Welcome to the blog for the UN Forum on
Our Common Humanity in the Information Age

This forum will gather top-level speakers, including Nobel laureates and some of the leading thinkers and innovators of our time. They will focus on the values that unite our common humanity and how these values may be expressed globally through the Millennium Development Goals, empowered by the new and rapidly developing information and communication technologies.

We encourage you to use this blog to post thoughts and interact with other people participating in the forum. Your voice matters! We want to hear from you!

Monday, December 04, 2006

OCH Forum Thoughts: On a transformative global goverment

A gut reaction to the “Our Common Humanity in the Information Age” conference at the U.N. Building in NYC.

Well first of all, it was an inspiring day. To see group of experienced diplomats together with major leaders from many professions and a equally large group of high school students participate in a discussion, sometimes frustrating, sometimes illuminating, sometimes dull, sometimes exciting – but always in continuing dialog, trying in spite of the vast differences to reaffirm our core values, to reaffirm the need for multinationalism and to reaffirm the need for timely action on the Millennium Development Goals.

It was amazing as well to be in the U.N. Building itself with its antiquated 1960s architecture and its urgent utilitarianism featured in so many movies and at the heart of so many international debates.

In some ways, the building and the form of the discussions left me with the vague feeling of how tenuous and fragile the U.N. is and how much it needs all of our help.

A young Mr. Moore spoke about the insecurity engendered by youth in Africa exposed for the first time to vast western wealth though images, sound and text on the Internet (not yet video). I found an odd resonance when a former ambassador from Switzerland told me that he thought that the whole day was about reestablishing the importance of the U.N. – not a bad goal but a bit sad when you think about how obvious that should be.

It seems that the day (as expressed more bluntly by one angry high school student to the cheers of the rest) should have been focused on how the Information Age and our Values interact and how the world and the U.N. can become comfortable with continual transformation.

I still had the feeling of paternalism despite all the lip service given to equality and the two “spiritual leaders” invited to the panels seemed as stuck in a single moment as the building itself.

I believe that the U.N. can only be effective if it deals head on with the problem of the 400 lb Gorillas on the Security Council – most importantly the United States. No one benefits from the fact that the US is the practical leader of the UN – what it says, sadly goes.

And then there is backlash, grumbling, veiled threats, livid protestations, and – the US continues to lead and the others are left to follow or be rendered economically or socially irrelevant.

This must stop.

I believe the problem is systemic – that a system that allows one country to so dominate – in such an obviously undemocratic manner is clearly flawed.

And this is where the “Information Age” could come to play. And I use the word play in every possible meaning. We need a new, active, transformative, playful, complex and just form of international governance that can actually allow all those with vested interested – meaning young, old, rich, poor, oppressed and oppressors to participate and make a difference.

I think this can come in some form of neural network governance, playing off the geography of the Internet. The self-weighting mechanism would provide the constantly changing base of power that empowers and connects those with vested interests on any issue. Voting could and would take place almost continuously in an expression of virtually pure democracy that would also instantly connect those in need with those who can help. It would also bring to bear the much-needed values of the underclass whose voice is almost never heard in contemporary government.

This combined with a culture of universal responsibility stimulated by small and large-scale community, art and spirituality projects would propel a more stable, more integrated, more differentiated, less oppressed humanity.

Technology used creatively to transform our structures and institutions can put the people of the world outside the bounds of unwieldy governments and multinational corporations.

Several times during the dialogs, technology was identified as value neutral. This is exactly the tool we need for a transformative government.

Next steps:

• Identify dangers
• Define infrastructure issues
• Define network structure (how does it exclude/repress)
• Research web sources

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Results of MDGs Media Mashup: workshop for teens

During the forum, we held a workshop for teens, geared toward raising awareness of the Millennium Development Goals via fun activities like creating a 30-second TV spot, storyboarding an online game, and making a skit or a song.

The MDGs Media Mashup workshop activities were designed to bridge issues such as tolerance, freedom, stereotypes, media bias, violence, and solidarity. Some examples are as follows:

News Reporting
As consumers and potential producers of news, how do we approach international news with a critical eye? What makes us good readers of news? How can we inform ourselves of bias in the news media? Where can we search for alternative news sources? What constitutes ‘fair and balanced’ reporting? What can we do to improve the quality of news we receive?
Compare what was reported on Darfur and what really happened.
Here are the materials from this workshop:
Crisis and Conscience: News Media for a Developing World

Music and Media
Participants brainstormed to develop one of the following projects or a project of their own, tying music to MDGs:
1. An international network of young musicians that use music to bridge cultural divides, to educate and empower other artists, to bond our culture to a sense of universal responsibility and to raise money or support for important causes.
2. A website/partnership that allows participants worldwide to create, mix and remix an evolving song that expresses solidarity and universal responsibility.
To continue discussions started during the workshop, check out the MDG Music for Peace Project wiki.

Game Creation for MDGs
Students came up with a concept and storyboard for a game that raises awareness of one or all of the MDGs.

For full descriptions of each of the workshop activities, go to the MDG Media Mashup info page.

About 70 teens participated, and based on feedback from both students and teachers, the workshop created a platform for some stimulating discussion and good ideas.

