||The WSIS "High Level Panel"
||A missed opportunity? A comparison of two panel events
||The High Level Panel on ICT for Development turned out to be not so "high
level" after all. A closer look on the less pretentious parallel events sometimes can be much more worthwhile than just striving for the big titles. An event by the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) focused on the same issues and certainly gave more answers.
Despite the controversy about internet governance, which dominated the whole
PrepCom process until this week, the only High Level Panel established
during the conference was dealing with the subject of "ICT for Development".
This definitely fits into the image of the whole summit laying strong
emphasis on the collective international efforts to bridge the digital gap
between industrialized and developing countries.
The panel, taking place on Wednesday evening, consisted of Mr. Uzumi
(President of the ITU), HE Brinkhorst (Minister of Economic Affairs in the
Netherlands), Mr. Samara (Entrepreneur in ICTs), HE Paulwell (Minister of
Commerce and Technology in Jamaica) and Dr. Diouf (as representative of
NGOs). The panel was chaired by Prof. Noam of the University of Colombia.
Besides the fact, that the panel in this constellation could (with exception
of the presence of Mr. Uzumi) not really be regarded as "high level", the
whole event was in general quite unsatisfying. This was mainly due to two
First, Mr. Noam’s prepared moderating questions obviously failed to address
the issues which could possibly be of main interest to the rest of the
auditorium. Instead e.g., he went into matters like "could the current EU
decision on the new legal framework for telecommunication regulation slow
down development processes". A topic which probably few in the room could
take up with.
Second, panelists often failed to get the point of the questions which came
from the auditorium. For example, Mr. Uzumi managed to completely miss the
point when answering the very important question on how to prevent Africa
from becoming the world's trash can for IT hardware, by stressing generally
that "you cannot eradicate poverty without using ICTs". Even the
attempts of assistance by panelist Diouf could not help to create a solid feedback on this important issue. And things didn't improve.
Minister Paulwell's rather emphatic praise of the establishment of broadband
connections in Jamaica, as well as Uzumis proud reiterations of ITUs plans
to connect every village until 2015, still left a burning issue open: How
will broadband connections (and ICTs as a whole) solve the poverty problem?.
Finally reaching the heart of the whole matter about ICT and
development, the panelists again failed to give clear answers or
perspectives, but again stressed the general necessity of implementing the
ICT4D agenda. It was then up to the representative of the private sector to
make a clear and understandable statement. He pointed out, that we must not
confuse means with results: the main goal is to deliver information, not
digital technology. The gap we are talking about therefore is not a digital
gap, but a knowledge gap. Every discussion about ICT and development should have this perspective as "critical driver". In this light, we therefore must
also not concentrate only on digital means as if this summit were only about
the internet, but we must include TV, radio and print media likewise.
All in all, as this was the only High Level Panel taking place at a World
Summit which should conclude a 4-year process, the aftertaste of this panel
was more than unsatisfying.
That things could be done better was proven by the Swedish Development
Cooperation Agency (SIDA), who had invited this afternoon to a panel on the
matching subject "ICT for poverty alleviation". In three short
presentations, Mr. Alan Greenberg (Senior Consultant of Greenberg ICT
Services), HE Albert Butare (Minister for Energy and
Communications in Rwanda) and Ulf Pehrsson (Vice President of Ericsson)
provided food for the later discussion. Mr. Greenberg gave a pin sharp
analysis on the questions
- Why is the connection between ICTs and poverty alleviation still
- Can ICT help?
- Which are the preconditions and guidelines for making ICTs contribute
to poverty alleviation?
The bottom line of his speech summarized the results of his recent study
"ICTs for Poverty Alleviation: Basic Tool and Enabling Sector": We must not
focus on ICTs and how they can be applied, but we have to focus on the
requirements of poverty reduction processes and how ICTs could help in these
requirements. The following application of Information and Telecommunication
Technologies must then happen according to the same guidelines which
underlie all traditional development efforts: the mechanisms must be simple,
supportable sustainable and scalable, including local involvement, training
components and - regarding ICTs - a clear division of competencies between
development and technology experts.
Minister Butare then gave a rather emotional overview on the possibilities
ICTs can bring to a small and landlocked country lacking of resources like
Rwanda. He did this not in a self-praising manner, but in a inspiring
conviction that the good practice experience of his country could also
server others. He also stressed, that it's often the simple changes that
empower people to improve their living and working conditions significantly.
Like enabling a mushroom distributor to call his customer at the city market
by mobile phone to ensure that the long travel to the market is not in vain.
Finally the Ericsson company presented a new business model, which
deliberately focuses on rural areas to build up telecommunication
infrastructures, as they see the market potential of world-wide mobile phone
subscribers rapidly rising from 2 billion people today to over 3 billions in
the next five years. Illustrating this kind of development approach by
presenting their pilot telecommunications infrastructure project at the
coast of Tanzania, Ericsson managed to lead over from strategy aspects to
concrete implementation efforts.
Subsequently, contributions from the audience questioned the feasibility of
this business model and the position of Ericsson as possible monopolist or
mere profit-seeker in such an engagement. But all in all it became quite
clear, that here we have an example of what everybody is striving for in all
the development discussion of the last years: A relevant theoretical analysis of the prerequisites of poverty reduction, a clear commitment of governments to seize the opportunities of ICTs not as game toys but as means to face the issue of poverty, and finally an effective partnership with business entities which lead into solid and monitorable implementation activities that provide benefits for all involved parties.
This is a major aspect of what this summit should be all about and parallel
events like the SIDA panel give rise to the hope that Annans words of a
"summit of solutions" were not only a pathetic wish.