Monday, May 07, 2007

Building Partnerships for the Knowledge Society

I attended a presentation on this topic today by Abdul Waheed Kahn, the Assistant Director General of UNESCO for Communication and Information. Dr. Kahn is responsible for the newest, and one of the smallest sectors of UNESCO -- a sector that was created only in 1990. Of course, UNESCO's interests in information and communication technologies extends back to the origins of the organization in the 1940's, but with the Information Revolution, it has grown stronger.

The meeting was sponsored by the State Department and UNESCO, and was attended by several member of the National Commission for UNESCO, as well as members of civil society organizations. The U.N. Foundation provided the facilities for the meeting, in their elegant headquarters at 1800 Massachusetts Ave.

The Assistant Director General was able to stop in Washington on his return from Medellin, Colombia, where he had attended the activities in honor of World Press Freedom Day. He mentioned that each year the Guillermo Cano Prize is given to a reporter who has led in the battle for press freedom (and each year, UNESCO angers the home government of that reporter, which had usually tried to suppress press freedom.

Dr. Kahn stressed that UNESCO is a very strong advocate of Freedom of the Press, and indeed informed the leaders of the World Summit on the Information Society that WSIS would be considered a failure by UNESCO if it did not proclaim the importance of freedom of the press. UNESCO succeeded in making WSIS about building knowledge societies, and not simply a meeting about increasing connectivity. It has been given the responsibility as lead agency in many of the follow-up programs of WSIS.

Dr. Kahn mentioned programs managed under his authority:
* The International Program for the Development of Communications, and

* The Information for All Program
In the new biennium, the Communication and Information program may devote as much as 22 percent of its budget to inter-sectoral efforts, such as ICT for Education the applications of ICT to science.

The ADG said that he would put his power point presentation on the Internet soon.

I was struck by the Malthusian dilemma that UNESCO's faces, and faces most acutely in its CI sector . Not only is the world population growing, but mankind's stock of knowledge is growing more rapidly than ever before. Knowledge is increasingly the key factor in economic production, and is increasingly seen as the key factor in institution building and in good governance. Telephone and Internet connectivity is growing exponentially, and the availability of knowledge online is growing at a truly fantastic rate. Cultures are in unprecedented proximity as a result of the Information and Transportation revolutions, but the technology has barely been applied to helping cultures understand each other and value cultural diversity. Yet UNESCO is living in a zero-growth environment imposed by its member nations.

No comments: