Potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Developing Countries


The High-level Forum on City Information in the Asia-Pacific Region

Information and communication technologies have always been essential for the promotion of development whether such knowledge was derived from the centuries old endowment of indigenous practices or from the latest cutting-edge technologies. Today, the technologies of the information and communication revolution are those at the cutting edge and their applications offer momentous opportunities for development. They present the developing countries with enormous opportunities and challenges, not only for accelerating their development but also in helping to bridge the economic and prosperity gaps between them and the developed countries. It also presents the developing countries with a unique opportunity to leap-frog onto a higher level of development. Some developing countries have in fact made significant strides in embracing and accessing the opportunities and applications of the new information and communication technologies.

Yet, billions still live untouched by the digital revolution. Only 5% of the world's population can claim connectivity and the greater majority of these are from the developed countries. Yet, only those countries with a significant level of development have been in a position to take advantage of the new opportunities. For the majority, the new low cost technology represents a double-edged sword. On the one hand it holds out unprecedented opportunities for rapid development, but on the other, such technologies raise the level of competition too high for their current capabilities. Rather many developing countries are being bypassed as the tidal wave of the information revolution relentlessly sweeps across the world, thus running the increasing risk of being marginalized in the race for knowledge. As a result, the gap between the developed and developing countries is being further aggravated by a worsening digital divide and it holds ominous consequences for employment levels, under-development and poverty. This adverse scenario could also lead to increased national and international tensions and instabilities.

We must therefore ask why and how we should redress this worsening situation. Part of the reason I believe, is that, while ICTs have vast potential for development, the reality is that to harness these forces for promoting development is a formidable and complex task that few developing countries have found a successful formula for overcoming. First, there is the formidable expense of connectivity. These cost factors tend to inhibit the spread of information and communication technologies and undermine their universal usage. Moreover, while it may be true that certain development problems can be resolved through technological leap-frogging without having to rise through the traditional stages of development, it is also true that access to such solutions presupposes a relatively high level of development, which many developing countries simply do not have. Unless there is affordable and equitable access and adequate connectivity for the peoples of the developing countries, the prospects of effectively participating in the knowledge economy are anything but optimistic.

Other obstacles also proliferate. Without the requisite human and institutional capacities, the framework and skills required for utilizing ICTs including such applications as the internet will remain wanting, making usage all but impossible. In addition, without linguistically and culturally diverse digital content and material, a large portion of people, especially in developing countries, will be unable to understand and digest what is being offered. At the same time, concerns about security and privacy, cultural intrusion and the loss of revenues to e-commerce have become rampant.

The Case of the Tanzania Media Women's Association (TAMWA) by Fatma Alloo

Africa has been portrayed by the media as poor and powerless. But the media have a role to play in the process of empowerment. The media can enable the people to challenge the powers that be and question the direction they are taking. In Tanzania, women are at the forefront of meeting this challenge. This case study will show the importance of technology in taking control of one's situation. Information technology can be used to destroy the 'poor and powerless' myth, and to mobilize a community for empowerment and social change.

Being in the media ourselves gave us the consciousness that information is power. The 'haves' select how much and what kind of information trickles down to the people through the mass media. The development of this kind of media is a project, not a process. There is no participation from the people, and these media transmit to the people in a one-way, top-down process. This 'beaming down' approach creates dependency and sells us our own images in a distorted way. When we studied the history of conventional media in Tanzania (see, e.g. Alloo, 1988), we found that the print and electronic media was indeed introduced by the colonialists and used as an ideological weapon to control our societies. But the traditional popular media, such as folklore, songs, dance and theatre, could not be controlled by the colonialists, not only because they used the language of the people, but also because the participation of the people was built in (see Mlama and Lihamba, 1988).

As for Africa as a whole, the western media tries to sell us distorted images of ourselves. Africa is portrayed as a problematic continent rather than a continent with problems. Those images of worm-like bodies crawling with begging bowls have been powerful in perpetuating the 'poor and the powerless' ideology. These projections render us powerless and make us believe there is something wrong with our continent. There are similar generalizing images of Asia, portrayed as not so bad except for their 'sex trade and communal violence', and of Latin America, where the 'drug trade' is the problem. All of these images are dangerous. They handicap us in our struggle for self-analysis and dehumanize us in the same way as images, which sell the woman as a sex symbol - a commodity. The western media act in this way because, so far, the powers that control these media are commodity-oriented. This media is powerful because it has access to information technology, which we in Latin America, Africa, Caribbean, Asia and Pacific (LAACAP) countries lack.

TAMWA tries to understand these macro-dynamics as it forms strategies for information dissemination at a local level. Lack of access and control of media and information technology exposes us to the dehumanizing portrayal of women. Thus, control of information technology is crucial if we are to transform society through the media.

Until five years ago, Tanzanian government policies restricted the importation and use of these technologies. Thus Tanzania is very new to information technology. Even now the prices are high and software is quite inaccessible. Technology and infrastructure are the basis of the process of empowerment. We felt that we ourselves would be empowered in mastering technology as a production tool, and we could in turn use it to disseminate information. As women, we saw this as particularly important, since new technology has generally been the domain of men. The technology could also generate income. We have established an effective Publishing Unit based on this fact. We now have an e-mail system which is an aid in networking and information dissemination.

Women and Information Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Topic for Discussion? by Mayuri Odedra-Straub

Although IT has been a mixed blessing in different African countries, overall there have been many negative consequences. Scarce foreign currency has been spent on equipment which is not used. Dependency on multinational corporations and expatriate personnel has increased, and sociocultural conflicts have been introduced. Moreover, what Africa has experienced for the most part so far is not IT transfer but transplantation, the dumping of boxes without the necessary know-how. Donor agencies, in particular, have a reputation for doing this.

A reliable power supply to operate the computers, a well-functioning telephone network to transmit data, foreign currency to import the technology, and computer-literate personnel are all prerequisites for the successful use of IT. Such infrastructural elements remain inadequate in many African countries. For instance, the number of telephones per 1,000 people ranges between 12 and 50, depending on the country, and many of the lines that do exist are out of order much of the time.

Consultation on Capacity Building: Horn of Africa Capacity Building Survey Support Summary

Emerging Trends

The respondents represented diverse backgrounds in terms of size, maturity, focus and scope. Nearly half of the respondents identified core funding as their highest priority need. This relfects a common concern among indigenous NGOs, whose efforts to strengthen their institutional capacity and pursue their own priorities and goals, are severly constrianed by lack of resources and a consequent need to give priority to donor interests and programmes, to obtain minimal funding for their institutional survival. With very limited financial resources of their own and lack of direct access to donors, indigenous NGOs often feel their independence to be threatened. Planning and strategic development, as such, were not place among the most identified needs. However, project and programme design and implementation were recognized as important needs by a large proportion of respondents, coming second among their priority needs. At a similar lever, they emphasized priorities of networking with other NGOs, and staff development.

These three responses reflected their perceived needs in capacity building and information-sharing, to enhance their professional effectiveness. At a slightly lower level, the need for enhanced capacity in monitoring and evaluation also reflected a felt need for improved professional capacity.

At a fourth level of priority, one-third of the respondents, stressed the need for leadership development, board development and enhancement of their capacities in policy research and analysis and local resource mobilisation. These articulations recognize the importance of strengthening their organizations internally, building their capacity to understand, and hence to influence, the environment in which they work, and to contribute to their independence by mobilizing local resources to support their efforts.

Slightly fewer than one-third of the respondents prioritized the need for enhanced capacity in financial management, drawing attention to the need of many NGOs for development of simplified, easy to operate systems to facilitate their maintenance of financial accountability.

A similar priority was accorded to networking with civil society organizations (CSOs) of various types, including, but not limited to, NGOs. This reflects recognition of the fact that formally organized NGOs are a small proportion of the civil society organizations in the region and that networking and collaboration with the wider category of CSOs provides NGOs with the potential to greatly enhance the impact of their work.

Fewer than one-fifth of the respondents prioritized fundraising, reflecting the reality of a situation in which there are few potential local sources for significant fundraising, and in which local NGOs have little direct access to donors who usually prefer to use international NGOs as intermediaries.

Relatively low priority was accorded to organizational development, networking with northern NGOs and improving collaboration with donor agencies. These reflect their reaction to the existing situation in which they perceive that northern NGOs use their monopoly on direct access to donor funding to perpetuate dependency of indigenous NGOs, their belief that the capacity building offered by northern NGOs usually relates to their own priorities, rather than those of indigenous NGOs, and their perception that there is little that they can do to obtain direct access to the donor agencies.

Fewer than one-tenth of the respondents prioritized cross-sectoral collaboration with government. This reflects the existing situation in which governments in the region tend to distrust any organized groupings beyond their direct control and regard them as potential sources of political competition.

A similar level of low priority was accorded to research, documentation and perspective-building, due to the fact that most of the NGOs in the region have limited capacity in this area, and have, what seem to them, much more pressing needs.

Only one of the respondents prioritized cross-sectoral collaboration with business, reflecting a situation in which business interests have thus far developed very limited social consciou and in which, they are further constrained by their vulnerability to governments which have yet to accept the role of NGOs.

Benefits

With respect to partnership issues, the most cited benefit (by 11 of 21 respondents) was that of mutual learning from exchange of experience, while 10 of 21 cited increasing programme quality and enhancing organizational and management capacities. Next was 'increasing legitimacy with other stakeholders', mentioned by 8 of 21 respondents; and 'promoting more effective advocacy' (5 of 21). At the low end of the scale: 4 of 21 respondents mentioned increasing programme scale of impact as a benefit of partnership, and 1 cited the 'introduction of excellent programmes'.

Most Identified Issues

The most frequently identified problems related to partnership included the need to preserve NGO mission and independence (12 of 21)--reflecting often imbalanced relationships between international NGOs controlling access to funding--and local NGOs with little access to resources and the issue of establishing mutual trust and respect (10 of 21), reflecting similar problems. IN a similar context, 9 of 21 respondents cited problems of reaching agreement about cost-sharing; 6 of 21 drew attention to difficulties of reaching agreement on programme design, and programme monitoring and evaluation. Four of 21 cited problems of reaching agreement on both basic development values and development problems. Less-cited issues included 'creating mechanisms to resolve conflict' (3 of 21); staff incompatibilities in programmes and setting priorities (3 of 21); reaching agreement on financial systems (2 of 21); and building principled alliances and bases of partnership.

Issues of partnership and the nature of partnership with external agencies and international NGOs are of particular concern to local NGOs in the region. The influx of northern NGOs to the Horn of Africa region over more than 20 years has led to one of the highest concentrations of northern NGOs in Africa. This group however, despite its long presence in the region, has made very limited contribution to the capacity building and development of local NGOs, a type of contribution which is vital to genuine partnership.

International NGOs: Networking, Information Flows and Learning

A mix of forces has fuelled this rapid rise to prominence of INGOs. The perceived poor performance of the public sector in developing countries has led to a search for more effective organisational forms for the delivery of goods and services, especially amongst international government agencies and aid donors (Sandbrook, 1993; McMichael, 1996). The ideological ascendancy of neo-liberalism and globalisation in the late 20th century has prompted a massive emergence of new social movements as local communities and marginalised groups around the world strive to create their own self-identity (Giddens, 1990; Robertson, 1992; Lash, 1993). Contemporary social theorists have referred to this eruption of new social movements as 'globalisation from below', claiming that these movements operate by networking with each other at grassroots level rather than by creating or maintaining existing authority structures (Ekins, 1992; Dirlik, 1998). Many of these global social movements look to INGOs to represent them and to meet their needs (Spybey, 1996).

INGO Development and Context

A key feature of the accelerated phase of globalisation since about 1960 has been the rapid growth of INGOs (Waters, 1995; Spybey, 1996). The international system was until the First World War numerically dominated by states and their mainly bilateral relations. From the second half of the 20th century, while the world continued to be dominated by individual states, there was an increasing presence of international government organisations in which many states surrendered a measure of their sovereignty. Since the late 1980s, there has been a remarkable change in the scale and significance of INGOs as they move to centre-stage in international development work in areas such as poverty alleviation, sustainable development, human rights and women's emancipation (Wils, 1995; Meyer, 1997). These INGOs are large, multi-layered, complex systems, such as Oxfam, Action Aid and Save the Children who are based in and receive funds from high-income countries but who work for the benefit of the poor in low-income countries.

A mix of forces has fuelled this rapid rise to prominence of INGOs. The perceived poor performance of the public sector in developing countries has led to a search for more effective organisational forms for the delivery of goods and services, especially amongst international government agencies and aid donors (Sandbrook, 1993; McMichael, 1996). The ideological ascendancy of neo-liberalism and globalisation in the late 20th century has prompted a massive emergence of new social movements as local communities and marginalised groups around the world strive to create their own self-identity (Giddens, 1990; Robertson, 1992; Lash, 1993). Contemporary social theorists have referred to this eruption of new social movements as 'globalisation from below', claiming that these movements operate by networking with each other at grassroots level rather than by creating or maintaining existing authority structures (Ekins, 1992; Dirlik, 1998). Many of these global social movements look to INGOs to represent them and to meet their needs (Spybey, 1996).

Until the 1970s, there was little appreciation of the potential role of INGOs in influencing global policy. The first generation of INGOs from the 1950s was represented by many larger organisations such as Oxfam and the Red Cross. These INGOs began as charity relief organisations delivering welfare services to the poor and dispossessed throughout the world in the event of natural disasters. The focus was on meeting immediate needs through direct action (Korten, 1987; Hulme and Turner, 1990). The second generation of INGOs from the 1960s geared themselves towards promoting local self-reliance by increasing the involvement of intermediate NGOs, which were rapidly proliferating so that benefits would be sustained beyond the period of assistance (Korten, 1987).

Since the 1980s, INGOs have become synonymous with a particular style of political action. This relies on making political statements on behalf of local communities outside the established channels of the nation state by mobilising opinion on a global basis on issues that nation states have treated as marginal to their own agendas. The strategy of these third-generation NGOs is directed towards facilitating sustainable changes through international advocacy. This means less direct involvement at grassroots level but a greater need for maintaining strong institutional links with partners at local level. These agencies are based and receive funds from high-income countries but work for the poor in developing countries, particularly through the action of the rapidly growing numbers of grassroots organisations (GROs). INGOs have been able to perform this advocacy role because of their simultaneous attachment to local places and cultures on the one hand and their critical engagement with global institutions on the other.

There have been numerous examples of success with this third-generation approach with individual projects such as with the international baby milk campaign that culminated in an international code of conduct governing the marketing activities of baby milk companies (Clark, 1992). Another example is the Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development (ACORD); a broad-based international consortium of European and Canadian NGOs working together for long-term development in Africa. The emphasis of ACORD has been to support local community initiative and to establish an international platform to discuss development issues (Roche, 1992).

The now widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has facilitated the organisation of these networks of groups, which derive their strength from the commitment and energy of activists world-wide (Mansell and Wehn, 1998). Annis (1992) was among the first to identify this 'informational empowerment' due to increased connectedness of geographically-dispersed GROs and INGOs.