We'd like to invite the workshop partipants to use this space to continue the discussion by posting comments, links and thoughts...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Dialogue Session 6: Shared Responsibility and Partnership (ECOSOC)

"Responsibility for managing worldwide economic and social development, as well as threats to international peace and security, must be shared among the nations of the world and should be exercised multilaterally. As the most universal and most representative organization in the world, the United nations must play the central role." (MDG 8)

Moderator: Mr. Pete Engardio, Senior News Editor, "Business Week"

For more information on this panel, please click here.

If you have a question that you would like the panel to address, please post it in the comments for this entry.

Tolerance and Dialogue Session (ECOSOC Chamber, 3:15-4:45 EST)

This session is being transmitted on both the web and in Second Life at Global Kids Island.

(Update: The SL grid is currently down :-( . . . please use the web link above to watch the webcast. As soon as SL is back up, we will be having the forum.)

"Human beings must respect one another, in all their diversity of belief, culture and language. Differences between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity. A culture of peace and dialogue among all civilizations should be actively promoted."

Host: Mr. Georg Kell, Executive Head, UN Global Compact Office

Moderator: Ms. Katherine Marshall, Senior Advisor, World Bank

For more information about the panel, click here.

If you have a question you would like presented to the panel, please post a comment on this entry below.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Digital Divide

Its difficult to talk about 'uniting our common humanity and how these values may be expressed globally through the Millennium Development Goals, empowered by the new and rapidly developing information and communication technologies' without bringing up the digital divide. So often, the people most affected by the MDGs are the ones without the access to the technology and information. We must think strategically about access and not forget about 'the global south' We must find innovative ways that involve more people in the important conversations that are happening.

Its always been a struggle for me to balance cool technology that will deliver engaging information with information that is just plain accessible to the most amount of people worldwide. Here are some simple ideas that have proven effective:
  1. Downloadables that can be distributed offline
  2. Information centres that can be synched up to a central database
  3. Using old technology in innovative ways - Check out 'The Lifelines India Project'- a telephone-based question and answer service that enables marginalised communities in India to share knowledge and receive timely advice.
  4. Utilize leap-frog technology. The cell phone is rapidly becoming the most widespread way to access text information. In some places more people have access to cellphones than to the internet.
To read more on this see The Digital Divide Network.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Examples of ICTs promoting positive social change

Let me briefly address this question "In this digital age, what role do information and communication technologies play in respecting and promoting these values?" Embedded in this question is the assumption that ICTs do actually play a positive role in supporting these values, which is not always bourne out in the real world. I.e. ICTs can and have been used to support tyranny, censorship, surveillance, unsustainable growth, racism and intolerance. So the real question is how do we leverage the enormous potential for ICTs to bring out our "better angels"?

There are no easy answers. But here are some encouraging signposts along the way:
  • Viruses that are Good for You: As digital cameras, audio and video production gets more widely available around the world, people are able to get compelling and important "viral" messages out to an audience of millions. Cool projects: WITNESS (online video human rights monitoring project), Fighthunger.org Video Contest, Stand Up Against Poverty Videos
  • Blogs Give Voice: The explosion of blogs have given voice to millions of people around the world (Technorati currently tracks 57 million blogs for example). Blog aggregators and other social networking tools are helping to promote cultural exchanges, understanding and tolerance. Cool projects: Global Voices Online (international blog aggregator with emphasis on the developing world), Omidyar.net (online collaboration space for social change.)

  • Games for Good: Computer games are a powerful medium for reaching young people around the world, from Bombay to Johannesburg. Cool projects: PeaceMaker (promoting peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians), Food Force (teaching how humanitarian action works), Global Kids (promoting international youth cooperation through virtual worlds.)
These projects indicate that there is a lot of positive energy and creativity out there waiting to tackle the global challenges of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation using the tools of new media. While no replacement for the "traditional" media of radio, television and print, these ICT tools have the virtue of being more widely available and accessible for citizens around the globe. The challenge for governments and the telecom and media industries is to create open environments where these more broad-based communications tools can be used by more people, rather than be the subject of regulation, restriction and censorship.

Thus, it falls to institutions like the United Nations to use its global convening authority to bring together innovators from civil society, the private sector, and governments to better coordinate and scale up these ICT-empowered efforts to make a real difference by 2015.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Virtual and Real Worlds, Together Toward Progress

I read The Millennium Development Goals Report and I feel that the eight goals are relevant, important and essential. My first reaction is that the best use of information technology is the rapid dissemination of the best approaches and practices. Access to information and studies, and the documentation of successes could bridge the fragmented distribution of the public health initiatives and the myriad of organizations.

If the Information Age refers to a time when the velocity of information trumps physical progress, the challenge is then to preserve the human element. While we can fund literacy programs, education programs, computers in classrooms, we must also get the children into the classrooms. We should seek to ameliorate the human condition.

What I am unclear about--and would certainly be curious to learn--is the context of the Information Age in achieving these goals. It is important for program managers to share ideas and progress, but can information channels alone help the poorest of the poor climb out of abject poverty without the physical, human presence?

The realization of today's leaders of the importance of fundamental health issues is triumphant. Together, virtual and real worlds are tasked to carry this progress forward. The prospect of the Information Age may close the digital divide, but it may also hold promise to close the global divide.

I would be honored to listen to and participate in the UN's Forum on the Millennium Development Goals.