Report: PrepCom II of the World Summit on the Information Society (Phase I)

Volunteer Reporters
28 February 2003

Roundtable: Workshop II - Building e-Communities through Partnerships

Time: 20 February 2003, 15:00-18:00 Location: International Labour Orgnization (ILO) Chair: Mr. Alain Clerc, Head of the Civil Society Division, WSIS Executive Secretariat Presenters/ Participants: Mr. Christophe Nuttall, Senior Program Coordinator, UNITAR (CIFAL)
Mr. Javier Urizarbarrena, UNITAR
Mr. Pierre-Alain Muet, Deputy Mayor of City of Lyon, France
Mr. Alain Ambrosi, Carrefour Mondial de l'Internet Citoyen
Mr. T.H.Chowdary, Information Technology Adviser, Government of Andhra Pradesh
Ms. Gail Hurley, Coordinator, European Volunteer Center
Director of Information Office, Shanghai Municipal Government, China Reporter: Mr. Zhenying Wu, ICVolunteers Languages: English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian Key words: Lyon Summit of Local Authorities, local authorities, civil society, e-communities, private-public partnerships.

The workshop gave the opportunity to discuss regional and local level initiatives, in particular the elaboration of a project on e-communities to be presented at the World Summit of Local Authorities on the Information Society (Lyon, December 2003).

Mr. Alain Clerc, Head of the Civil Society Division, WSIS Executive Secretariat, gave the kick-off to the workshop by presenting the panellists and then giving a brief speech about the importance of the role local communities are going to play in the debate on Information Society. 

The Information Society (IS) of tomorrow will function on paradigms that are different from those of today. The role of the State in particular will evolve. Governments have so far had almost the exclusive responsibility for infrastructures and development projects. However, the evolution of IS so far has already clearly shown the emergence of new actors. Regulation bodies are more and more at a supra-national level, and in administrations in many countries there is a decentralization process, by which more power is transferred back to local authorities. Until today, central governments were in charge of guaranteeing a certain amount of homogeneity in their countries, but now local authorities and communities are placed in front of new responsibilities. Fortunately, pointed out Mr. Clerc, local governments are by nature well prepared for their new role, as they are accustomed, more so than their counter-parts from the capitals, to work in collaboration with other stakeholders and in a practical manner.
Mr. Clerc also mentioned the holding in December 2003 of the first World Summit of Cities and Local Authorities on the Information Society. It will of course be the natural occasion for a declaration to make the voice of regions be heard, but a considerable amount of preparatory work has to be accomplished ahead of this event. Mr. Clerc said the goal of the workshop of the day was also to collect proposals for the action items and the principles declarations documents that are going to be the result of Prepcom-2. 

Mr. Christophe Nuttall, Senior Program Coordinator, UNITAR (CIFAL), talked about the issues cited by Mr. Clerc. He detailed the efforts that are being made to spur dialogs between the UN and local authorities. For instance, for the Johannesburg Summit, local authorities were invited to participate in local pre-summits and contribute to the discussions. Three meetings organized by world regions are also scheduled for the coming months in Brazil (for Latin America), Mauritania (for Africa) and Shanghai, China (for Asia). The local communities are called upon to express in these conferences their views on e-Governance, share experiences and best practices, establish contacts among themselves for future collaborations, as well as an action plan that comes from the local communities and not from the United Nations.

Mr. Javier Urizarbarrenaof UNITAR read the final declaration of the Bilbao Meeting (Spain, January 2003), and shared his comments about that document. For him, the most urgent issues are:

  • New governance;
  • Protection of local heritage (including language);
  • Economic development;
  • Education, social and health excellence;
  • New local democracy and civism;
  • New Public services.