These newly empowered and connected INGOs are taking a larger role in world politics (Edwards, 1994; Matthews, 1997). For example, the World Bank has reported increased project involvement of INGOs from participation in only 6% of projects during 1973-88 to nearly one-third in 1993 (World Bank, 1994). An increasingly globally networked INGO community interacting across the world is finding considerable common ground and scope for the sharing of information to increase the impact of development programmes. Indeed, many writers link ICTs to successful democratic uprisings (Clark, 1995; Spybey, 1996; Meyer, 1997). For example, the organisation that has really helped to mark the entry of INGOs in global network diffusion is the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) which co-ordinates existing NGO networks electronically. At present, the APC provides access to 20,000 activists in 133 countries around the world in order to debate issues such as war prevention, protection of the environment, human rights and democracy (APC, 1997).

With this strategy, deliberate networking strategies with intermediate NGOs, GROs and intended beneficiaries are considered to be even more crucial to improve learning experiences from the field (Edwards and Hulme, 1995; Wils, 1995; Meyer, 1997). In their networking efforts, INGOs have begun to make much more systematic use of information systems - both ICT-based and non-ICT-based - in order to improve the flow of ideas, experiences and information across national frontiers between INGO headquarters, national offices and the grassroots level. In a small number of INGOs, such as Save the Children Fund (SCF), an increasing amount of energy and resources are going into information activities at the country and regional-office levels with many offices having full-time information officers with a brief to collect, analyse and disseminate information internally and externally.

Recent advances in ICTs mean not only cheaper information sharing, but also that networking is made simpler as cohorts are connected by fax and email. For example, in a recent study of INGOs and their use of ICTs, Bergman (1997) found that the vast majority of these organisations make frequent use of phone-, fax- and modem-based communication. However, in most INGOs, systems for accessing, storing, transferring and disseminating information are underdeveloped. With the increased use of ICT-based communication in INGOs, there is an added acute problem of information overload. Staff complain bitterly of huge amounts of information being sent electronically every day, but too little structure to sift out what is relevant for learning to take place in the organisation (Edwards, 1994).

By contrast, communication and collaboration between INGOs has been poor. For example, Bergman's (1997) study revealed that only 35% of information is shared with other INGOs. More recently, some initiatives have been taken by INGOs such as Oxfam and Action Aid to work on common themes.

With an emphasis on non-hierarchical communication and openness to learning, INGOs have the potential to remain flexible in responding to changing circumstances and to innovate solutions to complex development challenges. This has been elaborated in great detail by many writers under the label of participation (Korten, 1980, 1990; Chambers, 1994, 1995; Clark, 1995). An example is the highly sophisticated federation of local NGOs that has developed in the Philippines in an attempt to exchange information and negotiate collective action at grassroots level in order to challenge national policies and establish new institutions. These mechanisms have proved to be very effective - more so than formal, democratic and representative mechanisms introduced from outside (Constantino-David, 1992; Hall, 1992).

One intermediate NGO called Jana Sahayog based in Bangalore aims to improve the information environment of slum dwellers in the city. Recognising that much critical information comes in through informal sources from slum dwellers themselves, Jana Sahayog tries to identify and enhance traditional communication skills in the slums. For example, slum dwellers are encouraged to produce audiocassettes and videotapes describing their problems and requirements. Apart from isolated cases, however, much of the research on indigenous communication has concentrated on using indigenous channels to promote exogenous (increasingly ICT-based) innovations rather than on the dissemination of indigenous knowledge among communities. This has led to neglect of local initiative in the design of development efforts and a threat of the erosion of indigenous and informal systems due to the influence of formal, ICT-based, western-oriented information systems typically packaged with foreign aid.

Debate and Development

In interpreting the application of knowledge as a largely definable, linear process, the WDR fails to address the importance of subjecting solutions to public and policy debate. In particular, it ignores the role of the most pervasive knowledge network currently available to most people in developing and industrialised countries alike - the media.

The World Bank has outlined its role in development as a kind of honest knowledge broker, taking knowledge from one place, delivering it to where it is needed. However, the World Bank's vast reservoir of knowledge generally represents its own understanding of issues. No matter how expert, valid and well researched, this understanding is not and cannot be objectively 'correct'. It reflects a set of values and experiences which may or may not reflect the values and experiences of its partners and those it is trying to assist. However important the role of knowledge broker, the challenge is not only to find ways of applying knowledge in developing countries, but to help create the conditions where publics can be genuinely informed and involved in the decisions that affect them.

The WDR highlights many of the factors that are necessary for this to happen, such as increasing developing countries academic and research expertise, and the development of their wider education systems. However, there are other critical factors that are barely discussed, including the diversity and energy of civil society and the capacity for people, and especially the poor, to have their voices - their knowledge - heard.

This paper examines some of these other factors that help define the extent to which societies can create and employ knowledge. It highlights two sets of issues in particular: the access, or lack of it, that citizens have to information - through technology, from the media, from their governments and communities, and from themselves; and the capacities of people and societies to create their own analysis and responses to the information they do have access to.

So it is with society. In increasingly pluralist societies, the strength of society is dependent on a minimum level of information being available to citizens and a minimum capacity of those citizens to make sense of the information they receive and to use it. The economic role of information cannot be entirely divorced from the political role of information - democracies and free markets require a certain minimum level of access to information if they are to be stable, sustainable and successful.

Knowledge is the sense that people make of information. Knowledge in society is not objective or static, but is ever-changing and infused with the values and realities faced by those who have it. In the context of economics and society, knowledge - even the kind of technical knowledge focused on by the World Development Report - very rarely has the precision of, say, a scientist's understanding of how penicillin kills bacteria.

A Babel of Banks? A View From Europe

Then there is the problem of authority. Are we to assume because something is labelled 'knowledge' and appears on a blue-chip website, that it is the unvarnished truth, an absolute given?

Encyclopaedia salesmen used to make a living selling enormously expensive multi-volume encyclopaedias which would tell you everything you needed to know about everything. Then came the equally expensive but smaller CD ROM. Now there is the Internet. And suddenly knowledge seems increasingly accessible - at least for those who are already connected.

According to the World Bank, in its latest report, Knowledge for Development, after several millennia of human intellectual endeavour, we have come of age. The Bank has started to call itself the "knowledge bank" as if it were the Encyclopaedia Britannica and the Yellow Pages rolled into one. A kind of modern version of that optimistic Victorian institution, The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. It is the proud possessor of 'an unparalleled reservoir of knowledge... accumulated over the past 50 years in more than 100 countries'. And the good news is that, thanks to the Internet, it can finally share this reservoir with the rest of us.

But what does this actually mean for resolving age old inequalities, for alleviating poverty, for bringing us closer to the promised land of renewable energy, full employment and rising living standards? And are we any the wiser?

The Bank argues that knowledge is capital which can be invested in development through new information and communication technologies (ICTs) - most obviously the Internet and also new digital networks and mobile and satellite telephony. It recognises there are tremendous challenges for poor countries and that for poor and marginalised communities the information gap could turn into an information chasm. But the opportunities for knowledge capital to make spectacular development profits are greater than ever before. And the Bank will manage this knowledge on our behalf and ensure it results in widespread benefits and the establishment of a new golden knowledge standard.

For example the Bank has set up 'knowledge infrastructure' networks which contain best practice case studies, lessons learned and analysis. Want to know how to design a state of the art revolving credit scheme for women-headed households in Djibouti? Click here. No more frustrating telephone calls or faxes to the little NGO you think ran a similar project in Tunisia. It is all at your fingertips in seconds.

While there are real gains to be made in this brave new world of knowledge management, and there is a genuine desire to make knowledge work on behalf of the poorest, there are also real conundrums.

To start with the World Bank and other knowledge brokers imply that there is a knowledge standard. Like the encyclopaedists of old, a fact is a fact, best practice is best practice - not just a point on the way to better understanding. There is a danger that with the ICTs comes a new hierarchy of knowledge. If you are on, or in, one of the World Bank's knowledge networks you exist - indeed there is proof of your existence. But of course a huge amount of knowledge won't be there, particularly the knowledge that is outside the technocratic and scientific community - indigenous knowledge, local language knowledge, private knowledge, not to mention knowledge which is too valuable or sensitive for the possessor to share.

And there is a failure to distinguish between the information on the data base and the intellectual effort that is needed to turn it into knowledge. The knowledge networks are managed by individuals who have to take the vast amount of information they promote largely on trust. These network 'anchors' are not alchemists; they cannot so easily turn raw information into golden knowledge and they cannot evaluate the information on behalf of those whose lives the knowledge is designed to benefit.

Of course the beauty of such networks is that they are very public and can be very interactive, enabling those with the resources to endorse or challenge or supplement existing information. But just as it is difficult for the Polish or Malian filmmaker to win international distribution let alone a Hollywood Oscar, so it is difficult for the uninvited to contribute to the mainstream websites, and of course impossible for the unconnected - and from the development perspective it is often this unconnected knowledge that is the most valuable and productive.

Then there is the problem of authority. Are we to assume because something is labelled 'knowledge' and appears on a blue-chip website, that it is the unvarnished truth, an absolute given?

Take the controversial issue of genetically modified crops. The commercial developers of GMCs have their own sophisticated public relations system which produces apparently objective facts mixed with humanitarian rhetoric. They are challenged by environmental and campaigning groups who also claim to employ an objective standard of knowledge. Research scientists add their own tested but incomplete evidence, with the result that we, the public, are thoroughly confused. We are unlikely to gain much further enlightenment by consulting a World Bank knowledge network.

Our best bet for making sense of all this competing information is to subject it to intense and sustained public debate. Only if the competing positions and the often contradictory evidence are publicly debated in print and on TV and radio and in social and political gatherings, will we be able to arrive at some kind of consensus about what to do with these different sets of knowledge, and endorse an agenda for action.

What we need in the new 'knowledge society' is diversity; a multitude of knowledge brokers, a Babel of banks. Where ICTs can make a real difference is in providing access to these different and competitive data banks (which is all the so-called 'knowledge banks' can claim to be), which in turn enables all of us, through the media and civil society fora, to engage in well-informed, constructive and democratic debate.

New Communications Technologies

The spread of these technologies represents other equally important changes. The spread of information technologies represents a huge growth in people-to-people communication, in effect a decentralisation of communication away from government and towards individuals. Old vertical patterns of information, symbolised by the old state monopoly broadcasting systems, are giving way to more dynamic, less predictable and much less controllable horizontal systems of communication. Political systems can no longer control the information their citizens receive, nor monitor or constrain how they communicate with each other. The capacity not just for North-South communication but for South-South communication is being transformed as people in different developing regions forge new relationships and alliances.

In short, those with access to these technologies are becoming more powerful and those who lack access are likely to become increasingly marginalised - politically and economically. Nevertheless, while the benefits of these new knowledge networks will reach many - and not just the rich - they are unlikely to reach the poor and could further skew power structures against them.

Take the Iridium system of 66 satellites which promises to deliver state of the art telecommunications from any one point on the planet to any other - a potentially ideal technology for many developing countries. When Panos interviewed people in the poverty stricken and flooded province of Bihar in India, most were enthusiastic about the potential of such a system and about the fact that Iridium had set up a fund to provide cheap calls to some regions. But others were deeply worried. "We are fighting against the rich landlords who have grabbed thousands of acres of land, as well as against the criminal gangs which have mushroomed in this locality. This facility, if it becomes available, will only help the rich and the criminals." So says Deepak Bharti of Lok Shakti Sangathan, the "People's Power Organisation". "They are the users of cellular phones today, and will use satellite phones tomorrow. We will not. It is they who will be able to afford them and not us. And they will be used against us, to undermine us. What guarantee is there that the notorious Karia and Pappu criminal groups will not be having access to them? None whatsoever," he warns.

Improved and cheaper telecommunications could generate rural employment, could greatly enhance the integration of the rural with the national economy, improve living standards, ameliorate feelings of isolation, and potentially stem the steady migration of people from the countryside to the cities.

It could also increase the gap between the poorest and the rest of society. Like anything else, these technologies in themselves are neither beneficent nor malevolent. Deploying them in ways that benefit the poor requires imaginative local policymaking, which reflects the priorities of all sectors of society. That requires informed, constructive public debate.

What's New About Knowledge? - a View From Southern Africa

What's new with knowledge? After all, it has always been central to the development of all societies, including Africa's.

What's new is the fact that information today can be moved around very quickly. And this has presented all societies with challenges and opportunities. People's access to information and the level and quality of infrastructure available to them will define - to an extent - how well societies use and adapt the increased knowledge and information.

The success of Southern African countries in strengthening their national information infrastructures will be critical in determining how well people exploit knowledge. New communications technologies hold the promise of helping to increase agricultural production, deliver better health and education services, and provide more effective and participatory governance.

That's all well and good. But just how is Africa going to get there? Money is scarce for economies crippled by external debt and desperately trying to cut back social sector spending. Infrastructure equipment is scarce and, when available, expensive. Sometimes it is plain inappropriate.

On top of all this is the lackadaisical attitude of the region's political actors, most of whom do not yet have in place any of the policies or strategies needed to tackle the many communication challenges. With the exception perhaps of South Africa, countries have invested very little in their information infrastructures, and in some cases have even failed to create an enabling environment for the private sector.

Instead, it has been typically left to international organisations and local NGOs to initiate early efforts. These include connecting Africa to the Internet with financial assistance from external donors. Many countries are also hampered by the lack of transparency and accountability in their modernisation drive. The importance of telecommunications is nothing new to the World Bank either. It has been involved in the sector for many years, although loans made in the telecommunications sector only amount to 2-4 percent of all Bank lending in Africa.

All this is not to say nothing noteworthy has happened. The process of modernising basic telecommunications systems has begun and there remains plenty of room for adopting innovative technologies to suit the region's needs. Rural "telecentres" - kiosks that offer everything from computers to telephones and email services - in South Africa and Uganda are examples of innovative projects.

South African minister for posts and telecommunications Jay Naidoo recently remarked that, "African leadership must confront a major indictment against us. Two years from the next millennium there are 700 million people on the continent and only 12 million have access to a telephone, five million in South Africa alone.

"A key policy requirement is the achievement of a national communications infrastructure, essential for social and economic activity. This is important in a world where reliable and speedy communication is vital to the success of rapidly globalising trade, industry and services."

Knowledge And Development - A View From Eastern Africa

The survival of humans has been based entirely on knowledge systems. Pastoralists are struggling to retain their knowledge system which is under siege from a tide of modernisation that dismisses their system as backward or primitive. The World Bank talks about the "knowledge gap" between the North and South and considers it to be a serious handicap in the process of development. It is right, but it is only part of the knowledge story. For not only are there knowledge gaps, but there exist different knowledge-systems.

Knowledge-systems other than the dominant discourse need to be recognised not just as knowledge-systems per se, but as things that could be pivotal to the preservation of the environment and ensuring means of existence for the great many people who live on the edges of a rapidly modernising world.

We appear to be moving towards a situation where a huge proportion of the information and communications industry - media (broadcast and print), film, telecommunications and advertising - is owned by a handful of global conglomerates. The power of such conglomerates is obvious, but their cultural influence is less clear cut. Many argue that they are responsible for a global dumbing down, a "McDonaldisation" of programming with Kenyan and Indonesian audiences being served by the same media diet of Jurassic Park, Oprah Winfrey and the Clinton sex fiasco. Others believe that the professional standards and dynamic competition introduced by the likes of STAR TV in Asia have reinvigorated staid national media.

