Up until a little while ago I wasn’t aware of the existence of the International Telecommunication Union. Unless international telecommunication falls into your line of work or among your chief interests, why would you be aware of them? They aren’t the kind of organisation that makes headlines every day, or even once a year. As the United Nation’s leading agency for information and communication technologies, they quietly go about their business, which involves helping the world communicate across 3 core sectors: radio-communication, standardisation and development.
One of the ITU’s projects is Connect the World, which is a multi-stakeholder platform designed to achieve the aims of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), namely to “connect the unconnected by 2015”. The ITU and its partners are working together to enhance the development of ICT infrastructure, connectivity and access to the Internet. In order to do this they need to create and mobilise the human, financial and technical resources that are capable of carrying out and maintaining this vision.
Some of the projects include:
Unlimited Potential, for which the main partner is Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft created the Unlimited Potential programme in order to improve learning opportunities for individuals. These opportunities focus on technology related skills and are provided at community technology centres or telecentres, which are places where people can go to learn the skills needed to use ICTs effectively. The programme comprises of 4 components: 1) a grants programme to support IT skills training and improve the capacity of community technology centres (CTCs) 2) a software donations programme 3) a community learning curriculum that can be used or adapted by CTCs 4) a community technology support network. This programme has been running since May 2003 and is active in 83 countries. The aim is to use technology training to create social and economic opportunities in order to change lives, transform communities and strengthen local economies.
National ICT Learning Programme, the main Partner is KADO, a leading Korean agency that aims to bridge the digital divide on a local and international level. The programme targets digital competency by providing ICT training opportunities to disadvantaged sectors of the population. These sectors include the disabled, the aged and those with literacy problems.
KADO plays a largely coordinating role as it works in conjunction with government and private education institutes. It helps in the planning and preparation of activities and provides resources as well as expert advice. The programme is involved in creating an instructor pool for IT education, building an IT education centre and evaluating the usability of information. The programme is expected to serve as foundation for building an “e-Korea”, which encompasses an entire nation of proficient ICT users.
Internet-Based Environment Information System, for which the main partner is the International Telecommunication Union. Other partners include the Observatory for Sahel and Sahara, the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. The focus of this project is the creation of a sustainable Internet-based Environment Information System that will enable African countries to better collect, manage, share and use environmental data.
The project consists of a training component as we all as the delivery and installation of a PC per country, which comes fitted with a SISEI environmental management portal in either French or English. The project also funds a local technical support expert in each country and supplies additional support via UNITAR staff if necessary. The project aims to assist countries in the preservation of natural resources and to face increasing threats of climate change, desertification, biodiversity etc. The SISEI information system will also allow the users to create a network or community of information sharing and thus enable the users to learn from one another. It is currently in use in Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Uganda and Zambia.
Empowering Poor Communities through Information, for which the main partner is the UN Fund for International Partnerships. Other partners are Equal Access and the United Nations Development Programme. The NGO Equal Access, in conjunction with the UNDP came up with the Digital Broadcast Initiative (DBI), which is a flexible, replicable and scalable project methodology and ICT platform that provides information and education to remote communities. The project uses satellite broadcasting, AM/FM broadcasts, community outreach etc to get their information across.
There is a strong belief in including local partners in creating customised communication strategies to address the problems that are affecting people in the developing world. Local language is used when designing and producing audio and multimedia programmes, as this is key in reaching target audiences. The countries currently benefiting from the programme include Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Lao P.D.R.
There are many more projects, dozens in fact, that are dedicated to bringing technology, information and skills to developing countries and to give them the best possible advantages to face their challenges. It is actually a shame that I had never heard of the International Telecommunication Union until recently, it’s a shame that more people aren’t aware of it and its very important job.
It does good work with its partners and should receive far more public recognition for its efforts than it does currently. The UN receives a lot of flack for being a powerless and redundant organisation, but we only have to look a little deeper to find that this is in fact not so. The heart of the UN still beats strongly.