Let’s get started. This is session 2 on International Institution as Information Brokers and Providers. And our first speaker is Mary Pat Silvera who has been a pioneer in the UNCSD secretariat thinking out, and implementing its internet strategy in the areas under her responsibility.
M. P. Silvera:
Thank you very much for inviting me. I think that we are all aware of the leadership that Professor Choucri and her colleagues here at MIT have taken I this area. And certainly the work that they’ve been doing has had a positive influence on the work that we’re doing in my office at the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development, and I’m doubly pleased to be here today. These meetings are very valuable as an opportunity to learn from each other to share what we’re doing and hopefully even to be challenged.
The work that we do in our offices directly related to servicing the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development. We are the Secretariat for that Commission. The Commission was established in 1992. It held it’s first session in 1993, and since that time it has provided us with three different mandates related to information that we have tried to put together and find a way to respond to through a concerted action.
The first request was its decision in 1993, at its first session to request all of its member states to report annually on a voluntary basis to the Commission on the national implementation of Agenda 21. The primary purpose of that request by the Commission was certainly not to inform a Web site. The primary purposes were first, to provide information to the Commission for its decision making at its sessions. And second, and I would say most importantly, to try and generate a certain demand at the national level for collecting and organizing data for policy dialogues with stakeholders in society, and to be used in decision making at the national level. However, there was still a third consequence foreseen or not, and that was the generation of a large amount of national data that comes in the form of these Reports every year.
So, the first challenge was, how can we use this data in a way that it just doesn’t get filed in a file draw from year to year. It doesn’t just disappear, but has a life of its own.
The second consideration of the Commission came at its third session when it became concerned with finding a way to link all of the different databases in the UN system related to sustainable development. The concern was not the decentralization itself. The centralization is considered actually a plus for quality control and for other reasons. But there was no way for the average user—among decision makers, among delegates, and so forth—to gain access to all the different databases that were on-line within a logical framework. So that was really our second challenge.
In short, the first was how to use information that was coming to us. The second was how to provide some kind of a logical framework that would make all of this information across the board accessible.
And the third consideration that came the next year, at the fourth session of the CSD, was the Commission’s concern for streamlining national reporting. Streamlining refers to the following problem.
In some areas, particularly areas related to environment in sustainable development, there has been an increasing number of requests for national reports from member states, for the conferences of parties of conventions, for other conferences, for other intergovernmental bodies,and so forth. There is a huge proliferation of mandates for reports and it’s a problem virtually for every country, but particularly for some countries where the infrastructure is not as fully developed. It really constitutes a serious burden. And so the Commission asked us to look at ways to address this problem.
There’s a whole program of work that we have developed for streamlining, and the Web site that I’m going to talk about is not the one and only response to that problem. But it does seek to address the problem in part and it is part of the work program for reasons that I will explain.
So we had these three challenges. To use the information that was coming from the national reports to have better access, to provide a common framework for all of the related on-line databases throughout the UN system, and to create a system of linkages also in such a way that we could start to address this probable streamlining. If I have, for example, direct access to the National Reports that are going into the Convention for Climate Change, then obviously I don’t need to ask the member states again for information on climate change. I can just go directly to the Climate Change site and the same with biological diversity, and the same with certification and the same with a large number of issues with which Agenda 21 is concerned.
Our response to addressing all three of these issues was to create the UN Systemwide Sustainable Development Website.
Now when I speak about “we,” I really refer to a series of consultations that took place throughout the UN system through a coordinating mechanism that we have called the Interagency Committee on Sustainable Development. For a period of about two years we discussed, off and on, the best way to approach this and it was decided that this would be the most efficient and most effective way to do that given our resources.
Our Division is responsible for establishing and maintaining the Web site. However, we do so on behalf of the entire UN system
The main content of the web site is the national information. It is accessible in three different ways and updated on a continuous basis. Of course there is a formalized way of updating. Each year the member states are asked to report on certain issues to the Commission and that information automatically is used to update the website. But, in addition, member states are invited at any time to update any issues as relevant, and we can update the web site and not necessarily wait for that to become an agenda item of the Commission on Sustainable Development.