And such concentration may not matter - it may be balanced by the limited, but nevertheless very real increase in people to people communication facilitated by new information technologies.

Knowledge is a Double Edged Sword - A View From South Asia

The scriptures were right: "Knowledge is a sword, and wisdom is a shield." Perhaps nowhere is the raw power of knowledge as relevant today as it is for the two-thirds of the world's people who live in the countries of the South. A Nepali child in a remote hamlet in the Himalayas is dehydrated by diarrhoea, but his young mother is brought up to believe that under no circumstances should water be given to her child. Information countering this belief is contained in posters at rural health centres, and is broadcast over Radio Nepal every day, but the knowledge has not reached her. In a country where 80 percent of all children who die are killed by water-borne diseases, this knowledge gap means the death of thousands of children every month. In all of South Asia, five million children die every year before their fifth birthday from diarrhoeal dehydration, simple infections and measles. Most of these deaths can easily be prevented if knowledge about prevention is more readily available.

The challenge is to get the information to where it is needed as cheaply as possible. Only when information helps people communicate, participate and allows them and their rulers to make informed choices does that information become knowledge. As new technologies make it possible to move more information faster than ever before, we are dazzled by the millions of gigabytes that move across the world in nanoseconds. We are infatuated by bandwidth, by digital television and gadgets and gizmos. Yet we hardly question the quality of the information: what is it that we are communicating? Is it relevant? Will it make the world a better place? And does all this information add up to knowledge?

South Asia, home to a fifth of the world's population, is today within the footprint of at least 50 broadcast satellites. In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh alone there are more than 70 million households with television sets, adding up to a total viewership of 300 million. By 2007, there will be 550 million television viewers in these countries. Half of them will be hooked up to cable - able to watch the 350 channels that will be available by then. Advances in information technology are supposed to shrink distances, but they don't necessarily bring people together. Better communications through satellite may give people a wider array of programming to choose from, but it does not guarantee greater tolerance to diversity. In the short term, better communications appear to highlight differences between peoples.

In India and Pakistan, people tune in to each other's television, but what Indians watch on Pakistani TV and what Pakistanis watch on Indian TV today has deepened hatreds, making it more difficult to spread the word about peace in a newly nuclear region. When these prejudices about the "other" have been nurtured from childhood through textbooks that portray the neighbouring country as the enemy, one has to ask whether governments take the holy saying about knowledge being a sword a little too literally. Satellite television in its own way has diluted the impact of strident domestic broadcast media, not for any altruistic reasons, but because it has audiences (or markets) on both sides of the border. But even here, the enormous potential for irresponsible satellite broadcasts to spread volatile knowledge has already been seen in the speed with which communal riots spread across India and Pakistan - and beyond, to Europe - after the 1992 destruction of a mosque by Hindu zealots in the Indian town of Ayodhya was broadcast in near-real time via satellite.

Knowledge may be a sword, but it is double-edged. The delivery mechanisms for knowledge are today in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Globally, media ownership reflects the supranational ownership patterns of other worldwide businesses. More and more of the message propagates a global consumer monoculture that generates waste, perpetuates economic disparities and is environmentally disastrous. It also leaves more and more poor people out of the knowledge loop. They have lost the knowledge they had, and what has replaced it is neither relevant nor useful. In a lot of ways, it is just like the loss of genetic diversity. High-yield hybrid seeds have replaced a rich variety of local cereals across the world, improving harvests but also making the crops more susceptible to disease and dependent on costly inputs of agrochemicals. Globalisation of media subliminally spreads information that eats into traditional knowledge bases and indigenous processes that are best equipped to deal with local conditions.

New information technologies offer a chance for South Asia to leapfrog technology, level the playing field and democratise information so to usher in an era where better communications will spread useful knowledge. But going by past examples, the chances of this happening appear slim: the poor will be the last to use the technologies, or benefit from them. History teaches that technology by itself is never the answer. The corporate values that drive the Information Age are the very values that drove the Industrial Age. Things will be no different with the Internet or satellite television: it all depends on who gets to use these these technologies and who gets to control them.

Internet Usage in the Middle East: Some Political and Social Implications

Recent and predicted future changes in the leadership of many Middle Eastern and North African countries, most notably Morocco and Jordan, and Syria and elsewhere have led media pundits to note the coming of an "Internet Leadership" in the region. The term alludes to the fact that the new and up and coming leadership in the region is relatively young, educated in the US or Europe, recognizes the key role that technology in general and ICT (information and communication technology) in particular play in national development. Despite the perceived risks from joining the global computer network, non-democratic regimes have not shunned this technology because it promises to be the key to development, prosperity, and influence.

In relation to developing countries, Pool identified issues that continue to dominate discourse today: the leapfrogging potential of advanced technologies of electronic communication and computer mediated communication (CMC) to adjust balances between nations, and the grassroots empowerment within countries resulting from increased "many to many" communication.

The following examples show how some of the themes identified by Pool regarding developing countries are present in the MENA region:

  1. Through email and web sites, human rights organizations in Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere disseminate information far more effectively than ever before, despite modest resources and limited access to local media.
  2. Arabic, English, and French newspapers, often censored in Egypt, Algeria and Jordan, have posted banned stories online, where local and international readers can view them. Stories that newspapers decline or are forbidden to publish due to political pressure or other factors have circulated widely on the Internet.
  3. Moroccans can find large amounts of information on the Web posted by the Polisario Front and others that challenge official Moroccan government policy on the Western Sahara. Such information in more traditional form is either non-existent or one sided in the local news media, bookstores and libraries.
  4. Algerians can visit web sites provided by Islamist groups that are banned and have no legal ability to publish inside Algeria, including the Front Islamique du Salut (www.fisalgeria.org).
  5. An Arab Gay and Lesbian web site (www.glas.org) serves people who in most countries in the Middle East have no access to information pertaining to their sexual preferences.
  6. Israelis and Arabs participate in often lively debates on Usenet, chat rooms and via email at a time when it is either difficult or impossible for them to have face to face contact, telephone conversations, and postal correspondence due to travel restrictions and the absence of international direct dial phone or mail links between most Arab countries and Israel.
  7. The Internet's contribution to democratic and participatory politics, particularly in countries with little or no formal democratic institutions, is rapidly gaining recognition on the part of NGOs, IGOs, and the academic research community. In his 1998 report to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur outlined the case against government regulation of Internet access and content thus:

The new technologies, and, in particular, the Internet, are inherently democratic, provide the public and individuals with access to information and sources and enable all to participate actively in the communication process. The Special Rapporteur also believes that action by States to impose excessive regulations on the use of these technologies, and again, particularly the Internet, on the grounds that control, regulation, and denial of access are necessary to preserve the moral fabric and cultural identities of societies is paternalistic. These regulations presume to protect people from themselves and, as such, are inherently incompatible with the principles of the worth and dignity of each individual.

Internet connectivity is of special significance to civil society. Computer networks greatly facilitate small group participation at all levels -- within groups, between groups, and between groups and their constituencies -- thus helping to strengthen the organizations of civil society. Many NGOs, including human rights organizations, have embraced the Internet as a means of exchanging, collecting, and disseminating information quickly and cheaply. Groups and organizations in the MENA region are no exception.

The use of ICTs and computer-mediated communication (CMC), most notably the Internet, as effective tools in the hands of organizations of civil society in order to advance both local and global agendas, has proven itself in Latin America, China and South East Asia and among global organizations of civil society such as human rights groups and ecologically oriented organizations. This potential empowerment of civil society organizations exists in the MENA region as well, providing the possibility to shatter the existing corporatist paradigms that are so prevalent in the region, and which stifle the growth of more democratic organizations of civil society. By lowering organizational costs, overcoming political, geographical and temporal boundaries by allowing the organizations to work behind the scenes mobilizing local and international support for democratic agendas, far from the prying eyes of the state, the Internet has the ability to unleash the full potential of civil society in the MENA region.

Political and Social Implications

The rapid adoption of ICT (whether cable and satellite television, the Internet, or other technologies) in the MENA region over the past decade brings with it far reaching political and social implications. Since 1870 to the early 1970s, technology has tended to facilitate centralization. Railroads, mass production, the telegraph and telephone all helped those at the center draw in and control the periphery. Today, ICT is having the opposite affect, facilitating the decentralization of power. The rise of the service economy, the development of the Internet, satellite television, and growing mass literacy are all strengthening the periphery at the expense of the center. All these technologies tend to empower at the local level, while undermining central authority and control. This though can be a double-edged sword at times. The revolutionary change from the Shah to the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran is an example where too much information of a modernizing nature may have helped induce a reaction and a return to a fundamental Islamic preference to exclude outside information. Yet it should also be noted that in his quest for power, Khomeini took advantage of the information revolution by using smuggled cassette tapes to spread his message among the Iranian people, and to help foment revolution.

Information Technology, Globalization and Social Development

Technology per se does not solve social problems. But the availability and use of information and communication technologies are a pre-requisite for economic and social development in our world. They are the functional equivalent of electricity in the industrial era. Econometric studies show the close statistical relationship between diffusion of information technology, productivity and competitiveness for countries, regions, industries and firms (Dosi et al., 1988). They also show that an adequate level of education in general, and of technical education in particular, is essential for the design and productive use of new technologies (Foray and Freeman, 1992). But neither the sheer number of scientists and engineers nor the acquisition of advanced technology can be a factor of development by itself (neither was enough for the Soviet Union - see Castells and Kiselyvova, 1995), without an appropriate organizational environment.

Thus there is little chance for a country, or region, to develop in the new economy without its incorporation into the technological system of the information age. Although this does not necessarily imply the need to produce information technology hardware locally, it does imply the ability to use advanced information and communication technologies, which in turn requires an entire reorganization of society (Castells and Tyson, 1988, 1989).

In sum, information and communication technology is the essential tool for economic development and material well being in our age; it conditions power, knowledge and creativity; it is, for the time being, unevenly distributed within countries and between countries; and it requires, for the full realization of its developmental value, an inter-related system of flexible organizations and information-oriented institutions. In a nutshell, cultural and educational development conditions technological development, which conditions economic development, which conditions social development, and this stimulates cultural and educational development once more. This can a be a virtuous circle of development or a downward spiral of underdevelopment. And the direction of the process will not be decided by technology but by society, through its conflictive dynamics.

Globalization and liberalization do not eliminate the nation state, but they fundamentally redefine its role and affect its operation. Central banks (including the new European Central Bank) cannot really control the trends of global flows in financial markets. And these markets are not always shaped by economic rules, but by information turbulences of various origins. National governments, in order to maintain some capacity to manage global flows of capital and information, band together, creating or adapting supranational institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, NAFTA, or other regional cooperation agencies), to which they surrender much of their sovereignty. So they survive, but under a new form of state that links supranational institutions, national states, regional and local governments, and even NGOs, in a network of interaction and shared decision making that becomes the prevalent political form of the information age: the network state.

Globalization and Civil Society: NGO Influence in International Decision-Making

Technology is key becoming more important in information sharing and strategic work. Computers, Internet ability and telecommunications access are key. A South African network created March 1996, for example, combines the energies of the Environment and Development Network of Norway, the South African based International South African Group of Networks, and Friends of the Earth. It will "primarily be a cyberspace working and meeting place...with a WWW site and electronic conferences".

Several existing models attest to the impact that such networks can have on global governance. Mechanisms have been set up that allow organizations to assemble and distribute multiple comments on current documents relating to international conferences and then produce an integrated and consensus-based reply. Such a system, for example, has been crucial in building WEDO's capacity to get to the international conferences with cadres of women who know exactly what the conference text says, where women's issues are situated and where they are challenged, what elements of text must be disputed, strong alternative texts they can propose, and who the most supportive or obstructive governments are likely to be. As noted earlier, the European Environment Bureau produced a consensual "NGO environmental statement" to the OECD that included input from dozens of environmental groups around the world. The process was so successful that it resulted in an invitation to create an institutional relationship between the OECD and environmental groups, and the preliminary planning for this was done through the same process.

CSOs have become adept at lateral communication. CSO networks are agile and accurate in communicating complex information towards a shared understanding of a global issue that affects them all in similar ways. This facile information-sharing stands in stark contrast to the rigid information sharing approach that has characterized some other global entities where much material is "confidential" and where public documents sometimes have no relation to what is actually happening or to what should be done in relation to issues, including animal rights, worker rights, food security and environmental policies. The model of the web thus captures the many ways that CSOs can become temporary and effective partners at multiple points in a complex set of global connections.

McDonald's Corporation, for example, could not have dreamed that a local event would turn into a two-year nightmare that put them on the defensive with customers and potential host communities around the world. Some CSOs, particularly those involved in food issues, land degradation and agribusiness, have been critical of the company for years, but it took a small civil suit in London to bring all those trends together, due to which McDonald's faced a major public relations battle. Environmental and animal rights activists around the world have shared and distributed information and steadfastly kept this event under the public microscope, on the World Wide Web and in the media. Because Web sites remain relatively unregulated, this has become an arena where CSOs, along with others in the private sector, can post information embargoed by the UK court system. It is not clear what the impact will be of this campaign on McDonald's products or processes. But it is clear that civil society can effectively interpret an apparently local event as a global incident - in this case as an example of the unfettered power of multinational corporations. Links are being drawn in this campaign to other corporate campaigns and direct action, particularly consumer boycotts. New technology could therefore potentially reduce the structural weaknesses that have fettered local and direct action campaigns. Judging by the number of boycotts called for in these corporate campaigns, we may see renewed vigour in this kind of strategy - and renewed impact.

Networks

A network can provide enhanced support for a local initiative and a global issue at the same time. It is a flexible method with which to capture a diversity of perspectives and integrate them towards a common goal; it is ideally suited to the use of electronic communications for rapid transmission of information and collective working on global issues. WEDO has formulated effective methods to use e-mail to develop a collective women's voice for international issues. Another important network is the International NGO Forum, INGOF, which assembled representatives of 77 NGO networks in December 1995 in Manila to work out methods to combat the anti-democratic tendencies of globalization. Other networks proliferate, often on a specific theme. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN), for example, has mobilized over 300 NGOs from 50 countries with the goal of developing and disseminating information on sustainable pest control methods. The infant formula network, IBFAN, has had significant success over two decades of international work. The "Fifty Years is Enough" Campaign has organized scores of NGOs around the world in its campaign against policies and practices of the World Bank, the Bretton Woods Institutions and the WTO.

Participatory Democracy

As a basic condition for democracy, civil society continues to demand participation - and often direct participation - and transparency. Direct participation, of course, is often antithetical to organizational development and strategic change, and the debate about how civil society should work is lively within the CSO community. Greenpeace, for example, argued that the OECD's invitation to create a consensual environmental statement to the OECD and then an Environmental Advisory Group was élitist, claiming that the "opportunity" being given to an NGO voice on environment at the OECD is on OECD terms and does not suit the agenda of NGOs for open participation.138 Rather, such a programme would needlessly divert NGO energies, resources and funds, and create and legitimize rules of access that may not suit the NGO community and be inappropriate for other stakeholders. The arguments in this perspective are tenable in terms of both democracy and effectiveness. At the same time, they favour local organizational strategies. Internationally, this strategy will favour groups who have access to information and funds to attend these meetings, over those that do not.

