Conference on Volunteering and ICTs
Project at a glance
Dates and Place07 - 08 December 2003, Geneva, Switzerland
Date: 7 December 2003, 9 to 9h40
Liz Burns of the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) spoke about the importance of volunteering and the influence of civil society on technological development. In her welcome speech, Liz Burns paid tribute to science fiction writers who have warned us of technology taking over. "It is critical for us to not forget humanity in the issue", she underlined.
Alain Clerc of the WSIS Civil Society Division provided a brief introduction on the origins of this World Summit. Key actors involved in the preparation and implementation of the Geneva phase of the WSIS were the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), other UN agencies, governments, but also civil society and the private sector. Clerc underlined that in his view the WSIS set of conferences is different from previous ones, in that it is based on a multi-actor approach and held in two phases. Starting with the African regional conference in May 2002, it provides an opportunity to build a shared new vision of the future, a long-term projection of the technological society. Clerc went on to point out that civil society has a fundamental role to play in helping governments build this vision and that volunteers have an important role to play. He then explained that he had learned a lot more about the importance of volunteers for the information society. Indeed, while at first skeptical of the inclusion of the Volunteer Family in the International Civil Society Bureau, with time, he had learned how critical volunteers really are in creating a more inclusive and open information society.
Keynote Speech: Visions of Volunteering in the Information Society
Date: 7 d√©cembre 2003, 9h40 √† 10h15
This session was intended to provide visions on future developments of volunteering in the information society from two contrasting perspectives. Unfortunately, Rose Ekeleme, IAVE Africa was unable to attend due to visa problems.
Susan Ellis, President of Energize, pointed out the importance of citizen action. She focused on the role of the Internet as a volunteer mobilizing tool that has transformed voluntary work. Energize Inc., a group based in Philadelphia in the United States, works internationally to deal with issues of volunteerism. According to Ellis, Energize went online nine years ago when the web was just starting. Today, www.energizeinc.com is an important web resource on volunteerism.
Not surprisingly, Ellis praised the power of the web: "Email allows you to communicate in private and public as needed"; "Simultaneously public and intimate"; "Anyone who wants to communicate can do so." However, Ellis made the point that, no matter what anyone may say about their expertise in online affairs, one should keep in mind that no one has more than twelve years of experience.
She underlined the utility and benefits of the web for a range of tasks from communication to fundraising.
According to her, wireless connectivity to the web can become a fundamental tool for the future, especially considering the lack of infrastructure in peripheral areas. She sees volunteers as 'pioneers' and 'the voices of the future'. As a potentially revolutionary medium of communication, "Good governments should be excited about the Internet, bad ones should be afraid of it".
Ellis, however, was quick to point out that the power of the Internet also carries risks. While she said that she was "personally convinced that the Internet is a tool that offers more good than bad", she stressed that she did not want to just be positive. Some of her concerns include:
According to Ellis, one of the biggest challenges related to volunteerism and ICTs actually have little to do with computers: "In volunteer management, there is a lot of ignorance out there. If you have not learned how to manage volunteers in the real world, adding the Internet is not going to improve things."
Where We Are Now: Current Status of Volunteerism and ICTs by Region 1
Date: 7 December 2003, 9h40 to 10h15
This session continued to examine the current status of volunteering and new technologies in all areas of the world, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in each region.
Viola Krebs, of ICVolunteers and Focal Point for WSIS Volunteer Family, provided a background and history of the Volunteer Family for the WSIS, summarizing its activities and main achievements. One of the major milestones was the International Symposium on Volunteering and the Development of Human Capacity in the Information Society (ISV 2003), held in Dakar from 23 to 25 October 2003.
Krebs stressed the importance of local knowledge in implementing projects and made reference to Tim Burners Lee, who when creating http did it on his own initiative rather than being carried by an organization. She summarized the Volunteer Family's plans for the future and underlined that "we are just at the beginning. It is important to make sure that we are able to adapt to the true needs present in the field."
Krebs further said that the WSIS is an opportunity to identify the challenges we are confronted with when referring to technology. She stressed: "We must be able to 'change information into knowledge. Volunteers are playing a key role in the development of this knowledge society." Quoting several examples of volunteer work, she mentioned the Dakar Symposium and described how volunteers and experts can work together on these projects.