But before I talk specifically about the national information, I’ll just quickly go through what else in on here. Let us begin with the major agreements. I want to give a sense of the comprehensiveness of agreements: what we consider issues of relevance to sustainable development. It’s not just environment. It’s not just natural resources. It is for example, also human rights and rights of the child and elimination against discrimination against women, and world cultural and natural heritage, and so forth—and we just have those general issues, and then we’ve divided into various institutional issues. There’s a large number of agreements to which we have linkages, economic issues, natural resource issues.
Urban areas: This is really a work in progress. There is a link to the sustainable cities program being established by Habitat and UNEP. There are various local Agendas 21 which we have been able to identify and there is also link to the international council for local environmental initiatives. This, by the way, is our one exception with links to non-governmental organizations and I’ll explain why.
In general, one of the distinguishing characteristics of this entire site is that the information is official only. That decision was made for political reasons. We think that we’re much more likely to continue to get this strong involvement from member states, if indeed we keep the information strictly to official information. But the area of local Agenda 21 is a little bit different. There’s so much of the work actually undertaken by NGO’s or at the instigation of NGO’s, and we felt that it was very important to include them here.
There are three ways to access to a country. We’re going to use South Africa, just as an example. I can access through the map. And then I click again on southern African and I have an even more detailed map of Africa. And I click here and I get South Africa. The first page for every single country. It looks like this. It has a list of issues and the map of the country. I can go down the scroll bar here and all the countries are listed there and just say go there. Or I can do it regionally if I want to look at the whole region and see what countries are there and the region and again click on South Africa. So, all the national information is divided along these issues. This is true for the entry for every single country here and these issues are basically short-hand expressions for chapters of Agenda 21.
There are three exceptions. Those are: energy, transport, and sustainable tourism. Those three issues of course appear in Agenda 21. They didn’t have dedicated chapters. Those three items were added to work program of the CSD during it’s fifth session and so now we have added them here as separate items.
You can click on social and again you have the choice of issues. Of course you could have gone directly to an issue from the previous page or you can just come here and scroll down. [unclear]poverty, demographics, health, education, and human settlements. Economic, international cooperation and trade, change in consumption patterns, financing, technology, industry, transport, and sustainable tourism.
Natural resources. We have a large number of items and this information type appears under each cluster of issues, social and economic as well as natural resources. We allow links to other websites as relevant. For example, agriculture in South Africa also links to other sources, official sources of information about agriculture in South Africa. Some of them are directly to national web site maintained by the government of South Africa, and there are other pages here that are maintained by the South African government.
There are links to UN system databases. So, for example this is FAO’s database. Once your inside this database you can also be country specific. This shows you the whole range of issues here. But you can get in to the crop or the commodity and to the country itself. So, it becomes specific to South Africa. And so forth. If you look down you’ll see that there is access to FAO country reports on plant genetic resources to biosafety information network service and so on and so forth. A large number of linkages. The only constraint on what goes here is that it has to be official: i.e., United Nations and/or national government. Official United Nations, Official government.
Ultimately it is national governments we want to take responsibility for this information to develop the infrastructure, including all the underneath infrastructure that those symbolize that the organization of the data, the use of the data for national purposes. The goal is the sharing of the data with civil society. The use of the data for public discourse and for national decision making, and we have seen a lot of this happening. Thank you very much.
I work for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization located in Vienna. I’ve been responsible for energy and environment information for as long as I can remember, going back to the mid-eighties. More recently I’ve been assigned to work on information for the Kyoto Protocol. What I’ll be explaining is showing you some of the material that I’ve been working on for a number of years and some that I’m working on currently. Before I begin, I’d like to draw your attention to a Harvard journal article noting that the United Nations system is one of the largest sources / clearing houses for information. And in that particular article, the United Nations was challenged to seek better and more user friendly ways of disseminating this information, making it available.
In 1994, a UN body advisory committee on coordination of information systems access produced the Internet Introductory Guide to the United Nations System. This is really at the beginning of the explosion of Internet Usage within the UN. But, it was recognized that there is a large volume, a large body of knowledge within the United Nations System which was not getting out readily. There is quite a growth, already, but “all of this knowledge.”
My organization, UNIDO ,concentrates more and more on small and medium enterprises in developing countries. We are now reengineering the organization, and there is quite a bit going on in refocusing our activities. We have a program now which is on sustainable industrialdevelopment. But this is nothing new. This is what we’ve been doing for many years, but the sustainable development focus is relatively new.