This concept of direct democracy is heard time and again in the civil society community, and is consistent with the insistence from many actors in civil society that direct action, with all its limitations on impact, is a crucial form of political activity.

Civil society organizations have been given and have assumed greater responsibility than ever before, but their effectiveness is limited by factors still beyond their control. CSO access to institutions of power has never been easily or completely granted, and it is not clear that this is uniformly desirable. The role of CSOs in global governance is to influence agents and act as moral compasses, not to replace states or an intergovernmental process. It is not clear that civil society wants fiduciary authority or responsibility to participate in key public policy decisions. In order for the forces of civil society to operate most effectively in this period of globalization, it is crucial that CSOs operate through a global political arm such as a re-invented UN. Given the dominant trend toward market deregulation and the denigration of the United Nations, positive visions on what the state and intergovernmental institutional infrastructure could look like in the twenty-first century are only beginning to surface.

This tension is at the centre of the uneasy relationship between CSOs and the intergovernmental process. It is ironic that the late twentieth century has seen the unprecedented growth and influence of civil society and unprecedented decline of those national and intergovernmental organizations most open to participation. Having spent five decades lobbying at the gates of the United Nations, non-governmental groups have finally been granted access only to see that real power now lies behind other doors.

In intergovernmental fora, civil society will retain a strong interest in a robust, reformulated UN and in institutional methods to balance social, environmental and human rights concerns with economic priorities. A true vision for democratic global governance can only arise from the interaction between international civil society and a democratic international political process. One crucial testing ground will be whether the WTO succeeds in bringing areas of public policy decision-making under its umbrella, thus closing out the public from public policy formulation in the areas of trade and economics. Indications are that this is where civil society will concentrate some of its energies in the coming years. It remains to be seen, however, whether CSO skills learned in the local and intergovernmental arenas, coupled with new technologies, can be effectively transferred to this new terrain where there is limited formal access.

Some key concerns remain: global civil society clearly has a limited capacity to act in a cohesive fashion. The exponential growth of new and Southern CSOs, as well as CSOs from former communist countries, provides strength in numbers but not experience. Much depends on how rapidly these organizations will be able to build the internal organizational infrastructure and the external networks needed to be effective locally as well as globally. The diversity within the NGO community naturally also creates divisions, inequities of power and divergent interests and strategies. Thus, while hundreds of CSOs have joined the boycott and campaign against McDonald's, for example, some major CSOs and numerous local community groups work with the firm to achieve environmental or community ends. For CSOs interested in having an impact on international affairs, these issues are of deep concern. As long as the initiative in international politics and decision-making remains with the international economic institutions, an infrastructure will be built that will make building democratic global governance harder in the future.

To this challenge has to be added the complexity of building credible links between groups in the North and South. We may see a new self-interest on the part of some Northern CSOs in forging partnerships with Southern CSOs on Southern terms. Significant gains have been made, facilitated by decades of relationship- and capacity-building. International CSO networks have shown that they can have significant effect, particularly in mobilizing the international media and Northern public opinion. Their campaigns have defined issues in the public mind, have toppled governments and have put international firms on the defensive. But a North-South gulf between NGOs still exists, particularly as the global financial forces re-create a new economic colonialism and a structural dependency of the South on the North. Globalization, the new trade rules and free-trade ideology may produce a gulf between Northern and Southern CSOs that becomes greater than the ties that bind.

Strengthening Civil Society in Uzbekistan

Democracy and the rule of law have been in place in Uzbekistan since the division of the Soviet Union - in theory. In practice human and civil rights leave much to be desired. Flaws in the justice system, limitation of press freedom, and violation of women's and children's rights join environmental problems and religious conflicts as features of Uzbek life. ISHR/ IGFM and its Uzbek Section have developed this EU-cofinanced project to contribute to the closing of this gap.

The project will begin in Autumn 2000 with a 5-day 'train-the-trainer' seminar in Germany for 10 Uzbek lecturers and staff. The purpose of this workshop is to prepare the participants for the seminars they will lead. Two-day civil education seminars, each for 30 participants, will take place in 10 Uzbek cities. They are designed to promote awareness and understanding of the structures and processes of democratic society and the role and rights of the citizen in terms of international law, conventions, declarations and de-mocratic processes. Three-day NGO management training seminars, each for 20 participants, will take place in 5 cities. The aim is to optimise NGO operating processes and management skills. An evaluation conference in Tashkent will complete this 18-month project.

Aims of the Project:

Target Groups

  1. Participants in civil education seminars will be government officials, members of the armed forces, NGO representatives, lawyers, teachers, students and the press.
  2. Participants in NGO management training seminars will be representatives from NGOs across Uzbeki-stan. Specific skills will be introduced and developed (project management, public relations, and marke-ting). Civil society and the NGO network will be strengthened by the dissemination of the skills acquired.

Prospects

The target group for the civil education seminars consists of significant multipiers in Uzbek society. Their understanding of human rights, democracy, the development of a civil democratic society, the interaction of citizen, society and international community, and the necessity of mutual acceptance and appreciation will by passed on in the areas of society in which they operate in the present and in the future.

Uzbek willingness to build up a civil society, as exemplified by the Partnership and Cooperation agree-ment with the EU and by the support expressed for this project, creates the necessary foundation for su-stained contribution to the development of civil society in Uzbekistan.

The strengthening of individual NGOs and NGO infrastructure in Uzbekistan is essential for the esta-blishment of a framework which will continue to support the development of civil society in the future.

Furthermore, the ISHR International Secretariat will continue to work closely with ISHR Uzbekistan, maintaining the network of international NGO support.

Narrowing the Digital Divide

ICTs are technologies that support communication and the storage and transmission of information. ICT refers to both applications and networks, including broadcast, fixed, wireless and satellite telecommunications networks. Applications include the Internet, database management systems, geographic information systems, computer systems and technologies which allow voice and data communications. The rate of advancement of ICTs in recent years has been revolutionary. E-mail, video conferencing, the web, computer networks and CD-ROM are transforming ways in which governments, the private sector and individuals work. ICTs build new markets and new products as well as new productivity. They permit faster generation, manipulation and transmission of information. ICTs, therefore, offer special new opportunities and new challenges for development. As the 1998/99 World Bank World Development Report puts it:

The explosion of new knowledge, accelerating technological progress, and ever-increasing competition make life-long learning more important than ever... [The] new technology greatly facilitates the acquisition and absorption of knowledge, offering developing countries unprecedented opportunities to enhance educational systems, improve policy formation and execution, and widen the range of opportunities for business and the poor. According to UNDP, 'ICTs, can involve more people, hitherto unreached or under serviced... ICTs allow access to information sources worldwide, promote networking transcending borders, languages and cultures, foster empowerment of communities, women, youth and socially disadvantaged groups... ICTs are indispensable to realise the global information society and the global knowledge society.

So important have communication technologies become that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) now talks about the 'right to communicate'. Its Secretary General, Pekka Tarjanne, has said that in order for people to enjoy the benefits of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they must have access to basic communications and information services. 'Without action on the part of the world community,' he argues, 'there is a very real danger that the global information society will be global in name only; that the world will be divided into the "information rich" and the "information poor"; and that the gap between developed and developing countries will widen into an unbridgeable chasm.'

His worry has a real basis in fact. USAID has devoted $15 million over five years to Global Information Infrastructure (GII) technologies, aimed at extending full Internet connectivity to 20 or more African countries. Compare this with the $450 million invested by the state of North Carolina and the local telephone company in building the North Carolina Information Highway between 1994 and 1999, and with the $1 billion they expect to spend on it over the next nine years.

Most developing countries lack affordable access to basic information resources. This includes the technologies as well as the capacity to build, operate, manage and service them in instances where they are available. One of the key measures of telecommunications access is 'teledensity' - the number of main telephone lines per 100 people. Teledensity ranges from 99 in Monaco to only 0.07 in Cambodia. More than a quarter of ITU member states have a teledensity of less than one, and historically it has taken most countries fifty years to move from that threshold to a teledensity of 50.* Sri Lanka, considered to be better off than many developing countries with a teledensity of 2.8 and a reformed telecommunications industry, demonstrates various dimensions of the hardware problems alone. At the beginning of 1999, metro Colombo had only 240,000 telephone lines and 38,000 people with access to the Internet (via 10 service providers). While Internet connection has been rapid, it is limited by the number of phone lines, by congestion and bad design, by metered billing and high ISP charges. While the limitations in Colombo are enormous, they are infinitely worse in the rest of the country which combined has fewer phone lines than the capital, and which attracts little interest or support from ISPs.

Caveats and Dangers

The vast need notwithstanding, one of the greatest dangers in the promotion of ICTs, especially among Southern organizations with limited budgets, is that they will be drawn too early into the purchase of sophisticated technology that they can neither afford nor sustain, beguiled by the hope that it will solve problems that it cannot. As computer security network specialist Clifford Stoll suggests, 'Perhaps our networked world isn't a universal doorway to freedom. Might it be a distraction from reality? ... Nobody can offer utopia-on-a-stick, the glowing virtual community that enhances our world through discovery and close ties while transcending the coarseness of human nature.'

'Utopia-on-a-stick' is not a new phenomenon where ICTs are concerned. The London Times hailed the 1858 laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable saying that 'Since the discovery of Colombus, nothing has been done in any degree comparable to the vast enlargement which has thus been given to the sphere of human activity.' The telegraph would bring an end to war and promote 'the exchange of thought between all the nations of the earth'. There were hundred-gun salutes in New York and Boston, parades, fireworks and special church services. 'Our whole country has been electrified by the successful laying of the Atlantic telegraph,' wrote the Scientific American.

Among the many lessons of technology in history, perhaps the most important is a warning about hubris: about excessive ambition, pride, arrogance. Among the many lessons available on the development process, the most important is that there are few quick solutions and no easy answers. Technology and development are not synonymous; the so-called transfer of technology from North to South has failed repeatedly because unsuitable technologies, unsuitable 'transfer' processes and inappropriate 'experts' have repeatedly been loaded holus bolus onto aircraft and shipped South, only to end their days as little more than memories contained in unread project reports.

Roger Harris, a member of the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak Faculty of Information Technology, warns of a 'cargo cult' growing up around information technology (IT). 'In order to avoid being seduced by IT and turning our fascination with it into an expensive cult, it is necessary to dispel the popular myth that spending more on IT will automatically, of itself, boost economic performance. The best computer technologies will always add unnecessary costs to a poorly managed organization. Spending more money on the most sophisticated technology will not bring desirable results unless it is accompanied by changes in the way things are done.'

And Richard Heeks argues that 'like any new technology, ICTs lend themselves to sweeping statements about what they can do for development. If the poor are considered overtly at all, the feeling is that they must gain eventually from adopting the technology because the technology is development.' He says that where ICTs are concerned, negative impacts and various kinds of failure have been downplayed: total failure, partial failure, replication failure, sustainability failure. He also talks about the opportunity cost: radio reaches 75% of the African population, the Internet reaches only 0.1%. Radio, TV and newspapers can and are being used to disseminate information to the poor, and what they lose in comparison with the interactivity and capacity of ICTs, they more than make up for in cost and coverage.

Management guru Peter Drucker says that 'What we call the Information Revolution is actually a Knowledge Revolution. What has made it possible to routinize processes is not the machinery; the computer is only the trigger. Software is the reorganization of traditional work, based on centuries of experience, through the application of knowledge, and especially of systematic, logical analysis. The key is not electronics; it is cognitive science.' One of the primary lessons for those interested in ICTs and development, therefore, is that given their cost, their fast-changing nature and the generally uncritical attention they currently attract in development circles, ICTs must be approached with care. Development issues must come first. The technology is a means to an end and not the end in itself. This theme will be repeated throughout the balance of the paper.

The rate of advancement of information and communications technologies (ICT) is revolutionary. New technologies facilitate the acquisition and absorption of information, offering developing countries unprecedented opportunities to enhance educational systems, improve policy formation and execution, and widen the range of opportunities for business and the poor. There is a danger, however, that the global information society will be global in name only; that the world will be divided into the 'information rich' and the 'information poor', with the gap between developed and developing countries widening rather than narrowing. The vast need notwithstanding, one of the greatest dangers in the promotion of ICTs is that Southern organizations will be drawn too quickly into the purchase of expensive and sophisticated technology that they can neither afford nor sustain, beguiled by the hope that it will solve problems that it cannot.

The rapid onset of new ICTs offers a new opportunity for volunteer-sending programs. Needs in the South are great and technical assistance, when available, is enormously expensive. In the North, the new technologies are best understood by, and are more familiar to a generation of young adults than to their parents. In short, there is a dramatic need for assistance on the one hand, and on the other there is a large pool of young people with the potential to address it.

South-South placements: in most countries of the South there is a growing cadre of youth with good knowledge and expertise of ICTs. The placement of a Ghanaian volunteer in Sierra Leone would be less expensive and might be far more appropriate than the placement of a European or North American. Building relationships and technical collaboration between developing countries is as important in this field as building North-South relationships.

South-North placements: in some ways, the technology gap is almost as wide within industrialized countries as it is between the North and the South, hence the dozens of ICT-related organizations working with NGOs, rural and native communities and citizens' associations in Europe and North America. Canada World Youth has shown that useful ICT-related programs can be developed in Canada for young people from the South as well as vice versa. A Global NetCorps would be able to coordinate and facilitate such a service better than national efforts.

The rapid onset of new information and communications technologies (ICT) offers an unexpected opportunity for a rejuvenation of the original volunteer concept. Needs in the South are great and technical assistance, when available, is enormously expensive. In the North, the new technologies are best understood by, and are more familiar to a generation of young adults than to their parents. Opportunities to learn about them - both formal and informal - are more readily available to youth than to people in mid career. In short, there is a dramatic need for assistance on the one hand, and on the other, as with the first generation of volunteers in the 1960s, there is a large pool of young people with the potential to address it.

Because of the enormous amount of positive publicity given to ICTs, many Southern governments and organizations have begun to address the issue as a matter of urgent priority without understanding fully what the technology can and cannot do for them, or what it costs to set up and maintain. Unlike any other area in which volunteer-sending organizations currently operate, requests for NetCorps interns are proliferating almost exponentially. It is becoming increasingly important, therefore, that requests be carefully screened for two reasons. First, it is important - as in any posting - to ensure a good match between the need and the person who will be sent to address it. Second, and perhaps more important, it is incumbent upon the supplying agency to ensure the developmental validity and the opportunity cost of the request.

Many current requests, for example, are for assistance in the establishment of websites. The Internet is already littered with websites that are not being used or maintained because of an inadequate communications infrastructure, or because of inadequate interest, time and expertise. Established as prestige symbols, they can become the opposite; created to facilitate communication, they can become a drag on resources. In other instances, requests may make eminent sense, but the hardware and/or software may not be available to support the plan. Sending an intern will no doubt reveal the shortage, but it will not solve the problem and could lead to frustration on all sides. The development aspect of a posting must therefore be kept front and centre and it should be clear that the results will have a net positive effect on the recipient organization rather than the opposite.

