IT blueprint for the world

The UN’s Global Alliance for ICT and Development aims to bring technology to developing countries. Intel chairman Craig Barrett reveals why he has decided to head up the project

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By  Dylan Bowman Published  July 2, 2006

|~|Getty-Barrettbody.jpg|~|A uniform understanding of what the issue is and how the issue can be addressed is needed, reveals Craig Barrett.|~|Intel chairman Craig Barrett was appointed chairman of the UN’s Global Alliance for ICT and Development last month and tasked with spearheading the initiative that will try to address educational, developmental and social needs of developing economies thro- ugh the use of technology. The first meeting of the alliance took place in Kuala Lumpur from June 19 - 20 and initiatives proposed at the meeting included creating a cyber development corps, establishing resource centres to boost human capital, and setting up networks and working groups to promote outreach and partnership for action. Prior to the inaugural meeting, Barrett took time out to speak to IT Weekly about how he got involved, why he was chosen as the body’s figurehead, and what the alliance hoped to achieve. How did you get involved in the project? I think the involvement comes from two different directions. Firstly, we as a company have been very involved in IT development and education in emerging economies around the world for many years — our teacher training programmes, our other educational activities, starting to design PCs for different cultures and societies, our entrepreneurial efforts — so in a sense this is an extension of those activities. The other side of this was the World Summit on the Information Society last year that kind of culminated in this [the Global Alliance for ICT]. Our involvement in that activity is really piggybacking Intel’s other activities on top of the UN’s interest in economic development around the world. Bring the two of those together and an alliance on how to bring IT to the world to address educational, development, social needs is an obvious follow-on. Why do you think you have been selected to spearhead the alliance? I think it is because of the public posture Intel has had in these activities. We really haven’t had so much an Intel posture, but instead we have had a kind of industry posture on the importance of education, the importance of entrepreneurship, and the importance of IT development. It’s not that we are espousing products or a particular approach, but we’ve been espousing the philosophy that this technology is very important to any culture or society. Maybe it was the lack of commercial message in what we were saying. What do you personally and the alliance more generally hope to achieve? I think if anything we can lay out a blueprint of what it takes to incorporate IT in local societies’ cultures. For years the debate was one of PCs are too expensive. I think a more thoughtful dialogue is really saying that affordability is part of the issue, but connectivity is also part of the issue, so is education, and content. Integrating those disparate pieces together into a total message is important and is something this alliance can do. There have been lots of messages, lots of approaches, but quite often they are proprietary and product oriented. I think a uniform understanding of what the issue is and how the issue can be addressed is needed. If we can bring that to the fore and then mobilise the resources of the industry and governments behind it, then we can make rapid progress. But if we just deal with our individual proprietary aspects of this it will probably be more of the same, low progress. In terms of a tangible end-product, what do you hope will have been achieved say five years down the line? I think if there was a combination of the things that I just mentioned. Let’s start with education, which is perhaps the most important. If there were well developed, well distributed, well disseminated programmes on education incorporated into the education ministries and education systems of every emerging economy we could make great progress. I think we need to combine that with the industry bringing affordable hardware, the industry and governments bringing in affordable connectivity and then the industry plus governments or local societies bringing rich localised content. Then you combine those four things with entrepreneurship. You need opportunity for local citizens, not just opportunity for multinationals to come in and do things. So local entrepreneurship has to be a key part of this. But bringing those five things together can provide a tangible increase in the rate of adoption and therefore the impact of technology on local economies. What is going to be discussed at the first meeting this month? The first thing we need to do is to get agreement from everybody on what problem we are trying to solve. We have to have a definition of the problem and then a definition of the goals that we want to try and reach, and then look for potential avenues to bring solutions to those issues. So this is going to be an organisational meeting driving the approaches to the five issues — education, affordability, connectivity, content and entrepreneurship. How much money is going into this alliance? Who knows? I think this isinitially more of a directional initiative to try and align disparate approaches between governments and different industry segments. I think it is going to be very hard to determine how much money gets thrown at it. So I haven’t a clue right now how to answer that question. How much money is Intel putting into this alliance? We have been actively involved in many aspects of this for years with initiatives such as teacher training — we announced last year that we are going to train 10 million teachers over the next five years — and incorporate technology into classrooms. Our CEO announced recently a billion dollar investment in connectivity, in content, in affordability of hardware for the world, so we have been putting large dollars into this on our own in the past and will continue with this and hopefully these programmes will be well aligned with what the UN alliance suggests is the preferred approach. Personally I can’t imagine that it is anything but the five issues that I’ve mentioned and we’ve been involved in every one of those five issues for the last few years. The alliance is working to promote the effective use of ICT with the aim of helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. How is ICT going to help eradicate problems such as poverty, hunger, child mortality and AIDs? I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that information, understanding, and information dissemination are the important tools to promote economic development, better health and welfare, and better education for children. ICT and the internet are the great vehicles for accessing and distributing information. There is no silver bullet that you’re going to shoot which is instantaneously going to eradicate problems such as poverty and medical illnesses around the world, but making information available to people is the great first step for economic development, personal health, and education. So ICT is the logical vehicle. If you just extrapolate what’s been done in the developed economies in terms of information access and how that has enriched people’s lives, there is no reason why this can’t happen around the rest of the world. Is there anything else you would like to add? I just think this is a wonderful time to approach this topic. The world has become very interested in economic development. It is clearly the debate in the established economies in terms of competitiveness and moving forward, but I think we probably haven’t paid as much attention to what role IT can play in emerging economies as we should have. So I am very pleased that the UN is moving in this direction. I think that this alliance has an opportunity, and perhaps the timing of the opportunity is the best it’s been, so I am very optimistic about what we can accomplish. ||**||

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