Krebs mentioned the photo exhibition shown at the ICT4D Exhibit of more than 70 photographs taken by 10 photographers showing images from around the world capturing the interactions of volunteerism and ICTs. She also referred to the film "Something out of nothing", an inquiry about the use of the Internet in Senegal and Mali.
Henri Valot and Merault Ahouangansi, of United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV), presented one of their projects based in Mali. They talked about the challenges, objectives and perspectives of the project, pointing out the importance of dialog and cooperation between countries, using the example of how 'industrialized' countries donating old computers have given a country like Mali the opportunity to start registering newborn babies.
Valot summarized the main challenges facing volunteerism in Africa. These revolve around sensitization and the need for equipment. He then went on to present his work with the Mayor of Timbuktu, as well as Afrique Initatives and other actors who have helped put together the first online city hall of Mali (www.tombouctou.net). He also mentioned UNITeS, the United Nations Technology Service (www.unites.org), a program of UNV. He outlined the role of UNV, which in this context is offering training in collaboration with local and national partners.
Diana Trahan presented Netcorps (Cyberjeunes), a program of Canada Monde, which allows young Canadians to experience volunteer work in Africa, Latin America or Eastern Europe. Netcorps' work mainly involves web-based ICT-volunteering, training, as well as web and database programming.
Netcorps is a five-year old Canadian coalition of 19 NGOs, financed by the government of Canada. Each year, Netcorps sends more than 250 volunteers around the world to help in almost every sector, from agriculture to development. Among others, Netcorps (Cyberjeunes) works with Geekcorps (www.geekcorps.org), a US-based organization that matches private sector experts with needs in developing countries. Netcorps (Cyberjeunes) also works with Netcorps Americas (www.netcorpsamericas.org), a project of the Trust of the Americas (TOA) that specializes in providing technological assistance to people with disabilities in the Americas. Using technology volunteers, Net Corps Americas recruits and sends approximately fifteen to twenty English and Spanish speaking volunteers skilled in ICTs to help its partner organizations.
Trahan went on to explain that in the beginning (1999), finding volunteers was a problem due to poor marketing. However, with experience, word of mouth, and a convenient change in the economy, things have changed for the better.
Where We Are Now: Current Status of Volunteerism and ICTs by Region 2
Date: 7 December 2003, 9h40 to 10h15
The afternoon started with a 25-minute documentary video, presenting an inquiry on the use of the Internet in Senegal and Mali. This film emphasized the fact that the digital divide cannot solely be described as a North-South issue, but maybe even more so as a gap between urban and rural areas. In addition, caution is needed when spreading technology, as this should not be done at any price in any way. The main character of the documentary, a Touareg living in the Sahel desert, summarizes this point well when he says: "you in the West are driven by time, but here we drive time. [...] I am not against technology, but we have other priorities. In my faction, there are 2,000 people and I am the only one who knows how to read and write."
This session continued to examine the current status of volunteering and information and communication technologies in all areas of the world, highlighting the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats in each region.
Sandra Blanco of the Foundation for Solidarity and Voluntary Work of the Valencian Community (FSVWV) presented the work of her foundation. She explained that 1,600 associations and 60,000 volunteers directly and indirectly benefit from the help her foundation provides. She went on to say that, for many organizations, appropriate ICT equipment is unaffordable, which is why it is essential to build partnerships with companies such as Microsoft. The latter made important donations to FSVWV, including software, computers and other equipment. Ms Blanco stressed that an implementation plan can be most helpful when working with ICTs, as it provides technical details on hard and software and helps smoothen the running of the organization or program.
Dr. Mike Naftali and Dr. Haim Ayalon (Topaz International) and Marcus Hallside (AMS - Advanced Maintenance Systems Ltd.) spoke about partnerships between the public and private sector.
They presented Topaz International, an Israel-based NGO, and explained their concept of ICT support for risk and resource management in volunteering. Topaz was founded about four years ago and mainly focuses on supporting youth in developing countries and against child labor. Why is it important to use ICTs? How do we help NGOs master and benefit from these new technologies to reach their goals? Naftali and Ayalon stressed that when speaking about the digital gap, one should remember that as the technology advances, the gap is widening. But having the right infrastructures makes it possible to run NGOs in a better way. They can improve fundraising, maximize knowledge and skills, provide efficient client management and program monitoring, take care of and better manage their human resources.
