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Digital Opportunities for All: Meeting the Challenge
Report of the Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force),
including a proposal for a Genoa Plan of Action
May 11, 2001
• Part One — The Challenge: Digital Opportunities for All
• Part Two — Meeting the Challenge through Concrete and Creative Action
• Part Three — The way forward : proposed Genoa Plan of Action
• Appendix — Genesis and history of DOT Force
This report is the result of a unique international collaboration. The Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force), created by the G8 Heads of State at their Kyushu-Okinawa Summit in July 2000, brought together forty three teams from government, the private sector, non-profit organizations, and international organizations, representing both developed and developing countries, in a cooperative effort to identify ways in which the digital revolution can benefit all the world's people, especially the poorest and most marginalized groups. The "digital divide" is threatening to exacerbate the existing social and economic inequalities between countries and communities, so the potential costs of inaction are greater than ever before.
Over several months, through a rich and unprecedented mix of plenary meetings, informal consultations, meetings with stakeholders, and electronic outreach to broader audiences across the world, the DOT Force has examined in depth the challenge of bridging the digital divide and harnessing the power of information and communications technologies (ICT) and global networks to assure opportunity, empowerment and inclusion for all. The DOT Force has analyzed the underlying causes of the digital divide, the poverty-reducing and empowering potential of new technologies, and the complex mix of strategies, policies, investments, and actions required to create digital opportunities for all while addressing key development imperatives.
It has charted the relative roles and responsibilities of various actors — national governments, the private sector, non-profit organizations and community groups, international organizations, and individual citizens — in creating digital opportunities for all. It has mapped the interdependence among these actors and the challenges facing them, and the need for novel forms of partnership and cooperation among them in the creation of a multi-stakeholder "development dynamic".
The DOT Force concluded that, when wisely applied, ICT offer enormous opportunities to narrow social and economic inequalities and support sustainable local wealth creation, and thus help to achieve the broader development goals that the international community has set. ICT cannot of course act as a panacea for all development problems, but by dramatically improving communication and exchange of information, they can create powerful social and economic networks, which in turn provide the basis for major advances in development.
By enabling these new networks to collect and share local knowledge and information, ICT can provide new and more efficient methods of production, bring previously unattainable markets within the reach of local producers, improve the delivery of government services, and increase access to basic social goods and services. There need therefore be no trade-off between investment in ICT and the achievement of development objectives.
ICT can thus help to ignite a virtuous circle of sustainable development. But misapplied, they can result in marginalisation of the poor and the unconnected. In order for their development potential to be realised, all stakeholders — governments and their citizens, business, international organizations, civil society groups and individuals — need to work together towards achieving real change. As with all other development challenges, ownership by developing countries themselves and other relevant stakeholders will be indispensable.
Ensuring the participation of local communities is essential if ICT development is to flourish on a global scale and the fruits of the networked economy and society are to be reaped by rich and poor alike. The establishment of administrative and economic systems based on predictable and transparent rules, most especially good governance, which promote free development of ICT, is the key to success. The DOT Force also recognizes that a rapid response to the so-called "digital divide" in accordance with the rapid pace of ICT innovation is essential, and reaffirms the need for a multi-faceted and multi-layered effort by all stakeholders.
Most importantly, the DOT Force has identified priority actions that must be taken — by national governments and their citizens, the international community, the private sector, non-profit and community organizations — in various forms of partnership, to make this opportunity a reality. The members of the DOT Force greatly appreciate the opportunity afforded by the G8 Leaders to build upon the foundation of the G8 Okinawa Charter on the Global Information Society. Under each of the priority areas identified in Okinawa, the DOT Force has identified detailed actions that should be taken:
The members of the DOT Force are convinced that the basic right of access to knowledge and information is a prerequisite for modern human development. ICT must be embraced wholeheartedly by the broad development community at the earliest opportunity. Specifically, this will mean fully integrating ICT in G-8 and other donor development assistance policies and programmes, as well as enhancing coordination of multilateral initiatives.
In recent years, major advances in information and communications technologies (ICT) combined with the rapid growth of global networks such as the Internet, have transformed businesses and markets, revolutionized learning and knowledge-sharing, generated global information flows, empowered citizens and communities in new ways that redefine governance, and created significant wealth and economic growth in many countries. This "digital revolution" has been made possible by the potent combination of dramatic increases in the power and versatility of technologies, at significantly lower costs with enormous creativity in the applications of these tools and networks in all aspects of the economy and society.