Given the potential growth in ICT placements, this suggests that special expertise must be developed in the field to ensure that requests are developmentally sound, that they are feasible, and that they are described in terms that will optimize the potential for an appropriate placement. The quality of requests can be enhanced in a variety of ways:

Recruitment and Skill Assessment

Recruitment for NetCorps placements is not as straightforward as for other types of assignments. A public health department requesting an individual with a specific degree and specified experience will have a fairly good idea in professional terms of what it is getting when the volunteer arrives. Where ICTs are concerned, however, formal qualifications may be irrelevant to the skills and experience that an individual brings to an assignment. Many young people today have become highly skilled in programming, networking, software application and computer maintenance on their own, with friends, and through informal associations and news groups. Understanding what skills an applicant might bring to an assignment, therefore, is not always something that can be determined by reading a curriculum vitae.

CWY has engaged a technical expert who has developed a series of on-line tests, and who can communicate directly with potential applicants to determine what they know and what they can and cannot do. In a highly technical and emergent discipline where the formal qualifications may be less important than the informal, good skill assessment is important to making an assignment work - from the point of view of both host agency and the volunteer. As time passes, the development of common assessment criteria and standards will become more important to ensuring successful placements.

The catchment area for potential recruits is large, but the uptake may not be as great as originally imagined. Those with marketable ICT skills and qualifications are in great demand from industry and government, and remuneration at the entry level is high. It is too early in the development of NetCorps Canada International and NetCorps Americas to generalize, but it may become necessary to give such initiatives a higher promotional profile in some industrialized countries.

Gender

Although it is too soon to make any firm conclusion, there may an inherent gender imbalance in NetCorps-type initiatives, simply because there are more males than females involved in ICT-related technologies. This may be offset by a somewhat higher female rate of application to volunteer-sending organizations. It could also be offset by affirmative action. Rather than imposing an artificial and possibly limiting gender balance on the supply side, however, it might be more developmentally effective to place the emphasis on the demand side. This would mean ensuring that there is gender awareness and balance in the organizations to which volunteers are assigned, and ensuring that gender issues are fully considered and optimized in the work they do.

To reverse an old saying, this may be easier done than said. In its telecentre project in Egypt, UNV is finding that most of the users are women, including most of those who want training. Where women face gender-based equity obstacles, ICTs may become important empowering tools. On the Internet, nobody has to know that you are a woman.

Training

While ICT postings may appear to be clear and well structured on paper, many turn out to be very unstructured, and added to the dislocation and cross-cultural stress of any posting, such assignments are always the most difficult to carry out successfully.

All members of the Canadian coalition have lengthy experience in overseas placements and are well qualified to provide cross-cultural training, health briefings and the like. Where it is necessary, however, technical upgrading may be problematic. As one observer put it, 'three hours of training in website development will not equip a volunteer to work on the development of a database for Chile's trade with other countries.' An under-equipped intern will quickly become a disillusioned or angry intern.

The shoe may well be on the other foot, however: a well-qualified individual may solve the problem s/he was sent to work on in a few weeks, and then feel there is little left to do. Part of the training in any assignment should focus on the need for flexibility, encouraging volunteers to think about how their particular expertise and development - of the host institution or the people it serves - fit together.

Canada World Youth, lead agency in the Canadian NetCorps coalition, says that you cannot emphasize this training component too much, especially since we find that many of the interns, given their IT background, are very task-oriented. That is why we use a training for trainers model for the common training sessions. The interns are divided into small groups and have to train their peers - undertaking a needs assessment, planning the sessions together, implementing it and evaluating them. They are given feedback, not only on the sessions but on the entire planning process as well. A lot of time is also spent on demystifying the 'product output' approach to their internship. Instead we focus on building the long term capacity of the partner (i.e. It may be better to accomplish less but to do it in conjunction with local staff involved in IT) and connecting the IT work to the mission of the host organization.

Focus on Youth and Internships

The Canadian scheme and others have focused on youth, limiting the age of participants. As with other types of volunteer placement, where development and cross-cultural learning are concerned, there is nothing magic about an emphasis on youth unless it is central to an organization's work (such as CWY), or unless youth have a special advantage. In the case of ICTs, young people do have a natural advantage, simply because of the generation gap that exists in the technology. Whether there is a pro-youth bias in any given program or not, it is more than likely that in the majority of placements for the next decade at least, young people will predominate.

It will perhaps be useful in expanding the scheme to think of the differences in meaning and understanding between the expressions 'intern', 'volunteer' and 'technical assistance'. 'Intern' emphasizes learning, as in 'junior doctor' or 'not fully qualified'* The word 'volunteer', as noted elsewhere, still causes a degree of angst within organizations who want to promote the professionalism of their personnel, and who understand that people living and working overseas on local terms and conditions usually return feeling that they have gained more than they have given. 'Cooperant' is a brave Canadian attempt to kill all linguistic and conceptual birds with one stone, although the word does not feature in many French or English dictionaries. In Spanish, 'cooperante' means someone working in development at lower levels and salaries. More anodyne, 'technical assistance' is devoid of ideas like 'exchange' and 'cross-cultural learning'. The term used will probably reflect the aims and objectives of the organization.

It is perhaps worth noting an observation in a background paper prepared by Industry Canada and UNV:

With the UN International Year of the Volunteer 2001 upon us, volunteerism is now being recognized as a critical component of a strong economy and society; the 'glue' that holds societies together. ICT opens up a new world of volunteer opportunities, including virtual volunteering, which can be realized through a Global NetCorps. It might, in fact, be useful to distinguish more clearly between internships with a learning and youth focus, and longer-term placements that are more typical of most volunteer-sending organizations. If tailored specifically to students as a co-op program for which university credits were available, the former might help to solve some of the recruitment problem while creating real value-added where education is concerned.

Field Support

All personnel working in another country require various types of personal and professional support, and volunteer-sending agencies have well-developed systems for providing this. The professional support required by NetCorps-type volunteers, however, may differ from the norm. The potential for a mismatch between request and placement is relatively large, hence the arguments for good job scouting and specialized recruitment. With all the best efforts in these areas, however, there are two additional problems that will inevitably arise as a matter of course. One is the potential inadequacy of equipment, software and connectivity to support the job that a volunteer is expected to do. And this may not be discovered until the volunteer is in situ. Hardware may not be powerful enough to meet planned applications; it may break down; it may be absent. Volunteer-sending agencies are likely to find that a project support fund which can help to address such problems could make the difference between a successful assignment and a failure.

A partial solution would be to link placements with work being done by other international organizations on software development, the provision of hardware and the creation of telecentres. UNDP has numerous programs of this sort in developing countries. L'Organisation de la Francophonie has already placed some NetCorps Canada International interns in schools and pilot telecentres in Mali, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Mauritius. Pending receipt of financial support, it has plans to create 500 additional telecentres in the next five years. Undoubtedly many of these will require technical support which could be provided by NetCorps-type volunteers.

A second issue has to do with technical problems that do not relate to hardware. Volunteers are likely to encounter all sorts of glitches that could be answered in a few minutes by someone with the right experience. The nature of ICT assignments is such that reaching distant technical support should not be a major problem in principle. Having the expertise available, however, is another matter. Canadian coalition members have so far addressed this in a somewhat ad hoc manner. Some have told volunteers that they should develop their own assistance network before they leave home. Others have made arrangements for expertise to be available on call. Given the nature of the technology, the latter type of arrangement, possibly involving the private sector or returned volunteers, makes sense. It might be possible to create a network of qualified 'associate volunteers' (including people with disabilities that prevent their physical participation*) to assist in providing technical backup. But if it is to serve the needs of individuals with real problems, and living in 20 or 24 time zones, it needs to be established on a systematic basis.

A third issue has to do with other technical assistance that might be required in conjunction with an ICT-type assignment. Legal advice, financial and accounting advice or language training assistance could all be part of a necessary package required to make the ICT assignment successful.

Evaluation and Sustainability

Because NetCorps-related efforts are so far in their early stages, it is too early to anticipate a comprehensive evaluation. Evaluation will, however, be important to ensuring that programs meet real needs and that they adapt in order to take account of lessons that are being learned. A key issue will undoubtedly relate to the issue of sustainability, mentioned above as a special problem in information and communications technologies. Evaluation, too often added to new initiatives as an afterthought, will also be important to maintaining and building support for the NetCorps concept.

Information

The much-deprecated reinvention of wheels is endemic within the development community. Governments, multilateral agencies and NGOs alike are pathologically susceptible to fads, and they are notoriously reluctant to learn from one another. One of the biggest development failings is the failure to learn from failure. ICTs offer great potential and hope for development, but they are already absorbing huge amounts of seemingly uncritical attention and funding. The NetCorps concept is a simple idea, one that is bound to catch on even more quickly in the next two years than the past four. It is such a good idea that many are asking 'Why didn't someone think of it earlier?' Although similar, it is not the same as other types of personnel placement. Sending agencies and volunteers alike have the potential for creativity and impact, but because of the potential for costly failure, they also have a responsibility to think and act in the most developmentally professional way possible.

Information sharing on what works and what does not work will be important to making effective placements in the short and longer term. Shared monitoring and evaluation - rare in among development agencies - could reduce wheel reinvention and the repetition of failure. A well-edited website dedicated to sharing information on NetCorps initiatives could be very useful. It might also host a site where personnel on assignment overseas and their host institutions could contribute.

Coordination

There are already many ICT-related initiatives with similar aims and objectives. Some offer interns while others offer a variety of on-line services. There are almost 100 ICT-related programs in Africa alone. The potential for confusion, overlap and waste in a complex and expensive field is becoming enormous. As NetCorps-type operations develop independently of one another, there is bound be further duplication and overlap. 'Coordination', a much overworked word and a much-underdeveloped way of working, has a great deal to offer the potential beneficiaries of ICT:

  1. the development of common standards for assessing the technical capabilities of applicants for positions overseas;
  2. the creation of, and/or linkages to, on-line news services with well edited news and views relating to ICTs and development, as well as practical issues relating to NetCorps placements;
  3. the creation of a virtual 24 hour backstopping and troubleshooting service for volunteers in the field and for registered partner organizations;
  4. the creation of specialized Southern country-based websites that can assist organizations, firms and government departments to understand technological options, problems and potential within the context of their own locale (e.g. a 'Tanzania NetCorps site' maintained by and for Tanzanians on Tanzanian-specific ICT issues.) This would be of use to both providers and potential recipients of ICT support in making requests and objectives as realistic as possible.

Online Recruitment

Various mechanisms already exist for the online recruitment of interns and volunteers (e.g. OneWorld Volunteers and the National Graduate Register, described above). These undoubtedly vary in approach and quality. From the point of view of a requesting organization, there are several drawbacks to the current NetCorps Canada International approach. First, a request must fit within the aims and objectives of the volunteer-sending organization that is approached. Requests may be made to several agencies in the hope that one may accept it. Having agreed to recruit for a position, however, does not mean that an agency can or will fill the position. A central, on-line clearing house for requests would avoid some of these problems, giving the requesting agency a much better chance of having its position filled.

Obvious but not insurmountable problems would inevitably arise. An excellent candidate from Sweden, say, might be available for a position, but perhaps none of the participating sending agencies would have a mandate to hire Swedes. This argues for a central fund of some sort to cater for high priority requests that cannot be supported from another source. Requests could be cleared centrally in support of the requesting organizations, rather than tailor-made to the needs of the senders. Although this is a reversal of the way aid agencies normally work, it could give greater meaning to the concept of participation and partnership.

South-South Placements

Current NetCorps initiatives focus mainly on the provision of service and support from industrialized countries to the South. There is, however, a rapidly growing cadre of young people in most countries of the South with excellent knowledge and expertise in ICTs. The placement of a Ghanaian volunteer in Sierra Leone would be less expensive and might be far more appropriate in some cases than the placement of a European or North American. Building relationships and technical collaboration between developing countries is as important in this field as building North-South relationships.

Of the current members in the Canadian coalition, none has a South-South mandate. NetCorps Americas has a South-South mandate in one region. UNV, connected to NetCorps through WUSC, also has such a mandate, but its participation in the Canadian initiative restricts it to the placement of Canadians in the South. There is nothing to prevent UNV from adding South-South NetCorps-type placements to its regular programming, and perhaps this will happen. It would be constructive, however, if the option of broader participation of other agencies in South-South placements could be considered.

It might also be useful to think about the ICT needs and interests of developing countries more broadly. There is no reason why India or Brazil or any other country might not wish to start a NetCorps of its own for precisely the same objectives as those expressed in the Canadian scheme - to respond to young people's need for work experience and career development, to enhance national ICT capacities; 'to help promote a connected India (or Brazil or Thailand or Nigeria) to the world.' This could be done bilaterally or through a more coordinated 'global NetCorps', but it could not be done within the current Canadian coalition or by UNV.

South-North Placements

In some ways, the technology gap is almost as wide within industrialized countries as it is between the North and the South, hence the dozens of ICT-related organizations working with NGOs, rural and native communities and citizens' associations in Europe and North America. Canada World Youth is predicated on youth exchange, and has shown that useful and effective ICT-related programs can be developed in Canada for young people from the South as well as vice versa.

Looking at the commercial aspect, it is likely that a German company interested in showcasing its technology in, say, Thailand, would gain far more mileage by hosting five interns from Thailand in Germany than they would by supporting five German volunteers in Thailand. A Global NetCorps would probably be able to coordinate and facilitate such a service better than national efforts.

An Integrated Approach to Human Resource Development in Icts to Support Women in Africa

The examples in the previous chapter illustrate that many HRD initiatives on gender and ICT focus on the level of intermediaries, on the new media and on the use of ICTs. This means that not every level and gender aspect in HRD for ICTs is taken into consideration. Departing from the framework of constructivism, I will make the following recommendations to bridge the gap between available and needed HRD.

More HRD initiatives need to address the girls and women in rural areas directly. Whatever important role intermediaries play, supporting them does not automatically mean that the situation of the grassroots improves. Working with the rural girls and women directly may involve a revaluation of media, to appreciate older technology like radio, fax and phone as much as newer high-tech such as the Internet, multi-media and CD-ROM. The existing HRD initiatives can further diversify, from emphasis on ICT use to include ICT diffusion. Commercialization of ICTs suits the entrepreneurial spirit of women in the African rural areas well. Running a telecenter offers them as much development potential as using ICTs as an employee or teleworker. Diversification is also to take place on the level of policy and support. Apart from the direct support to rural females, intermediaries can also lobby to influence R&D and ICT production. To influence gender issues such as access and control from the onset, means to gender-bend the male ICT culture into a more gender-neutral one. An example is to lobby for the development of a time-reducing tool to browse the Internet quickly.

Participation and input by rural women are quite different from needed changes in R&D. Yet both need to be addressed at the same time. To work simultaneously at both ends requires bottom-up and top-down approaches complementing one another. CBO intermediaries may give input to perfect a gender-sensitive training. And human capacity building on the rural level can be replicated or supported at the regional level. Only then can small-scale development influence the transformation of society as a whole.

I hope this paper has been able to communicate the fact that gender and ICT issues surpass the boundary of the technology sector. Social aspects are pact and parcel of the gender and ICT problematic and need to be addressed as well. Therefore, organizations and programs (NGOs, policy organizations, donors, training institutes et cetera) using a broad perspective, will preferably play a major role in HRD. I urge ICT institutes to adopt multi-disciplinary (socio-technical) visions, teams and working methods. Partnerships across sectors are other important means to arrive at HRD with a broadly perspective.