One example is the Hanuch Hanuch, a center that assists young people in difficulties, helping them to find jobs and a new place to make their living. The center operates eleven outreach-training vans, each equipped with computers. Volunteers provide the training. Once they are trained, many of the trainees join in as volunteers themselves, now training others. This has been a key element of the success of the program. The latter does not establish an exhaustive data collection, but considers it important to recognize the people and ensures a certain amount of follow-up of individual cases. ICTs are used to run the administration and allow better monitoring of various resources and processes. The main problems encountered are linked to the cost of ICTs. The also represent a significant development risk in that they tend to make the processes "date centric", focusing on quantitative rather than qualitative information. The activities of the centre are very dynamic and decision rich. Thanks to the use of ICTs, it is possible to capture relevant data and create procedures that help administer them in an efficient way.
The problem with volunteering is that people come and go, which makes it difficult to build a stable team. Simple and clear presentations of ICT features and applications are very important in this environment. ICTs help identify youth in need of assistance; they also allow a better schedule the events management and facilitate internal communication. The experience of Hanuch Hanuch has shown that ICT offer many opportunities, but that it is important to use them in a wise manner.
Carlos Rodriquez (IAVE Colombia, www.iavecolombia.org) introduced the situation IAVE faces in the field of ICTs in Latin America. He mentioned that not all ICTs are suited to the work of volunteers. To discuss issues related to ICTs, IAVE Colombia took the initiative to call a multistakeholder roundtable. They wanted to know what type of ICT is best, in which domain, what other applications would be possible and what should be recommended in the specific context of Latin American countries.
Focusing on the needs of the volunteer sector, they proposed to formulate public policies supporting the use of ICTs in volunteering. According to Rodrigues, public policy, rather than government policy is what is needed. Unfortunately, lamented Rodrigues, there is a widespread problem of corruption in many Latin American governments. Further, IAVE Latin America suggested the implementation of info systems "for volunteerism". The quotation marks indicate that they must be designed for their beneficiaries, the people and organizations working in the field of ICTs. Further, they need to be simple to use and bring real benefit to the users. This means that practical applications must be considered and it is also essential that training be provided. Rodrigues explained: "from our experience, many people equate technology with hardware. Yet, the use of ICTs is much more than that, it is about the appropriate use of know-how. This does not imply hardware solutions alone." Rodrigues further emphasized that IAVE Latin America supports the use of open source software. Agreeing with Susan Ellis, Rodrigues emphasized that locally subject material is of paramount importance: "We need more pages in Spanish."
According to Rodrigues, the primary challenges in relation to ICTs are:
From the viewpoint of Luz Stella Alvarez, also of IAVE Columbia, the local program has learned a lot over the past six months.
Mikale H. Snaprud (Agder University College, ICT Department) from Norway asked whether volunteers could provide open source software to create and host sites, especially for those with disabilities, downloadable throughout the world.
Reactions to this question were mixed: some felt that it was a way to get high returns with minimal expense. One delegate sought to get space on the IAVE server, stating that access in his country can cost as much as US 200 per month. (Editor's note: server space may be purchased from anywhere in the world; this will however not affect local dialup costs).
Trends in Volunteerism and ICTs
Date: 7 December 2003, 13h45 to 14h40
During this session, ideas were shared on the exciting possibilities new technological developments bring to expanding the scope of volunteering.
