Top-Level Experts Agree on Need for National ICT Strategies
“It is vital for national governments to establish ICT strategies”, was the overriding message of this morning's panel discussion on national e-strategies. Speaking in the framework of the “National Strategies for the Information Society and the Role of Regional and Global Organizations” event, Mr Pierre Guislain, Director of the World Bank, highlighted what he considers to be key elements of national e strategies. These include:
- Use of a manageable set of specific and targeted goals;
- Use of indicators to measure performance;
- Use of benchmarks to compare the progress of the e-strategies against time or across countries;
- Sharing of experiences to enable comparison across countries. One example is South Africa, which has implemented a peer review mechanism by inviting neighbouring and other developing countries to help evaluate the progress made in e-strategies;
- A specialized institutional mechanism for implementation of policies
It is noteworthy that a number of explicit targets are laid down in the Draft Plan of Action relating to national strategy building, including the formulation of ICT and e-strategies and public-private partnerships.
One national initiative under way in the Republic of Estonia was also highlighted by the Estonian President, Mr Arnold Rüütel. There, e-governance academies have been set up to train leaders from the developing world on how to best use ICT's to promote good e-governance. The academies bring together Estonian public sector members, specialists from the European Union, and high-ranking leaders from other countries around the world. Overall, across the country “ICT's have increased democracy in Estonia by allowing more people to participate in the decision-making process”, noted President Rüütel.
Resounding Echoes of the MDGs
Today's roundtable on ICTs as a tool to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) looked specifically at the linkage between development and ICTs. The roundtable was attended by a number of high-level representatives including Mr Leonel Fernandez Reyna, President of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (FUNGLODE) (Dominican Republic), Mr Askar Akaev, President of the Kyrgyz Republic, and Ms Tae Yoo, Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy of Cisco (United States). Like the debate on national e-strategies, this roundtable reached the firm conclusion that countries need to develop national plans in order to achieve the development goals set out in the MDGs, as well as the specific ICT targets set out in the WSIS Draft Plan of Action.
There was some debate on whether other development priorities should take precedence over ICTs. While some argued that basic development needs should be taken care of first, others held that ICTs are an important tool for boosting development on all levels.
There was agreement though, on the importance of community access centres to expand access in the developing world. Encouraging signs are there that new projects and partnerships, many of which are being brokered at the WSIS event itself, are being initiated in many countries.
The linkage between the Summit objectives and the MDGs is also examined in a new ITU publication, the 2003 World Telecommunication Development Report: Access Indicators for the Information Society. For further information see the website at: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/wtdr_03/.
Partnerships Signed and Sealed at ITU Stand with Collaboration of Cisco
As reported in yesterday's Highlights, today saw the signature of a number of partnership agreements between ITU and various country and industry representatives for a series of new development projects involving ICTs. Details of the agreements can be found in the Press Release at: http://www.itu.int/newsroom/press_releases/2003/34.html.
Helloworld Project is Calling
“Want to make yourself heard?” asks the Helloworld Project website, “this is your chance to SAY IT LOUD!” For the occasion of WSIS, anyone, anywhere, with access to the Internet can send an e-mail message to be beamed across the world. Helloworld, organized by the Swiss Federal Department of Home Affairs, Federal Office of Culture, calls itself “a global collaborative experience”, enabling messages to be projected by laser beam onto a mountain overlooking Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, onto the UN building in New York City, onto the most prominent building in downtown Mumbai or onto the “jet d'eau” over Lake Geneva. Messages and images sent in are archived by the minute on the Helloworld website at: http://www.helloworld.cc.
Youth at the Centre
Following the Youth Day held at WSIS on 10 December (see Press Release at: http://www.itu.int/wsis/newsroom/press_releases/itu/2003/youthday.html), today was another eventful day for the young.
Participation of youth in WSIS is organized around a “Caucus” with over 1 000 members from 150 countries. The Youth Caucus has been very active at all WSIS Preparatory Meetings on the regional, national and international levels.
National WSIS Youth Campaigns have also been under way in many countries like Ghana, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines and India to initiate local activities and projects around WSIS. At the Summit itself, the Youth Caucus has had an ambitious slate of activities including the Youth Day held on 10 December, the Youth HUB Exhibition Space at the ICT for Development (ICT4D) Platform, the YCDO Awards Programme, a Youth Media Programme, and the launch of a publication and video on best practice Youth ICT4D projects. The WSIS Youth Caucus is facilitated by TakingITGlobal, as part of the Youth Creating Digital Opportunities (YCDO) initiative. Further information is available at: www.ycdo.net/wsis.
At a friendly and informal “Open House” event, the YCDO Action Plan was presented. While the YCDO recognizes the excellent language in the WSIS documents regarding youth and the information society, the Youth Creating Digital Opportunities Action Plan 2004-2005 focuses specifically on the WSIS commitment to youth in the information society.
The youthful flavour of the day continued with the launch of the new book, Wh@t's Next, produced by Youth for Intergenerational Justice and Sustainability. Wh@t's Next is a vibrant book showcasing the writing of young people from around the world on key information society subjects, including human rights and the role of ICTs in sustainable development.
