“A nation’s ability to solve problems and initiate and sustain economic growth depends partly on its capabilities in science, technology, and innovation.” – Calestous Juma, a co-ordinator, UN Millennium Project Taskforce on Science, Technology and Innovation
Information and communication technologies have revolutionized the way government, business and education operate, and have enabled significant social and economic growth. This technology can affect poverty reduction and the creation of wealth. But the differential between those who have access to ICT and those who do not – the Digital Divide – threatens to intensify existing social and economic inequalities.
ICT can create opportunities for existing science, technology and innovation programs to reduce poverty and expand human capabilities (i.e., technological innovations in public health, agriculture, energy use, and ICT). And ICT can ultimately affect human well-being by enhancing productivity and increasing economic growth and incomes.
The less developed countries and small island states of the Commonwealth continue to be marginalized due to inefficient or limited ICT infrastructure, and limited human capacity to use it effectively. To mitigate this problem, Commonwealth heads of government mandated the Commonwealth Action Program for the Digital Divide (CAPDD) in 2002. They recognized that ICT could act as a catalyst for creating new economic synergies to overcome the constraints of remoteness, small size and other obstacles to development.
In August 2006, CAPDD was re-branded as Commonwealth ConnECT, with its own logo and website, and with a renewed mandate to harness ICT to benefit member countries with the greatest need. The Commonwealth ConnECT Program was created (and is being executed) through an organizational partnership among Commonwealth agencies and member countries. The Commonwealth Secretary-General appointed a steering committee to lead the program, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malta.
The development process involved extensive discussions with many stakeholders to develop an approach that was acceptable to all parties. The debate produced five areas of focus, where the Commonwealth has clear comparative advantage on the international stage. By focussing on these well-defined areas, it was felt that the Commonwealth would enhance and support the global effort of the World Summit on the Information Society, rather than simply duplicating work.
The areas of focus are:
1. Building policy and regulatory capacity
2. Modernizing education and skills development
3. Entrepreneurship for wealth creation and poverty reduction
4. Promoting local access and connectivity
5. Regional networks, local content and knowledge.
An International Partnership Summit, including a meeting of ICT ministers, is planned in early 2007 to involve the private sector. A Special Fund established in March 2006 to support the program accepts financial and non-financial contributions.
Due to the common language, similar legislative frameworks and governance structures, much of the codified ICT knowledge and experience of the Commonwealth can be shared and adopted. This allows for accelerated learning and progress by reducing the time taken to create such knowledge locally. The common ICT wealth includes best practice guidelines, legislation, national ICT strategies, regulatory frameworks and business application software. The ConnECT Portal will be the central ICT repository for the Commonwealth accessible to all.
Commonwealth ConnECT is a product of the Commonwealth’s experience and way of working that is built on trust and a common sense of purpose. The current governance arrangements are designed to address the implementation and coordination challenges that reduced the program’s ability to deliver on its original mandate, which was not clearly defined. The former coordinating committee felt the program needed to be refocused and put into a tight implementation mode to produce maximum benefits and value for money. Lead agencies realigned their strategies to achieve greater synergies and to avoid duplication of effort.
Most Commonwealth agencies that committed resources to address the digital divide are relatively small on a global scale and were unlikely to make a significant impact individually. The current steering committee involves a strategic coalition of seven independent Commonwealth organizations and four member countries. The committee works through consensus to achieve progress, and members are expected to assume various leadership roles. The Commonwealth ConnECT Secretariat, which is based in the Governance & Institutional Development Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, supports the program in the form of research, administration, procurement, fund management, project management and communications.
Three pilot projects co-ordinated by Commonwealth ConnECT are underway, implemented by agencies that understand the local context. The first, Rebuilding after the Tsunami: Using Information Communication Technologies for Change, was officially launched in August 2006, and aims, through the deployment of a set of ICT tools, to solve issues through a set of central hubs of information that will provide greater access to vital information for those in remote areas, and assist with maintaining and developing ongoing connections between NGOs, governments and citizens working on or in tsunami reconstruction efforts.
The second, Women in Cameroon Using Radio, seeks to develop a multimedia resource kit that can be used for radio-based learning for women to engage them professionally in building micro-enterprises. The kit will be made in easily accessible formats for radio stations in Cameroon and elsewhere.
The third, Computers for Communities, in the Caribbean region, refurbishes used computers and peripherals donated by Caribbean governments and corporate citizens at refurbishment centres for use by schools and at-risk communities. The project will provide infrastructure to support schools, and the refurbishment centres will, in the process, provide training on computer repair and maintenance for young people, creating employment opportunities. The refurbished computers will enable the expansion of connectivity into communities.
Commonwealth ConnECT provides countries with assistance for their national ICT plan, a process that will be informed by a one-of-a-kind initial national ICT assessment. The program is also producing an ICT repository for the Commonwealth consisting of relevant documentation, products and expertise.
A novel framework for e-transition has been developed on observations and analyses of ICT case studies gathered in member country workshops and surveys during the past year. It offers valuable insights and maps the confluence of four elements that are integral to managing e-transition in government:
1. E-leadership to make strategic use of ICT i