We have three major areas of focus: (1) making industries more competitive, (2) creating productive employment, and (3) minimizing the impact of industry on the environment. We’re calling this the three E’s.
We’re refocusing our services and our activities. At first we had ten products. Then we had service modules. What we’re trying to do is to integrate all of the different activities within the organization into clusters. The three clusters now are the three E’s.
The typical clients: We have dealt with: in industry at the plant level. This is becoming less so. We do work with the industrial policy-makers and with industrial service providers.
The types of services: We provide technical support at the plant level. We concentrate on capacity building for government wherever necessary, but more and more for the private sector. We focus a lot on technology assessment, not in the generic sense, but in the sense of what specific technologies are required by industries themselves. And we assist with the technology transfer process. One part of the Program is as management information services.
So, we generate—as probably every other UN body—a large volume of information—knowledge on industry and technology in our case, specific to developing countries and we’ve been doing this since 1966. We are an information broker and an information provider. We have probably, as most other UN agencies, data management system dissemination mechanisms of all sorts. We do support global systems, national systems, networks, and increasingly we provide support to technology advisory services.
The types of information: We generate traditional referrals, statistical information, etcetera. We generate a lot of technological and economic information in relation to the industrial sector activities. A smaller percentage of our knowledge has recently been put on the Internet. We deal with industrial sectors, generic technology, and technologies which can be used across a range of industrial sectors. We are concentrating more and more on cleaner production and on energy conservation issues of Agenda 21.
We provide the information through traditional media. We have a large number of publications. There is an on-line database which provides abstracts on those. We are increasingly producing electronic information that is via Internet and through various data systems, and providing access to it through various networks, but more especially through technical assistance. We need other assistance to make that information work and to provide information at the field level within the developing countries.
There is this large volume of knowledge which GSSD is discussing which at the technical level may constitute benchmark data. But, at the bottom level we need something in the developing countries which is the baseline data to know what is the actual situation in an industrial plant which needs an assessment. You need to know the actual situation. You need to take both of these sets of data. The best available technology, the knowledge as we know it in the developed world and the current situation in the developed world. We need to put that together into some sort of system which is available at the national level. Decision support, tools, services which would provide sets of options to the decision maker. Now the decision maker is probably in an industrial plant or maybe other institutions which support particular sectors. And then those options then lead to series of actions, change of technology, better housekeeping, whatever.
One way in which we are doing technology assessment is the climate change discussion in relation to Kyoto Protocol. We do have a pilot tool (described on the Web) to assist in taking the benchmark data to entering the baseline data. What is the actual situation in a given plant and to run a series of options. It’s an embryonic decision support tool. We are currently testing this. We developed this actually together with the Tellos Institute here in Boston and ran the Pilot version, and then did our testing in China and Hungary. We will present the results at UNFCCC COP4. Anyone who’s interested can take a look at the site.
We also review the generic technologies and we undertake particular projects.
As an information provider, we have also produced numerous case studies and manuals, specifically in 10 sectors. Three of them are up on the Web as static pages and the rest are being put up now as PDF files. You can have the full manuals on energy conservation in ten sectors that will also be available on CD-Rom for COP4.
We have a number of networks I saw on the previous site by a diversity network. Another UNIDO activity is a cleaner production network, in collaboration with UNEP in Paris. We have a large number of countries, a few of them joined only this year. They are providing demonstrations in the countries of specific sectors looking at the problems doing the audits, option providing training and some of them are actually setting up web sites.
What might be interesting in the context of distance learning is that UNIDO did produce a training course on “ecologically sustainable industrial development.” There are ten learning units on different subjects. And we have undertaken a number of sectoral profiles. These were done in the case of looking from the perspective of cleaner production. A little bit of energy was considered in these, but so we have seven sectors which were reviewed, which look at the best available technology.
We have an on-line data base of the documentation that’s been produced throughout our technical assistance since 1996 (as a directory for microfiche holdings).
And finally, UNIDO is the main UN agency responsible for industrial statistics, so we have a number of internally consistent databases. Most of these are not on the Web at the moment, but there is a large effort in that direction. Thank you.
I am at UNEP in New York, Director of the IT for Development Program, in our Bureau for Development Policy. Let me begin by thanking Professor Choucri for inviting us to be here, and to collaborate with you in that important program. Sustainability of course is the business of UNDP. It is our business and as sustainability defined by UNDP is sustainable human development, which is a broad area comprising of not only environment, but quite a number of other areas from governmental institutions, to stakeholder participation, to support to small business enterprise etcetera.
