September 2004

Is Asia ready for the challenge?

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The 2nd i4d seminar was held at Beijing, China in conjunction with Map Asia 2004. Participants included eminent ICT4D practitioners from Asia and Africa. The seminar, which lasted for three days, included a workshop session at the end on building online communities and focused on knowledge sharing amongst practitioners.

This was the second in the series of annual seminar being organized by i4d. The first seminar was held on 14th of October, 2003 at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Proceedings and papers presented in the first seminar are archived in www.i4donline.net. The series aims at providing a face-to-face platform for ICT4D practitioners' to meet, share their experiences and learn about other projects. It is also a forum for networking and building alliances.

The second seminar held as parallel event of Map Asia 2004 provided an Afro Asian perspective of the developments and challenges in implementing projects in developing countries. Case studies were presented from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, China, Hong Kong, South Africa, Egypt and Mauritius. Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) provided travel fellowships to enable ten participants to present their work. Unfortunately, the complex travel conditions for delegates from Brazil and Uganda to reach China made it difficult for them to participate. It was felt that the global South had a characteristic and complex travel routing, even though air links to Europe seems to be better planned.

The theme of the 2nd i4d seminar was 'Is Asia ready for the challenge?' The papers were presented in four technical sessions addressing ICT and Applications, Capacity Building, Knowledge Sharing and Policy/Governance.

While speaking in the first session, which was on 'ICT and Application', Sana Gul from Pakistan said that there are two inherent problems that restrict mass utilisation of localized applications even in the era when technological infrastructure is available for local language computing in many Asian countries.

She said that at first user centric local language content has to be created for the ICTs with mass training programs conducted to guide layman to use these applications and secondly, a cultural change has to be induced within the society that facilitates the usage of localized devices. Emphasizing the need of local content she said that there are 2197 local languages spoken in Asia and only 10-20 per cent Asians can communicate in English, which is the major web language.

Prof. Lutfor Rahman from Bangladesh, in his presentation said that despite tremendous growth in the last decade, the impact of ICTs on health sector is lagging behind in developing countries including Bangladesh. Describing the importance of Telemedicine he sited how proper training is important in providing proper service to the people.

In the theme of the second session 'Capacity Building'; Ahmed El-Sobky from Egypt mentioned challenges and opportunity towards emerging e-Learning in developing countries. He said that the successful web-enabled learning, or 'e-Learning' depends on building a strategy that optimizes the technology within the culture of a nation that is ready and willing to use it. He also said that developing countries need to lower the overall costs of creating a workforce that performs faster and better competition, and they need to do this 24/7 for their people specially the ones located in rural areas. In his presentation, Chanuka Wattegama from Sri Lanka analysed the reasons why five key projects, namely the Kothmale Internet Radio, Village PDA, Govi Gnana Seva, Vishva Gnana Kendra and Sarvodaya Telecenters failed to meet the initial anticipations, in spite of the relatively higher education level and higher living status of the beneficiaries. Prof. YEI Oi-mao from China University of Agriculture stressed the need of land management especially in rural China where rapid urbanisation is taking place. Advocating villager's capacity building through the implementation of GIS technology, he stressed to bring out the revolutionary advantages of the GIS map system to rural China by providing a number of feasible alternatives and investigating the necessary elements of supporting the GIS data system, and to draw policy implications for implementing such system in rural China.

The second day of the seminar started in the forenoon of 28th August and the first session was on 'Knowledge Sharing'. While speaking in this session, Dr Percy KWOK Lai Yin from The Chinese University, Hong Kong given an overview of socio-cognitive aspects of most prevalent collaborative web-based learning communities or learning ecologies and a three-dimensional conceptual framework for their classification. Citing the role of technology in learning, he said, “Technology in communities is essentially a means of creating fluidity between knowledge and connecting people in learning communities”. Tracey Naughton, Chair, WSIS Civil Society Media Caucus expressed her concerned over the role of WSIS in the field of local language and local content on Internet. She said, “The WSIS process (by which I mean the sum of official and parallel activities) has identified the problematic issues in global communication, indicated the range of views on how to deal with them, provided various blueprints of what should and could be possible in the way of solutions, and gingerly explored ways of dealing with these questions in the future”. Other distinguished speakers who enlighten the seminar with their opinion and experiences were Prof. Philip Hui Kwok Fai, Cameron Richards and LI Kam Cheong from Honk Kong, Mahendranath Busgopual from Mauritius, Christopher B. Faris from Bhutan, Ajay K. Gupta and Amitabh Saxena from India.

Recommendations of the 2nd i4d seminar:

  • This group feels that i4d participants should continue the discussions to share our knowledge into a discussion group. This can be one of the ways to continue the dialogue. As was evidenced by the Pakistan's experience of setting up an online discussion group after a face-to-face meeting, all the seminar delegates, as well as the delegates of the first i4d seminar should be networked in an online group as a follow-up to the face-to-face meeting in Beijing.
  • The i4d seminar should be an annual event.
  • The recommendations from this seminar should feed into the WSIS Tunis, Tunisia, in November 2005
  • The delegates thanked the SDC for enabling South-South sharing of experiences, especially between Africa and Asia, a unique feature, which must continue, with special efforts to enable participants from not so well connected countries to contribute and learn from this enriching experience.
  • The delegates will learn and share about the respective countries' national strategies, and efforts to comment and feed into the national preparatory processes for WSIS. This seminar has provided an opportunity to get a focus and enriched the learning. The delegate from Bangladesh proposed this recommendation.
  • As in the case of Sri Lanka, which has compiled a report of the status of ICT in 9 countries, from a civil society perspective and used it to advocate to the Government, other countries could use this networking as an advocacy tool.

  • The Asian delegates will participate in regional consultations for the WSIS preparatory processes.
  • The organizers and the delegates have to address the challenges for running the list is to keep the interest alive.
  • The seminar delegates recommended that the discussion list must comprise as a core to all the delegates of the first and second i4d seminar, but must be open to invite others to join. It should have a clear, shared vision and objectives, and focus on providing WSIS inputs, and focus on running it as a limited tenure list, and to review its performance after a period of time.
  • Other delegates recommended that another approach could be to enrich an existing list.
  • The list could address the following ideas:
    • Policies and practices in the Asian countries. (prof Hui)
    • Contributions to i4d magazine could be an output
    • PrepCom II : Practical implementation strategies from around the world.
    • To build a civil society national perspective of ict4d and document success stories.
  • The delegates recommended that a special issue of the i4d magazine to be produced in time for the February Prep Com.

Objectives

  • Provide ground-up inputs to WSIS.
  • Share knowledge about ICT practices and policies our own countries. (Also obtain feedback from Governments)
  • Build and present a South Asian/SE Asian/ African perspective
  • Policy briefs can be formulated for lobbying with respective countries (especially in those countries that don't have ICT4D policies, and quoting other countries' examples)
  • Afro-Asian i4d or Beijing Consensus, CoP-i4d, or G-i4d were some names suggested for the group.
  • Look for technology providers from the private sector, which offer solutions.

Action items

  • Assess existing lists and see the possibility of joining them
  • Bring out another issue of i4d focused on WSIS in February 2004 
  • Tracey to assist in getting details of the September 2004 Asian WSIS preparatory meeting 
  • Sri Lanka will hold a Ministers of IT conference (25 countries) there may be a chance to do something there!!!!
  • Include members from the first i4d seminar and also authors of the i4d issues.
  • To explore the possibility of producing the proceedings of this seminar as a book, to be published by a publishing house and released before the next WSIS meeting.

Reported by: Gautam Navin, i4d, gautam@i4donline.net

 

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