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Building Knowledge Societies: Spotlight on Kuala Lumpur
Second Global Knowledge Partnership Conference (GKII)

by Debra M. Amidon

“Information at the speed of light. Instant communication.

Satellite services can place information on any spot with the precision of a surgeon’s knife.

Our planet is ringed with data that practically circles the globe, binding one continent to another.

We have become a global village, where a sneeze in the Tundra can be heard in Antarctica.”

-The World Development Report 1999

They came to Malaysia from over 90 countries - some 1200 participants - to explore avenues of collaboration. Thousands more had been involved in the electronic dialogues that were managed two months in advance - all in preparation for the Global Knowledge Forum and 2-day Action Summit. This provided the opportunity to convert concepts and dreams into plans, policies and programs - building the foundation for a future that does not exist today.


“The Internet began to impinge on a global consciousness sometime about 1994/95,” so states some of the background documents for the international forum. In 1996, the G7 meeting in Brussels decided it was a major issue and required global attention. The Canadian government and The World Bank offered to host the first Global Knowledge Conference, which was held in Toronto in 1997. The Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) - http://www.globalknowledge.org - now numbering over 60 organizations was formed in the wake of that meeting. Three years later, members of the GKP and other interested parties continued the dialogue for a week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Secretariat for the GKP was based at The World Bank originally under the leadership of Philip Karp who also served as chairman of the Action Summit. The current leadership is under John Middleton - http://www.globalknowledge.org/gkpsecretariat.html. Readers may remember our summary of their World Development Report (1999-2000) entitled “Knowledge for Development” that set the stage for a new orientation of how the Bank would assist nations to take advantage of the knowledge economy. The GKP has continued the story-telling method to disseminate the real lessons of leadership and examples have been published from Africa, Chile, Ghana, Indonesia, Finland and more.

Several major events preceded the Forum and Summit in Malaysia. They focused on the three major content themes of the agenda: Access, Empowerment and Governance. There was a Global Knowledge Development (GKD) discussion in which more than 1800 participants shared their knowledge on the use of information and communications technologies (ICT’s). Building the Information Community in Africa (BICA) led to an event in Pretoria, South Africa in February 1999. ORBICOM in collaboration with UNESCO, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the GKP in Montreal organized ‘Connecting Knowledge in Communications’ in April. The African Forum was held in October followed by another regional event in South Asia - TASKNET - “Toward a South Asia Knowledge Network” Conference that was held in New Delhi in November. Over 200 organizations from public, private and NGO sectors participated - all active in developing the knowledge society of the region. The ASEAN Regional Workshop was held in February where they identified the generic issues to be addressed if the vision was to be realized, such as fostering the requisite mindset, allocating and mobilizing resources, bridging the ‘digital divide’ and addressing issues of gender. Priorities were identified in 6 theme areas: education, politics, technology, culture, economy and environment.

There were three additional unique aspects of the Forum - all of which also included several weeks of electronic dialogue moderated and synthesized by able knowledge experts. The first - Youth for a Knowledge Society (YKS) - addressed the youth perspectives on ICT and Development. The second - the Woman’s Forum addressed issues of gender empowerment and enabling effective participation in governance. Third, the Media Forum - convened over 30 senior journalists and media experts. They reflected on several overall themes offering their experience and perspective to the Knowledge Society discussion: Convergence & Technology, Cultural Diversity & Identity, Democracy & Media Freedom, Access & Empowerment, Ownership & Control of the Media and Education.

You can review the full text of the entire conference - http://www.globalknowledge.org.my/mm_materials.htm#gkii.

Program Messages:

There is no way to do justice to the wealth of information shared and knowledge created with such a vast worldwide initiative. Speeches delivered by those in positions of leadership and influence was both insightful and inspirational.

Jim Wolfensohn, President of The World Bank, opened the conference with a keynote address outlining how the Global Knowledge Partnership was central to the work of the Bank. Describing the current economic disequilibria, people in poverty are not looking for a financial handout. Most are seeking knowledge the opportunity to leverage their skills…a channel for their children to prosper in the future. He suggested that we think of the Digital revolution as an opportunity, not a threat. Developing nations can exchange knowledge and become equal to industrialized nations. We can already se the framework being technically possible. “There is no better time than with this new Millennium.