Now why in our quest for sustainability and ultimately in the fight against poverty which is a central parameter of our activities-- IT and information technologies? Why are they important tools to help advance sustainability and to help tackle poverty?
The answer is relatively simple. We have perceived that information technologies have the capability to reach out to more people than traditional means. They can penetrate countries in a deeper way and they can deliver technical assistance in a better quality then has been earlier the case. It cuts across all issues. We have seen it’s relevant for environment, it’s relevant for industrial areas. It’s relevant for virtually everything in the development agenda and the development nexus. So it’s a very powerful tool. It’s very powerfully potential impacts and benefits. But, to do that and to come to that point that we can deliver on those benefits, we need to have a number of preconditions fulfilled.
Now, the first is when we talk about international organizations as information providers and brokers. And this really reflects also a discussion in the international arena over the past two or three years. We are no longer talking about the move to the information highway society as it were, but we are talking about the move to a knowledge society which is really a qualitatively higher development step than just looking at information and the information infrastructure which is more or less a stale process very often associated with the infrastructural dimensions.
To be a knowledge—and an information broker—and provider and to help developing countries connect and reconnect with a global knowledge society, we have to work on three areas. One is connectivity. The second one is capacity, and the third one is content. The three C’s and this is answering also part of the question which my colleague from Capacity 21 raised earlier. We will have the capacity to bring the benefits of the information and knowledge revolution to the grassroots level only if you are attending and are successful in operating these three C’s: connectivity, capacity, content. And let me give a few explanations on that.
Connectivity is of course normally related to the telephone connectivity. To provide telephone service in developing countries is a major task. Not only logistically, but financially. And most of you who have been developing countries know that quite a number of telephone lines just end in the Capital. This is where our job starts. And of course to connect and then to deliver that you can reach more people and in a deeper way than traditionally you have to make sure that you will have connectivity to a deeper level in these countries.
It can be done through investment and of course investment doesn’t come cheap. Most of the telephone exchanges which are being built are being built as loans, and in the current economic environment, this is not a very hopeful proposition that the funds are there.
Second one is the satellite revolution. The satellite revolution would provide connectivity without necessarily having the traditional fiberoptic lines, but you could theoretically reach every point on these nodes through the satellite connections.
These are competing consortia, each of which, I think range from eight to ten billion dollars in trying to provide service through satellites global service through. satellites . There have been some setbacks in the past few week and of course, once you have the service, it doesn’t necessarily come cheap. The equipment would cost you $3,000 to use, and then if you have a connectivity it costs you $2.00 per minute, which is still a quite insurmountably high price for developing countries. But if you assume that the drop in price which we have observed in other areas of the IT revolution—like computers and know also begin to show in this satellite area—you could think that within two or three years, you will have dramatic change in providing direct connectivity to these to unserviced and underserviced areas.
We have of course a number of experimental satellites out there which provide services like telemedicine operation operating out of Boston. You have a number of experimental lines through [intersoft through inmarsoft]. So you can indeed demonstrate what the potential of using IT for development work is.
And Capacity: When we talk about capacity building which is a central task of UNDP, we are talking about a wide range of areas. You talk first of all about computer literacy. If you bring the Web or all the information. Or if you want users to access the information which the international organizations or NGO’s are providing, you first have to have the ability to use a computer. That’s a basic.
Then the second one. You have to have the ability to browse the Web. You must have basic Web browsing skills, the second one.
The third one, if you want to be participating in a more active way, you must be able to create you own information. And that is a key point later on in content.
The fourth one is really managing web sites in a dynamic manner which is another particular skill. So, these four levels of capacity building are very important if you want to get countries and developing countries to partake better and more beneficially in the information revolution. You need very specific skills and very specific training programs in order to make these items usable items in the developing world.
The fifth area connects connectivity to capacity, are entering the area where we have to acknowledge two paradigm shifts. One is that we have to move from the individual connectivity to community connectivity. Because of the costs and because of the logistical delivery problems it is virtually inconceivable that you could have, in a city like Durban or between the area, say in a province in South Africa, every individual having an individual connectivity as we know it here in this country or as we know it in the North. This will be too expensive. You will not be able to get the necessary capacities with the limited amount of funds available on the capital markets and the readiness of companies to invest there.