Despite recent turbulence in the so-called "new economy", it is undeniable that the world is in the midst of a set of profound changes that create enormous new opportunities, while posing equally daunting challenges. Precisely because the digital revolution has the power to transform production processes, commerce, government, education, citizen participation and all other aspects of our individual and collective lives, it can create substantial new forms of economic growth and social development. Therefore, access to, and effective use of the tools and networks of the new global economy, and the innovations they make possible, are critical to poverty reduction, increased social inclusion and the creation of a better life for all.
Yet, both within and between countries, access to these tools and networks, and thus to their transformative effects and the new "digital opportunities" they create, is extremely uneven, in ways that both reflect and exacerbate existing inequalities.
One third of the world population has never made a telephone call. Seventy percent of the world's poor live in rural and remote areas, where access to information and communications technologies, even to a telephone, is often scarce. Most of the information exchanged over global networks such as the Internet is in English, the language of less than ten percent of the world's population.
This "digital divide" is, in effect, a reflection of existing broader socio-economic inqualities and can be characterized by insufficient infrastructure, high cost of access, inappropriate or weak policy regimes, inefficiencies in the provision of telecommunication networks and services, lack of locally created content, and uneven ability to derive economic and social benefits from information-intensive activities.
In several declarations adopted at the highest level — including the UN Millennium Declaration and in the commitments made to address the related International Development Goals — the international community has set by consensus a range of goals and political commitments to close some of the economic and social divides, for example halving the proportion of the world's population living on less than $1 a day between 1990 and 2015.
The international community has identified seven "International Development Goals" (IDGs) that are at the heart of the fight against poverty and the struggle to create opportunity, prosperity, health, safety and empowerment for all the world's people, especially the poorest and traditionally marginalized groups. The 7 IDGs are:
Harnessing the power of information and communication technologies (ICT) can contribute substantially to realizing every one of these goals; either directly (e.g through greater availability of health and reproductive information, training of medical personnel and teachers, giving opportunity and voice to women, expanding access to education and training) or indirectly (through creating new economic opportunities that lift individuals, communities and nations out of poverty.) Creating digital opportunities is not something that happens after addressing the "core" development challenges; it is a key component of addressing those challenges in the 21st century.
Although ICT are a potentially valuable tool in addressing these more fundamental divides, their contribution to development is not automatic. ICT, by themselves, might either widen or narrow these divides. Mitigating potentially negative impacts (e.g. decreased competitiveness of particular sectors and processes), integrating ICT into national development priorities, securing the public policy environment are crucial in assuring positive outcomes. There is also an urgent need to identify specific initiatives that will have the greatest development impact and genuinely improve the livelihoods of poor people.
Evidence from the experience of successful developed and developing countries suggests that putting in place the appropriate infrastructure and widely deploying ICT is a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder task. The right public policy environment will allow suitable initiatives by the public and private sectors, and by civil society organisations, individually or in partnership, to contribute to relevant development objectives.
In this context, a fundamental requirement for reducing the digital divide is for countries to give priority to the development of their communications infrastructure and to provide universal and affordable access to individuals and all geographic areas of their country. A pre-requisite for this is to put in place pro-competitive policies in the communications sector and a regulatory framework that will support such competition. This needs to be complemented by actions that address human capacity development, content and applications that facilitate ICT deployment.
In addition to steps taken by developing country stakeholders and their development partners to address the divide within the developing countries, there is also the need to address the international governance framework. Substantial governance decisions and policies are made daily by new and existing international bodies that have major implications for the way in which ICT and the Internet are and will be deployed. These decisions range from assuring open access across borders and protecting copyright in a digital era to how domain names are allocated. Developing country stakeholders are often the absent player during the formation of these policies, which leads to even more inequity and lack of special provisions that take the unique position of developing countries into account.