Ovid Tzeng of Academia Sinica, presented a network of volunteers in education and EduCities, the an educational city which turned out to be a real success story in Taiwan (Province of China). The EduCities adopts the structure and operation of a real city for cultivating a learner-oriented learning society on the network. Citizens in this cyber city can be students, teachers, parents, and anyone who are willing to participate and contribute. The main idea is that every citizen can be present and use the net. When science advances civilization changes its nature. In the past, people lived in their village and thought that the world was unlimited. Now it has become small. The Industrial Revolution brought manipulation and automation; digital revolution sharing and open access, biotech revolution management and improvement of life quality. Nowadays, there are those who can access science and those who are left out. Capacity building must be done at every level. Everyone participating does it on a voluntary basis, with the goal to learn, teach and promote social responsibility as well as good citizenship. It is interactive networking and it is obvious that students are interested and can also be contributing in teaching. A 13 years old boy, who won the best online teacher award, is the best example. He was creating online courses and was very popular. This is how lifelong learning and lifelong teaching can be achieved. In total 2,400 courses are offered and 25,000 classes provided on the net, used by 1.3 million participating citizens. The model of learning changes too. Mobile learning devices, connected classrooms, wireless school buses etc. create a favorable learning environment. Experts can participate in the discussions. Working with palm tools and laptops, classes can be held out in the open. The frontier between learning inside or outside a school building disappears and it becomes more important to learn, how to live in a modern information society.
Manuel Acevedo, UNV Consutant, quoted a South African writer: "Poverty is the sum of all its hungers". If ICTs are considered as tools, then the question is: tools for what? According to Acevedo, if we see information as a raw material, ultimately if ICTs have a value, that value is the one people place on information. This is not just about a farmer accessing the web to check the latest prices. How can volunteers help bridge the digital divide? The development strategies must be adjusted to the emerging information society. Volunteers have already made a substantial contribution in this area. Volunteering becomes a very important asset for a more inclusive shape of the information society. There are different organizations devoted to this goal, such as the UNITeS initiative. But what is more important: food or computers? This is not a good question. ICTs are tools for human development. Information becomes a raw material and must be made available, because it enables human development. Different kinds of information must be made accessible and are of relevance, for example the prices of crops for a farmer. Volunteers can bring ICT to them. ICT volunteering as such is a part of human development. But the other way around, what impact do ICT have on volunteering? ICTs are very useful to the work of volunteers. Used in an effective way, they will improve the action of the organization and make it possible to involve more people, including e-volunteers or on-line volunteers. They improve volunteer management and communication between volunteers. Online volunteering is the simplest expression of volunteer networking. Today, networks are generating knowledge and knowledge can be shared through them. What types of networks can exist and how can they work better, are the crucial questions to be resolved.
The value of volunteer networks rests in the fact that they significantly enhance international cooperation. Mr. Acevedo opted to skip some of his more mundane challenges and preferred to focus directly on mainstreaming capacity in ICT development. Given that human capacity is the most important, whatever the conclusions from the WSIS, it will stand a better chance of success if it integrates volunteerism into the context. In conclusion, ICTs are a powerful new resource for development.
In this open discussion, and the following summation, participants developed their visions of how volunteering could contribute to human development and bridging the digital divide in the future. Moderator Krebs referred to Sfeir Younis' Paper, "Volunteer Capital".
Open Forum on Building Visions for Volunteering and the Information Society
Date: 7 December 2003, 14h40 to 15h00
Mikale H. Snaprud (Agder University College, ICT Department, Norway) pointed out that open standards were needed for software. He suggested W3C. Richard Jordan of the International Council of Carrying Communities suggested that the Olympic Games should help promote some of the ideas brought up and said he would prepare a paper to outline his specific ideas. Answer: Manuel: interesting, but I don't know. This gets good visibility; should do. "I know you are all very active, but when it comes to telling governments that NGOs do contribute, framing it in an economic perspective is very interesting."
ICTs exist and offer a tempting array of possibilities. Volunteers are available. The main problems identified in matching up the two were:
1) The need for infrastructure (organization and coordination)
2) The need for finance to set up the necessary infrastructure.
Summary and Keynote Speech on Common Goals and Shared Visions
Date: 7 December 2003, 15h00 to 15h40
In this session, participants from different world regions presented successful examples of how volunteering can contribute to human development and bridging the digital divide.
Kumi Naidoo of CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) immediately attacked stereotypes of volunteers as "helpers". An important challenge for the volunteer community is to bridge the gap between volunteering and social activism, which has caused confusion for people in the past: "Most people think of soup kitchens. We need to change this. If you try to deal with the digital divide as a little illness without looking at links to bigger global challenges, we will get nowhere. The bottom line is that we live in a world of inequality. The cost of pet food in the North is often more than the cost of living in the South," Naidoo underlined.
He went on to point out that one of the more interesting aspects of what people term the "anti-globalization movement" is that it in itself is one of the most globalized movements of them all. ICTs allow people to work across borders and mobilize large number of people.