All what we see on the Web is about 90% in English, maybe two percent in Spanish, or maybe five percent in French and then the other languages. If you compare what you want to accomplish for development, you will see quite a number of languages Swahili. You have in South Africa only I think 11 or 12 official languages. Chinese is catching up a little bit. If you really want to reach the people at the grassroots or between the capitals and the grassroots in a progressive [interactive] way down to the grassroots, we need to provide content in other languages. It has to be basically done by the people who speak this language. And this is why capacity building is very closely linked to content creation. Content can only be created by the people, business sufficient knowledge in the languages, and in the cultures specific presentation of material which can go from culture to sports to business to whatever you could conceive of under the sun.
So the language and culture barriers can only be overcome if you empower people in the developing countries to really contribute to the evolution of the Web and thereby create a broader diversity on the Web in materials and in content and call it curriculum. Since we are on a university site. So in that sense, the broker and the provider function becomes very import and what international organizations can do, they can help [enable] communities to provide and to create this content to put it up on the web.
Now how would you go about this? And this relates to the paradigm shift which I mentioned earlier. The fact that you go to community development. The pursuit, the funding and the installation of telecenters or digital community centers or multipurpose community centers. However you call it, it’s a whole range of ten or 12 different names which is essentially are all that, that you’re providing a community center in various, in a certain density in various countries and districts where you have a minimum outfit in terms of computers where you have telephone connectivity. Where you have Internet access. And a couple of other arrangements like photocopy and fax to make communities operate in that.
We have begun a pilot projects in South Africa and in Egypt to establish just such telecenters or technology access centers. You can have, as I said, quite a number of names for all of them. In order to gain experience, but also to prove how you could this community access in a developmental purpose and for developmental purposes.
You will find if you go to, we have a special web site on these information communication technologies for development which you find onwww.UNDP.org/undpinfo21. And if you go there the whole menu what is being offered. The Pilot Project by UNDP for IT for Development Program.
Now once you have a center, you can use these centers for quite a variety of applications. Long distance education is one, telemedicine is another one, environmental management support to small and medium size and even microcredit enterprises, women’s training—specifically programs and web sites geared to the empowerment of woman. You can have web sites geared to the enhancement of governments civil society activities and eventually electronic commerce. All of this could in a managed way at the telecenter access by different community groups or individuals or small entrepreneurs to get the information which they otherwise able not get and be able to get them, we would have to go into the division of technical assistance more with very expensive consultants going to the various areas and provide the service. Here you can get it literally, and I will show it to you in a moment at the click of a mouse.
We have at UNDP two global programs. One is the SDNP, the Sustainable Development Network Program, which concentrates essentially on creating a Internet access point in capitals. And then we have this IT for development program which I’m directing which is essentially concentrating on pilot projects, but also on capacity building aspects.
We are already in a lucky situation in that we have two regional programs. One for Asia and the Pacific. It’s called APTIV. It’s based in Kuala Lumpur, which concentrates heavily on capacity building and also on very individual applications. The other is in Africa. The Internet Initiative for Africa, which is particularly building Internet connectivity for countries which are being by-passed by the more traditional USAID (modes). There UNDP looks at those countries which normally would be by-passed by the international marketplace as it were.
We are soon going into Latin America and we are also preparing a program for the Arab states region, which will be under the model for the cyber economy. So, these are two programs yet to come. But, the other two regional programs are already in operation. And then of course we have numerous country programs which are very difficult to describe because they cover an incredibly broad range of involvement and engagement in the cyber economy.
Long distance education. One word, I was a little bit surprised this morning just to hear basically the high end. Like in capacity building, long distance education really would fall in to four or five areas. You start with the primary level, secondary level, tertiary, life-long education, and you really have the ‘edutainment” for the people who are illiterate and we have to face the reality that we have about two billion illiterates on the globe. Now how could they use it? They could use this technology if our industry will only be more innovative. In a sense, you could work with icons; you don’t need to work with script. You could use icons and if you click on icons or touch on the touch screen basis on icons, things could be read to you. We have right now also conversion programs where text which is being written can be read by a voice. There’s being big advances being made and so the traditional hurdles of accessing information which required normally a very highly sophisticated knowledge is being consistently lowered and hence it becomes more available.