Hopefully, in the coming years we may witness the emergence of such institutes, programs, partnerships and approaches. The next thing then needed is an evaluation instrument. (Gender) research institutes can offer help as to how best assess whether the programs and approaches make a change to the current situation - and if not, why. They may provide ideas as to what adjustments are required and if HRD needs to meet more conditions. Feedback from the women involved further optimizes the assessment instrument (Kengo 1993: 32).

African women at all levels are capable of playing an important role in bridging the gap between available and needed human resources. Rural girls and women, however distant they may seem to be from the ICT 'world,'are active participants in this respect. They deserve to be recognized as ICT users, disseminators and co-developers, and supported accordingly. To invest in women is as much investing in the future as are technical ICT investments.

A Code Of Conduct for NGOs: A Necessary Reform

NGOs occupy an increasingly prominent political rôle, influencing policymaking in all areas of social and economic change. They are one visible manifestation of society's recognition of the inability of governments to solve major problems by legislation or command. They are also a reflection of the realisation that people can achieve more by acting together for a common cause or interest than by leaving it to the actions of governments or individuals.

Voluntary association is one of the defining characteristics of a free society. The ability of groups of citizens to organise together in pursuit of common aims and objectives is one of the features that sets democracies apart from totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. The number of NGOs is impossible to calculate but it is safe to say it is very large. In a detailed report published in 1995, the Commonwealth Foundation estimated that in Britain alone there are more than 500,000 NGOs, and that the turnover of the 175,000 registered charities in the UK was 17 billion pounds sterling a year. It refers to one estimate that in India alone there are 100,000 NGOs, with 25,000 registered grass-roots organisations in the state of Tamil Nadu. Obviously, they vary markedly in size, resources, focus and influence. The report quoted UN Development Program estimates that the "total number of people 'touched' by NGOs in developing countries across the world is probably 250 million," although this almost certainly understates the case if account is taken of the NGO influence on public policy making.

These NGOs exercise influence and often power in our society in ways which sometimes seem disproportionate to their memberships and the weight of their arguments, and which often run counter to the wishes of the majority. Very little is known about how many of these organisations are funded, whom they represent, how they reach their decisions, and to whom they are accountable. Voting membership is usually tightly controlled, with regular contributors and donors rarely consulted about policy, strategy or tactics. Contributors always have the right to withhold further support if they disapprove of the actions of particular NGOs, but their contributions enable such organisations to claim a mandate to speak and act on behalf of a larger number of people than their actual membership.

Information and Knowledge Management: Challenges for Capacity Builders

These changes are mirrored in development cooperation. Here, development agencies seek more effective ways to address development. They are adopting different roles, acting as partners instead of donors. They are paying more attention to processes, building local expertise instead of providing technical assistance, focusing on qualitative rather than quantitative results, and more generally reforming they way they work and who they work with.

Together, these trends stimulate a demand for tools suited to an environment where informing, learning, and sharing are key words. These tools need to be widespread, easy to use, powerful and offering empowerment, capable of fostering change and democratisation, supportive of decentralisation, and useful in that they provide social or material benefits to those using them.

For many people, new information and communications technologies (ICT's) are the right tools at the right time. If wisely used, investments in information, knowledge, and ICT's can help generate wealth and jobs, build bridges between governments and citizens, forge relations among organisations and communities, and improve the delivery of essential services to poor people. While some people are skeptical about their direct contribution to poverty alleviation, there are signs that ICT's can contribute to development goals - if they are used properly. Proper use is crucial and is based on local needs and circumstances. It is required to avoid or reduce negative impacts. It is necessary to actually derive benefits.

The business sector is not the only beneficiary. Researchers, non-governmental organisations (NGO's), and community groups can join or form virtual networks and alliances, using ICT's to address social goals, to build collective resources and tools, and to share ideas and knowledge.

Use of ICT's is limited by lack of awareness and skills, and by insufficient access to trained personnel, know how, equipment, services and infrastructure. The initial and recurring costs of acquiring a computer and an Internet connection are often prohibitive. A lack of appropriate content can also limit use. In rural areas, there is little or no infrastructure to connect to the Internet. For these reasons, access to the Internet in developing countries is limited to those who can afford it. Today, while all African countries are connected to the Internet, less than 1% of all Africans actually use it. For most people, other media like radio or newspapers are more affordable and far more widely used.

While these purposes of capacity building apply in the information 'sector,' here it is argued that capacity building approaches can be quite different than in other sectors. The differences can be ascribed to some characteristics of information and knowledge management that set them apart from other development activities. These include:

  1. Information is the only commodity that multiplies when it is shared. The management challenge is therefore not only to find ways to conserve use of a scarce resource, but to cope with its over-abundance.
  2. Information exchange and knowledge sharing are now accepted in the development sector as essential to effective partnership and collaboration. Where past ambitions often exceeded what was feasible, new approaches to information management are particularly suited to fostering relationships among communities and organisations, opening the flow of ideas and information, promoting ownership, and ensuring greater transparency. The 'decentralising' potential of new ICT's is especially important in this. The technologies can also help build wider and longer-lasting relationships between organisations and partners. This is in contrast to more time-bound capacity building projects in other sectors. The new-style information-based relationships are usually longer-term, perhaps indefinate, are based around mutual interests, and the focus may evolve from capacity building to something more like capacity sharing.

When working with information and ICT's, it is often easier to focus on the usually imported technologies or systems, almost forgetting the real purpose. Creating local content and using local expertise to serve the development needs of local partners is essential. The precise approach should depend on existing infrastructure and resources, such as local networks of expertise, traditional knowledge resources and local information, often in local languages. Using local expertise contributes to the relevance of an activity and helps foster local ownership in it. Moreover, involving and helping to build up an experienced cadre of local experts who themselves can address local capacity building challenges is a valuable step to strengthen national capacities in this area.

Knowledge is a Double-Edged Sword

Knowledge may be a sword, but it is double-edged. The delivery mechanisms for knowledge today are in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Globally, media ownership reflects the supranational ownership patterns of other worldwide businesses. More and more of the message propagates a global consumer monoculture that generates waste, perpetuates economic disparities and is environmentally disastrous. It also leaves more and more poor people out of the knowledge loop. They have lost the knowledge they had, and what has replaced it is neither relevant nor useful. In many ways, it is just like the loss of genetic diversity. High-yield hybrid seeds have replaced a rich variety of local cereals across the world, improving harvests but also making the crops more susceptible to disease and dependent on costly inputs of agrochemicals. Globalisation of media subliminally spreads information that eats into traditional knowledge bases and indigenous processes that are best equipped to deal with local conditions.

New information technologies offer a chance for South Asia to leapfrog technology, level the playing field and democratise information to usher in an era where better communications will spread useful knowledge. But going by recent history, the chances of this happening are dim: the poor will be the last to use the technologies, or benefit from them.

Strengthening North-South Partnerships: Addressing Structural Barriers to Mutual Influence

One of the most significant differences concerns the issue of mutual influence, a critical factor associated with effective partnerships (Dichter & Fisher, 1988; Alter & Hage, 1993; Brown & Ashman, 1996; Lewis, 1998). While Northern PVOs report that some influence has shifted to their Southern partners, many Southern NGOs say that they have little influence in their relations with Northern agencies. African NGOs even report that cooperating with Northern NGOs threatens their missions and autonomy (IFCB, 1998). As the globalization of civil society expands, it will become even more critical to improve international relations between civil society organizations and reduce perceptions of Northern dominance (Edwards, 1999; Offenheiser et al., 1999). In sub-Saharan Africa, poverty is expected to increase and demands for equitable and effective development cooperation will intensify (World Bank, 1999). Indeed, many PVOs say they anticipate increasing the extent to which they work and share control with Southern partners (Leach, Kalegaonkar, & Brown, 1998).

Some argue that US PVOs and other Northern agencies are duplicitous, using partnership rhetoric to mask their on-going control of international aid relationships. Others suggest that these relationships can never attain the mutuality necessary for effective partnerships because they embody the larger structural inequality between the relatively wealthy North and poorer South. While there may be some truth in both these perspectives, this research explores an alternative explanation for the continuing North-South gap in perceptions and apparently limited success of PVO change efforts. It may be that PVOs' investments in organizational learning and change have been sincere, but limited to aspects of interorganizational relations which are more easily changed and de-coupled from underlying structural factors that skew control of joint activities in favor of the Northern partners.

New Information and Communication Technologies, Social Development and Cultural Change

The potential of digital technologies to improve the livelihood of people is great. In remote regions, the disadvantage that comes with isolation can be significantly lessened through access to rapid and inexpensive communications. Like-minded people can co-operate across great distance to defend human rights or promote other projects of common interest. Remote sensing can be used to protect the natural environment. The list of possible contributions to human development is long indeed.

Yet there are also obvious dangers in the current highly charged competition to gain control over digital technologies. Already existing trends toward polarization in the world economy can clearly be worsened. Digital advantage can reinforce the possibility that ever smaller groups of people will determine the future use of an ever larger proportion of global resources. Development can be concentrated in regions where the information infrastructure is most developed, to the detriment of areas that are not endowed with the most modern capabilities. And within societies, a growing "knowledge gap" can separate individuals who have access to the latest equipment, and have been trained to use it, from those less well endowed.

In the following pages, Cees Hamelink reviews the background of the current "information revolution", explains its principal technical features and explores possible scenarios for the future. He challenges the frequently held disposition to accept the current direction of change without question. The course of technological development, he reminds us, is always shaped by human beings with particular interests and goals, and a certain (sometimes implicit) view of the future. The latter should be examined openly, not taken for granted.

We have the obligation to think first of the kind of society we want to see in future, and then to influence the design and deployment of new technologies in ways that are most likely to further our goals. In this regard, institutional innovations are as important as scientific or technological breakthroughs in creating new opportunities for human development.

A particularly important aspect of contemporary technological innovation is the quest for new ways to capture, store, process, transport and display information. Although the prevailing expectation is that progress in this field will have a profound impact on societies, expert opinions differ about whether this impact will be positive or negative. In fact it is difficult, if not impossible, to foresee the future social and economic implications of the adoption and proliferation of new information and communication technologies, and this creates a serious problem for policy makers. In the following pages, a case is made for accepting the ambiguities inherent in the current process of technological change and giving concerted attention to specification of the social and institutional changes that will be required to strengthen its potential for social development.

By and large, policy makers in the developing countries were concerned with the availability of technological products, rather than with the more complex problems associated with their political, economic and cultural integration. Thus little or no attention was given to meeting the infrastructural requirements for a productive assimilation of imported science and technology in the recipient countries. The process of technology choice also tended to be undemocratic. Very seldom was there a comprehensive analysis of needs and alternative choices to meet those needs, nor was there usually any public consultation on alternatives. The state of most policy-making was characterized by an emphasis more on operational choices (procurement and deployment) than on strategic choice (the direction of technological development).

When, in the course of the 1960s, the volume of transferred technology increased considerably, many recipient countries became aware of the fact that the transfer usually consisted of end-products rather than of technology per se, that much of the transfer took place as intra-firm movements, that the conditions under which transfer took place were often disadvantageous for them, and that much of the technology was inappropriate, obsolete, over-priced, or all of these together.

By the 1970s, the introduction of ICTs such as telephony, educational television and satellite communications began to show a specific pattern of social benefits in most developing countries. Various studies suggested that the primary beneficiaries were the companies that provided the equipment (for example telephone companies), the banking consortia providing the funding, and the local administrative élites who used the new technology. Often unforeseen negative secondary effects occurred, such as serious balance of payments problems associated with the capital intensity of the new technologies (Clippinger, 1976).

All this gave rise to spirited debate within UNESCO and the United Nations General Assembly, and eventually to a proposal for a New Information and Communications Order. When the dust of this debate subsided, many developing countries - adverse experiences notwithstanding - expressed a strong interest in receiving foreign aid to develop their information and communication infrastructures. Aid programmes were established in the fields of mass media and telecommunications development.

In 1980 the UNESCO General Conference initiated, with the unanimous support of all member states, the International Programme for the Development of Communication. Shortly thereafter, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference of 1982 established an independent commission to study the problems of worldwide telecommunications development. And in 1985, the Maitland Commission produced a report entitled The Missing Link, recommending more investment in telecommunications in developing countries and more resources for training and transfer of technology. Among its principal conclusions were the following (Maitland, 1992):

The Maitland Report concluded not only that ICTs are critical to economic development, but also that they unleash forces transforming education, enriching national cultures and reinforcing social cohesion (Independent Commission, 1985:13).

Walking on the Other Side of the Information Highway: Communication, Culture and Development in the 21st Century.

These governments seem to forget that information and communication technologies may not only have a direct impact on the economic development, but also on the political organization, and socio-cultural value system of a society. As technology is called into existence by a particular set of historical circumstances that shape and define that technology, one must understand that set of historical circumstances if one is to comprehend the effective relationship between technology and society. Therefore, I don't believe in the idea that Western technology can be borrowed without taking in Western culture at the same time. In my opinion, science and technology are much more than the mere instruments they were expected to be; they cannot be just borrowed or bought. Many policy-makers seem to assume that technical and economic progress is simply a means to an end and that it hardly affects the culture in which it occurs. It seems as if they believe that they can achieve Western-style progress and at the same time retain their culture and their morals or, at the least, most of the essential parts of them.

After assessing the changes which took place in the communication for development field, Servaes presents two communication models: a 'Diffusion/Mechanistic' versus a 'Participatory/Organic' Communication Model. Building on both models he then analyses the policies of a number of national and international governmental and non-governmental agencies. The general conclusion of this review is that no all-embracing view on communication for development is on offer. No theory has achieved and maintained explanatory dominance. Each of two models on development communication still does find support among academics, policy makers, international organizations, and the general public. In general, adopted and updated versions of the ideas upon which the Modernisation Theory and Diffusion Model are built-economic growth, centralised planning, top-down flows, and the belief that underdevelopment is rooted in mainly internal causes which can be solved by external (technological) 'aid' -- are still shared by many development agencies and governments. A revitalised modernisation and diffusion perspective in which some of the errors of the past are acknowledged and efforts are made to deal in new ways (as outlined in the Participatory Model) remains the dominant perspective in practice but becomes increasingly more difficult to defend in theory.

Anamaria Decock takes a completely different position. She argues that development is about people, not about media. Human development requires interaction, discussion, dialogue. At the village level, traditional performers are still potential educators. But for how long?

How strong are indigenous communication resources? How fragile? Is their existence threatened? Will they be able to live up to a world woven into the nets of high tech. wires? For how long will the global culture project images which incite people to steer away in contempt from their own cultural roots? Will the culture of the many allow one-day for safeguarding the cultures of the few? Participation and the use of indigenous communication resources are in her opinion the answers to these questions.

IDRC Study/Acacia Initiative

The aim of the study was to investigate the feasibility of developing a programme to enhance the capacity of human rights and other advocacy organisations in southern Africa through taking advantage of current developments in ICT.

More specifically, this investigation sought to:

But how realistic or feasible is it to exploit the developments in ICT, and in particular the Internet, for building the capacity of the non-governmental sector in Africa?

