DESA News Vol. 11, No. 2 February 2007

Trends and analysis

Bridging the digital divide: E-access for all

International workshop, Bangalore, 8-9 February

In the information age, where the price of not going online is social exclusion, ensuring e-access and participation of the poor to knowledge and technology is essential. The Division for Public Administration and Development Management is jointly sponsoring an international workshop on E-access for all with the Government of Karnataka, India, which will look into ways of bridging the digital gap between “haves” and “have nots” by expanding technology to developing countries.

The meeting will provide a forum for innovative development practitioners, decision-makers and policy developers to share their visions, policies and strategies on the topic of better access to knowledge for rural communities and the poor. The focus of the workshop will be to promote innovative and cost-effective solutions that place the poor at the centre of development in the global e-economy. Learning from the experiences of developed and developing countries alike, the workshop will discuss how to access the internet either by personal computer or mobile device at an affordable cost.

Several countries have come up with some innovative solutions allowing the poor to gain a foothold in the development ladder of the twenty-first century. Nigeria’s post offices, for example, guarantee e-access to citizens, as do tally centers in South Africa. Three of the industrial countries that have made more strides in spreading e-access – the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and Singapore – are also represented in the workshop. In Singapore, 90 percent of the population now has access to the internet. The success of these countries after considerable work undertaken in infrastructure is largely due to broadband penetration.

Representatives from developed and developing countries, from both the public and private sectors, will draw on their experiences in putting forward innovative solutions and technology for connecting the poor. The workshop will be structured in country presentations and working groups. For example, the latter includes presentations by private companies on the usage of mobile telephony to promote e-access.

Identifying creative solutions to reduce the digital gap that exists in most developing countries is crucial for the inclusion and participation of citizens. An important outcomes expected from the meeting is the creation of an on-going dialogue among the participants, especially at the local Government level. It is also expected that the strategies for e-access set out by the workshop in Bangalore will be applicable to other regions. A description of these “e-policies” and “e-services” will be made available through the DESA compendium on the UNPAN website.

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Global Alliance for ICT gains momentum in its second year

Strategy Council meeting and special event, Intel Corporation headquarters, Santa Clara, California, 27-28 February

The UN Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development, a platform for cross-sectoral dialogue, was launched less than a year ago with the purpose of promoting effective use of information and communication technologies for development. Its mission was inspired by the World Summit on the Information Society, which forged a global consensus on the importance of ICT as tools for achieving the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

The Alliance’s Strategy Council, which is made up of sixty members of Governments, the private and non-profit sectors, and international organizations will meet for the second time on 27 February, in Silicon Valley at the headquarters of Intel Corporation. Craig Barrett, chairman of the Alliance is also Chairman of the Board of Intel. The Council provides guidance and set the priorities of the Alliance, and is composed of policy-makers, practitioners and experts. This year Council members will identify the ways in which they can contribute to implementation of the Alliance’s business plan, and on ways to engage the Alliance’s various stakeholders on the potential of ICT to bring knowledge and information to those so far untouched by the information revolution.

Last year, the Alliance spotlighted education, health, entrepreneurship and governance as areas where the use of ICT should be boosted, as reflected in the business plan for 2006 and 2007. Activities to promote these areas are to take the form of partnerships, for example harnessing the resources of donor agencies and the private sector to bring broadband connectivity Africa, and to promote telecentre networks in developing countries.

A dialogue on the ways that technology and industry can bolster development is to follow the Strategy Council meeting, on 28 February. The debate is part of a special event in Santa Clara organized by the Alliance involving Silicon Valley’s industry leaders and the academic community in what is expected to be a lively reality-check for both the computing industry and development practitioners.

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