Now one of the features for the networking for the networking interactive engagement is of course a list of discussions. And you have quite a number of lists of discussions on development and on the impact of a variety of aspects. We have put up a UNVP future discussion, and there there is a global knowledge discussion. Please feel free to sign up, and participate in very lively discussions which are taking place. Thank you.
I’m with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva and I recently invented a job for myself there because I set up a special program on resource based development and resource based development. In spite of what we’ve had this morning then is very important for I’d say about half of the countries in this world and is likely to be so for many years to come.
I simply want to use one the projects in my program as an example to show what problems we are having in the organizational context in which we work, what problems we are having in establishing partnerships and to show you how we are trying to address those problems and finally to let you know what are our experience has been so far and what we’d like to do next.
Much of the UNCTAD site is hidden behind our fire wall. So all the exciting official information that we have on this site is very well protected. However, there’s a downside to this and that is that there’s no way that we can use this site to collaborate effectively even with our own agency world-wide and even less so with anyone elsewhere. So, you have to find a way around this. At least in my program we have to find a way around this and what we’ve done is we’ve created a sort of satellite domain. It’s outside of the official UNCTAD site. It has it’s own server and most importantly it’s outside the firewall and this has allowed us to do a number of things. We’ve redesigned the site from the outset for collaboration with other agencies and experts throughout the world and it also us to organization to organize a management structure which involves our partners throughout the world in a consortium so it’s not properly speaking an UNCTAD site. It’s really managed by a consortium of partners. And it also allows us to interact directly with the general public with Joe So and his Cyber Café, if necessary.
So, under this domain, “naturalresources.org,”, we have at the moment two sites working. Once is on minerals and the other one which is called offshore is being used by the offshore oil and gas industry to focus on the environment. We believe that other sites could be developed in a similar way to the way we have developed these particular sites. For example, on water, on forests, perhaps on energy.
We need partners for our site. Because when we are looking at all these dimensions of sustainable development, the economics, environment, and society dimensions. There’s no way that we in UNCTAD can cover all of this. All these various dimension. In any case we are not experts in all of these. And so we have to look to partners throughout the world to contribute to this exercise.
Equally there’s a natural resources have a very important special dimension and so it’s important that we also bring in people from all different areas of the world and so we have this regional dimension to the web site also. And we have a general forum which tries to tie all of this together and this is perhaps where we hope, in any case that information will become knowledge.
So, what sort of partners do we have? We have principal partners, each of whom actually runs a set management section of the site, nd then we have associate partners, who help the principle partners. Then we have, we hope, more and more sponsors who support either the site as a whole or the different parts of the site they are interested in.
Let me give you an example of some of our partners so far. For the environment part of the site, for example, this is being managed by the United Nations Environment Program, the Industry and Environment Center in Paris and they manage this from Paris and we give them administrative rights to on our server in Geneva and they manage that entirely on their own.
We are looking at the moment at a number of associate partners who would help out either UNEP under the environment or at UNCTAD who are managing the society part of the site at the moment.
We are looking among others to academic institutes throughout the world. The Center for Petroleum Mineral Policy in Dundee is going to manage for us the law section of the society part of the site. On the issue of sponsors, well, this is an interesting development. As we advertise the site more and more and we haven’t advertised it very much until now, we find that there are different kinds of sponsors who are interested in either providing financial support for the site or in providing [in kind] contributions. For example, UNET in Paris has secured assistance from the South African Chamber of Mines in the, the South African Chamber of Mines have supplied one person to work in Paris for two years to help UNEP manage their part of the site.
The owner offshore site, the petroleum company, Elf Aquetain, has similarly supplied one person to work with UNEP in Paris to help manage the site.
This is an example of what you would find under the different main parts of the site. This is the sort of thing that individual partners manage. New section and events section, documents, documents, discussion groups, and there are other sections that individual partner, principle partners made a site to put up there.
It is the partners responsibility for managing that information or at least submissions rather and for if necessary taking them off. If, for example, they prove to be offensive. But, the idea is to encourage people to interact directly with the site and not to put a filter on at the initial stage.
Many of our partners did not have either the knowledge to manage a part of the site or the hardware or software even to do so. So, we had to put together a package of, training package. We spent about three days with each of our partners, giving them, not so much the hardware, but the software and training them in its use. And this was a startup cost which we had not really anticipated.
