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Funding ICTs: where will the money come from?

Tunis, Tunisia

Looking back at the roots of the Digital Solidarity Fund, the responses it evoked, and the linked story of missed opportunities and promises that can still be worked out.
The Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) was proposed by Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade at Phase I of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) Summit. It was inaugurated by the Nigerian President Olusegun Odasanjo in March 2005, in Geneva. This fund is seen a voluntary and complementary financing mechanism to supplement existing financial mechanism. It is registered in Switzerland.

One contentious issues has been financing of the development of the information society, particularly in the so-called 'developing countries'. Discussions focused on a Digital Solidarity Fund, based on the Senegalese proposal that consumers in North America and Europe be asked to voluntarily donate a small financial contribution to a designated fund.

But major donor countries -- the US, Japan and Western Europe -- resisted the idea of such a fund. They argued that existing financing mechanisms could be better leveraged.

"Action speaks louder than words," said Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) president Guy-Olivier Segond, who recently provided PrepCom-3 participants with an overview of the origins and purpose of the Digital Solidarity Fund.

The fund seeks to fight poverty through an innovative approach to financing development, targeting principally smaller community-based projects that respect cultural diversity and local content, and help create new activities, new jobs, and new markets.

At the Tunis Summit, the DSF showcased some 111 projects from the African, Asian and Caribbean region. These projects seek to demonstrate how money generated by the fund is helping extend the benefits of ICTs through applications like tele-education and tele-health.

But, the problem of effective financial strategies to promote the development of ICTs in the world's underserved regions like Africa was raised during the WSIS Geneva Phase. Without consensus on the best way to address the issue, the first phase of the WSIS requested UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to establish a Task Force on Financing Mechanisms.

PrepCom II's final report served as a basis for the discussions, as it had largely agreed on the text except for a few paragraphs forwarded for approval by PrepCom III.

PrepCom III also stressed the importance of the multi-stakeholder approach and coordination between government and business. While there was no major impediments to consensus, due to a lack of time, PrepCom III did not finalise.

There is a strong need to promote an environment conducive to transfer of technology for mutual advantage, on mutually-agreed terms, and allow non-discriminatory access to appropriate required technology.

It has been recognised that there are a number of areas in need of greater financial resources and where current approaches to ICT for development financing have devoted insufficient attention to date.

Prior to the WSIS, its proposed text indicate that it is important for the WSIS to improving the ability to access existing financing facilities for ICT infrastructure and services and promote North-South flows and South-South cooperation.

Additionally, multilateral, regional and bilateral development organisations should consider the utility of creating a virtual forum for the sharing of information by all stakeholders on potential projects, on sources of financing and on institutional financial mechanisms.

This forum could leverage multiple sources for programs supporting digital inclusion and strategic investment objectives including, inter alia, broadband, rural and regional projects, development of local language and cultural content, capacity building and creative industries.

Also, what could help is the establishment of a 'virtual' financing facility to leverage multiple sources in support of programmes oriented to digital inclusion and identified investment objectives in key areas notably broadband, rural and regional projects, and development of local language content, capacity building, and creative industries; entertainment enterprises, training software, regional web portals, media broadcasts based in local communities and motion picture DVDs.

Third World countries need enabling mechanisms to generate funds and new financial instruments, including trust funds and seed capital adapted to their economies.

Multilateral, regional and bilateral development organizations need consider cooperating to enhance their capacity to provide rapid support to developing countries that request assistance with respect to ICT policies.

Acknowledging the key role played by the private sector, the pre-WSIS text agreed on by PrepCom II endorsed the focusing of financial resources in areas including:

* ICT capacity building programmes, regional backbone infrastructure and Fuente: TechSoup Glossary y GenderIT.org ">internet

exchange points, assistance for least developed countries and small islands developing states to lower transactions costs related to the international donor support.

* Integration of ICTs into the implementation of poverty eradication strategies particularly in the health, education, agriculture and the environment. Funding of small, medium and micro enterprises, fostering of local ICT manufacturing for developing countries, ICT regulatory reform and local government and community owned initiatives that deliver ICT services

to communities.

E-quality Fund

The appeal for an E-quality fund was made by Unifem Director Noeleen Heyzer during the WSIS Gender Caucus high level panel. Through its digital diaspora initiative, Unifem is setting up the E-quality Fund for African Women and Innovation. There have been efforts to foster the fund. Unifem supported the E-discussion group of the gender caucus to enhance women' networking around the WSIS process right from Bamako to the prepcoms.

Digital Solidarity Agenda

The Digital Solidarity Agenda aims at putting in place the conditions for mobilizing human, financial and technological resources for inclusion of all men and women in the emerging information society.

Close national, regional and international cooperation among all stakeholders in the implementing of this Agenda is vital. To overcome the digital divide, we need to use more efficiently existing approaches and mechanisms and fully explore new ones, in order to provide financing for the development of infrastructure, equipment, capacity building and content which are essential for participation in the information society.

Priorities and strategies: National e-strategies should be made an integral part of national development plans, including poverty reduction strategies. ICTs should be fully mainstreamed into strategies for official development assistance (ODA) through more effective donor information-sharing and co-ordination, and through analysis of best practices and lessons learned from experiences with ICT for development programmes.

Mobilising resources: All countries and international organisations should act to create conditions conducive to increasing the availability and effective mobilisation of resources for financing development as elaborated in the Monterrey Consensus.

Developed countries should make concrete efforts to fulfil their international commitments to financing development including the Monterrey Consensus, in which 'developed' countries that have not done so are urged to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product as ODA to 'developing' countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of

developed countries.

Developed countries should make concrete efforts to fulfil their international commitments to financing development including the Monterrey Consensus, in which 'developed' countries that have not done so are urged to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product as ODA to 'developing' countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of

developed countries.

Developed countries should make concrete efforts to fulfil their international commitments to financing development including the Monterrey Consensus, in which 'developed' countries that have not done so are urged to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product as ODA to 'developing' countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of

developed countries.

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