However, Naidoo also underlined that ICTs are not without risks: child pornography, anti-semitism, and Islamophobia are all too familiar issues.
First, Naidoo stressed the need to understand the distinction between the two ends of the debate. On one hand, we are asking "how can we help promote development"; on the other "how can we help volunteers contribute to the ICT environment to make it more just"?
Second, Naidoo stressed that hard choices come when addressing the digital divide: we need to be mindful of the choices that face us, so we can respond to criticism. How does one deal with Internet and ICT access for people living with HIV? Do we look at those who are more socially marginalized? Do we invest in people with limited lifespan? What about lack of languages?
The third challenge is that volunteerism has an option to operate at one or several of three levels: macro (governance), mezzo (policy), and micro (direct help) levels. Which one should we choose? The micro level is where we usually operate: logistics. Yet, without also working at the mezzo level, addressing policy and funding (e.g. should there be a support fund for access?) and at the macro level, dealing with questions of Internet governance and the recognition of volunteers as valuable partners at a global level, we are not going to get anywhere. Mr. Naidoo urged the volunteer community to be confident: "We should feel we have a right to have a voice, rather than wait for decisions and just work with them."
Finally, one further challenge: The ICT subject spews technical terms. The kinds of issues discussed are often technocratic: "We run the risk of putting our existing work in jeopardy, as people will not understand what we are doing. It is a big challenge to make sure that what we are adding is available for all people to understand," Naidoo pointed out.
Volunteering, ultimately, is an individual act of compassion, solidarity and love. In a technical subject, this is a challenge to keep this in mind.
Naidoo went on to cite John Clark, Policy Advisor of Oxfam for several years, who once said while at a CIVICUS meeting in the Philippines: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day..." He now realized that this is not the end of the story... "If you teach a man to fish, does he have access to unpolluted water?"
Naidoo put it into more simple terms: "People have built-in capacities. What we need to do is enhance these capacities." Naidoo stressed the need to look at issues of access and issues of power. "If we fail to address these two questions, we will fail no matter how many trainings we organize."
Panel: Successful Examples of Information Technology Applications to Volunteering
Date: 8 December 2003, 9h00 to 10h00
Presenters from a local government, as well as NGO and private sector organizations presented examples of successful partnerships between the volunteer sector and other sectors. Luis Felipe Murray of Sociedade Iko Poran (Brazil) explained how partnership is leading to synergies both between NGOs and NGOs and the private sector. Pierre Carpentier of the private sector Afrique Initiatives explained how volunteers and the private sector play complementary roles in sustainable development. Mohammed Ibrahim Ciss√©, Mayor of Timbuktu (Mali), used his city as an example of how both governments can benefit from multi-actor partnerships including the volunteer sector, especially in developing countries. Arman Vermishyan of the Youth Environment Center Network (Armenia) focused on how combining volunteering and ICTs can increase participation of youth in decisions affecting their lives and their futures, especially for pressing issues such as the environment in Eastern Europe. Finally, Bill Gunyon, head of OneWorld Volunteer Editors, illustrated how combining the spirit of volunteerism with the reach of global media can increase transparency, self-empowerment and sustainable development.
Partnership Equals Synergy in Brazil: the Example of Iko Poran
Luis Felipe Murray of Sociedade Iko Poran (Brazil) (www.ikoporan.org) is an NGO whose mission is to strengthen and support the growing number of NGOs in Brazil. It sees volunteerism as a partnership which must satisfy the volunteers involved as well as benefit the NGO concerned: fulfilled volunteers are more committed and mutuality of interests between the organization and the volunteer will produce value for each partner. Third sector organizations will not prosper if they try and work alone, but the traditional philanthropic basis for volunteering is giving way to strategic alliances. IKP, for example, has amongst its main partners IBM, UN Volunteers, UNESCO, Yes Brazil (a large fashion store), tourist organizations and International Volunteer Programme Associates (based in the US).