In a recent investigation carried out with the support of the European Union5, Oxford Learning Space developed and field-tested an interactive learning module entitled Proposals that make a difference: how to write effective grant proposals, designed specifically for NGOs in Africa6. Originally developed as a web-based learning module, it was tested by representatives of more than 30 NGOs from South Asia, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Europe. Field-testing was undertaken both in a UK-based university environment where web-access was free and unlimited, and subsequently in East Africa under a variety of conditions where web-access was frequently difficult. In the course of the experiment, it became clear that the Web was a less than optimal medium for the delivery of such learning materials. Even in ideal UK-based University environment, users experienced difficulties in the speed of access, with few being willing to spend the required 3-4 hours required to complete the module. Most individuals felt inhibited about using the Internet for extended periods of time, even though there was no connection-cost involved. When field-testing was undertaken in East Africa and elsewhere in developing countries, the cost of this amount of time on the Internet was prohibitive, as were the costs of local calls.

As a consequence, the training module was reconstructed in the form of a pdf file. The advantage of this approach was that it enabled learning to be undertaken without connection to the Internet. At the same time, where required, links to useful websites and other resources on the Internet can be made from within the programme. Further field-testing of the module showed that this approach was effective in the conditions in which most developing country NGOs operate. In contrast to the web-based materials, most users had little concern about spending extended periods of time in front of the computer. The study showed that although the Internet is an effective transmission medium for such learning materials, and is a valuable resource for accessing relevant information, training materials are probably best undertaken off-line. The strength of using a format such as Acrobat Reader is that it allows a "mixed approach": the bulk of the learning taking place offline, while access to websites and email being available "at the click of a button." That study suggested it is possible to develop material that both exploits the developments in ICT but also works within the constraints faced by many development NGOs in much of Africa.

International Development Research Centre

While every effort was made to involve as many organisations as possible in the review, it was not possible to meet with representatives of every organisation. However, given the number of organisations interviewed, their range of preoccupations and types of organisations involved we believe that we have a reasonably comprehensive picture of the current status and needs of human rights and advocacy organisations in southern Africa. Furthermore, given the rate at which access to ICT has been growing during the last 3-5 years, and is likely to continue in the coming period, the characterisation of the status of ICT provided in this report may remain true for a relatively short period of time. It was apparent, in addition, that the process of conducting the survey acted as a stimulus of interest in the use of the Internet. It is probably safe to assume that in most of these countries ICT capacities are likely to increase.

Although access to computers and the Internet may be growing, there is concern about the extent of disparities between organisations in each country and between South Africa (and to some extent Namibia) and the remainder of the SADC countries. If technology has one universal characteristic, it is its capacity to amplify differences - "Apparently indiscriminately, it amplifies efficiency or inefficiency, risk or caution, waste or saving, advantage or disadvantage." Our survey showed a wide disparity between organisations in the accessibility of the resources of the Internet in every country. Those who have access frequently "hoard" that access, creating greater divergences between the "haves" and "have-nots". There were very few examples of a culture of sharing either the resources or the information systematically with those who are less well resourced. This is of concern in a constituency most of whom would proclaim their own commitment to establishing a popular democratic culture in the region. Any programme designed to use ICT as a means for building capacity would need to develop means for counteracting this seemingly "natural" proclivity of technology to amplify inequalities.

Many organisations in the region have lived for many years in an environment where access to information has been limited. Brought up in a culture of information starvation, the first reaction on confronting the internet - a table replete with mountains of data - the first reaction is inevitably to over-feast, to hoard, and to attempt to consume everything that is to be found there. While this reaction is understandable, there is a need to develop a culture that is more selective, systematic and discriminatory from the point of view of the purpose for which information needs to be retrieved.

In a very real sense, the key to effective use of the Internet by human rights organisations will be the development of effective research skills amongst this constituency.

The findings here largely confirm previous studies on the feasibility of using the Internet for providing training materials for NGOs. Because of the wide disparities in access to the Internet (beyond email-only access), and because it will be several years before bandwidth of sufficient size will make web access sufficiently fast, the most feasible approach would be to develop materials in a similar format to Proposals that make a difference in which the most of the learning can be undertaken offline, but with ready and instantaneous access to the Internet when and where necessary. The range of subjects on which training is required is substantial, both in the field of human rights and in management and organisational development. Our findings are largely consistent with the findings of previous studies on the training needs of human rights organisations.

At the same time, there is an impressive range of valuable training material available in the region that could be used to help develop computer/internet based learning materials. More importantly, there is a wide pool of experts and activists who could be, and are interested, in participating in the development of appropriate materials. This is important because the most effective learning materials will be those that are able to speak directly to the experience of the region.

It was fortuitous that we were able to demonstrate an example of the kind of computer-/internet-based learning materials. Without that, it would have been difficult to generate the level of enthusiasm that we encountered. The module on Proposals that make a difference was intentionally designed, however, for use as a "stand-alone", enabling the user to work on their own without having a facilitator supporting the learning process. However, not all the subjects identified in this study would lend themselves to a stand-alone approach. Some would need to have links to on-line facilitators/tutors, connections with discussion lists, and connections with websites in which suitable updates could be provided. Technically, this would not be a problem using the software used with the Proposal module. Some of the subjects would need to be supported through conventional workshop based learning. Again, our impression is that both online and workshop facilitators could be readily identified from within Africa (if not from within the sub-region).

Only a few of the subjects identified were ones that could probably be learned largely using some form of interactive module - mainly those that comprise imparting technical skills. The majority of subjects would require a combination workshop based learning and self-study modules that are linked to appropriate websites and discussion lists. The building of leadership qualities involves more than skills - it involves a much more substantial "paradigm shift" in the ways of thinking and behaving in everyday life as well as at work. Learning leadership involves a process that would require considerably more than what can be provided using computer/internet based learning. There are a number of institutions in the region (e.g. Olive, a Durban based organisation) who specialise in this area, and who run provide longer term support using a variety of methods including action-learning sets. Their involvement in building leadership capacities could be sought. Since building leadership skills is such a critical aspect of capacity building, there would need to be a sizeable investment made in this area.

There was a wide disparity in knowledge and experience of using the Internet (beyond merely sending and receiving email). There is a large number of organisations that need basic training in the use of the Internet. However, while the acquisition of such skills (such as those provided by SangoNet's training courses) is necessary, we believe that they may not be sufficient for developing capacity to use the resources of the Internet for building capacity. Along side the acquisition of such skills is the need to develop effective research capabilities, and in particular capacities for using the Internet as a resource for research. A lesson learned in the course of this survey was the unintended, but nevertheless important, side-effect of demonstrating the learning module: it became clear that such modules can be effective entry-points for introducing people to the internet and for learning how to use its resources. Training materials of this kind can provide an important driving force for organisations to become connect to, and to use the resources of, the Internet. It may be useful to exploit this feature further in subsequent training materials, and to develop research skills as part of the process of learning the subject matter of the module.

For some years now the donor community has been preoccupied with supporting human rights. This is welcome. However, it is unclear how long that preoccupation will continue. Many organisations expressed their concern about the degree to which they were dependent on funds from such sources. We believe that if a programme is initiated to develop training materials for human rights organisations, means need to be found to ensure that there is some degree of sustainability. One way in which this could be done is to charge for obtaining copies of the training modules. The costs could be calculated to ensure that sales will result in sufficient funds to develop further training modules.

We were gratified, but also overwhelmed, by the degree of enthusiasm shown by the organisations we met for the idea of developing such training materials, helped largely by the fact that we were able to demonstrate a concrete example. The enthusiasm will provide an important source of energy for driving such a project. It also reflects the urgent need for materials that can assist the process of building capacity of human rights organisations.

Internet for the Third World - Chance or Threat?

Internet offers a great help against human rights violation. Human rights groups can disseminate information about violation of human rights very quickly using e-mail, thus obtaining international attention for their urgent actions. For the first time Internet was used to inform about the ongoing massacre on the Tianamen place in Beijing in 1989. And it was possible to correct the false information about the Gulf War by American authorities in 1991 or to focus on the xenophobic riots against foreigners in the new German federal states in 1991 using the computer network NGO Comlink in Germany and activate protests against these attitudes. I also want to mention the role of Internet in the conflict of Chiapas between Zapatistas and the Mexican government beginning in January 1994. The Mexican newspaper La Jornada publishes the declarations of the EZLN and its subcomandante Marcos. Meanwhile there is a own Web-Page for the EZLN. When the Peruvian guerilla group MRTA took the Japanese residence in December 1996 public was informed about the facts in Peru by Human rights groups as well as by MRTA themselves using WEB-Pages in different countries.

In the case of the occupation of the Japanese residence in Peru the intervention of Human rights groups was as unsuccessful as in the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa from Nigeria who was murdered by Nigerian authorities. Today there are many Human rights groups present in Internet as there are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, WOLA, Centro de Documentacion e Informacion sobre Derechos Humanos en America Latina, Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development and many others.

Culture Clash

As Internet is a media mostly for industrialized nations, nearly all information available on the net is in English. Although there are over 6000 different languages in the World and only about 470 million people are speaking English, 90 percent of information is stored in this language. Besides some information in Spanish (2 percent), French (5 percent) and German the other languages are nearly absent on Internet. [Are the French fighting a losing battle on the Internet? NATW April 21, 1997] This contributes to a globalization of the English language and western and U.S. American culture and at the same time to less importance of other languages and cultures. There is emerging a second conquest of Third World and not an exchange of culture values. The Internet serves as an "electronic trojan horse". Or as France's Justice Minister, Jacques Toubon expressed: "If we do nothing, it will be too late. We will be colonized." (NATW 1997)

The Panos study from 1995 sees the risk that by means of Internet values from the North could be transferred into the South. The effect of the broader cultural context will, though, be more important. As Northern (mostly US) businesses move onto the internet, they naturally express their values - a more socially conservative free-trade capitalism.

But television is considered to be a larger threat than Internet, because there are more people who have a TV, about 1 200 million TVs, than a telephone mainline, that are about 640 million. One remedy against the fear of uncritical taking over of northern consuming attitudes and northern values could be a counter production from the South. Perhaps this way the South could prevent the loss of cultural integrity, loss of national values and identity. Otherwise "culture shock" may easily become a disease. The news services Interpress Service, Agencia Latinoamerica de Información, and Panafrican News Agency are attempts to break dominance of western news agencies. One major concern about languages is written language. Written languages which do not use Latin alphabet are due to use of ASCII 7 bit code, which is used in international networks, at great disadvantage. But also Germans who use Latin alphabet know about problems with "Umlaut".

The problem of a possible superseding of cultures through use of modern communication technology was one subject of the G7 meeting in Brussels in February 1995. Especially France, Canada and Italy emphasized they would not concede that their cultures should vanish in 21st century for American computers, telephones and American TV. Although members of the G7 summit in February 1995 in Brussels opted for the preservation of different culture and languages, they didn't propose any measures against U.S. dominance in media sector.

Increase of Present Inequality

Another aspect in judging the spread of Internet in Third World nations that should not be neglected is the danger of widening the existing differences between the poor and the rich in these countries. Already today these gaps are greater in developing countries than in industrial nations. In Western industrial nations the gap between the poor and the rich is big, about 1 to 6, in Latin America the income is even more unequally distributed. Here the relation between the poor and the rich is 1 to 32. Besides the abysmal gap from North to South the gap will steadily increase in developing nations, a gap which is also perceptible in industrialized societies.

I spoke about the "software forge" in India and the transfer of jobs form Northern countries to the South. But the example of India demonstrates that this fact isn't combined with improvement for all Indian people. Today there are only 13 percent of the 57000 villages in India linked to the nationwide telephone network. The Indian government tried to change this and called for an international convocation to establish telephone infrastructure in 13 of 20 regions. But there wasn't any bid for 8 of the 13 regions, because establishing the telephone mainlines didn't promise sufficient income. That's not surprising, as only 3 percent of all Indian owners of mainlines make up 80 percent of sales and the remaining 20 percent are made by 11 percent more users. That is only a very little upper class that can afford such service. It's obvious that there is no need to think on Internet connections.

To achieve all the benefits from connecting Third World to Internet you must spend much money. In accordance with data from Word Bank the costs for one telephone connection in inner-city regions of the Third World is about 500 to 1500 dollars. The ITU's objective to connect thousand persons with ten telephone mainlines in Sub-Saharan Africa would consume 28 billion dollars. [Hans d'Orville: United Nations - Technology Revolution Study, 1996] However today the developing countries have a foreign debt burden of 2 000 billion dollars and their debt burden is increasing.

1,5 billion human beings are living in absolute poverty, i.e. they have less than one dollar to spend every day. This corresponds to a monthly income of less than 30 dollars. One year ago there were "only" 1,3 billion living in absolute poverty, i. e. poverty is on the rise despite technical progress. The relation of income between the 20 % of world population who are the richest and the most 20 % poorest people increased from 30:1 in 1960, passing 59:1 in 1989 to 61:1 in 1991 in spite of advancing technology in developing nations. Just in midst of 1996 when the successfully introduction and growth of Internet was celebrated, the demonstrations of hungry Jordanians reminded the elite in an impressionable manner what the really needs of the big majority of Jordanian population are. [Net Across the World, Demand For Internet Service Mushrooms In Jordan, April 29, 1996 and Jordanian Conference To Highlight Internet Advantage, August 19, 1996]

If we compare the 30 dollars monthly income of the poor with the 75000 dollar yearly income of a common Internet shopper, certainly raises the question about the importance of Internet access for people in developing countries. Aren't civil wars, hunger, malnutrition, diseases, lack of jobs, and unequal distribution of income in Third World an more important challenge than the almost not realizable plan to connect all persons to Internet?

In many countries the demands of UNESCO in regard to information supply aren't fulfilled. The demands are:

  1. 10 newspapers per 100 inhabitants
  2. 2 Radios per 100 inhabitants
  3. 2 seats in cinema per 100 inhabitants

The only country from the Third World fulfilling these demands is Cuba.

The use of Internet in Third World has its benefits, but usually only the elite of the countries will profit from it. Although the various use of Internet by engaged groups is something good, the implications for improvement of the vast majority is limited. Medical networks may help in emergency situations and contribute to a limited success, but most diseases in Third World are typical diseases caused by poverty, which cannot be eradicated by consulting specialized databases. Promoting human rights are not only useful but are also necessary. But the fact that violations against human rights are getting known more rapidly by use of Internet can't prevent the violation in most cases, as was demonstrated painfully by the murder of the Nigerian writer Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Internet used by NGOs and by education and research institutes on high level as well as in government influenced areas will only help, if the elite is conscious of its responsibility for the well being of the whole society and if we, the people of the wealthy North, don't continue to monopolize the new communication media at the cost of the others. Perhaps the Peruvian example realized by the Peruvian Scientific Network, RCP, with its public Internet offices (cabinas públicas) can serve how to use Internet access in a collective way instead of individual use. In this way we can avoid increasing computer scrap and can achieve access of information highway for poorer people too. Although the actual fee of 15 dollars makes it nearly impossible for most Peruvians to participate even in this way. Taking into account the average income of 82 dollars, this solution aims to the right direction.

Information Technology, Globalization and Social Development

Information and communication technology as a strategic tool.