Now, we’ve also found that in spite of the fact that the site is entirely open, that individuals can be very reluctant to participate in this. And we think, first of all because the site perhaps hasn’t been advertised to as many individuals who would be happy to access the site. But, also because of the state of the art as it were at the moment, in using information and using the web, there are lots of people who are reluctant to press that button and see their spelling mistakes appearing immediately on the web. So, we think people will actually learn to spell better or not care so much about that. As I said before, sponsors are happy and are becoming interested in this and they have been very useful in providing resources for this exercise and we’re hoping that would snowball.
We’re also looking at putting together different disciplines and different kinds of information on the site. Simply putting it all on the one site doesn’t guarantee the interaction that’s really necessary to make this information knowledge and this is a problem that we’re trying to address at the moment. And this is problem we’re all trying to address at the moment. So, one of the reasons that I’ve come here is to get help with this particular problem.
What are we looking to do next? Well, we’d like to extend our network of partners and sponsors, of course. But we need to keep it manageable. We believe that it’s necessary to keep the specific interest group aspect of the site. That is to have something on minerals, for example to keep this focus. But we think that it is important to keep the thing manageable. That way you maintain the special interest and the special interest network. We are thinking about how to manage the consortium itself and we believe that it may be necessary to eventually establish the consortium as a legal entity. Among other things to help us to manage any funds that we hope we be coming into it.
What we want very much to do is to use the site for distance learning. We have a mandate for capacity building and institutional strengthening and we find it very very difficult to undertake this mandate with very limited resources that we have at the moment. At the moment if we want to get twenty people from all over the world, and especially from developing countries, together for a week it costs us a minimum of something like $150,000. And what we’d like to do is sort of drop those figures and for $20 get 150,000 people. So, we are looking to our project to do that.
And finally what we’d like to do—another reason that I’ve come here—is to promote real work links with other sustainable development sites and projects. So, I hope that all of you will use the opportunity of my being here to approach me and let me know how I can link up to you. So, that’s an example of , this is our site and this is all we’ve done so far. We’ve got a lot more to do.
But I think that if the United Nations wants to achieve sustainable development including at the grass roots level, we’ll have to get out of the sort of organization contacts in which we are working at the moment. Especially in the area of information and communications technology and this is at least one way that we are trying to do it. Thank you very much.
You can access most of the information through the Web, but you must be aware that you have about a million people out there speaking about community centers and telecenters. And if I tell you that right now in South Africa which talks for example about that, at the top of the line you have about three operational centers. You see that there’s a lot of hype. We are strong in analysis. We are strong in concept. We are very poor internationally in translating into culturally understandable bases. And I think that what you have to do is you have to be a little bit patient, let these centers be set up and find their own way on how they’re operating. If we load them on how we can mold traditional and [novel] systems, we will discuss for another couple of years how we do that and we will never gain the practice and the experience and this is the idea of the pilot projects.
As a provider and brokers, that you are. How do you coordinate or network with so many organizations, such as theWorld Bank, International Monetary Fund, USAID, and so
many organizations working in developing countries? How do you coordinate with these organizations?
You have the traditional means of coordination, which is a very slow process. The interagency organization is a very slow process, really antithetical to the fastness of the Web and the information technologies. And that’s my personal opinion and here are other venues as well. Its a very confusing picture, even for people who are in there. But, you have to separate the traditional ways which we need also in order to create a certain identity. Once they have found a nation, an identity. They jump in there and all the other organizations have to really scramble to be there.
But then outside of that, among the operators, you find new mechanisms which are neither legal entities nor enforced. They come and go eventually. And I think this is the most effective way of this network economy. This really shows you’re building ad hoc networks according to the needs which may come up. And I only wish that some of these networks were more driven by the needs and the articulated needs of the developing countries rather than by the needs perceived by the outsiders.
What we’re missing now of course, is that we’re not learning anything out of this process, really. Unless you get feedback from people on the ground. We are not for example, incorporating indigenous knowledge into our work on sustainable development. And I think that this is very important and it’s something that we really should find, it’s a problem that we should be addressing more and more and I think that the web will be able to help us do that, but I’m not quite sure how yet and I think that it’s something we can think about. But it’s very important for sustainable development. It’s very important for deciding first of all what an externality is because everyone has different views. When we look, for example at the social impact of mining, we have very different views about what an externality is there, depending on who you ask.