The 13th Infopoverty World Conference was held at UN Headquarters in New York on 25-26 March. Organized by OCCAM (Observatory for Cultural and Audiovisual Communication), the European Parliament and the Infopoverty Institute at the University of Oklahoma, the two-day conference focused on ways to reduce poverty and empower people through technological innovations, governance, nation-building and the strengthening of civil society.
Conference participants underlined that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have created a real revolution by accelerating, synchronizing and informing the world. The digital revolution has critically changed the way civil society interacts with each other and society at large, as it has provided opportunities to communicate at any time and on any topic.
The first day of sessions focused on the identification of new innovations to empower people, including in the poorest parts of the world. Participants especially talked about harnessing digital tools that have proven their effectiveness in transforming finance, economic modeling and development strategies. Some local digital innovations were presented, such as the ICT agenda in Lebanon by Imad Hoballah, CEO of Lebanon’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, or the ICTs Innovations and e-service platforms in Moldova by Alexandru Cujba (former Ambassador). Salmane Tariq El Allam, member of the Board of the Rhamna Foundation for Sustainable Development in Morocco, called for the creation of ICT Villages throughout the Mediterranean region. First implemented in 2005 in Madagascar, the ICT Village project aims to use ICT and other new technologies to create a model of sustainable development that addresses poverty at the community level.
As the representative of the European Parliament pointed out, ICTs and innovations must be fostered to defeat social and economic poverty and to improve gender equality. Lisa Zhang, president of Beijing’s Innovative Medcare Technology (iMedcare), explained that her company uses real-time Internet transmissions to bring top medical expertise to remote areas. To get the point across, iMedcare’s Milan-based partner, Luca Neri, demonstrated how technology enables a doctor in New York to analyze, in real time, an ultrasound exam performed thousands of miles away in Italy and to use this data to prescribe treatment. Mr. Neri added that the system “can bring high-standard health care resources beyond first-class hospitals and into those remote areas with poor medical resources.”
UNICEF’s Former Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah assured that technologies are crucial to fight violence against women. For instance, some mobile phone applications provide a GPS tracker to trace a woman’s route home or to map the location of acts of violence.
The second day of sessions highlighted new forms of democracy inferred by the digital revolution. Participants agreed that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. They explored how governments can become more open to greater public participation in the digital age, and discussed ways to make self-government more than just a metaphor, calling for a real and free flow of information through the Internet to enable greater democratic participation.
Innovations should enhance sustainable development, nation-building and the empowerment of people. Donald Smidt (Connecting Generations Inc.) declared that “sustainability is the creation of a culture of care and connections,” emphasizing that technologies should be used to respond to basic needs within local communities.
The final roundtable discussion called for smart low-cost solutions in applying new technologies to reduce poverty and empower people. All stakeholders, both public and private, are encouraged to better coordinate their efforts and design policies that can help bridge the digital divide. In his closing speech, Pierpaolo Saporito, President and founder of OCCAM, recommended that connectivity services should be provided to all disadvantaged communities of the world. He also called for assuring low cost satellite broadband connectivity and for the delivery of e-services for development by the Infopoverty Community of Expertise (CoE), created in the ambit of UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development.