Thinking the unthinkable – Vision of telecentre.org

Filed under: Featured,Interviews |


Name: Walter Fust
Publish Date: 06 March 2008
Designation & Organisation: member of the Steering Committee of the “Global Governance Initiative” of the World Economic Forum (WEF)
Location:
Interviewer: Telecentre


The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been a pioneer in catalysing international development. Could you explain in brief what exactly you do at SDC, for the digital inclusion around the globe and name some of them?
Walter Fust, born in 1945 in Mosnang/St. Gallen, studied at St. Gallen University and graduated with a Master of Political Science. He entered the diplomatic service in 1975 and was assigned to Berne, Geneva, Baghdad and Tokyo. Since September 1993 he is the Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Fust is Chairman of the Board of the ‘Global Knowledge Partnership GKP’, a network dealing with information and communication technologies (ICTs) within the scope for cooperation. He is also a member of the Panel of Advisors of the United Nations Task Force on ICTs. Furthermore he is member of the Steering Committee of the “Global Governance Initiative” of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and of the Policy Committee of the Global Coalition for Africa. He shares his vast experience in the development sector and vision for telecentre.org programme with the telecentre magazine team.

The digital divide encompasses many dimensions, from a lack of access to infrastructure to a lack of capacity to utilise emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) for improving the quality of lives. Most pressing is however the lack of access to opportunities within an emerging knowledge society. At the heart of the SDC approach, lays the human dimension and the programmes  of support reflect this people-centred, demand-driven approach. Key interventions focus around three dimensions, namely (i) access to knowledge-ICT-enhanced access and exchange of relevant information and knowledge for equal opportunities; (ii) voice-ICT-facilitated participation in decision-making processes for the poor and marginalised and (iii) networking-ICT-enhanced facilitation of effective communication and cooperation among people and organisations.

“telecentre.org has gained remarkable traction making a real up-scaling of this effort more realistic  by the day”

Within these three domains, SDC has specific partnerships, it is supporting with more information under www.sdc.admin.ch/ict4d. In addition, Switzerland has played a historic role at the global level during the two World Summits on the Information Society (WSIS). During this effort, a substantial contribution was made to include the development dimension through focusing on people-centred approaches within the technologically dominated proceedings. Notably, Switzerland, and the SDC ICT4D unit remains a key actor within the implementation of  WSIS.

What were the key lessons you have learnt while working for international development, which you would like to share with our readers?

Over the past 15 years, it has been my experience that sustainable development is only possible if it is done by the people, for the people. In other words, development must be people-centric, inclusive, and demand-driven in addition to including business-type thinking to problem solving. Above all, development is about creating opportunities and real added-value for people to become determinants of their own destinies.

What are the key differences between the developed and developing nations’ approaches towards using ICTs for development?

Unlike the different approaches, the SDC approach in using the transformative potential of ICT as a tool for development goes beyond infrastructure and hardware, but focuses on the human dimension within ICT4D, namely the software component. In other words, a focus is given on the “C” within ICTs, namely capacity building and content. In addition, SDC believes in a demand-driven rather than supply-driven approach through a problem-solving lens with a strong emphasis on embedding each solution in the context-specific and appropriate setting. It is the people and the needs of the people that come first not the other way around- In short, people before technology.

What inspired you to work with telecentre.org, as one of the three lead investors of this initiative?

From the onset, telecentre.org addresses a specific need within the global telecentre movement that is currently embracing the powerful possibilities of providing people with access to information and knowledge; provide people with the new opportunities and perspectives and fundamentally empowering communities and individuals through knowledge. The movement has gained remarkable traction making a real up-scaling of this effort more realistic by the day.

Could you describe your vision, and identify how telecentre.org activities and vision fits into it?

If you permit me an excursion into a visionary world, my vision is reflected within a knowledge society, where knowledge will help to shape a better world. Within this world, measurement of human value goes beyond the statistics of the Gross National Product (GNP), but where true value is reflected within human desires and needs and where access to knowledge is used to think the future.

In this world, it is about people, about content, about the use of this knowledge and sharing this knowledge to create better opportunities. In the words of Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, “we must never be afraid of thinking the unthinkable if we want the unthinkable to become reality”.

Hence within this world, I am envisioning, knowledge is the safety net in trying to think and do the unthinkable. However, a vision without implementation remains hallucination, and therefore within this vision, the concrete telecentre.org activities are playing an important role. The activities enable increased access to, utilisation of, and sharing of knowledge, hence transforming this vision into reality.

What do you see as the innovative part in this engagement for the global network of networks that is known as telecentre.org?

This innovative and dynamic network enables people to benefit from the transformative power of technology within their specific context. telecentre.org plays a key role in enabling people increased access to this technology that can change their lives, helping with a key capacity building and mobilising mandate. More concretely, the strength of telecentre.org is that it builds bridges across telecentre networks and communities to enable knowledge-sharing and putting in place an effective peer-to-peer support network around common issues and challenges.

In the words of Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, “we must never be afraid of thinking the unthinkable if we want the unthinkable to become reality”

What are the main advantages or benefits of investing in telecentre.org programme?

