The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is deeply involved in promoting awareness of the critical need to extend the benefits of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to communities all around the world.
Our work, which is essentially at the community level through the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies concerned, is based around the need to provide support, assistance, protection and care to the most vulnerable in those communities.
So, once National Societies have successfully embraced ICT in their headquarters, they can extend its effectiveness through their branches located with the communities they serve.
In less developed countries the framework of the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies delivers a mechanism to ensure that ICT hardware and software is adapted to local requirements. An environment exists where the technologies are necessarily used for the day-to-day operation of the National Society. In this way many of the issues of training, maintenance, security etc. are resolved in a method that is effective in the country in question.
When these technologies can be cascaded to Branch level in the affected community, there is the opportunity for all sorts of innovative solutions to be developed. These solutions may be different in each case, but will probably involve a requirement to be connected to the internet. An important aspect is that specific technology solutions are being "pulled" by communities, not "pushed" by the developed world.
One interesting example of this, which also involves partnership with the private sector, is Sierra Leone.
That partnership does not involve big multinational corporations, but the private sector in Sierra Leone itself. The Red Cross Society has found that if its programs to help the vulnerable in Sierra Leone are to advance, they must be supported by the information and sharing available through the internet.
The Red Cross Society is responding to this with a project to set up its own internet café, and linking it to others in the country so that Red Cross Youth are able to build their skills and share information with each other to the benefit of their communities.
This has proved to be a very effective way of ensuring that the different parts of the Red Cross Society are well linked. In this way they can share ideas and play an effective part in the development of their communities and the nation around them.
As shown in this example, one of the special characteristics of the ICT age in which we now live is that youth have so readily accepted the challenges it poses.
The IFRC places a high premium on youth involvement in the utilisation of the benefits of information and communications technology, and our Youth sectors in National Societies are playing a lively part in the introduction of the technology to the benefit of the communities in which they live.
The role of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is one we judge within the aspiration all communities and organisations share for development. Many of these aspirations are found within the fabric of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, aspirations which for us in the Red Cross Red Crescent stand alongside our own strategies for the protection of the most vulnerable.
Within this framework, we have given priority to forming partnerships with the private sector aimed at providing that protection for the most vulnerable. The ambition to form meaningful partnerships for development is central to Millennium Development Goal 8, but their purpose is not just the formation of a partnership, it is to form partnerships that actively contribute to the achievement of all our goals.
We also seek, through our advocacy at the UN and all other levels, to build an appreciation in our partners of what we must do together to serve joint humanitarian goals.
One such partnership, which we have pleasure in highlighting at this conference in Milan, is one signed four weeks ago in Geneva between our Secretary-General and the CEO for Europe, Africa and the Middle East of Microsoft.
It is a partnership set with a long term view. Microsoft and the IFRC have recognised that they need to work together to build the expertise necessary to run efficient IT systems which will work to the benefit of communities.
The expertise is being developed by the IFRC and National Societies, but the involvement of this private sector action will facilitate a much more comprehensive approach involving technical support, staff and volunteer user training. It will also extend to lifecycle issues where hardware and software become obsolete.
We see this development of strong human resources alongside hardware and software as essential. For example, it is through this that we will be better able to provide and strengthen the very sophisticated technology which now swings into place to support intense disaster relief operations.
One focus for IFRC in the ICT area is in enabling communities to improve their preparedness for when a disaster strikes, termed "e-preparedness".
Disaster preparedness is as pervasively affected by IT as any other part of life. Effective disaster preparedness depends on strong organization coupled with the fastest possible communications systems and methods.
This in turn depends on robust ICT systems (whether high tech or low tech), efficient training, a dedication to sharing best practice and, very importantly, the ability to modify systems developed centrally to respond to changed needs in special circumstances or areas.
Our focus on e-preparedness is expected to provide dual benefits. First the ICT systems can enhance the response to disasters through better communication, early warning and volunteer organization. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, that communities use these systems regularly and develop a familiarity and an understanding of their value.
Chair, This field of activity is far too vast to encompass in one presentation. We are, however, engaged in other parallel work to prepare for the very important close of the World Summit on Information Society in other venues. One such is organised by the Global Knowledge Partnership in Cairo, Egypt, titled Advancing ICT Solutions For Development Through Cross-Sector Partnerships and meets in May 2005.
The Global Knowledge Partnership conference also involves the building of understanding and from that links between IT practitioners, community organisations, academics, governments and the private sector. The IFRC contributions there have brought an increased awareness of the part IT plays in bringing medical care and assistance to remote communities.
Our concentration has been on communities in the Arctic Circle, but we have sought to show how the excellent work of the Icelandic Red Cross within the fabric of the intergovernmental Arctic Council (now headquartered in the Russian Federation) provides learning and experience relevant to people in isolated communities anywhere.
We brought this example forward at the January 2005 Mauritius International Meeting for Small Island Developing States, and related it to the disaster preparedness and response priorities of the IFRC and National Societies.
These are the sorts of partnerships that are vital for the IT age now, and even more so for the future. The IFRC sees the WSIS and the work now being done as an absolutely essential component for any work towards the solution of the humanitarian challenges identified in the UN Millennium Declaration.
Our challenge to ourselves and everyone else, therefore is to pose some easy questions:
- How much IT involvement will be required for progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals? For the IFRC the same question must be asked around progress towards the humanitarian objectives of our own Strategy papers.
- As work towards the MDGs produces results in nations and many communities within nations, what kind of a world will the next generation inhabit? What will be the place in it of IT?
- As IT spreads knowledge and experience, can present-day concepts of globalisation keep pace with the economic and social realities of the communities themselves.
These questions are easy to pose, and there are no doubt other questions which should be considered as well.
They are offered here to show that the IFRC sees ICTs as essential to realistic development, and that realistic development cannot be achieved without the involvement of the affected communities.
In turn, this makes it imperative that youth become more deeply involved in the search for community solutions so that their readiness to make use of information technology can be brought to the benefit of the communities themselves.
The IFRC looks forward to further analysis of these challenges in Tunis at the WSIS, and plans to arrange for its delegation to have very substantial youth involvement, for all the reasons given above.