UN hosts conference aimed at using information technology to boost development

21 November 2006 –

Service-oriented information and communication technology (ICT), website evaluation, multilingual websites, accessibility and Internet broadcasting are all topics being discussed at the third annual Web for Development (Web4Dev) Conference being held at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

For development projects to have a truly global impact, the development community must learn to apply a market-based approach to its work, using ICT as leverage, Sarbuland Khan, Executive Coordinator of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development Secretariat, told the opening of the three-day event on Monday.

He challenged participants to use ICT to scale up the hundreds of thousands of development projects launched throughout the world in the past 60 years, so that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) could be achieved by 2015.

Speaking to ICT managers, mostly affiliated with international development organizations, he stressed the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector.

Rakesh Asthana, Senior Manager of the World Bank Information Solutions Group, said millions of people in the developing world had already succeeded in using ICT to generate additional income and improve their lives.

Citing examples, he pointed to young people in Kenya using the Web to sell shoes; Lake Victoria fishermen communicating with middlemen by cellular phone in organizing their sales; and midwives using personal digital assistants (PDAs) to retrieve information on immunization programmes.

The Bank was also one of the largest financiers of ICT for developing world private sectors, offering $6 billion in financing, he said, although cautioning that the jury was still out on the impact. The Bank is conducting research aimed at improving its effectiveness in that area, he added.

Ahmad Fawzi, Director of the News and Media Division in the UN Department of Public Information, billed Web4Dev, organized by the Department and the Global Alliance, as “an unprecedented opportunity to delve into the realm of ideas on the Web and cyberspace.”

Speaking on behalf of the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, he said those in the non-profit and intergovernmental sectors would do well to learn from the private sector about ICT tools that could further the development process.

Tunisian Ambassador Ali Hachani, who is also President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said the Council has long been interested in the nexus between information and communication technology and socio-economic development.

“Enhancing the impact of ICT on the Millennium Development Goals is an enormous challenge, requiring a global response,” he said.

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