16 September 2003


Addresses Implementation of Millennium

Development Goals, Digital Diaspora Networks

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

GENEVA, 15 September -- Recognizing that education is key to achieving development, the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Task Force on 13 September endorsed its Global e-School and Community Initiative, aimed at bringing ICT solutions to secondary schools, as well as communities in the developing world.

Meeting in Geneva on 12 and 13 September, the Task Force took this action after hearing the presentation of a study it had commissioned to the McKinsey Company, which carried it out pro bono.  According to the study, ICT-assisted education has enormous potential for improving the lives and prospects of children as well as communities.

Information and communication technologies could enable educational systems to serve children better by addressing key problems at a reasonable cost.  ICT-based teacher training could reach remote schools by computer and television; updated teaching material tailored to the needs of pupils could be printed in the quantities requested; and teachers could search online the full range of materials available.  Once connected, the schools could double as tele-centres for the whole community.

Sweden and Ireland are spearheading the Global e-Schools Initiative, to be launched at the World Summit on the Information Society in December.  “If we don’t use the Summit, we will have lost an opportunity”, said Brendan Tuohy, Secretary-General of Ireland’s Ministry of Communication, who, together with Astrid Dufborg of Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is overseeing the project.

Sarbuland Khan, the head of the Task Force secretariat, said “education unlocks the door to development, and is a prerequisite for achieving the other Millennium Development Goals.”  With the approval of the Initiative, the next phase will concern the four countries examined in the McKinsey study -- Bolivia, Ghana, India and Namibia.

On the eve of the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the World Summit, a Global Forum on 12 September brought leaders from business, civil society and intergovernmental organizations together with Summit organizers.  These included Adama Samassekou, President of the Summit’s Preparatory Committee; Yoshio Utsumi, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the lead agency for the Summit; Marc Furrer, Director-General of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications and Secretary of State for the World Summit; and Maurice Strong, Special Adviser on the Summit to the Swiss Government.

Introducing the discussion, Nitin Desai, the new Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Summit, said participants should focus on what should be the product and the goal of the Summit, as well as on the role and impact of each sector -- governments, civil society, private companies -- in the Summit process.

Mr. Samassekou noted the emergence of a “new spirit of cooperation” among the different actors, and said the Preparatory Committee was now “moving from input to impact”.  He described the Task Force as providing a framework of reference for all actors.

Mr. Utsumi said leaders from both developed and developing countries had expressed interest in the Summit.  There was widespread recognition among world leaders that collective action was required to address the digital divide and its implications for social and economic development.

Mr. Furrer stressed the commitment of Switzerland, host country of the first phase of the Summit, and its active support of all aspects of the preparatory process.  He emphasized the need for a strong representation from both civil society and the private sector in moving forward Summit goals.

Task Force members and leaders from the private sector felt that their voice was not being fully heard in Summit preparations. Hewlett-Packard Vice-President Debra Dunn said the Summit’s architecture needed to be outlined clearly and precisely if United States companies were to be engaged.  More focused themes would allow the private sector to contribute, she said.

Other business leaders stated the private sector’s readiness to be an equal partner at the Summit, adding that companies should be asked not only to fund, but also to participate in shaping the event.  The meeting saw a particularly strong private sector presence, which included Siemens, Microsoft Russia, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, STMicroelectronics and Cisneros, among others.

Mr. Utsumi said ITU would work together with the private sector to address its concern.  Mr. Samassekou said the Summit would constitute a forum where all actors would be able to provide their input to move towards an implementation phase.  Maurice Strong, a veteran organizer of United Nations summits, said the Task Force should recommend the ICT Millennium Agenda for the Summit.

Task Force Chairman Jose-Maria Figueres Olsen said the Task Force would strive to sharpen the focus of the Summit as a development-oriented rather than a technology-oriented event, putting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals at the heart of the Summit. The Task Force would engage the private sector and civil society, as well as the media, and provide content to the Summit.

The Task Force also reviewed its initiatives seeking to harness the power of ICT to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, recognized by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his message to the meeting.  “Since we launched the Task Force together two years ago”, Mr. Annan said, “you have brought together leading figures in this dynamic field, and you have been thinking creatively about ways to make information technology help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”  Noting that new technologies continued to emerge and old ones were finding new uses, Mr. Annan called on participants to “ensure that the poor are not left further behind by all these dramatic changes, but can join in, and benefit from them”.

One such initiative is the Digital Diaspora Networks. Through such networks, developing country entrepreneurs based in North America and Europe are helping to launch ICT activities in their home countries, working with their local counterparts. Hundreds of prominent expatriate technologists, entrepreneurs and development experts living in the United States, Canada and Europe are part of these networks, which support the local use of ICT to improve local economies.

The Task Force has launched three Digital Diaspora Networks -- for Africa, the Caribbean, and earlier this month for Latin America and the Caribbean.  The Network for Africa has for instance supported several projects in Cameroon, the Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Participants also discussed the work undertaken by Task Force members, under Canada’s leadership, to develop a matrix of indicators and benchmarks to be used by countries to monitor their progress in putting ICT at the service of development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Concluding the two-day meeting, attended by some 180 participants, Mr. Figueres-Olsen said the Task Force had provided deliverables.  It had informed those responsible for the World Summit of the private sector’s concerns, had fleshed out the e-schools initiative, and had taken stock of its activities.  Many challenges remained ahead, he said, but “if development were easy, we would all be developed”.

The Task Force will hold its sixth meeting in New York in the spring of 2004.

For information, please visit the Task Force Web site at www.unicttaskforce.org; or contact Edoardo Bellando (e-mail:  bellando@un.org) or John Oliver Coffey (e-mail:  coffeyj@un.org).

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