Mr. Pierre-Alain Muet, Deputy Mayor of City of Lyon (France), then spoke on behalf of the City of Lyon. His city decided to organize the Summit of Local Authorities in December 2003, because they are convinced that local authorities will have an important role to play with respect to the important social issues of the Information Society. They are implicated first in matters of education and access to knowledge (for example equipping schools with computers), in the decentralized cooperation between citizens, cities and regions. Mr. Muet gave as an example how, thanks to the Internet, children from Lyon can talk through web-conferencing with children from partner cities in developing countries. In the fight for the preservation of cultural diversity, the cities again are responsible for the guardians of this culture, the public libraries and museums. Local officials are very excited about the new possibilities of dialog with the citizens through e-Government. Cities have often had a much longer history than their countries, and this rich historical and cultural inheritance is being rediscovered, as with decentralization they are regaining the importance they had in the past.

The panellist from the Information Office in Shanghai (China) then presented the recent IT initiatives of his Government. For six years now, the City has committed to develop its IT infrastructures. Now, there are 9.4 million cellular phones for a population of 16 million. All the Government departments are using IT to improve their performance. Documentation, tax forms, retirement benefits etc. can now be requested and accessed online. The City has also introduced electronic social security, transport and banking cards for its citizens. All schools are now connected to the Internet, with one computer for 15 students at the elementary school level and one for ten beyond the junior high level. All libraries have been made electronic, with cross-lending possibilities.
Shanghai will host this year the 4th edition of the Asian Roundtable on Information Technologies, with 2,400 delegates from 90 cities and 50 countries participating.

Mr. Alain Ambrosi of Carrefour Mondial de l'Internet Citoyen andrepresenting Civil Society, presented two examples of initiatives in his City of Montreal. The first one was about the local community portal called www.arrondissemnts.com. It was created by a young Internet company of the region and allows local citizens to participate in the democratic debate at the local government level. The project is co-sponsored by the public authorities and private companies.
The other project was realized by the Society for Technological Arts (SAT). A system of giant projection screens, cameras and networking capabilities installed in parks in Quebec and Montreal allowed citizens from the two cities to have a direct dialog with each other.

Mr. Ambrosi's concluded by pointing out that these projects had succeeded thanks to a multi-sectorial partnership: while the initiators were from civil society, they went through an indispensable partnership process with both the private (sponsoring) and public (participation for instance in national programs) sectors. 

Mr. T.H.Chowdary Chowdary, Information Technology Adviser of the Government of Andhra Pradesh (India), talked about communities and the IS in his country. Initiatives there are mostly financed through partnerships with the private sector, particularly the booming IT industry. Mr. Chowday mentioned that, in the domain of e-Governance, recently several election candidates were forced to give up their campaigns after web sites provided information about their dubious track records. According to him, these are good examples of transparency and democracy.

Mr. Chowdary also talked about a network linking Indians abroad, and another one established as a marriage bureau. He concluded that private companies in India are realizing that they have a social responsibility, and together with the local communities are driving change in India.

Gail hurely of european volunteer centerMs. Gail Hurley is the Coordinator of the European Volunteer Centre in Brussels, an umbrella organization or 26 regional volunteer groups. The role of the organization is to promote volunteering and make it effective. Ms. Hurley talked about the emerging trend of employer supported volunteering in Europe. It can be of benefit to all parties concerned, as employers make a powerful statement about their commitment to the local communities, employees take on new challenges and gain new skills, as local communities reap the results of their efforts and expertise. Active communication between public and private actors is necessary to bring coherently organized efforts and tangible benefits. On the subject of employer supported volunteering especially, companies often lack the expertise to deal with issues specific to volunteering activities. Ms. Hurley also announced the creation of a WSIS working group on volunteering and new technologies.

Surprising Issues
A participant criticized the importance given to the Internet, while currently and for the forseeable future in Africa and many other developing regions radio and TV will remain the main vectors of information dissemination.
Another participant pointed out that we are trying too much to find solutions adapted to the technological situation of today. In his opinion, because of the rapid advances in the IT field, we should have more imagination and project our goals according to how the technologies might be tomorrow.

Interesting Questions
A third participation noticed how, despite of all the talk about e-business, developing countries sorely lack the infrastructure to develop it. And not only IT infrastructure: credit cards for instance are next to non-existing.

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