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Sustainable Developments @ Global Knowledge 97

Global Knowledge 97
Volume 7, Number 2
June 23, 1997

A Daily Report of the Global Knowledge 97 Conference


The Global Knowledge 97 conference opened on Sunday, 22 June 1997 in an evening Plenary session. Jacqueline Pelletier, Master of Ceremonies, welcomed delegates, and Diane Marleau, Canadian Minister for International Cooperation and Minister responsible for La Francophonie, introduced the evening's speakers. Following a traditional dance performance by the Kenata Native Dance Theatre, Elder Shannon Thunderbird, of the Tsimshian Nation of British Columbia, presented a talking stick, a time-honored tradition of the First Nations people. She described the ethics of the talking stick, highlighting those of noninterference and of not showing anger. She stressed that all people should be heard and hear others.

Delegates then heard speeches from Roméo LeBlanc, Canadian Governor General and Commander-in-Chief, James D. Wolfensohn, World Bank President, and Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General.


Roméo LeBlanc, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, welcomed the actual and virtual participants to the conference, particularly Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, James D. Wolfensohn, World Bank President, Ugandan President Museveni, Costa Rican President Figueres, governments representatives and the more than 40 privatesector, public-sector and multilateral organizations whose efforts made it possible for this conference to take place.

He expressed his pride in being able to host the conference in Canada, and compared the great Canadian railroad of a century ago with the growing information highway, which will play a critical role in the future development of Canadian society. He described GK97 as part of an ongoing voyage of discovery and dialogue on the global information society.

He stated that the international community has made some progress in understanding the impacts and challenges of the information age, yet it carries opportunities as well as risks. The opportunities include: fostering economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction; promoting international solidarity; and creating a better-informed citizenry. However, he also highlighted threats to personal and cultural sovereignty: the undermining of existing social institutions; the fragmentation of society; and the deepening of fault lines between rich and poor.

He noted that society possesses the knowledge to address fundamental development challenges but it must put that knowledge into practice. He stressed the importance of equitable access to information and communication technologies. He pointed out that the new technologies offer hope but are not a panacea: they are only "tools" and require close linkage to progress in the economic, social and political sectors. He highlighted the importance of appropriate technology and emphasized that technology must meet the needs of the user, whether it is high- or lowtech. He emphasized the importance of: up-to-date training and good management; standards, regulations and laws; open and supportive governments and multilateral institutions; and new partnerships, all geared towards gaining the most from the information revolution.

He pointed out that exciting changes are taking place which signal hope and progress for society, and he urged participants to seize the extraordinary momentum of the information revolution by sharing knowledge and experience and by forming partnership to enable all to participate in the global information society.

James D. Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, greeted delegates and thanked the hosts and sponsors. He stated that GK97 is a remarkable conference that is already a success simply by bringing all the participants together at this meeting.

He remarked that it is appropriate to meet in Canada, as Canada had again been ranked with the highest Human Development Index by UNDP for the fourth year in a row. He highlighted that participants came from 124 countries; that 500 delegates in attendance were from developing countries; and that 30 percent of participants were women. He further underscored that the ongoing virtual conference is being followed with much interest and enthusiasm.

He noted that while the world is constantly growing and changing, the World Bank is committed to the use of information and technology for development. However, success requires not only money but also partnerships and people who will listen and learn from each other. He emphasized that the participation of the wide range of participants in attendance is key to making this conference a success. He concluded by thanking the sponsoring organizations and the 70 students who assisted in the preparations.

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, stated that participants have convened at this conference because all share a concern about the plight of poverty and all are convinced that this poverty can be reversed. He highlighted the gross disparities in income, in access to services and in opportunity in the world and asked how these inequalities will be confronted and conquered. He stated that, in the coming days, delegates will begin a global conversation to discover new ways to make information an agent for change and a tool for prosperity, and he called on participants to make information and technology their partners for progress.

He noted that the work of development has been fundamentally transformed by the explosion in the number of NGOs, civil society groups and private companies playing important roles in development, and this is particularly apparent and inspiring in the information sector. He called on all parties to form a global partnership for information. He noted that because development, peace and democracy are no longer the exclusive responsibility of governments, global organizations or intergovernmental bodies, the democratizing power of information provides the opportunity to effect change and alleviate poverty in ways previously unimaginable.

He stressed that knowledge is power, information is liberating and education is the premise of progress in every society and family. Information and freedom are indivisible: the information revolution is unthinkable without democracy and true democracy is unimaginable without freedom of information, and the UN pledges its commitment to this as information's new frontier. He emphasized that democratization is a process rather than an event, and it requires institutions, integrity of armed forces and free and regular elections. The UN has been working in all these areas to implement lasting democracy by spreading information and encouraging knowledge, because an educated electorate is powerful and an informed citizenry the greatest defender of freedom.

Annan noted that the quantity and quality of information is changing dramatically, and citizens are gaining increasing access to information. The spread of information is making transparency and accountability a fact of life for all free governments. The challenge now is to make information available to all. Access is crucial, and the ability to publish newspapers without censorship and to communicate freely across national boundaries must become fundamental freedoms for all people. Communications and information technology have enormous potential for sustainable development, but the information gap has become the new dividing line between the "haves" and the "have nots."

Annan outlined what GK97 delegates can do to foster an enabling environment for development and democracy, the conditions for global knowledge: promote greater, freer and fairer access to information for developing countries through infrastructure improvement and technological advances; advance liberalization of government control and censorship where they exist; foster environments of growth and communication between developed and developing countries so that technology transfer becomes faster and more effective; initiate innovative approaches to education and learning at all levels; welcome foreign investment and make it an agent for knowledge; provide ground for pilot projects in interactive long-distance learning, telemedicine, telebanking, micro-credit schemes and environmental protection and management; and ensure that the young will be the first to gain this knowledge and make it their partner in the pursuit of a better world.

He stressed that the roles and responsibilities of the UN system are clear and crucial: to ensure that the gains of the information revolution are placed at the service of developing countries. He stated that the privilege of information is now an instant and globally accessible privilege, and it is our responsibility to ensure that this gift is bestowed on all the world's people so that all may live lives of knowledge and understanding.


PLENARIES: The opening Plenary, on the Global Knowledge Agenda, will take place from 8:30 a.m.-10:00 a.m., followed by a Plenary session on Investing in Knowledge from 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. There will also be a Plenary dinner, on Investing in Knowledge Infrastructure, from 7:00-10:00 p.m. All will take place in the Sheraton Centre Grand Ballroom.

KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNOLOGY FORUM: The Grand Opening of the Knowledge and Technology Forum will take place from 12:00 2:30 p.m in the Sheraton Centre.

WORKING SESSIONS: From 2:30-4:00 p.m. and from 4:30-6:00 p.m., several working sessions will take place in the Sheraton Centre, the Colony Hotel and the Hilton Hotel.

Sustainable Developments is a publication of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) <>, publishers of the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (c). This issue is written and edited by Jonathan Krueger <>, Kira Schmidt <>, Silke Speier <> and Greg Terrill <>. Digital Wizardry by Rod Araneda <>. The Managing Editor of Sustainable Developments is Langston James "Kimo" Goree VI <>. Funding for coverage of this meeting has been provided by The World Bank. The authors can be contacted at their electronic mail addresses and at tel: +1-212-644-0204 and by fax: +1-212-644-0206. IISD can be contacted at 161 Portage Avenue East, 6th Floor, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3B 0Y4, Canada; tel: +1-204-958-7700; fax: +1-204-958-7710. The opinions expressed in the Sustainable Developments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of IISD and other funders. Excerpts from Sustainable Developments may be used in other publications with appropriate academic citation. Electronic versions of Sustainable Developments are sent to e-mail distribution lists (ASCII and PDF format) and can be found on the Linkages WWW-server at <>. For further information on Sustainable Developments, including requests to provide reporting services, contact the Managing Editor at <>.