Helen Clark: The London Conference on Cyberspace: “Hopes and Fears”

Nov 1, 2011

Remarks for UNDP Administrator Helen Clark
The London Conference on Cyberspace
Session 1: “Hopes and Fears”
1 November 2011, London

Foreign Secretary Right Honorable William Hague,
Distinguished Participants,

IntroductionMDGs and ICT

It is a pleasure to be participating in the London Conference on Cyberspace, and to highlight the critical links between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and sustainable, inclusive and equitable development.

This session is entitled “Hopes and Fears” – I will focus on the hopes, but let me also acknowledge at the outset that there are legitimate fears about the downside of our growing dependence on cyberspace, and discussion on this is important too.

ICTs create enabling platforms for the development of economies, societies, communities, and individuals in the North and the South.  They are highly relevant to achieving the Millennium Development Goals promulgated in 2000 with targets to be met by 2015.

MDG 8 includes a target to make the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies, readily available to people across the globe, in co-operation with the private sector. This conference, which brings together governments, industry, civil society, and activists is highly relevant to this target.

Let me make three main points about the transformative role ICTs can play in development.

  1. First, ICTs play a catalytic role in advancing human development by improving access to information and service delivery, and enabling broader democratic participation. 
  1. Second, ICTs can transform the way governments and development actors work, to ensure that our policies and programmes are more responsive to the needs and priorities of the poor and marginalized.
  1. Third, growing demand for ICT solutions and applications, coupled with great ICT innovation in the Global South, can create new jobs, enhance public-private partnerships, and expand South-South co-operation.

On the first,

ICT as a catalyst for Human Development

We see examples in many areas.

By linking remote health clinics with specialist diagnostic centers, we have seen improvements in maternal and child health outcomes. 

By linking students in rural areas with teachers and the wealth of knowledge available in cyberspace, we have witnessed transformation in the education sector. 

By enabling people to interface with public institutions and services.

There are numerous success stories in this area, often involving public-private partnerships. UNDP has been directly involved in a number, focusing particularly on e-governance and the strategic use and deployment of ICTs to improve the efficiency and transparency of public institutions and service delivery. Overall we’ve been involved in e-governance and access to information initiatives in more than eighty countries.

For example, in Bangladesh UNDP helped shape the policy framework for “Digital Bangladesh”, a national agenda to use ICTs to implement and help meet goals in education, health, employment, and poverty reduction.  Over 4,000 e-services centers are being deployed around the country to bring public and private services closer to local communities.

Then – one of many economic development examples, in Ethiopia, UNDP supported the establishment of the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange, which empowers small farmers by improving the flow of information through computerized price-tracking, and enables electronic transactions between buyers and sellers. This information flows back to the farmers through the now ubiquitous mobile phone.

  1. Giving voice to the poor and transforming the way development actors respond

Expanding ICT use can also enable people to play an active role in policy design and decision-making processes, by providing the tools and networks through which to make their voice and needs heard.

At UNDP we focus on expanding e-participation to foster civic engagement and dialogue between governments and stakeholders. The two-way communication between citizens and government officials, enabled through ICT and especially through mobile technologies and social networks, is critical for democratic processes for and ensuring that people in underserved areas have equal voice.  

Where governments are not responsive – these channels also take on a life of their own – as in the Arab States region this year, where we saw the demands of people increasingly communicated through social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and text messages, rather than being controlled through or blocked by traditional media and elected politicians.  I am told of one demonstrator who said that they used Facebook to mobilise, Twitter to live report, and YouTube to broadcast their stories.

These voices from the grassroots have transformative power.  If we as development actors, governments, the private sector and civil society acknowledge and affirm the value and contribution of these voices, we can respond much more effectively to the needs and priorities of people struggling to get ahead.

Let me say a special word on the role of ICTs in building resilience to disaster and in preventing crises. ICT allow us to have real-time information directly from the people who are most impacted by crises. That can help target responses, especially in fast changing situations like those related to political transitions, public health emergencies, or natural disasters. The UN’s Global Pulse initiative – the next phase of which is about to be launched – is an example of such an initiative.  It will provide real time information on how adverse events like fast rising food prices, or slowing economic growth, or job losses are affecting people.

Other examples:

  1. Data collection via mobile phone is now being used in epidemiological mapping to study the spread of disease over geographic regions. 
  2. Rapid text messaging is being used by UNICEF Nigeria to monitor the supply and distribution of bed nets in the fight against malaria.  

A more well-known success story, the Ushahidi platform used crowd-sourced information in Kenya to map incidents of violence,  and has been adjusted and replicated in many different settings.  UNDP has also used crowd-sourcing in its work on election monitoring, and is exploring how crowd sourcing and newer technology can be applied for conflict prevention and early response to crises in other contexts. UNAIDS is using crowd sourcing to develop a new strategy on youth and HIV.

The Ushahidi success has also demonstrated how innovation from the Global South, especially in ICT, can be replicated and expanded through South-South co-operation to have broader development impacts.   

Let me develop this idea a little more:

Local Innovations and South-South co-operation in ICT

Strategies, policies, skills, and expertise which can be exchanged through South-South co-operation are often those best suited to meeting the development challenges faced in the South. 

Innovations from the South can offer solutions to problems which are often overlooked by R&D processes in the North. Through ICT we can enhance knowledge and technology transfer of these new solutions.  At the same time, innovations from the South can have important applications in the North, and can also be profitable.

By promoting ICT business start-ups in developing countries, we can tap into the tremendous wealth of creativity, energy, and enthusiasm, especially among youth, and simultaneously reduce unemployment and create opportunities for young women and men to engage in markets outside their national borders.

There is a huge global demand for digital content – movies of all lengths from full feature – low budget to cell phone short films – and for digital games and other interactive software.  Brilliant innovation in these areas can be found anywhere in the world where there is access to the technology.

There are a number of notable public-private ICT initiatives which aim to capitalize on the tremendous potential in the South, and UNDP has been privileged to be part of some of them.  

For example, in collaboration with CISCO, UNDP is supporting the government of South Africa to create the national e-Skills Institute (e-SI) which aims to build the skills base from which to generate new ICT-enabled jobs and strengthen innovation and R&D in the country. 

Similarly, when the Ministry of Communication of Ghana launched its ICT for Development initiative in 2005, UNDP, in addition to helping the government to design and implement the initiative, facilitated the creation of what is known as the Ghana Multimedia Incubator Centre (GMIC). The Centre, which is co-funded by UNDP and the Government, has partnered with IBM and Microsoft to provide mentoring support and equipment, and has provided opportunities for young entrepreneurs to see their visions become reality.

Ensuring Equity and Sustainability
While recognizing the critical role of ICT for development, we must also consciously strive to ensure that new technologies and their benefits can reach the poor and the rich, women and men, the young and the old. 

Improvements in access to ICTs alone will not automatically reduce disparities or improve conditions for all – but they create important platforms.  As we move forward, and build stronger partnerships between governments, development actors, businesses, and civil society, to meet the MDGs, we can, as MDG 8 envisaged, use ICT and cyberspace to advance new, scalable, and sustainable development solutions for all.

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