Participants at a Wilton Park Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, have called for the introduction of effective policies to facilitate innovation, trust and security as well as to create a sustained consumer base on the internet saying that there is enormous appetite to harness the Internet to deliver global development and prosperity.
The conference took place in Geneva from April 1 to May 3o, 2013 with the theme: Realising the potential of the internet to deliver global development and prosperity. It provided an expert forum for up to 60 people including senior government officials, industry, NGOs, academics and other experts from different countries to discuss ways to maximise the use of the internet in the development context as a dynamic platform for innovation and economic growth.
The conference’s major concern covered a broad field which included finding ways to investigate and deepen understanding of the development opportunities provided by a thriving internet; identify measures to bridge the digital divide and ensure equitable, safe and reliable access; consider what’s needed to ensure strong levels of cybersecurity in order to maintain end user and business confidence; and explore ways to enhance co-operation and build trust between states, regional and multi-lateral bodies and non-state actors.
Participants observed although governments, companies and consumers have benefited greatly from a thriving Internet there is a risk that the gap between access to and effective use of the Internet around the world will widen. They agreed that a concerted effort by multiple stakeholders is required in order to foster its benefits to populations.
Explaining that there are examples of the internet’s power to improve development based on individual case studies, participants agreed that although they are helpful in terms of highlighting best practices, “anecdotal evidence alone will not facilitate genuine stakeholders engagement among lawmakers, businesses and consumers towards the benefits of an expanded internet in realizing development and prosperity.”
The participants said “the internet’s power to affect positive change is best demonstrated by focusing on a specific issue that could be resolved through its use and by rooting the argument in quantitative and qualitative research. Empirical evidence on the internet’s contribution towards development, alongside a better understanding of its potential to build capacity and improve transparency among key stakeholders, will assist to create an environment within which the possibilities to promote global development and prosperity, can be more fully realized.”
Enumerating the benefits of the internet to the world, the participants said “the internet links businesses together; creates new markets and expand existing ones; and encourages the growth of new industries and technologies. New businesses find ‘start up’ easier due to the reduced costs of market entry”
Specifically, the participants mentioned that the internet’s “contribution to global GDP far outweighs that of agriculture and utilities saying that it can assist governments provide crucial services such as health while at the same time fostering “a climate of free speech and increased transparency of government activity in countries where censorship is not imposed.”
The participants agreed that with all its huge benefits “harnessing the internet to deliver global development and prosperity is challenging, particularly with regard to scale and sustainability.” They noted that the internet is not in itself a panacea saying while the previous debate has focused on ‘closing the digital divide’ other conditions are required to ensure the spread of high speed internet infrastructure translate into growth and development.”
There are other challenges highlighted by the participants and they include the conceptual challenge which relates to knowing what specific problem there is to solve, establishing an effective stakeholder’s engagement, creating a governance structure that would not slow down the pace as well as setting up the infrastructure and an education format especially in the developing world to deliver the gains of the internet in an even manner.
As part of the action to deals with these enormous challenges the participants advised on building trust among users, reducing cost inequalities around the world, making the internet relevant, seek deeper engagement with ‘pioneer countries’, building capacities and creating policies to force operators to share infrastructures and facilitate a South-South dialogue, learning from what has actually worked and not worked in diverse cases, such as South Korea, Brazil and Kenya.
The participants outlined a list of actions to be taken and they include enhancing cooperation and dialogue between stakeholders and fostering a climate of transparency especially at the political and business level. Participants also agreed that building trust through openness and transparency is crucial to avoid fear-based policy making.
Other steps they suggested towards realising the potential of the internet to deliver global development and prosperity include tackling current confusion over the current Internet Governance Ecosystem, clarifying where decisions are currently made, and in which stakeholder group or body, will facilitate access, resolve some issues, eg. on tackling spam, and help identify the more intractable issues to indicate where international efforts should be focused to improve the Internet’s potential to deliver global development and prosperity.
Participants also suggested that building an evidence-based case for using the Internet to deliver global development and prosperity should help promote knowledge-based policies and enabling factors. They added that “careful consideration should be given to how to mainstream ICT tools, including the Internet across the over-arching goals on e.g health, education, poverty reduction, rather than creating a large number of unfeasible objectives that renders the MDG process worthless”.
The Wilton Park Internet Conference in Geneva coincided with the 20th anniversary of CERN’s decision to give the web to the world for free. The date served as a timely reminder of the Internet’s enormous footprint, its dynamism and its profound economic, political and social impact. CERN refers to Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or European Council for Nuclear Research.
Wilton Park is a forum for global change. Its meetings provide a neutral environment where conflicting views can be expressed and debated openly and calmly, allowing acceptable compromise and resolution to be achieved.
Wilton Park began its work on January 12, 1946 as part of an initiative inspired by Sir Winston Churchill, the UK wartime Prime Minister, who had called in 1944 for Britain to help establish a successful democracy in Germany after the Second War.
Its priorities include: Conflict resolution and peacemaking; Counter-terrorism, home affairs and the rule of law; Defence and security; Global prosperity; Human rights, democracy, faith; and Sustainable development, energy and the environment.