"Up to now, the United Nations has scarcely tapped the potential of the Information Revolution. We remain handicapped by a change-resistant culture, inadequate information technology infrastructure, lack of training, and above all, failure to understand the great benefits that information technology can provide when used creatively.” – Kofi Annan, "We the Peoples"
As Kofi Annan’s tenure as Security General to the United Nations begins to draw to a close, it is interesting to examine and analyze the legacy he leaves behind and the mark he has left on this 60-year old institution. The seventh Secretary General to the UN, Kofi Annan took his post on January 1, 1997, a time of significant innovation and economic growth, particularly with regard to exciting developments in information technology. This era of technological innovation is reflected in Kofi Annan’s legacy, one important aspect of which is his focus on creating forums for and unprecedented success in collaborating with the private sector – especially IT and communications vendors and experts.
As is evidenced by Kofi Annan’s bold statement in his “We the Peoples” report and accompanying address to the UN’s General Assembly in 2000, Annan clearly and firmly believes that information technology and new communications solutions can assist the UN in achieving its goals and improving the overall effectiveness of the organization. But, what has been the true outcome of these efforts? Will this focus on embracing new technologies and engaging the private sector be counted as one of Annan’s successes in the long term? A review of the steps that have been taken to solidify new partnerships with technology companies, and an examination of how this approach has impacted the UN’s agenda will suggest a well-planned strategy to increasingly solidify a public-private collaborative approach to addressing the UN’s mission, and in particular, the Millennium Development Goals.
The UN Enters the New Millennium
Three years after Kofi Annan became Secretary General, he led the effort to create the UN’s Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The document was considered a landmark in the UN’s history, in part because it set specific targets for significantly reducing poverty and hunger, increasing access to education for all people, empowering women, addressing the child mortality rate and maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases that have crippled developing countries. Each of the goals includes a clearly defined target to be reached by the year 2015. The notion of creating actionable goals that could be measured and benchmarked was indicative of Annan’s desire to make the UN more effective, and more actively engaged with the private sector as a partner in pursuing the organization’s mission and initiatives in a business-minded manner. In fact, the eighth MDG directly addresses this vision: “to develop a global partnership for development,” and more specifically to work “in cooperation with the private sector to make available the benefits of new technologies — especially information and communications technologies.”
Kofi Annan Issues a Call to Action
In keeping with this facet of the eighth Millennium Development Goal, in November 2001, under Kofi Annan’s leadership the United Nations launched the Information and Communication Technologies Task Force to support the achievement of the MDGs by helping countries to incorporate information and communications technologies into their development activities, increase global communications, connectivity and bridge the digital divide. A year later, on November 5, 2002, via an editorial that appeared on CNET, Annan issued a challenge to the Silicon Valley’s technology community to join this effort. In it, he wrote:
"Bridging the digital divide is not going to be easy… If all countries are to benefit, we need more and better strategic public-private partnerships. That is one of the primary functions of the United Nation’s Information and Communication Technologies Task Force, which brings together CEOs, government officials, nongovernmental organizations, technical experts and other information industry leaders… We must define an inclusive, long-term vision and approach for the future. That is one of the main reasons why the United Nation’s General Assembly has decided to hold, under the leadership of the International Telecommunication Union, a World Summit on the Information Society…
That summit would benefit greatly from the active involvement of Silicon Valley decision makers… I hope the industry will broaden its horizon and bring more of its remarkable dynamism and innovation to the developing world.
In September 2000, the member states of the United Nations adopted a Millennium Declaration… Among the commitments they made was to “ensure that the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication technologies, are available to all.”
Information technology is not a magic formula that is going to solve all our problems. But it is a powerful force that can and must be harnessed to our global mission of peace and development. This is a matter of both ethics and economics; over the long term, the new economy can only be productive and sustainable if it spreads worldwide and responds to the needs and demands of all people. I urge everyone in a position to make a difference to add his or her energies to this effort."