Information technology is not the cause of the changes we are living through. But without new information and communication technologies none of what is changing our lives would be possible. In the 1990s the entire planet is organized around telecommunicated networks of computers at the heart of information systems and communication processes. The entire realm of human actitivity depends on the power of information, in a sequence of technological innovation that accelerates its pace by month. Genetic engineering, benefitting from this wealth of information processing capacity, is progressing by leaps and bounds, and is enabling us, for the first time, to unveil the secrets of living matter and to manipulate life, with extraordinary potential consequences. Software development is making possible user friendly computing, so that millions of children, when provided with adequate education, can progress in their knowledge, and in their ability to create wealth and enjoy it wisely, much faster than any previous generation. Internet - today used by about 100 million people, and doubling this number every year - is a channel of universal communication where interests and values of all sorts coexist, in a creative cacophony. Certainly, the diffusion of information and communication technology is extremely uneven. Most of Africa is being left in a technological apartheid, and the same could be said of many other regions of the world. The situation is difficult to remedy when one third of the world's population still has to survive on the equivalent of one dollar per day.

Technology per se does not solve social problems. But the availability and use of information and communication technologies are a pre-requisite for economic and social development in our world. They are the functional equivalent of electricity in the industrial era. Econometric studies show the close statistical relationship between diffusion of information technology, productivity and competitiveness for countries, regions, industries and firms (Dosi et al., 1988). They also show that an adequate level of education in general, and of technical education in particular, is essential for the design and productive use of new technologies (Foray and Freeman, 1992). But neither the sheer number of scientists and engineers nor the acquisition of advanced technology can be a factor of development by itself (neither was enough for the Soviet Union - see Castells and Kiselyvova, 1995), without an appropriate organizational environment.

The crucial role of information and communication technologies in stimulating development is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows countries to leapfrog stages of economic growth by being able to modernize their production systems and increase their competitiveness faster than in the past. The most critical example is that of the Asian Pacific economies, and particularly the cases of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea. This is so despite the current financial crisis, which is unrelated to competitive performance and may be related, in fact, to the attractiveness of booming Asian economies to global capital flows. On the other hand, for those economies that are unable to adapt to the new technological system, their retardation becomes cumulative. Furthermore, the ability to move into the Information Age depends on the capacity of the whole society to be educated, and to be able to assimilate and process complex information. This starts with the education system, from the bottom up, from the primary school to the university. And it relates, as well, to the overall process of cultural development, including the level of functional literacy, the content of the media, and the diffusion of information within the population as a whole.

In this regard, what is happening is that regions and firms that concentrate the most advanced production and management systems are increasingly attracting talent from around the world, while leaving aside a significant fraction of their own population whose educational level and cultural/technical skills do not fit the requirements of the new production system. A case in point is Silicon Valley, the most advanced information technology producing region in the world, which can only maintain the pace of innovation by recruiting every year thousands of engineers and scientists from India, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea, Israel, Russia and Western Europe, to jobs that cannot be filled by Americans because they do not have proper skills (Benner, in progress). Similarly, in Bangalore, Bombay, Seoul or Campinas, engineers and scientists concentrate in high technology hubs, connected to the "Silicon Valleys" of the world, while a large share of the population in all countries remains in low-end, low-skill jobs, when they are lucky enough to be employed at all. (Carnoy, 1999). Thus there is little chance for a country, or region, to develop in the new economy without its incorporation into the technological system of the information age. Although this does not necessarily imply the need to produce information technology hardware locally, it does imply the ability to use advanced information and communication technologies, which in turn requires an entire reorganization of society (Castells and Tyson, 1988, 1989).

A similar process affects the life chances of individuals. Not everybody should be a computer programmer or a financial analyst, but only people with enough education to reprogramme themselves throughout the changing trajectory of their professional lives will be able to reap the benefits of the new productivity. What about the others? It depends on social organization, the strategies of firms, and public policies. But left to market forces, there is an undeniable tendency toward a polarized social structure, between countries and within countries, as I will show below.

In sum, information and communication technology is the essential tool for economic development and material well being in our age; it conditions power, knowledge and creativity; it is, for the time being, unevenly distributed within countries and between countries; and it requires, for the full realization of its developmental value, an inter-related system of flexible organizations and information-oriented institutions. In a nutshell, cultural and educational development conditions technological development, which conditions economic development, which conditions social development, and this stimulates cultural and educational development once more. This can a be a virtuous circle of development or a downward spiral of underdevelopment. And the direction of the process will not be decided by technology but by society, through its conflictive dynamics.

So, ultimately, networks -- all networks -- come out ahead by restructuring, even if they change their composition, their membership, and even their tasks. The problem is that people, and territories, whose livelihood and fate depend on their positioning in these networks, cannot adapt so easily. Capital disinvests, software engineers migrate, tourists find another fashionable spot, and global media close down in a downgraded region. Networks readapt, bypass the area (or some people), and reform elsewhere, or with someone else. But the human matter on which the network was living cannot so easily mutate. It becomes trapped, or downgraded, or wasted. And this leads to social underdevelopment, precisely at the threshold of the potentially most promising era of human fulfillment.

New technologies do not induce unemployment, as has been repeatedly demonstrated by empirical research (Carnoy, 1999). Indeed, at the world level there is a massive creation of jobs but, in most cases, under conditions of over-exploitation: the most telling development is the employment of about 250 million children at the time work is supposedly ending. But there is unemployment in Western Europe when firms facing tight labor rules, high wages, and generous social benefits refuse to create jobs. Those firms have the possibility of automating, subcontracting, and/or investing elsewhere, while still selling goods and services in the European market. Thus, under current conditions, markets overwhelm regulations and worker protection through relying on the increased mobility of resources made possible in the new technological environment. This is why, in the midst of the most extraordinary period of human ingenuity, people around the world are taken by panic. And this is why, together with affluence and prosperity for a significant minority (about 1/3 of the people in advanced countries, and probably about 1/5 in the world at large, who have substantially improved their living standards in the last 10 years), there is the formation of a fourth world, characterized by social exclusion.

The Fourth World

This world is composed of people, and territories, that have lost value for the dominant interests in informational capitalism. Some of them because they offer little contribution as either producers or consumers. Others because they are uneducated or functionally illiterate. Others because they become sick or mentally unfit. Others because they could not afford the rent, became homeless, and were devoured by life in the streets. Others who, unable to cope with life, became drug addicts or drunks. Others because, in order to survive, they sold their bodies and their souls, and went on to be prostitutes of every possible desire. Others because they entered the criminal economy, were caught, and became inhabitants of the growing planet of the criminal justice system (almost 3% of adult males in the United States). Others because they had an incident with a cop, or a boss, or some authority, and got onto the wrong track. And places, entire places become stigmatized, confined by police, bypassed by networks of communication and investment. Thus, while valuable people and places have been globally connected, devalued locales become disconnected, and people from all countries and cultures are socially excluded by the tens of millions. This fourth world of social exclusion, beyond poverty, exists everywhere, albeit in different proportions -- from the South Bronx to Mantes-la-Jolie, from Kamagasaki to Meseta de Orcasitas, and from the favelas of Rio to the shanties of Jakarta. And there is, as I have tried to show, a systemic relationship between the rise of informational, global capitalism, under current historical conditions, and the extraordinary growth of social exclusion and human despair.

Yet the interaction between economic growth and social development in the information age is still more complex. It is the entire social organization that becomes productive or, on the contrary, an obstacle for innovation, and thus for productivity growth. Personal freedom (and therefore liberty in its fullest sense) is a pre-requisite for entrepreneurialism. Social solidarity is critical for stability and thus for predictability in investment. Family safety is essential for the willingness to take risks. Trust in one's fellow citizens, and in the institutions of governance, is the foundation for socializing ingenuity in a given space and time, thus making it possible for others to enjoy the fruits of such ingenuity. In a word (and continuing along the seamless circle of change to which reference was made at the outset of this paper), social development leads to cultural development, which leads to innovation, which leads to economic development, which fosters institutional stability and trust; and this underlies a new, synergistic model that integrates economic growth and the enhancement of quality of life.

International NGOs: Networking, Information Flows and Learning

Since the 1980s, INGOs have become synonymous with a particular style of political action. This relies on making political statements on behalf of local communities outside the established channels of the nation state by mobilising opinion on a global basis on issues that nation states have treated as marginal to their own agendas. The strategy of these third-generation NGOs is directed towards facilitating sustainable changes through international advocacy. This means less direct involvement at grassroots level but a greater need for maintaining strong institutional links with partners at local level. These agencies are based and receive funds from high-income countries but work for the poor in developing countries, particularly through the action of the rapidly growing numbers of grassroots organisations (GROs). INGOs have been able to perform this advocacy role because of their simultaneous attachment to local places and cultures on the one hand and their critical engagement with global institutions on the other.

The now widespread use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has facilitated the organisation of these networks of groups, which derive their strength from the commitment and energy of activists world-wide (Mansell and Wehn, 1998). Annis (1992) was among the first to identify this 'informational empowerment' due to increased connectedness of geographically-dispersed GROs and INGOs.

Yet despite their strategic multi-level reach, fuelled by the potential of ICT-based networking capability, the contribution of INGOs remains limited more to small-scale successes of implementing development projects rather than to achieving maximum impact in influencing global policy (Salmen and Eaves, 1989; Edwards and Hulme, 1995; Edwards, 1997).

With this strategy, deliberate networking strategies with intermediate NGOs, GROs and intended beneficiaries are considered to be even more crucial to improve learning experiences from the field (Edwards and Hulme, 1995; Wils, 1995; Meyer, 1997). In their networking efforts, INGOs have begun to make much more systematic use of information systems - both ICT-based and non-ICT-based - in order to improve the flow of ideas, experiences and information across national frontiers between INGO headquarters, national offices and the grassroots level. In a small number of INGOs, such as Save the Children Fund (SCF), an increasing amount of energy and resources are going into information activities at the country and regional-office levels with many offices having full-time information officers with a brief to collect, analyse and disseminate information internally and externally.

Recent advances in ICTs mean not only cheaper information sharing, but also that networking is made simpler as cohorts are connected by fax and email. For example, in a recent study of INGOs and their use of ICTs, Bergman (1997) found that the vast majority of these organisations make frequent use of phone-, fax- and modem-based communication. However, in most INGOs, systems for accessing, storing, transferring and disseminating information are underdeveloped. With the increased use of ICT-based communication in INGOs, there is an added acute problem of information overload. Staff complain bitterly of huge amounts of information being sent electronically every day, but too little structure to sift out what is relevant for learning to take place in the organisation (Edwards, 1994).

Learning need not be restricted to the experience of the organisation itself. Macdonald (1995) argues that the notion of organisational learning often focuses on internal aspects of the change process, neglecting the essential contribution of external information to internal change. Development projects succeed by networking and learning from a history of negotiation, coalition and change in the structure and behaviour of the INGO in response to interaction between the agency and other organisations, be they development agencies, academics, or partners. Some INGOs have made real strides in this area over the last few years. For example, there has been a marked increase in collaborative ventures between INGOs and academics. SCF, for example, has mounted joint research programmes with the Institute of Development Studies on food security and famine early warning, with the London School of Economics and Political Science on sovereignty and humanitarian intervention, and with the Institute for Development Policy and Management on NGO impact and accountability (Edwards, 1994). By contrast, communication and collaboration between INGOs has been poor. For example, Bergman's (1997) study revealed that only 35% of information is shared with other INGOs. More recently, some initiatives have been taken by INGOs such as Oxfam and Action Aid to work on common themes.

The focus is moving away from channelling information away from the field to be consumed by the headquarters, towards acceptance of locally-generated information and communication channels. It is recognised by many writers on organisational learning that much critical and influential information for learning comes in through informal and individual contacts (Argyris and Schon, 1984; Macdonald, 1995). However, so far, INGOs have tended to be excessively dependent on the written word although there is already evidence to suggest that field staff and partners react more favourably to indigenous and informal forms of information exchange such as folk media, drama, story telling and village meetings (Edwards, 1993). Mundy and Compton (1995) describe how these media interact with one another to form a network that constitutes the information environment of local communities, and an important source of empowerment and a conduit of change.

One intermediate NGO called Jana Sahayog based in Bangalore aims to improve the information environment of slum dwellers in the city. Recognising that much critical information comes in through informal sources from slum dwellers themselves, Jana Sahayog tries to identify and enhance traditional communication skills in the slums. For example, slum dwellers are encouraged to produce audiocassettes and videotapes describing their problems and requirements. Apart from isolated cases, however, much of the research on indigenous communication has concentrated on using indigenous channels to promote exogenous (increasingly ICT-based) innovations rather than on the dissemination of indigenous knowledge among communities. This has led to neglect of local initiative in the design of development efforts and a threat of the erosion of indigenous and informal systems due to the influence of formal, ICT-based, western-oriented information systems typically packaged with foreign aid.

What is most important in the information sharing and learning culture is not the information per se, as that may become rapidly obsolete and need updating. Meyer (1997) argues that building learning capacities should take precedence over building costly structures for information storage and retrieval. This capability building for organisational learning has to be legitimised by senior managers and the necessary resources provided. For example, Oxfam UK has recently initiated a cross-programme learning fund to create more space for learning (Roche, 1995). Experience shows that people are unlikely to use or value learning if they see it as someone else's responsibility, perpetuating the traditional divide between those who 'think' and those who 'act'. So INGOs need to pay special attention to encouraging learning among those who traditionally have not been encouraged to see themselves in this light (Meyer, 1997). This may require a much more imaginative approach using visual communication, and informal face-to-face dialogue to encourage a thirst for reflexive inquiry.

While field experiences are the building blocks of INGO advocacy, they must ultimately be generalised to have any influence in wider policy circles. The dilemma is that the reality of the situations in which INGOs intervene is complex, diverse, uncertain and contingent. This makes the issue of generalisation a real challenge for INGOs, yet one to which they need to give a lot more theoretical consideration (Meyer, 1997).

A number of avenues have been suggested as ways of distilling lessons of experience without over-generalising (Edwards, 1997). For example, rather than trying to aggregate the experiences of a region, a generalisation strategy may be to identify key common elements in patterns of experience or to focus on experiences that seem especially interesting or different. Another strategy may be to look for differences in interpretation of the same experience among different stakeholders and to treat that as a signal that indicates something important is happening. Generalisation may also be achieved by experimenting with purposive sampling of project-level experiences to reduce bias. Finally, generalisation may be achieved by building on long-term project experience and local research to give a rich picture of trends and to pool resulting information from different INGOs in the same area. For such wider learning to take place, more emphasis clearly needs to be placed on research and on the documentation and dissemination of indigenous experience in order that key lessons of experience can be drawn on to improve the quality of development work.

To conclude, due to their simultaneous attachment to the global and the local, INGOs offer the most hope for seeing communities as focal points for reconceiving and reconstructing the meaning of development. Figure 1 summarises the 'INGO network of stakeholders', indicating dual channels of global advocacy and local accountability, and institutional links with intermediate NGOs, GROs and beneficiaries. In particular, this paper has argued that encouraging action, reflection and learning from experience on a continuous basis among field staff and partners in projects must take top priority as depicted in the diagram. This learning needs to be supported by decentralised, flexible institutional structures that are more amenable to experimenting with indigenous forms of information and communication channels. For learning systems to become institutionalised within the INGO, new skills - in information sharing and learning, and in generalising from the field - must be in place.

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