One of the most interesting partnerships is the one with IBM. IBM buys relevant services from IKP, which opens new markets for the latter. There is one program in which ten employees drawn from different sections of IBM are working to install computers in schools in small Brazilian villages. The benefits are twofold: there is the obvious benefit to the school, but IBM also achieves its aim of spreading corporate responsibility. The IBM employees discover the realities in the field, and go back to their work more motivated, and able to share their experience with their colleagues. The interests of IBM and IKP are not identical, but they are mutually supportive.
Working with Volunteers to find Models for Sustainable Development in Africa
Pierre Carpentier (Afrique Initatives, people@net) presented P√©sinet, a non-profit organization focused on preventive health care, and Saint Louis Net, S.A.R.L., a for-profit business that intends to offer a range of IT-based services to the community, are social development-focused enterprises operating in Saint Louis, Senegal. Both are entities of Afrique Initiatives, a Brussels-based company focused on investing in small business development in Africa. Both operate in Saint Louis, a city of about 150,000 in northern Senegal, and share an Intranet site and related IT infrastructure provided by Afrique Initiatives. Both also have a social purpose, but have developed different operating models. Carpentier explained that he progressively learned to appreciate volunteers as partners of choice to him. According to him, cooperation between the private sector and civil society is not only possible but necessary. Both the private sector and all other actors need each other to effectively address world problems, such as sustainable development. A sustainable project is a model that is economically viable and therefore can also be reproduced elsewhere. Carpentier explained that considering that his company is mainly active on the African continent, "solidarity" is a key element. Afrique Intatives needs real and strong partners. The Volunteer Family is an ideal partner: being in the field, volunteers are familiar with development problems and real needs. P√©sinet, a project of Afrique Initatives based in St. Louis (Senegal), shows that there are ICT applications that can become sustainable. Out of thirty ideas, eight proved to work out and are today used by the local population. P√©sinet developed the system with a team of ten people, in collaboration with Enda Tiers Monde. Different services are provided, such as weather forecast for fishermen, and a health service for young children. This program allows doctors to monitor the health of very young children, by plotting the curves established by regular weighing of babies. Carpentier considers that the possibilities of e-commerce are still rather limited in this region of the world, as online services remain science fiction. Viable systems can be implemented with the help of financing and technical partnership. Last but not least, the good implementation and sustainability of a project often depends on the work and presence of volunteers, as shown in the context of the implementation of the virtual city hall of Timbuktu (Mali).
The Lost City joins the Global Community
Mohamed Ibrahim Cisse, Mayor of Timbuktu, presented the Online City Hall of Timbuktu, an ancient isolated city, situated near the Niger river, but otherwise surrounded by desert. It is a center of culture and education, and also the center of a large administrative area within Mali. In Timbuktu, there is an increasing interest in the new technologies and connectedness with the outside world.
In 1998 a Telecentre Communautaire Polyvalent incorporating a cyber cafe was constructed. Unsurprisingly, youngsters are the main users of the center, but other groups, including women and religious groups, use it for the administration and management of their organizations. Connection is almost free and students use it for educational purposes. The website www.tombouctou.net provides visitors with information about the area. It offers new services under the slogan 'la Mairie vous √©coute', which gives local people access to local government services. As a result of this technology, Timbuktu has become less isolated and local government has become less centralized and more transparent, Timbuktu being one of Mali's 703 communes. Funding has come through the UN, and it is hoped to extend the project to other communes. In addition, Swisscom has equipped Timbuktu's high school with 16 state-of-the-art computers. UNVolunteers is providing training to both teachers and students.
One further application of new technology is in telemedicine: doctors in isolated rural areas can benefit from the experience of colleagues who may work thousands of kilometers away. Such connectedness enables patients to be treated in their own communities. Traveling to the city would often be difficult or virtually impossible.
Combining Youth, the Environment and the Internet in Eastern Europe
Arman Vermishyan of Internet Forum Environment Armenia presented his project of a Youth Environment Center Network. He pointed out that the high price of Internet services in developing countries results in no or very limited access. This is particularly detrimental to students. Even where access to the net exists, information is not always used in an effective and useful manner. The environment is a subject of interest among Armenian youth, but there is a shortage of training centers. This results in poor coordination of activities at both local and national levels. There are many local problems and a network would make it possible to involve the rural communities in the decision-making process. Vermishyan explained that he and his colleagues would like to create a Network of Youth Environment Centres (YECs) for which they are currently seeking funds. The objectives of YECs are to promote environmental activities, provide information, as well as training and seminars. The aim of the network is to provide a connecting link between the various branches of the YECs, as well as between the YECs, government and international organizations. It would be invaluable in providing much needed coordination, the lack of which is currently a major problem.