A further critical policy challenge needs to be overcome. Decision-makers in some developing countries as well as in the international development community remain skeptical or unaware of the contribution that ICT can make to development. The experiences of successful countries and initiatives need to be shared and adapted to local needs. These indicate that in many areas, properly designed, adapted and implemented ICT solutions have significantly enhanced local efforts to improve the delivery of public and private goods and services through the automation, streamlining, rationalization and monitoring of repetitive tasks and improved tracking and monitoring in delivery. Corruption has been reduced and development stakeholders' actions have been made more transparent reducing leakages and cutting costs. ICT have also brought forward clear "development opportunities" through its direct use in addressing specific development goals such as health, education and the environment.
To the extent that ICT have facilitated, among other things, the breakdown of time and distance barriers and allowed remote communities and villages to be connected more directly (i.e. through less intermediaries) to the global economy they have allowed for a potentially deeper and more extensive division of labor. New market niches have been created as the existing structures have been redefined and new comparative advantages and opportunities have emerged. Developing countries can benefit from the creation of these new digital opportunities by proactively seeking them and deploying and using ICT on a wider scale either through the creation of a competitive ICT productive sector or via its intensive use within traditional sectors of their economies.
Because of its genesis, composition and philosophy, the G-8 initiated Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT Force) has a specific responsibility and potential in pursuing the goal of Digital Opportunities for All. By offering a fresh vision of how to bridge the Digital Divide both within countries and between rich and poor countries, and by proposing innovative tools and processes to do this in a participatory fashion, the members of DOT Force call on the support and continued commitment of the leaders of the G-8 to initiate a broad range of local, regional and international initiatives to foster a development-supportive process of globalization.
Addressing the issue of the Digital Divide in an open and imaginative fashion could be instrumental in offering an action-oriented vision to all those who, in developed and developing countries, seek to make globalization work for the poor. If no action is taken at this specific point in time, we might never get another chance to build the "global bridges" required to address these critical issues.
Bridging the Digital Divide and turning Digital Opportunities into a development force is not an automatic process. As indicated before, coordinated action by all stakeholders is required. Such action should be both systemic (i.e. going beyond pilot projects and adopting instead comprehensive approaches) and of a "catalytic nature" (i.e. stimulating changes in attitudes, focus and policies). The main responsibility for relevant actions remains in the hands of developing country governments, enterprises and non-governmental organizations, working in tandem. However, the DOT Force can also play a critical and significant role by suggesting, initiating and/or supporting these actions. The challenge of "Digital Opportunities for All" can only be fully and successfully addressed through innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships and path-breaking integrated initiatives.
ICT are not just another sector of economic and social development. On the contrary, as mentioned before , the ICT revolution can provide powerful new tools both for addressing people's basic needs and for enriching the lives of poor people and communities in unprecedented ways.However, most international discussions on development and the basic tenets of development assistance still do not adequately integrate ICT as a critical enabler for development. Development efforts will not realize their full potential if they remain limited to traditional approaches to development and international co-operation.
Fresh thinking and attitudes are required from all sides. Such thinking will need to be cognizant of the need for:
Governments will have to establish the environment within which the new technologies can spread to their citizens, and enable co-operation with other components of civil society, in particular, business, non-profit organisations and local communities.
The private sector, already conscious of its role in building a sustainable business environment for its own prosperity as well as that of others, will need to explore the specific ways of achieving this in the context of development goals and ensure that responsible best practice is consistently maintained. This will apply as much to local enterprises as to those operating in the global environment. But, most importantly, donor development agencies and the authorities of developing countries will have to work together to integrate the use of digital technologies into their thinking in ways that promote sustainable development.
Fundamentally, awareness must be encouraged among developing countries to help their governments to undertake the reforms necessary to ensure that pro-competitive policy and regulatory frameworks are in place to allow for the development of efficient and sustainable communication infrastructures and services. Such reforms should constitute the basis of overall national strategies to build and attract digital opportunities by inducing faster progress in the use of ICT and the development of a dynamic local ICT business sector. Efficiency gains flowing from these reforms will also improve the effectiveness and competitiveness of more traditional sectors and industries.
In achieving this, a two-tier approach is likely to yield the most fruitful results, combining sectoral initiatives carefully integrated within the context of an overall national ICT strategy or framework. Sector-specific applications of ICT can often contribute to specific development goals, for example in education and health. However, in order to capture the full potential contribution of ICT investment, a concerted strategy at the national level is needed which takes account of the dynamic interplay between infrastructure, human capital, policy, enterprise, and content development.
