Silicon Valley to Host Historic Meeting

February 27th, 2007 |
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The United Nations is embarking on something new: a partnership with the private sector to address some of the developing world’s most vexing issues in areas such as education, health care, economic development and government. Craig Barret, the chairman of Intel, has been appointed to chair the UN initiative called the Global Alliance for ICT and Development. GAID meets with Silicon Valley leaders for the first time at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., for a series of panels and discussions about the ways IT solutions can help the U.N.’s efforts. PodTech’s Jason Lopez spoke with Sarbuland Khan, executive coordinator for GAID.

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Transcript:

Host: Jason Lopez – PodTech

Guest: Sarbuland Khan – GAID

Jason Lopez – PodTech

This is Podtech.net, I am Jason Lopez. The United Nations is reaching out to Silicon Valley. The UN says its efforts to improve conditions in the developing world require IT solutions. The UN group — the Strategy Council of the Global Alliance for ICT and Development kicks off its first meeting with venture capitalists and leaders of high tech companies at the computer museum in Silicon Valley. One of the goals of the meeting is to identify specifically what IT solutions can be implemented to address problems in areas like healthcare, economic development, education, and government. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 28th, 2007.

Sarbuland Khan – GAID

It is quite a historic event in the sense that it’s the first time that United Nations Body is meeting in Silicon Valley hosted by a private sector company, which is Intel.

Jason Lopez – PodTech

Sarbuland Khan is the Executive Coordinator for the United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development.

Sarbuland Khan – GAID

The objective is — the alliance is a new initiative and a new platform, which was launched in Kuala Lumpur last year in June; and in the six months, we have adopted a business plan and created networks in several institutions and in several regions and launched a number of partnership initiatives. Strategy Council is going to meet to take stock of the progress made, but also to set direction for how to implement the business plan and how to take advantage of the networks that have been created to creat action on the ground through partnerships and through the community of expertise that have been established in the key areas of health, education, governance, and entrepreneurship.

Jason Lopez – PodTech

I wonder if you could describe when you say action on the ground, do you have an example or do you envision some kind of specific thing happening on the ground, what would that be?

Sarbuland Khan – GAID

Yes, there are several of them, at least four or five of them; one is bringing universal access in Africa through the broadband and other technologies, such as satellite and wireless and so on, which is led by the World Band, but with active engagement of other key partners and the goal is to fill in the gaps both in terms of the loop around the continent, but also bringing it inside the various countries and where the gaps are to fill them in, and an important step has been taken in undertaking a full study of the situation and the issue is how to roll out the right response and the right solutions in the various parts of the region. That’s a very concrete example of what we’re trying to promote.

Another one is a major initiative led by the private sector for bringing innovative technology solutions for providing full access to people with disabilities — persons with disabilities. The United Nations recently adopted a convention on persons with disabilities and one of the goals is to provide them full access to information and communication technologies and this is being done with full support from a lot of private sector companies. They are over 600 million people who are suffering from one form of disability or another and business solutions and technology solutions that can advance access for them can be of major benefit to people around the world.

Jason Lopez – PodTech

If this is the first time in a major way at least that the private sector has come together with the UN in Silicon Valley over these kinds of issues. I wonder why this is happening right now. Is there some unique feature about our times that is making this possible?

Sarbuland Khan – GAID

You see, the United Nations, in the year 2000, the UN held its Millennium Summit and over 180 heads of state and government came, and they adopted a declaration. A major part of it was to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. There are eight goals, among them is to reduce poverty by half by 2015, reduce infant mortality, improve maternal healthcare, improve the environment, improve gender status, and health and education, universal primary healthcare, universal primary education. Now, these are ambitious goals; and last 50 or 60 years of development has shown that the present model of development does not deliver on large scale. These achieve success at small scale levels, but to scale it up and achieve universal approaches and solutions is very difficult.

