries. DOT Force meetings were held in Tokyo, Cape Town, Siena, Dubai, Berlin, Davos, Berlin, Cairo and Naples.

The DOT Force's recently published report is divided into three sections: ensuring widespread digital opportunities, forming action-oriented agendas, and devising a plan of action. Unfortunately, the material does not include a corpus of case studies or analysis of experiences in developing countries.

When wisely applied, ICTs offer opportunities via network effects to narrow social and economic inequalities and support sustainable local wealth creation, new market access, and innovation in services. In order for their development potential to be realised, all stakeholders - governments, business, international organizations, local civil society groups and individuals - need to work together towards achieving real change.

Priority actions to be taken include formation of national e-strategies, improved connectivity, building human capacity (knowledge and skills), support for local entrepreneurs, and integration of ICT in donor development assistance.

I. The Challenge: Ensuring Digital Opportunities for All

Despite recent turbulence in the so-called "new economy", it is undeniable that new ICTs like the Net have transformed businesses and markets, revolutionized learning and knowledge-sharing, generated global information flows, empowered citizens and communities in new ways that redefine governance, and created significant wealth and economic growth in many countries. But access patterns around the globe are quite uneven, and reflect other existing socio-economic gaps.

One third of the world's population has never made a telephone call. Seventy percent of the world's poor live in rural and remote areas, where access to information and communications technologies, even to a telephone, is often scarce. Most of the information exchanged over global networks such as the Internet is in English, the language of less than ten percent of the world's population.

The UN Millennium Declaration set a range of goals and political commitments to tackle problems regarding hunger, poverty levels, education, gender inequality, infant mortality, health services and environmental resources. ICTs can help attain these goals either directly (e.g through greater availability of health and reproductive information, training of medical personnel and teachers, giving opportunity and voice to women, expanding access to education and training) or indirectly (through creating new economic opportunities that lift individuals, communities and nations out of poverty.)

Putting in place the appropriate infrastructure and widely deploying ICT is a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder task. Substantial governance decisions and policies are made daily by new and existing international bodies that have major implications for the way in which ICT and the Internet are and will be deployed, such as cross-border access, digital copyrights, and Internet domain names. Unfortunately, developing country stakeholders are often the absent player during the formation of these policies.

The experiences of successful countries and initiatives need to be shared and adapted to local needs. Developing countries need to examine how new market niches have been created as the existing structures have been redefined and new comparative advantages and opportunities have emerged. If no action is taken at this specific point in time, there may never be another chance to build the "global bridges" required to address these critical issues.

II. Concrete and Creative Action

Concrete action should be both systemic (i.e. going beyond pilot projects) and of a "catalytic nature" (i.e. stimulating changes in attitudes, focus and policies). Innovative actions will involve multi-stakeholder partnerships and path-breaking integrated initiatives.

ICTs are not just another sector of economic and social development, but also powerful new tools both for addressing people's basic needs and for enriching lives. Governments will have to establish pro-competitive nurturing environments, the private sector needs to take on the responsibility of development goals, and appropriate tools and experiences should be made available to citizens for replication or scaling. International organizations must help in mobilizing resources, building partnerships, increasing coordination, extending markets, sharing innovations.

III. A Nine-Point Action Plan

The DOT Force captures the essence of its recommendations through nine steps:

  1. Create pro-competitive national e-strategies (with regional cooperation, e-government, international benchmarking for e-readiness, and creation of an International eDevelopment Resource Network)
  2. Improve connectivity, increase access and lower costs (via multiple access technologies, community centres, rural access, and national network information centers)
  3. Enhance human capacity development, knowledge creation and sharing (via ICT access in schools, teacher training, distance learning, collaborative networks, university-based networked centers of excellence twinned with those in G-8 nations)
  4. Foster enterprise and entrepreneurship for sustainable economic development (via private sector mentoring, incubation activities, entrepreneur resources exchanges, private-public partnerships, and donor assistance in ICT)
  5. Participate in new international policy issues raised by ICTs like the Internet (via support for attending international forums and a network of Southern-based expertise)
  6. Support dedicated ICT initiatives for the Least Developed Countries (eg. via the African Partnership Initiative, African Connection)
  7. Promote ICT in healthcare and tackling diseases like HIV/AIDS (via knowledge sharing, media campaigns)
  8. Support local content and applications creation (in local languages, via localized e-government services, open source software, and non-commercial content exchanges)
  9. Prioritize ICT in G8 and other donor programmes.

CONCLUSION

In sum, the basic right of access to knowledge and information is a prerequisite for modern human development, and new ICTs need to be supported for the key role they play here.


(with kind permission of the author)

 

 

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