Other events of the day focusing on youth included Youth ICT4D, and Young Canadians in ICT4D. Another event focused on changing global governance, a youth dialogue on the impact and potential of ICTs to support institutional reform in global governance.
Global Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society
The Global Forum on Indigenous Peoples and the Information Society (GFIPIS) is a four-day forum held in Geneva to coincide with WSIS, which ended today with the finalization of a declaration of indigenous peoples on the information society. An intervention by the GFIPIS representative is scheduled to take place during the WSIS Plenary tomorrow morning. The forum, which aimed to cover all aspects of the relationship between indigenous people and the information society, included discussions on the use of e-commerce in assisting the marketing and distribution of native handicrafts, the use of ICTs to document and archive native traditions and culture, and the policy aspects of ICT development in territories inhabited by indigenous people.
More information on the event can be found at: http://aboriginalcanada.gc.ca/international.html.
The Digital Divide Affects Rich Countries Too
Many speakers at the Summit have been pointing out the urgency of addressing not only the digital divide between countries, but also that which exists within countries. Switzerland, perhaps a rather surprising example, has identified its own digital divide and is striving to overcome it. In an annual competition – called “Knights of Communication” in each of the four Swiss official languages – awards are granted for projects that promote the use of ICTs, particularly for social groups with low ICT usage.
Federal Councillor Moritz Leuenberger presented this year's awards to the Multimondo Team from Biel for their project at the Multimondo cultural centre, which has run computer courses for children and youth from immigrant families. A special award was also given for the “e-comunico” project, aimed at acquainting the inhabitants of two of the most remote parts of Switzerland, Puschlav and Bergell, with computer and Internet applications. Further information is available at: http://www.comknight.ch/.
Ghana – an African ICT Showcase
African nations are certainly not being left out of WSIS. One of the countries that is making its voice heard at the Summit is Ghana. Ghana, a peaceful and stable country in West Africa,is gearing itself up towards becoming the 'Silicon Valley' of the region. At a WSIS press conference, the Minister of Communications of Ghana, Mr Kan Dapaah, spoke about how the country is poised for rapid expansion in the ICT sector, and called on investors to take advantage of the favourable climate in his country.
The Government is building an ultra modern, fully equipped technology park, it was reported, which it believes will catapult Ghana's ICT sector into the twenty-first century.
In a significant initiative last week, the Governments of India and Ghana inaugurated the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence for Communications and Information Technology in the capital, Accra. This constitutes a perfect example of how developing countries are helping each other bridge the digital divide, and, in the words of the UN Secretary-General, is a “tangible contribution to the United Nations' global mission of peace and our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals”. Ghana is also home to the largest cybercafé in Africa to date, BusyInternet, with 100 PCs available for public use.
New Report Highlights Girls in Education
UNICEF today launched a new report on the “State of the World's Children 2004: Girls, Education and Development”. “Getting more girls into school is the first step in reaching global development goals” said the report's presenters, highlighting how bringing girls into education is just a first step to bring them closer to the possibility of using ICTs and into contact with the information society. “Knowledge costs less the more you use it”, it was argued, and “an investment in girls' education has multiple returns”.
Two-Wheeled Wireless Experiment to Connect Remote Villages in Cambodia
A motorcycle may seem a rare exhibit at a conference such as WSIS, but in Cambodia, methods of transportation are doubling up as ways of harnessing wireless technologies. Bernard Krisher, Chairman of Japan Relief for Cambodia today described a motorcycle with a rear-mounted box that is equipped to send e-mail messages to schools. An antenna on the top of the box, and a Wi-Fi wireless communication system inside, enable e-mails to be relayed to schools in 13 remote Cambodian villages via satellite dishes. These villages have no water, electricity or phones and are far from health centres, but they now have e-mail. The schools are equipped with solar panels to run a computer for six hours, with an e-mail link via a motorcycle delivery system.
Every morning, five Honda motorcycles leave the hub in the provincial capitol of Banlung, where a satellite dish, donated by Shin Satellite, links the provincial hospital and a special skills school to the Internet for telemedicine and computer training. The bike drivers begin the day by collecting e-mails from the hub's dish, which takes just a few seconds.
Then, as they pass each school and one health centre, they transmit the messages. At the end of the day they return to the hub to transmit all the collected e-mail to the Internet for any point on the globe.
One of the project's partners pointed out that one of the primary barriers to rural connectivity in developing countries is cost. “We have to provide affordable services in a country deprived of any telecommunication infrastructure: that is why we are testing out digital applications. Nonetheless, they have roads in Cambodia and we thought that what was useful for commerce could become useful for telecommunications”, said Mr Hasson. The box is powered by the bike's motor, so that fuel is used for both transportation and communication. It is hoped that the project will catch on in other countries. More information is available at: http://www.firstmilesolutions.com/Cambodia/pressrelease.htm.
WSIS Media Office