To make a difference, it is imperative to recognize the diversity of situations in the developing world, the variety of interests and concerns among stakeholders, and the dynamic nature of the world of ICT. Assessing, scaling and disseminating examples of successful implementations of ICT in developing countries will undoubtedly help in the pursuit of these objectives. Special efforts should aim at enhancing the level of connectivity among the poorest, women and children and less densely populated areas of the planet. The power of ICT to address gender issues cannot be underestimated and should be used to its full extent. Appropriate efforts in the direction of the Least Developed Countries should help diminish the overall level of digital inequality.
Cost-effective, country-differentiated and empowerment-oriented solutions are now available to combine the pursuit of a more equal access to information and knowledge with an acceleration in the fight against poverty on a global scale. Wherever and whenever such solutions have successfully been implemented, the international community should be encouraged to consider whether such success is (1) replicable (in the same country or region), (2) transportable (to other geographical, social and economic environments), and (3) scalable (within a country, a region or globally). In this respect, the dissemination and exchange of best practices is particularly important. Moreover, local and international efforts should be stimulated and supported to identify, improve and disseminate new cost-effective and field-tested ways of accessing and exchanging information and knowledge.
A number of DOT Force members and others working on these challenges have developed frameworks for analyzing these challenges and constructing coherent strategies to address them. These strategies typically cover a range of complementary areas. When properly conceived and implemented, the complementary interaction between strategic interventions in several key areas- policy and regulatory frameworks, human capital, infrastructure and access, entrepreneurship/enterprise development, and local content/application development --has the potential to create powerful synergies, resulting in significant multiplier and network effects . These can in turn generate an upward spiral of sustainable social and economic development.
The need for clear strategies to manage the complexity of the challenge of creating digital opportunities for all points to a fundamental fact: the most important, and in many cases most difficult, decisions and actions will have to be taken by nations and communities themselves, to create the environment, mobilize the consensus, and set the priorities that will shape each nation's path to digital opportunity. At the same time, the international community in its various guises — governments, private sector, non-profit sector, international organizations — can and must play a critical role, mobilizing resources, building partnerships, increasing coordination, extending markets, sharing innovations.
The Digital Opportunity Task Force, itself structured in a way that affirms the importance of these multidimensional partnerships, calls for an enhanced and coordinated global effort to build digital opportunity for all, to extend the power and promise of the digital revolution to all parts of the globe and all segments of society, to help the poorest help themselves to create richer and fuller lives that express and affirm their own distinctiveness in an increasingly interconnected global village.
In the light of the considerations presented above, some priority actions can be identified. In the spirit of the Okinawa Charter, and as a way to move from statements to real results, we have identified nine action points, which constitute our proposal for a Genoa Plan of Action. We believe that in the context of an increasingly integrated world economy the following Plan of Action provides the basis for developing economies to achieve sustainable ICT-enabled development, both economic and social.
At the year 2000 G8 Summit in Kyushu-Okinawa the Charter on Global Information Society was adopted. In the Okinawa Charter, the G8 leaders agreed to establish a Digital Opportunity Task Force (DOT force) aimed at integrating efforts to bridge the digital divide into a broader international approach.
The Charter noted in paragraph 18 that "the DOT Force, in close consultation with other partners and in a manner responsive to the needs of developing countries, would:
The DOT Force was formed in the fourth quarter 2000. 43 members have participated in its work:
Under the direct responsibility of the DOT Force presidency, the DOT Force Secretariat, co-hosted by the World Bank and UNDP, has assisted the DOT Force in
The work of the DOT Force has focused on three main objectives:
Participants in the DOT Force have chosen to base their work on a few basic principles:
The DOT Force consultation process has been rooted in the following principles:
Meetings of DOT Force (not including consultations of sub-groups of members):
In addition, a number of associated organizations and networks have conducted consultations that have provided useful inputs into the DOT Force's work. The Global Knowledge Partnership, an informal partnership of over 60 public, private, nonprofit and international organizations, conducted a broad array of electronic and face-to-face consultations on DOT Force issues and provided detailed comments and inputs to the Secretariat. Similar consultations and inputs were conducted by organizations such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the African Connection Secretariat, and others. Developing countries members of DOT Force had a special high-level meeting in Pretoria (South Africa) on 23-24 March 2001.
Source: Official website of the G8 2001 Genoa Summit (archive.org)
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