Plenary sessions examined the following topics, such as (1) Improving Quality Of Life: Addressing the Information Divide; (2) Opportunities and Challenges for the Nation State: Transforming Governance and Empowering People; and (3) Knowledge and Innovation for Sustainable Development: Framework and Tools. You can visit my remarks on the topic - http://www.globalknowledge.org.my/Plenary%203%20(Amidun)%20comment.doc. Other parallel roundtable sessions included: Enabling Effective Participation in Decision-Making; Empowering People Through the Knowledge-Based Economy; Maintaining Cultural Diversity in the 21st Century; Promoting Life-Long Learning; Collaborative ICT Development and Initiatives for Global Prosperity; and Balancing Economic Development and Environmental Protection


There was consensus at the GKF that equitable access to information and knowledge on a global scale is crucial to bring about true empowerment and good governance at the local, national, regional and global levels.

GKP's strategic initiatives are important to migrate toward knowledge societies, but this is not enough. The GKP needs to provide the essential platform to build meaningful partnerships in advancing the dimensions of global knowledge.

As such, GKP Action Plan must necessarily focus on using knowledge to address the issues of:

  1. Poverty Alleviation - narrowing the income gap between the developed and developing world is a global governance agenda
  2. Digital Divide - providing Access and Empowering info-poor communities in both North and South countries
  3. Global Governance - examine the relevance of present arrangements to provide for equitable playing field given the developments in Globalization, Internet governance, E-Commerce, Intellectual Property Rights
  4. Human Resource Development - building the capabilities of individuals, groups and communities based on the principle of inclusion is key to meaningful participation in emerging knowledge economy.

The GKP Action Plan must translate issues into "action-items" that focus on concrete policies, programs and projects to address global issues. The GKP Action Plan can then be implemented by national, regional or international institutions, using bilateral or multilateral modalities, within a given time frame.

Following the GKII in Malaysia, the World Bank continued a robust electronic dialogue - archives of which appear in the http://www.globalknowledge.org. In fact, Partners, is the monthly Newsletter of the Global Knowledge Partnership, providing news and views from the GKP, via e-mail and the Internet - the most recent edition was April 2001. Input from GKP members and participants in the GKD list provides the basis for a draft of GKP’s submission to the DOT Force. It stresses, among other things, that:

  • when committing to action, the G-8 should move in favor of greater inclusion, i.e. priority should be given to projects that expand the access to infrastructure, knowledge, and political power to disadvantaged people
  • greater use of local resources is of paramount importance
  • a more decentralized process of resource allocation among donors is recommended.

To view the draft visit http://www.tomoye.com/simplify/gkp/ev.php.

Evolution of the Gateway:

There has been considerable progress in building something called the Development Gateway Project - “Where the worlds of Knowledge Meet” - designed to provide the "value added" to audiences in developing countries and to other stakeholders. Check out the wide variety of topics, including e-government, e-learning, SME’s and more - http://www.developmentgateway.org/all-topics. To offer high quality content, the Gateway is seeking content partnerships with organizations that would like to take ownership of, or co-brand, a development topic. The Gateway will provide the tools and platform for partners to build topics and expand their networks, share knowledge, and engage the development community in working toward common objectives.

20+ countries were awarded InfoDev grants for the planning and establishment of Country Gateways (CG’s). Proposals are now also being considered for Regional Gateways, which could serve a geographically large and populous region within a country (e.g. the island of Java or the Northeast of Brazil) or a region with many very small countries (e.g. the small island nations of the Caribbean). Many different partnership-building consultations were held, in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Pakistan, and Russia. The meetings focused on attracting partners and identifying ways to ensure project sustainability. Key issues discussed include content development, financial sustainability, and technology use.

The Gateway Team presented the Gateway at the UN in New York in January. Represented were the UNDP, UNICEF, UNIFEM, UNCDF, and UNFPA. The meeting was also well attended by UN permanent missions and non-profit organizations. Discussions are also underway with UNCTAD in the area of foreign direct investment for developing countries; with WHO on the development of health-related content; with UNDP and the USAID on the Gateway's aid effectiveness pages; and with ECLAC as a provider of regional economic and social development content and data.

The Digital Divide

There were numerous panels that focused specifically on Transcending the Divide. Mr. Tengku Mohd Azzman Shariffadeen, Secretary, National Information Technology Council, Malaysia, and President and CEO, MIMOS BERHAD, provided the most compelling rationale. By defining the Quality of Life - something that is dynamic (i.e., changes over time), is what makes us human, and we all have different perceptions thereof. He suggested that the conventional measurement methods are material and quantitative (e.g., GNP), but there are limits to this extreme materialism, such as the destruction of nature and unfulfilled non-materialistic human needs.

After outlining some planning assumptions, he proposed a compelling argument for a more ‘Perennial Perspective’ that takes into account the material, intellectual and spiritual facets of the quality of life.

  • Information and knowledge form the basis for decision-making and action, particularly in development
  • Quality of decisions dependent on quality and quantity of information
  • Access to information and knowledge enables improvement of quality of life provided an enabling framework is in place
  • There will always be inequality in society. However, society has a responsibility to strive to narrow the gap in terms of the social nature of man and as a defense against instability

Calling for the restructuring of social, economic and political systems, he illustrated a convergent, integrated Malaysia - one that provides the interface between public, private and community interest. At the heart was good governance. The key success factor, he suggested was a ‘mindset’ that includes attitudes and values. He summarized that a Knowledge-Based Development Strategy requires: Access to the rich diversity of human social and cultural experience in order to build not only an informed or knowledgeable society, but a wise one; the capacity and opportunity to participate actively in local, national and global decision-making processes; and an Institutional governance framework to promote and encourage smart-partnerships.

Similarly - getting beyond the rhetoric, there’s been a Call for Papers for EJC/REC: Electronic Journal of Communication/La Revue Electronique de Communication - “A Digital Divide? Facts, Explanations, Policies.” This special issue will focus on research and theory concerning the so-called digital divide. Most of the current discussion is politically charged and current analysis may be based on primarily descriptive statistics and does not take into consideration the multifaceted nature of access, the social, cultural, and psychological causes for lack of access, the need for theory to explain these problems and policy measures to address them, and the contributions that a communicative or psychological perspective can provide. Authors should submit manuscripts to the Guest Editor: J.vanDijk@wmw.utwente.nl.

Much of the discussion, of course, from keynote presentations to on-line dialogue has continued to focus on the Digital Divide. In fact, GKD held consultation on the initiative of the G8 states. The G-8 is expected to announce countermeasures at their Summit in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, to address the digital divide. One of the more informative sites on the topic is offered by Tom Ruddy (Switzerland) - http://www.hsw.fhso.ch/ruddy/Workshop_2.htm.

And there was a recent posting of an article in the The Financial Times 3 May 2001 suggesting that radical solutions are needed to close the gap between those with access to the internet in the "information rich" developed world and the many "information poor" people in developing countries - http://tm0.com/sbct.cgi?s=66419766&i=337244&d=1363728. The authors suggest the key will be “innovative, cross-border partnerships in which companies find imaginative ways to integrate technology, telephone connections, training and Internet access.” This seems like a natural endorsement of our own proof-of-concept that occurred on Global Learn Day - http://www.entovation.com/whatsnew/learn-day-entovation.htm

Or for fun and tempt your own global vision, visit the http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap001127.html and see your astronomy picture for the day. It is consistent with our vision of a nation without (unnecessary) borders and the potential of a true worldview on the topic. And isn’t it interesting that the acronym for this World bank conference is GKII - the same as what we have defined for the Global Knowledge Innovation Infrastructure - http://www.entovation.com/gkii/?! Imagine people around the globe all working for the ‘common wealth.’ The Innovation SuperHighway - http://www.entovation.com/whatsnew/superhighway.htm - provides an operational framework for that vision to become a reality.


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Last updated: 14 May 2001