A "Digital Solidarity Fund", a voluntary financing mechanism designed to provide community computers, was launched today in Geneva, with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcoming the initiative as contributing to the fight against poverty and bridging the information divide.
"The use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) is shrinking distances, fostering new approaches to existing challenges and bringing dramatic changes in the economic, social and cultural realms," Mr. Annan said in a message delivered at the launch by UN Office in Geneva (UNOG) Director-General Sergei Ordzhonikidze.
"Yet there is considerable distance to be travelled to bridge the gap between those who have access to the Internet and other technologies and those who do not."
The new Fund was an important contribution to the fight against poverty and UN's broader agenda of change, Mr. Annan said, noting that President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has been a driving force behind the initiative.
Other Heads of State attending were President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who is also chairman of the African Union (AU), and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria. The Foreign Ministers of France, Switzerland and Morocco and Fund chairman Guy-Olivier Segond were also present among the 400 participants.
The creation of the fund had confounded many sceptics, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi said. "Without the strong political will of the African Heads of State involved in the process, it would not have been possible."
The Fund will raise money for community projects by collecting voluntary contributions of 1 per cent of public ICT procurement contracts and allowing donors to use the label, "Digital Solidarity," under the "Geneva Principle." The money could not be used for major infrastructure investments.
Mr. Utsumi called on Fund managers to avoid being bogged down in bureaucracy and advocated transparency in allocating monies.
Algeria contributed $500,000, Nigeria €500,000 (euros) and France €300,000 to the Fund.
The Fund was one of the results of the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in December 2003 in Geneva. The Summit's second part will be held in November in Tunis, Tunisia.