WSIS Part I & The UN’s ICT Task Force
The World Summits took place, and the world’s technology leaders rose to Annan’s challenge. The first phase of the WSIS took place in Geneva in December 2003, hosted by the Government of Switzerland. More than 30 leading IT vendors, telecommunications and media companies took part, including Accenture, AT&T Business Internet Services, Cisco Systems, Citrix, Cognitive Technologies, CompassRose International, CompTIA, Deutsche Telekom, EDP Telecom, Eutelsat, Fujitsu Global Business, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, International Association of Broadcasting (IAB), International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), International Publishers Association (IPA), Internet Society (ISOC), Lucent Technologies, Microsoft Corporation, Motion Picture Association, News Corporation, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Association), Nokia, Nortel Networks, Plumtree Software, Ripe NCC, Siemens, Signet Technologies, SNE (French Publishers Association), Thuraya Satellite Telecommunications Company, Vistaraa and Vodafone, along with many other organizations. With the additional participation of governments, the private sector, NGOs and the “UN Family,” the Summit was a success, and resulted in the adoption of a Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action that included proactive oversight to ensure that the activities of the UN’s ICT Task Force were closely aligned with the achievement of the MDGs and the UN’s larger development agenda. The UN ICT Task Force developed a framework to help define the role that ICT can play in the overall development agenda and the MDGs.
Using this framework, the success of several programs and initiatives has been monitored and measured. These include the Global eSchools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI), which focuses on using ICT as a tool to improve the quality of education and strengthen the education infrastructure in developing countries. A further goal of the project is to then use the strengthened infrastructure to provide local communities with connectivity and access to knowledge.
The Global ePolicy Resource Network (ePol-NET) is another program that brings together providers of e-strategy and e-policy information and regulatory expertise. A third initiative is the Micro-finance alliance, which is comprised of representatives from micro-finance NGOs, IT companies and consulting firms that work together to ensure greater access to technology and capital for entrepreneurs and small-medium businesses in the developing world.
The Digital Diaspora Initiative builds strategic partnerships between African IT entrepreneurs in the Diaspora and women’s organizations and business associations in Africa. This effort is focused on gathering the financial, IT and business expertise and resources of Africans in the Diaspora to address the issue of poverty among women.
Several other ICT Task Force initiatives also exemplify Kofi Annan’s vision of creative partnerships between the public and private sector. Enablis, led by technology companies Accenture, HP and Telesystem Ltd., provides seed money and mentoring to small-medium sized businesses to help them connect with suppliers of information and communications technology, services and support. In addition, Enablis provides counsel to governments on effective policies related to ICTs, business and trade. Intel Corporation and UNITAR work together to deliver training seminars for UN ambassadors and diplomats through the ICT Policy and Training Program.
Another success story is GlobalGiving, which was founded by two former World Bank executives, with the support of an impressive group of technology new media and e-commerce companies, including Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), AOL, Applied Materials, eBay, Google, PayPal, Visa International, Yahoo! and others. GlobalGiving is an online marketplace that connects individual and institutional donors to social, environmental and economic development projects around the world. Donations can be made using a credit card, check, PayPal or stock transfer. According to a statement from its founders on the globalgiving.com website, “We have brought together a broad set of partners to build an open, efficient marketplace for international philanthropy. Without these partners, we would not exist today. All of us share a collective purpose of enabling people with great ideas for improving their communities and the world at large to get the support they need to make them happen.”
And, yet another successful collaboration involves Cisco Systems and the UN Development Fund for Women, who are working together to help increase women’s access to and opportunity in the Internet economy. The Cisco Learning Institute’s Networking Academy program has delivered technical education in 11 languages to nearly two million students via 11,000 academies in schools and civic organizations in 150 countries. In addition to providing technical education, Cisco also donates technology and lab equipment. The program’s most recent success story is the opening of the world’s first Regional Cisco Networking Academy Program specifically for women, the Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) in Pakistan. Dr Amin Matin, general manager of Cisco Pakistan, has stated that the program’s goal is to educate women in IT, improve their business skills and increase women’s overall professional productivity. Since August 2005, more than 1,000 students in Pakistan have enrolled in Cisco’s Networking Academy Program, an increase of 105% since 2004. The initiative is another step in Cisco’s Gender Initiative.
