A laboratory for new mechanisms...

Using both lessons learned and the overall concept of volunteerism as building blocks for multi-stakeholder approaches
Viola Krebs, Director of ICVolunteers and Focal Point of the WSIS Volunteer Family, published by Heinrich Böll Foundation
27 Septiembre 2005

What about the challenges the process faced, and things which could be improved in the future?

From my perspective, the multi-stakeholder approach was not applied as systematically as it could have been in the WSIS process. The Working Group on Financial Mechanisms, for example, left civil society and the private sector completely on the outside. The Working Group on Internet Governance, in contrast, has been built as a truly multi-stakeholder body.

Furthermore, in my experience, there is a great gap between Summit discussions and field realities. It seems that international talks actually have only triggered to a minor extent inclusive local-level discussions. The regional conference held in Rio de Janeiro in July 2005 provides a good example of this. As a regional WSIS conference, one might have expected it to be a multi-stakeholder event, involving national and regional constituencies. Additionally, considering the number of NGOs and open source projects in Brazil, one would anticipate substantial participation from various sectors. However, non-governmental participants were scarce, and more marginalized then in any other WSIS-related conference I have ever attended. The badges used to accredit participants were indicative of this approach: orange marked badges were given to "governments", who had access to all sessions, everybody else, including civil society and the private sector participants, had badges with the label "observer". The outcome documents were negotiated behind closed doors, with only government participation. On several occasions, I heard government officials talk on behalf of civil society. All of this seems a bit surprising in a multi-stakeholder environment. There was little or no evidence that local communities had embraced any of the WSIS principles and action lines.

African regional conferences were, in my experience, substantially more inclusive of civil society than their Latin American counterparts. In Accra, in February 2005, the presence of numerous private-sector stands indicated at least some degree of WSIS interest to this sector. In addition, African civil society has been leading development of new mechanisms to support its regional participation in the WSIS, with the creation of a coordinating body called ACSIS (African Civil Society for Information Society), including experts from various backgrounds, regions and gender.
On the other hand, there remains a great deal of work to be done to achieve greater gender balance in official sessions of regional African conferences. Of nine opening speakers of the Accra conference, for instance, only one was female. The picture was only slightly more encouraging in the parallel sessions. This can be explained by the fact that governing bodies in Africa are largely male-dominated. However, if the human dimension of the information society, capacity building and knowledge sharing is truly to be addressed, it is important to avoid excluding half the potential implementing force. We therefore need to find mechanisms to make sure women are fully included as part of the driving force for technology development and transfer. Without them, it will be difficult to bridge the digital divide and build a true knowledge society.
As to the implementation of the documents endorsed at the WSIS Geneva Summit, I would have hoped for some clear and major steps during the Tunis phase, encouraging and enabling initiatives such as the bottom-up campaigns launched by the youth caucus and the volunteer family. For the post-WSIS, we could perhaps get some inspiration from the International Year of Volunteers (IYV 2001). This event was considered by many as a great, top-down and bottom-up implementation success story, involving millions of people at local, national and international levels. The United Nations Volunteers Programme (UNV) set up a team called Team IYV. This team created basic documents, templates and tools. It then worked with national volunteer organizations, governments, UNV and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) offices to set up national committees. While all national and regional campaigns used the same basic objectives for the year, individual committees shaped their own structures, set up their own websites and launched their own individual initiatives. By the end of the year, there were 126 national committees: all had prepared their own campaigns, some were government-run, others completely civil-society based, while yet others contained a mixture of the two (Report of the International Symposium on Volunteering: www.worldwidevolunteer.org/cdrom). While, in many cases, the committees disintegrated after the year had passed, their work has led to substantial long-term improvements for the countries' volunteer sectors.

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