So, there is a strong realization and this was proved in Geneva and Tunis during the World Summit on Information Society that unless the UN engages the private sector and civil society and the research and academic institutions in a partnership, we will not be able to deliver on the promise that was made in the year 2000. So, a major paradigm shift in thinking has taken place that development must be done differently, bringing ICT as a strategic instrument for achieving scale and achieving results on a societal level, rather than at the village level or community level or individual cities level or region level, but on a societal level to transform the societal thinking and approach and that requires a marriage between governments, the private sector, and civil society coming together as partners to bring real results and that is what we are trying to do.

Jason Lopez – PodTech

We’re also seeing technological centers of development and research as well pop up throughout the world over the past decade, something that perhaps people wouldn’t have predicted 20 years ago that India would be a powerhouse of — especially IT development and expertise. How much does that have an effect on this kind of partnership that the United Nations is seeking?

Sarbuland Khan – GAID

I think those are very important trends, but what we need to do is to take advantage in a way that these trends are not just directed towards, mature markets or current traditional markets, but to use these opportunities for new type of research and development, for finding new innovative technologies and business models and solutions, which can then extend the market and deepen the market to the people who are left out. So, our goal in the Global Alliance; particularly is to convince the private sector that mature markets are important, but they’re not all. The future lies in the segment of the population, which is not part of the market today, but which can become part of the market if the right technology and right business solutions can be found, or business models can be found, and I always gave this example of mobile telephony, which is now again as unpredictably as what has happened in research centers emerging in India, Malaysia, Brazil, and so on, is that in Africa mobile telephony has caught fire; it is exploding. In Pakistan, in India, and in many parts of the world, Bangladesh, so how can we use that platform taking advantage of that platform through research and development to bring Internet connectivity, Internet acces to these populations and then use that as a base for expanding the market. Now, that is something that is a big challenge. Kofi Annan gave that challenge five years ago, and we made a lot of progress in five years, but we need to make even more progress in the next eight or ten years, so that by 2015, there will be universal access that is the objective.

Jason Lopez – PodTech

This on the surface — it seems to be something just between the U N and the private sector in Silicon Valley, but for the average person in the US or whatever country they maybe a citizen of, what can someone like that do to participate in these kinds of initiatives?

Sarbuland Khan – GAID

I think the great advantage of this initiative is that it is open-ended. It is an open platform, it is not directed only at the private sector, but it is also directed at the people of the world, civil society, community organizations, and the remarkable thing is that when we held the first meeting in Kuala Lumpur, a very large number of women entrepreneurs from Africa came to attend that meeting. Similarly, a large number of private entrepreneurs from Bangladesh, from other parts of Asia came on their own and that shows that there is demand out there, and we can talk to young people. I mean if you look at a country like Bangladesh, two-thirds of the population is below the age of 25, similarly in Africa. Now, that is why the next global forum that we are organizing hopefully in June or May/June this summer will be on ICT and Youth for Development. How can we tap the energies of the young people and my message to the young people and people in the world is that this platform and this United Nations initiative is not directed only at the private sector, it is directed at you also to come on board, use their energies, to develop new approaches, new innovations, new media, and they are taking the lead on the Internet. All the new media are being developed by the young people and they can be tapped and their energy can be used to promote education, to promote health, to promote access to Internet and all kinds of new approaches to solving the problems, the traditional problems of poverty and health and education, and therefore the challenge is how to match the energies of the private sector, the energies of the young people, the latent energies of women in the developing world. If you look at women, what they have done in Bangladesh with the simple mobile telephone they have started to earn money. In Kenya also ‘The Telephone Lady’ is a successful model, so how can we develop successful models with women participating, young people participating, and poor people empowering themselves and participating in the market and making the world much better place.

Jason Lopez – PodTech

Sarbuland Khan is the Executive Coordinator for the Global Alliance for the ICT and Development under the United Nations. The alliance is scheduled to meet with Silicon Valley business leaders to address the role of information technology in solving problems in developing nations. I am Jason Lopez for Podtech.net.

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