These concrete examples illustrate that over the past five years, the UN has successfully engaged in significant multi-sector partnerships. The UN ICT Task Force has enabled new models of collaboration to bridge the digital divide and bring new opportunities to underserved areas of the world, and is the first example of an organization within the UN that encourages NGOs, governments, non-profits and private companies to collaborate as fully vested partners. But, as successful as the UN ICT Task Force has proven to be, Kofi Annan had an even larger vision for bringing the UN into the new millennium and the Information Age.
WSIS – Part II & the Creation of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development
In November 2005, the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society took place in Tunis. But, in July of 2004 – more than a year prior to the second meeting of the WSIS – Kofi Annan had already asked the chairman of the UN’s ICT Task Force to develop a detailed proposal for the next step of advancement in his quest to solidify and extend the collaboration between the UN, the world’s governments, NGOs and the ICT vendor community. Kofi Annan envisioned a new global alliance for ICT and development that would expand the platform for “an open, inclusive, multi-stakeholder cross-sectoral policy dialogue on the role of information and communication technology in development.” The proposal was presented at the 2005 WSIS and received broad support. In April 2006, Kofi Annan approved the launch of the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development.
The mission of the new Alliance is to further contribute to linking the outcomes of the WSIS with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, with a focus on IT and new communications solutions as foundational elements for addressing all of the MDGs. The Alliance will build on existing initiatives and institutions, use new web-based collaborative technologies and function as a decentralized and multi-sector network comprised of a wide range of representatives of governments, business, NGOs, academia, youth and women’s groups, foreign policy, finance, social services, health, education, regulatory agencies, industry and workers associations, ICT vendors and the media.
The newly created 60-member Strategy Council includes representatives from 30 governments and 30 non-governmental members representing various stakeholder communities. Technology vendors represented on the Council include Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, SAMBA Financial Group, Siemens, STMicroelectronics and Visa International. Other technology companies involved in the Alliance thus far include HP, Network Computer Systems, Ltd. and Nokia, with more to be announced soon, according to the UN’s public information representative. The Alliance will be chaired by Craig Barrett, chairman of the board of Intel Corporation, an active participant in the WSIS and a leading advocate for the role technology can play in improving educational, social and economic standards. “It’s time to turn the spirit of UN WSIS into action,” stated Barrett, upon his appointment to the position. “The Global Alliance for ICT and Development has an exciting challenge to define solutions that will bring technology access, economic growth and educational opportunity to people around the world.”
The Alliance will have one physical meeting annually, with most work done online. The inaugural meeting is being held this week in Kuala Lumpur, hosted by the Government of Malaysia. The agenda will focus on developing effective policies and sustainable, long-term partnerships for public-private partnerships to utilize information and communications technologies for the advancement of the MDGs; including health and education initiatives, social venture entrepreneurship, poverty eradication, intersectoral governance and strategies for development in countries with economies in transition.
Since the announcement of the new Alliance in April, several working groups have already been established, and are actively pursuing their areas of focus. These working groups include:
The ICT Policy and Governance Working Group, whose focus is to work toward more inclusion of developing nations in global policymaking related to ICT, in order to build an environment that allows for the potential of IT to be realized by all countries.
The Enabling Environment Working Group, which is focused on the creation of a business plan that will help to eliminate barriers for competition and encourage investments in communications infrastructure, support for ICT-for-development policies and national e-strategies, and to promote low-cost connectivity and access resources around the globe.
The Human Resource Development and Capacity-building Working Group, which is led by two executives from Siemens, working closely with various UN agencies and other public and private partners to promote the use of ICT for capacity-building and human resource development.
The ICT Indicators and MDG Mapping Working Group, which continues the work of the initiative established by the UN ICT Task Force in April 2003, i.e. to examine the impact of ICT on the international development agenda, and more specifically, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This working group will measure and monitor initiatives, track successes, identify gaps and recommend new strategies for more effective collaboration between amongst the various organizations involved in these efforts.