OneWorld Volunteer Editors: Building News in the South for the North through Volunteer Involvement
Bill Gunyon, OneWorld Project Manager and Coordinator of the OneWorld Volunteer Editors presented his organization. Through its network of 12 regional centers, OneWorld supports and facilitates an online community of over 1,500 global partner organizations working for human rights and sustainable development. Its most visible product is the development portal www.oneworld.net, which since 1996 has become a new media site for multi-lingual audiences in over 100 countries seeking news and analyses on issues neglected by mainstream media. Until recently all its editors were professional journalists or development workers, but now there are some volunteers who edit specific pages. Volunteers (there are now about 35 volunteer editors) are recruited through Netaid, OneWorld's own site, as well as through regional offices. Volunteers have changed the strategic outlook of the whole organization and help reduce the old imbalance of a predominance of editors from the North. Starting this new strategy, the web page for Senegal has been edited by a local volunteer. In the past, volunteers from the developed world assisted in developing countries. In the case of Senegal and other countries where local volunteers are updating the web content, the information is provided by people from the South and is primarily read by an audience in the US and Europe. With no prospect of face-to-face training for the volunteers, OneWorld has also developed a simplified version of its content management system, designed to allow volunteer editors to input their material directly into the OneWorld portal. Conventional workflow tools enable the OneWorld coordinator to edit and authorize the content. In the context of this project, this tool is the most explicit demonstration of the application of ICTs in developing countries, linking southern volunteers directly to a global audience.
Discussion Groups on how Volunteers can strengthen ICTs and ICTs can strengthen Volunteers
Date: 8 December 2003, 10h00 to 12h00
Participants divided into subgroups to focus on the most pressing concerns that involve volunteerism and ICTs and how to translate these into a specific Action Plan which can form a road-map for progress between now and the next phase of the WSIS (Tunis November 2005).
1) How can we strengthen the work of volunteers in making ICTs more accessible throughout the world?
2) How can we best use ICTs to strengthen volunteering?
Some of points arising from discussions included:
Panel Discussion: Informaticiens Sans Fronti√®res (Programmers without Borders)
Date: 8 December 2003, 15h00 to 15h40
Silvano de Gennaro of CERN presented his idea of "Informaticiens sans fronti√®res" (Software without Borders). A current major problem is the lack of durability of software. Many Internet cafes cannot afford to update their soft and hardware regularly. De Gennaro's idea is to create an organization offering an open source software package destined to equip computers in developing countries. The aim of the organization would be to adopt, recommend, develop, distribute and maintain affordable and durable standards, software solutions and packages targeted to fulfill the basic ICT needs in developing countries.
The open source solution would provide several benefits: independence from western manufacturers' software, cost reduction, and greater sustainability through the transfer of competence and computer literacy.
Local resources must be able to evolve with technology innovations and keep pace with new hardware and software trends. Local administrators must have a perfect understanding of the technology and be able to rely upon a solid, affordable and available support system.
In terms of affordability, hardware cost is currently decreasing, whereas the cost of software is increasing. Connectivity in isolated areas exceeds affordability. Hence, global ICT costs are not adapted to local financial resources. However, there is a risk that if local resources do not keep up with hardware and software innovation, a second digital divide will occur.
Linux could be the solution, being used to provide an integrated free environment with remote management extensions which can be used from the US or Europe to control remote installations.
Local hardware management would still be required. The creation and distribution of a basic kit would not be excessively expensive. For example, the worldwide web was created with less than US$ 12,000. The important role to be fulfilled by ISF would be the provision of an interface between providers and users.
In terms of the structure of the organization, an independent body is preferable, as it can react and adapt much more quickly than, for example, the UN. The scientists capable of providing the technology are not necessarily experts in communication and are unfamiliar with the problems in the field. ISF would have expertise in both the technology and the developmental needs and would guarantee independent access to the web. There is already a considerable interest at CERN (the European Centre for Nuclear Research), where the worldwide web was created and where many computer experts work. This would make it possible to produce a standard open system within a relatively short period of time.