Access to knowledge starts with the creation of knowledge hubs that create opportunities by the people, for the people. telecentre.org plays a key role in strengthening the functioning of these knowledge hubs through targeted activities. Particularly powerful is the ability to link different communities together to share knowledge and exchange experiences, strengthening the individual capacities through this holistic approach.

We could see your excitement during the recently concluded Telecentre Leaders Forum (TLF) at GK3 in Kuala Lumpur. Could you share that with the readers of this magazine?

telecentre.org is a dynamic  movement with  the ability to capture, mobilise and unleash the individual potentials of each telecentre operator creating a powerful sense of belonging and community support. This energy and dynamism was clearly visible making this movement an important cornerstone of a world in which knowledge can be accessed by for many more opportunities and a better future.

In your opinion, what would be the impact of Telecentre Leaders Forum (TLF) which had seen participation of 90 telecentre leaders, from 61 organisations and 42 countries?

The TLF will make an important contribution towards a lasting impact of the telecentre  movement. In particular and through the creation of a community of best practice, learning will be facilitated, specific know-how and do-how shared,  the question of sustainability through validating  different business models addressed and a contribution towards a more sustainable base of the movement achieved through diversifying the existing donor base.

What do you think are the main challenges for the ongoing telecentre movement, and what should be their strategic approach to overcome these challenges?

In my opinion, the following are overall challenges  that  telecentres and subsequently the telecentre.org movements is in need of addressing- Access; Capacity; Content (in particular the local/indigenous knowledge dimension); Sustainability (including financial). It is therefore evident that there is a clear need and role for the telecentre.org to tackle these challenges in their future work. For instance, on the question of social and financial sustainability, one possible measure is to keep the financial factor in mind throughout the project cycle with particular attention in the beginning. In addition, entrepreneurial models and the linkage with community radios as a possible source for additional means to address sustainability needs to be considered.

Ten years from now, what kind of impact would the telecentre.org programme have created on the global community?

The envisioned impact will be an increased understanding and appreciation about the possibilities of telecentres to change the lives of people, a better networked and therefore effective movement, increased use of knowledge for development, fostered intercultural communication and understanding while creating better perspectives and opportunities for people living in poverty.

Will ICT4D remain an important area of development support in the coming decade? If not, what else will be the key development areas to watch out for?

In my mind, there is no question about the increasing importance of ICT within development cooperation in the coming decade. The centrality of knowledge within development processes, whether social, political or economic, will undoubtedly further increase. Knowledge, therefore, will remain the safety net in trying to think the unthinkable, and ICTs will facilitate access to, sharing of and utilization of this knowledge to help find locally contextualised solutions to problems of people to ultimately help themselves.

In addition, climate change will become the defining human development challenge of the 21st Century. Within this challenge, ICTs play key role, particularly with regards to adaptation. For instance, ICTs can be key in raising awareness about the effects of climate change within communities and bring their voices up to the policy level for targeted advocacy.

In addition, ICTs can be instrumental in localising adaptation practices and in identifying local coping strategies. Lastly, the media with recent transformation through ICTs from a one-to-many to a many-to-many model can be a key ally in mainstreaming climate change and demystifying climate change into a common language to raise further understanding and political conviction.

SDC’s ICT4D Programme

The enabling role of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) as a tool in fighting poverty, in the advancement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and especially in the development and implementation of national Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRS) and other national policies has been widely recognised during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). ICTs can provide tools for tracking of progress towards the MDGs in a cost-effective and timely way, and can facilitate scalable, inclusive and integrated approaches and collaboration between different stakeholders. In particular, ICTs help increasing the efficiency through reaching more people while reducing transaction costs and increasing the effectiveness in terms of process, ownership, participation, etc, as well as for improving the productivity and income.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) recognises ICTs and knowledge as core resources for development. For this purpose an ICT4D division was established as a competence center within the Swiss Government regarding ICT for Development. It acts mainly as a catalyst, networker, convener and advocate for the importance of ICTs in development both internally (integration ICT as a tool within SDC) as well as internationally (mainly but not only in the WSIS implementation and follow up process).

Currently, SDC activities concentrate on the three key dimensions of ICT4D, which are

  • ACCESS – Using ICT to facilitate access to relevant information and knowledge
  • VOICE – Using ICTs to strengthen the voice of poor, excluded and disadvantaged people in decision-making and self expression of their culture
  • NETWORKING – Using ICT for networking and human communication

SDC supports existing networks and organisations with a focus on:

  • Innovative approaches to pro-poor ICT integration
  • Capacity development
  • Policy influencing and networking

The main partner of SDC ICT4D Division are the following: Association for Progressive Communications (APC), BBC World Service Trust, Building Communication Opportunities (BCO), Communication Initiative (CI), Development Gateway Foundation (DGF), Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI), Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), Information for Development (i4d), International Institute for Communications and Development (IICD),M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), One World International (OWI), Panos Institute, telecentre.org, UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (GAID), World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC).

For further information and accessing SDC’s ICT4D strategy, please visit www.sdc.admin.ch/ict4d


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