Taking Stock of Kofi Annan’s Legacy – Looking Back – Looking Forward
What is the true outcome of all these efforts to date? According to many assessments, the results are mixed. The Millennium Development Goals 2005 Status Report states:
"A positive trend is the spread of information and communications technologies throughout the developing world. Access to such technologies has gained momentum since the mid 1990s, and continues to be a catalyst for development. In Bangladesh, for example, GrameenPhone, a private sector company, has started a micro-lending network enabling poor women to buy mobile telephones and sell phone services to fellow villagers. The initiative has helped create 100,000 new jobs, boosted the incomes of these women micro entrepreneurs and provided phone access to 60 million people in rural areas. In a short period of time, the boom in mobile phones has dramatically increased telephone access in the developing world. There were 25 fixed or mobile phones per 100 people in the developing world in 2003, compared to 2 in 1991. However, there are still large disparities among countries. And only 5% of the population in developing countries has Internet access. There is still a long way to go to bridge the digital divide between rich and poor."
According to some estimates, it will take many decades to fully achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and according to Jeffrey Sachs of the UN’s Millennium Development Project, there are large disparities across and within countries, and in some areas, poverty is becoming worse, not improving. “Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicenter of crisis, with continuing food insecurity, a rise of extreme poverty, stunningly high child and maternal mortality, and large numbers of people living in slums, and a widespread shortfall for most of the MDGs.” This may sound disconcerting, and one might be tempted to think that despite all the efforts of the UN and its ICT Task Force, with still only 5% of the population in developing countries being connected, no amount of public-private collaboration can totally bridge the digital divide or significantly address the world’s ills through the spread of information and communications technologies.
And yet, there has been undeniable progress in terms of achieving many of the MDGs on a more global scale. Again, according to Sachs, although large disparities exist in some parts of the world, average overall incomes have risen by 21% in a little more than a decade. The number of people in extreme poverty has declined by approximately 130 million. Child mortality rates have dropped from 103 deaths per 1,000 live births a year to 88. Life expectancy has risen from 63 years to 65 years. Eight percent more of the developing world's people have access to water, and 15% more have access to improved sanitation services. In addition, there have been promising indicators of success with regard to incorporating ICT into development initiatives. According to a study by the World Bank, a comprehensive national strategy for incorporating ICT into development initiatives in Korea has been a key driver in vastly improving the country’s economy. It is estimated that ICT contributed to GDP growth from 4.5% in 1990 to 50.5% in 2000.
Much of this progress cited by Sachs and the World Bank report was achieved even before the UN’s Millennium Development Goals were put in place; therefore one might suggest that if these positive global trends continue, and the commitment of the UN in partnership with private sector stays strong, there is great promise for further achievement of the MDGs in more parts of the world.
At a time when the United Nations is perceived by many to be ineffective or even irrelevant and little-changed since its founding 60 years ago, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s direction has provided a new vision for the future of the organization. The ICT-related initiatives that have been put in place by the UN since the start of the new millennium stand as a promising example of what’s possible for the United Nations of the future. Perhaps all of the Millennium Development Goals will not be fully realized by the year 2015, but there is indeed significant evidence to suggest that the pursuit of the Goals using ICT and in collaboration with the private sector is a very viable strategy, and that Kofi Annan’s vision of creating partnerships with leading technology companies has resulted in new economic, educational and social opportunities for tens of millions of people around the world.
Kofi Annan understood not only the important role that information and communications technology could play in the achievement of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, but also how to harness the power of the private sector in a mutually beneficial relationship. Annan has successfully brought the knowledge, expertise and vast technological and financial resources of the world’s largest companies to the developing world, while the companies have benefited not only from the good will that is generated by their participation in such efforts, but also by the opportunity to enter new and emerging markets.
The United Nations' Charter in a New Light
The charter of the UN outlines the organization’s purpose not only to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” but also to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” Now, thanks in large part to the efforts and vision of Kofi Annan, a new set of tools has been added to the arsenal to achieve this mission. The incorporation of information and communications technologies in development initiatives has proven to be an effective means of promoting human rights, furthering equality between men and women and improving social and economic progress through education, knowledge transfer, new business opportunities and the formation of virtual, global communications infrastructures that foster a deeper understanding, connection and collaboration between peoples and cultures. As Kofi Annan stated in 2000, "information and communications technology can indeed provide great benefits when used creatively," and could very possibly re-shape the way in which the United Nations pursues its mission and charter in the new millennium.