|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2008|
|Topic:||Action for digital solidarity|
|Organisation:||UN Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF)|
Alain Madelin is the President of the UN Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF). Mr Madelin has had a long and distinguished political career in France, holding many senior ministerial roles including Minister of Industry, of Posts and Telecommunications and of Tourism, Minister of Business and Economic Development, in charge of Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) and Business and Craft Industries and Minister of Economy and Finance. Mr Madelin has also been a Member the French Parliament and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP). Alain Madelin studied law; he is a member of the Paris Bar; he began his career working as a lawyer.
The United Nation’s Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) is an effort to reduce the digital divide by providing developing countries with access to information and communications technologies and the advanced services, such as education and healthcare they can provide. The DSF is financed by a 1 per cent ‘digital solidarity contribution’ levied voluntarily upon purchases of ICT-related equipment. The DSF is giving priority to its 1,000 telemedicine units for Africa programme and its educational programme which distributes interactive whiteboards for classrooms.
The digital civilisation is taking root and growing, from one end of the planet to the other. However, the poorest countries, for which information and communication technologies (ICTs) and access to the global network of knowledge constitute a valuable lever for development, are lagging a long way behind. That is why a massive infrastructure and equipment effort is required to prevent the digital divide from getting even bigger. Technological progress and reductions in costs will certainly contribute to narrowing this divide and will enable newcomers to the digital revolution to benefit from the experimentation and advances of richer countries, in order to catch up (by directly deploying low-cost computers or WiMAX, for example). However, the digital revolution is not only about infrastructures and equipment. It also concerns culture and exchanges, familiarising the greatest number with the use of information technologies, developing usages adapted to the problems, needs and particularities of different societies. Digital solidarity is a necessity. To provide the populations of the poorest countries with universal access to knowledge, to take part in digital culture and acquire digital practices without delay, the President of the Republic of Senegal, Mr Abdoulaye Wade, proposed the creation of the Global Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) at the World Summit on the Information Society, in December 2003. Officially inaugurated in March 2005, the DSF is a concrete, innovative tool intended to further the ambitious commitments undertaken by the international community to facilitate change and gradually close the digital divide. It aims to stimulate cooperation between the various stakeholders whose involvement in the fight against the digital divide is essential, namely national governments, local authorities, representatives of the private sector and non-governmental organisations. Through the DSF, the international community has given its backing to an innovative financing mechanism to promote a fairer world: the “1% digital solidarity contribution” adopted in Geneva. This principle consists of introducing, in all contracts for the supply of ICT-related equipment, a voluntary clause under which the supplier of the equipment agrees to pay a one per cent contribution to the DSF. Thanks to this financial mechanism, which still needs to be further developed and strengthened, the Fund is able to support local projects designed to promote digital culture at the international level During the coming years much work lies ahead of us. I see three major areas: Firstly, we must convince new players to take part in this adventure. The strength of the DSF lies in its success in promoting the idea of ‘one per cent digital solidarity’ in international fields and gathering in expressions of sympathy and support. Its challenge lies in the difficulty of transforming this compassion from principle to solid, financial commitment. A pro-active attitude, towards business in particular, must be implemented from 2008 onwards, in order to refine the approach and to promote it, taking particular advantage of large international meetings. Next, we must clearly publicise the areas requiring action as a matter of priority. The technical, commercial and political environment has changed considerably during recent years. This has transformed market conditions, in particular for mobile telephony. Members of the Fund and its partners must draw conclusions from this and identify areas where their actions can exert the greatest leverage. In this context, emphasis could be placed specifically on broadband access in the least favoured areas, which requires a universal service effort due to its poor commercial viability and its extensive social usefulness, for example for educational or health applications. Finally, we must interact more closely with other financial institutions. The Fund is not acting solo. In addition to its original financing, it must have an equally innovative role as a catalyst to encourage partnerships between public and private players and change the perceptions of risks and returns on investments. Too often, businesses are afraid to invest in areas which seem to them to be barely profitable or too risky. I am convinced that innovative solutions, particularly in the form of guarantees, would enable these obstacles to be overcome and could be tested by the Fund. As regards concrete field operations for 2008, the DSF has set itself two priorities for action geared towards health and education: • The DSF will work to encourage local authorities in the most developed countries to become involved in specific digital solidarity initiatives, especially through the 1,000 telemedicine units for the Africa programme. Town councils and local authorities in the North will be invited to support fixed or mobile telemedicine units, contributing the expertise of their doctors and hospitals to remote diagnosis networks. • The DSF will also work to develop digital education. This does not only involve promoting initiatives to equip pupils with computers. The priority here is to make digital education resources – which are now being produced on a large scale in the richest countries – available to teachers in the poorest countries. A key tool in digital education is the interactive whiteboard, which is basically a computer screen projected onto a board, allowing the teacher to use the most innovative digital content currently available. The DSF plans to launch and participate in programmes to distribute interactive whiteboards, as well as setting up databases of digital educational resources and creating communities to help teachers use and adapt those resources, and produce new resources. These kinds of projects are concrete forms of digital solidarity that favour the distribution and appropriation of digital tools with obvious benefits in the priority fields of health and education. They also favour the development of ‘digital-driven solidarity’, promoting the exchange of skills and experience.