For the development of the software solution, standardization is very important: ideally, there should be one single solution applicable at all local levels and translatable into local languages.
The main cost would be in the support after the original kit was distributed as the hardware and software would have to be kept up to date.
Randy Schmieder of MCART presented experiences with working with volunteer reporters to produce, eventually, a final statement in report or CD-ROM form. He revealed that the main problems were often not technological but human. For example, technically proficient staff were required; there were problems actually getting the reports in from the reporters; delegation is a challenge. Schmieder emphasized that there are already software solutions available. The local secretariat may be trained in using volunteers as reporters and could feed information directly into open source software. Open source software has huge potential, and there are solutions already in existence, but it is the human component which is the most important.
Manuel Acevedo, UN Volunteers Consultant, explained that software is a knowledge-generation tool, and the more accessible something is, the better. ISF could help to make tailor-made applications for particular groups. UNESCO's site already contains many applications. People do not know much about open source software. Needs and the means to match those needs already exist. However, finance is needed to assess levels of demand. A lot of volunteers sign up on line, and there is much volunteer capacity that is not used.
Henri Valot, Coordinator of the PAVD (Programme d'Appui √† la D√©centralisation) of UN Volunteers in Mali pointed out that Mopti, another desert region in Mali south of Timbuktu, is the kind of area where ISF could usefully intervene. It is also a tourist region (La Venise du Mali), and also seeks some level of decentralization. What could be effective is a network between the Regional Assembly and the local areas. Phone lines or radio are needed to provide connections. This would not cost very much, only about US$ 180,000 including training and a steering project. The difficulty resides in knowing which system and software to install for the greatest flexibility.
Panel Discussion: How to Plan and Coordinate Action for 2003 to 2005
Date: 8 December 2003, 14h00 to 15h00
Mahendranath Busgopaul (Halley Movement Mauritius, IAVE Africa) presented the action of the Halley Movement. An estimated 50,000 people are today connected to the Internet in Mauritius. They are not only beginning to discover its benefits, but are also facing the dangers that come with the newly gained access to the net. According to Busgopaul, children must not only become Internet literate, but have to be suitably protected from dangers such as pornographic contents. He presented a brief overview of practical advice destined to parents in this respect.
Izumi Aizu (Glocom Japan) provided a brief outline of the process of civil society participation in the WSIS and its preparation. He acknowledged the achievements to date, but regretted that civil society is still playing a marginal role even though it has become an active member in this process. Although a lot of concessions and compromises had to be made with the governments, many of the civil society contributions found their way into the Declaration of Principles and the Plan of Action. Aizu pointed out that, in order to further improve the involvement of civil society in the official negotiations, the challenge now at hand is to prove the legitimacy and accountability of civil society and NGOs.
Huang Guo-Jun (Institute for Information Industry) stressed that all societies have been going through historical changes ever since the first form of information sharing appeared on Earth. According to Guo-Jun, societies need to restructure in response to the ICT. The transformation can be compared with the situation that arose when agricultural societies started to become industrial societies. Information is omnipresent and transforms the way we live, shaping modern lifestyle. Globalization is a result of this revolution. Similarly to previous revolutions, this entails a risk of exclusion, as occurred at the time of the industrial revolution when social inequalities increased. Guao-Jun stressed that efforts must be undertaken to make ICT a tool for social inclusion rather than social exclusion. Guo-Jun agreed completely with the message from Dakar and affirmed that a digital culture must be build. Humanity is holding its best chance in history to avoid social injustice, as knowledge and information gets available to everybody and volunteers can play an important role in reaching this goal.
Judith Cobe√Īa (IAVE World Conference) presented the upcoming World Volunteer Conference to be held in Barcelona (Spain) from 17 to 21 August 2004. This Conference will make ample use of ICT. Delegates are not only invited to participate in the event, but can already actively contribute to the preparation process thanks to the Internet. The Conference will highlight the value of volunteer work and examine various questions ranging from cultural diversity to environmental and social consciousness. One of the questions addressed will be how volunteers can make better use of ICT. Information is available on the official Conference website: www.iave2004barcelona.org.
Posted: 2006-5-21 Updated: 2007-8-18